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5 unforgettable renditions by Pahari Sanyal – Birth anniversary special

Pahari Sanyal, born on 22 February 1906, was one of the earliest exponents of Atulprasad Sen’s songs and made them popular among the masses. He also lent his voice for many of Tagore’s songs.

Roushni Sarkar

The last of the great singing actors from the early talkie era, Pahari Sanyal is remembered as much for his monumental performances in films as for his seamless finesse in rendering various genres of song.

The versatile character actor was well versed in Urdu, English and Persian as well as his mother tongue Bengali and hence was able to deliver his acting and singing skills in both Bengali and Hindi films.

Born Nagendranath Sanyal in Darjeeling — whence the moniker Pahari — the actor-singer was not a mere performer; he was educated in music, having been a student at the Morris College of Music in Lucknow, now known as the Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University.

Also, he had an early association with barrister and songwriter Atulprasad Sen, who happened to be a close friend of Rabindranath Tagore. Sen contributed a lot in shaping Sanyal’s knowledge of music.

Sanyal’s career in cinema began when he was introduced to filmmaker PC Barua and started working for New Theatres in 1932. Sanyal had undergone intense training in Hindustani classical music and so sang some of the more memorable semi-classical songs in some of the earliest talkies alongside legends like Pankaj Mullick and Kanan Devi.

Pahari Sanyal was one of the earliest exponents of Atulprasad Sen’s songs and made them popular among the masses. He also lent his voice for many of Tagore’s songs in various films.

On his birth anniversary today (Pahari Sanyal was born on 22 February 1906), we look at five outstanding numbers rendered by the singer-actor from the 1930s through the 1960s.

'Chute Asir Toh Badla Hua Zamana Tha' — Devdas (1935)

One of the most important films in the early days of Pahari Sanyal’s acting and singing career was Devdas (1936, Hindi) by Pramathesh Barua. Sanyal’s rendition of 'Chute Asir Toh Badla Hua Zamana Tha' clearly marks him out as a trained and talented singer.

Set in raga Khamaj, the song was composed by Timir Baran. The semi-classical number also shows influences of Puratani Bangla gaan and kirtans that experiment with different kinds of rhythm structures in a single song. Parts of the song are sung in rhythm while others are performed without any tempo.

Sanyal is seen performing the song on screen as well in a mehfil. His voice reflects the pathos inherent in the song, retaining its technical finesse. Sanyal’s on-screen performance also explains why he was preferred as an actor for such songs in that era.

'Kotha Se Khyala Ghar' — Adhikar (1938)

Another very important song in Pahari Sanyal’s career, 'Kotha Se Khyala Ghar' is a testimonial of the prowess of not one but two legends of cinema and music.

Composed by Timir Baran, 'Kotha Se Khyala Ghar' was sung by Pahari Sanyal and Pankaj Mullick. Both can be seen together singing the song while musing about a Utopian world where there is no tension from the past or about the future nor division between high and low or rich and poor.

The song also longs for a passionate love and makes offerings to the beloved. The singing styles of Sanyal and Mullick are synchronized perfectly as they initially sing a stanza each and then lend their voices together.

'Amar Ei Path Chawatei Anondo' (1938)

A popular song composed by Tagore, this rendition of 'Amar Ei Path Chawatei Ananda', recorded in 1938, bears the stamp of Pahari Sanyal’s own style of singing. His free-flowing rendition suggests that there were not many restrictions on following Tagore’s notations while singing his songs back in those days, when the Nobel prize-winning poet was still alive.

Sanyal not only infuses some classical tropes in the song but also includes lines with 'ho' after the first line. The song speaks of the journey of life rather than its destination and Sanyal’s open style of singing does full justice to it.

'Mast Pawan Shakhen Laharayen' — Har-Jeet (1940)

Har-Jeet boasted of performances by two stellar artistes, Kanan Devi and Pahari Sanyal. Together, they delivered some of the finest songs under the direction of Raichand Boral in this film.

A playful song, loosely based on the raga Shudh Kalyan, 'Mast Pawan Shakhen Laharayen' speaks of the celebration of love in nature that blooms in spring. The fast number and the happy tune of the song bring out the exuberance of celebration manifold.

'Shay Daake Amare' — Aranyer Din Ratri (1970)

Satyajit Ray cast Pahari Sanyal in the role of an old man, who is discovered to be singing the popular song by Atulprasad Sen, sitting in an easy chair in the balcony of the tourist lodge, by Soumitra Chatterjee, Shamit Bhanja, Subhendu Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh. The great filmmaker knew none could do justice to Sen’s song better than Sanyal, who used to write in Desh magazine about Sen and his songs.

The song is sung without any instrumental backup, with Sanyal’s voice reverberating in the forest to the accompaniment of birdsong, enhancing the impact of the number. The song became quite popular with Sanyal’s own signature.