His music was a unique blending of the east and the west. He had once said – ‘I want to create a style which shall transcend borders – a genre which is emphatic and polished, but never predictable’. His music defies classifications and never follows a predictable format. Salil Chowdhury was a self taught musician and he never had any guru in music but his experiments in the composition and orchestration were something nobody had attempted till that date. He wrote the lyrics, he composed the music, he arranged, conducted and recorded them into a flawless ensemble of new musical expressions. The pristine harmony with which he used an array of musical instruments, suggests his unique understanding of a large number of musical instruments. The exceptionally creative songs of Biraj Bahu, Naukri, Amaanat, Tangewaali, Awaaz, Parivaar, Jaagte raho, Apradhi kaun, Ek gaon ki kahaani etc are savoured to this day, with songs from Madhumati serving as the whipped cream topping on the cake. Songs of Parakh, Usne kaha tha, Chhaya, Maya, Kabuliwala, Anand, Mere Apne, Rajnigandha, Chhoti si Baat, Jeevan Jyoti, Mrigaya, Annadata, Anand Mahal follow the ensemble of delights on the huge table he laid for us to relish with. He has composed for over 75 Hindi Films, around 45 Bengali Films, 26 Malayalam Films and several Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese and Oriya Films. He has composed some memorable background music.
He always experimented with his original song structure. Trying various musical phrases, the application of notes, he made sound the same song in a different way and yet it was recognisable. And this was not just confined to Hindi or Bengali, but various other languages too. A mastermind in true sense. Here are a few examples which give a glimpse of his dexterity in music. One basic song structure, treated differently in different language keeping the melody and originality intact.
One tune different versions (Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam) shows how adept he was in the background score too –
1. Maujon Ki Doli Chali re (Jeevan Jyoti) – Rendered by Kishore Kumar for Hindi, its Bangla version (non film) has been rendered by Lata Mangeshkar while the Malayalam version from the film Rasaleela is sung by P. Susheela. What an amazing example of the way all the versions have been treated!!
2. Shaam Se Aankh Mein (Mitti Ka Dev) – This movie starring Sanjeev Kumar, made by Salil Chowdhury’s brother Samir Chowdhury got destroyed in fire. The lyrics of Hindi version are by Gulzar, rendered poignantly by Mukesh. Bangla version again by Mukesh and the Malayalam version is rendered by Unni Menon for the album Suvarnarekha.
3. Raaton Ke Saaye Ghane (Annadata) – A beautiful soundtrack on the whole, Annadata is a super example of his versatility. From folk to western, he has it all in one album. This haunting number by Lata Mangeshkar is sure to give you goosebumps every time you hear. Bangla version is rendered by Sandhya Mukherjee while the Malayalam version has been sung very soulfully by K J Yesudas in Swapnam (1973)
4. Dil Se Dil Ki Dor Bandhe (Chhaya) – A beautiful, romantic Lata – Mukesh duet from this film becomes a modern Bangla version in Hemant Kumar’s voice and a street side song for a Malayalam film Puthiya Velicham, rendered by P. Jayachandran.
5. Chhota Sa Ghar Hoga (Naukri) – A delightful Kishore Kumar number becomes a romantic song in its Malayalam version for Airhostess (1979) sung by Yesudas and Vani Jayaram while it becomes a children’s song for the Bengali version rendered by Antara Chowdhury.