Anil Biswas – The Music Maestro

Anil Biswas

Anil Biswas

Although Anil Biswas described R C Boral as the ‘Bhishma Pitamah of hindi film music , it would not be wrong to call Biswas as one of the pioneers of orchestral music and playback singing in hindi film songs.

Early Days

Born on the 7th of July 1914 in Barisal – East Bengal (now in Bangladesh) , Anil Krishna Biswas was fond of music since his childhood days. Although he was very talented , he could not dive into music in his early days. During his matriculation he joined the freedom struggle and was repeatedly jailed for his revolutionary activities.

However he came to Calcutta after the death of his father J C Biswas in 1930. It was in Calcutta that Biswas started showcasing his musical talent to the world. He started composing music for some plays for Rangmahal Theatre and also acted in some productions. During 1932 – 1934 Biswas continued working on various stage productions and also formed an association with legendary poet and musician Kazi Nazrul Islam.
However on the advice of Hiren Bose, Biswas came to Bombay in 1934.
Success in Bombay
This was the phase in hindi film music when playback singling was a recent phenomenon and musicians used to be on the payroll of the studio. Although they were collectively called the orchestra , the musicians were few in number and mostly played Indian instruments. It is reported that Dhoop Chhaon ( 1935) directed by Nitin Bose was the first hindi film to use playback singing. It was a remake of the Bengali film Bhagya Chakra. The three main film centre’s of the era were Bombay with studios like Minerva, Bombay Talkies, Mohan, Prakash, Wadia, Sagar, Ranjit and Imperial, Pune with the Prabhat studio and Calcutta with Madan and New Theatres.

Nitin Bose came up with the idea of playback singing for Dhoop Chhaon. He discussed
it with music director Raichand Boral and Bose’s brother Mukul Bose, who was the
sound recordist in New Theatres and who eventually implemented the idea.


Biswas first joined Ram Daryani’s Eastern Art Syndicate as part of the orchestra on a monthly remuneration of Rs. 150. However his big break came in 1935 when he made his debut as a film composer in Dharam ki devi for which he composed the background music and also acted and sang the song ‘Kuch Bhi Nahin Bharosa duniya hai ani jaani’. He also sung ‘Shama karo tum shama karo’ and ‘Kar haal pe apne raham zara kudrat ko tu yun naashad na kar’. This was the first film in which Biswas’s name appeared in the credit titles and also succeeded in drawing attention to his singing abilities.
In 1936 he joined Sagar Movietones as a composer, first starting with assisting composers Ashok Ghosh (Manmohan and Deccan Queen) and Pransukh Nayak. He continued with Sagar Movietones even after it merged with National Studios in 1939.
Biswas made his debut as a song composer with Bharat Ki Beti (1937), the song ‘Tere poojan ko bhagwan bana man mandir aalishan’ was sung by Ratanbai of New Theatres fame. Other songs of this film were composed by Ustad Jahnde Khan which indicates Biswas’s gradual entry into music composition. Biswas then had seven releases each year from 1936 to 1938 with films like Mehboob Khan’s Jagirdar (1937), Piya Ki Jogan, Mahageet, Pratima, Sangdil Samaj, Dukhiari, Insaaf and Three Hundred Days and After, Gramophone Singer, Hum Tum Aur Woh, Ek Hi Raasta, and Mehboob Khan’s Watan. In fact Zohrabai Ambalewali sang for the first time in films for Gramaphone Singer.
In the next three years Biswas worked for films like Pooja (1940) directed by A R Kardar, Apna Paraya (1942) and Basant (1942). He also composed for Mehboob Khan’s Alibaba (1940), the classic Aurat (1940), Bahen (1941), and Roti (1942) for which he is also credited with the story and concept and which featured many songs by the film’s actress Akhtaribai Faizabadi (Begum Akhtar), though they were deleted due to a contractual conflict (the music was recorded with HMV, while she was in contract with Megaphone Gramophone Company). Interestingly Mehboob Khan remade Aurat as Mother India in 1957 and it became an all time hit.



