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Salil Chowdhury : A Biography
(1925-95)
Source: 'Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema', British Film Institute, 1999
(By Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen)

Self-trained composer and music director. Active among peasantry in '24 Parganas' District, Bengal. Did music for IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association) plays and musical squads performing in Bengali countryside, calling for cultural interna-tionalism as opposed to an emphasis on regional folk traditions (cf entry on Bhupen Hazarika; also Chowdhury's "Modern Bengali Music in Crisis," 1951). His influences in songs that have remained enduring favourites with left cultural groups all over India include Mozart, Hans Eisler and contemporary Latin American forms. Ghatak, in Komal Gandhar, and Mrinal Sen, in Akaler Sandhaney, used his music to typify the spirit of 40s Bengali agitational theatre movements, which