In 1942 Biswas joined Bombay Talkies at an offer from Devika Rani and went on to give some brilliant music in some landmark films from the production house. The association started with Hamari Baat and Kismet in 1943. Directed by Gyan Mukherji , Kismet is considered one of the greatest hits of Indian Cinema; starring Ashok Kumar and Mumtaz Shanti , lyrics by Kavi Pradeep and some beautiful songs by Amirbai Karnataki. The film ran for 187 continuous weeks at Roxy Cinema in Calcutta, a record that stood for 32 years. Songs like ‘Dheere Dheere aa re badal’, ‘ghar ghar mein diwali’ and ‘Aaj himalaya ki choti se’ became instant hits.
In 1944 Biswas composed for Jwar Bhata which was Dilip Kumar’s debut film and also went on to compose for Milan (1946); again featuring Dilip Kumar. He gave break to upcoming playback singer Mukesh in Pehli Nazar (1945), singing ‘Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De’. Mukesh went on to become one of the most popular hindi playback singers over the next 30 years.
In 1946 after the success of Milan; Biswas left Bombay Talkies and started to work as a freelancer. Over the next few years he worked with different banners and was also behind the success of many singers such as Surendranath, Parul Ghosh, Amirbai Karnataki, Lata Mangeshkar and Roshan Ara Begum. Parul Ghosh was the wife of flute Maestro Panna Lal Ghosh and had sung the hit song ‘Papiha Re’ from Kismet. Biswas also introduced Talat Mahmood in Arzoo (1949), singing ‘Aye Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagah Ley Chal’. In 1947 Biswas worked in Bhookh for Rang Mahal Ltd Bombay, Manjhdhaar for Minerva Movietone and Naiya for Mohan Pictures. In 1948 Biswas again worked in three more films – Anokha Pyar for Ambika Films, Gajre for Allied Arts Productions and Veena for Jagat Pictures. Anokha Pyar was the first film in which Lata Mangeshkar sang for Anil Biswas , in fact the songs ‘Yaad rakhna chand taaron is suhani raat ko’ and ‘Ek dil kalagana baaki tha’ became very popular.
Eventually Lata and Talat turned out to be Biswas’s main singers in his music career. He advised lata against following the nasal voice tone popular with the then singers. He also assured Talat that his voice had vibrato, which is a merit and not tremolo.
Under the banner of Variety Pictures owned by his wife Ashalata Biswas , Biswas worked in Laadli (1949), Laajawaab (1950), Badi Bahu (1951) and Humdard (1953). Biswas composed for director K A Abbas’s Raahi (1953) and the songless Munna (1954) for which he composed the background score. Munna was the second songless film in hindi cinema after Wadia Movietone’s Naujawan (1937).
In 1957 Biswas had the distinction of working in an Indo-Soviet co-production Naya Sansar International’s Pardesi. The film starred Nargis and Balraj Sahni and was co-directed by K A Abbas and V. M. Pronin. The music was given by Biswas and B.A. Tchaikovsky.
The dynamics of hindi film music had changed by the sixties with music directors like Sankar Jaikishan , O P Nayyar , Madan Mohan , Salil Chaudhary leading the way. Along with the hindustani raga based compositions , western music also started to have an influence with jazz music and rock n roll. Punjabi music had also made its way to hindi films courtesy of music directors like O P Nayyar.
It was in the midst of these changing times that Anil Biswas retired from active film music and moved to New Delhi. Although he did films like Chaar Din Chaar Raahein (1959), Mr. Superman KI Waapsi (1960), Angulimal (1960), Lucky Number (1961), Hamein Khelne Do (1962), Sautela Bhai (1962) and Choti Choti Baateinn (1965) which was Motilal’s directorial debut starring himself and Nadira.
His music and his views
Biswas had become an expert at playing rhythm instruments like dhak, dhol, khol and tabla. His music was always close to folk, devotional and other traditional forms of Indian music and he used various different rhythms in his compositions which he picked from different sources. He included khayal, thumri, qawwali, bhajan, geet as well as rabindra sangeet in his compositions. It is said that he once camped at the Mahalaxmi dhobi ghat in Mumbai to catch the characteristic rhythm of the washermen washing the clothes.
Although his feet were firmly planted in hindustani music , Biswas did not lag behind western music style orchestration and notation. He was attracted to the various facets of western music and started using them early in his career. When he came to Bombay he brought along four musicians from Calcutta who could read music notation or sheet music as it is called. In Bombay he formed an Orchestra of 12 musicians which was considered unusual in those times. He recorded choral effects using a single mike by placing singing groups in different corners of the hall. The use of such choral effects was much appreciated in Gyan Mukhejee’s Kismat (1943). Biswas had strong views about modernizing music, as is evident from his generous use of piano and keyboard instruments as in ‘Door Papiha Bole’ from Gajre (1948) sung by Suraiya. Biswas was of the view that from 1952 onwards, cinematic art passed from the hands of artists to businessmen.
Life in Delhi
After a 29 year long career as a composer and having worked in over 100 films, Anil Biswas joined the All India Radio (AIR) – Delhi in March 1963 and became head of the light music division. He retired in 1978. He then composed for Doordarshan’s TV series Hum Log (1984) and also for a number of documentaries for the Films Division in the late eighties. He also remained the vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University for 2 years and also won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986. Upon his death on 31st May 2003, the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee called him, “a doyen of film music who struck the rare balance between classical purity of music and popular pulse”, and credited him for leaving, “an enduring legacy as he introduced many talented singers and innovations to the Indian film music”.

Ref : Hindi Film Song (Ashok Da. Ranade),

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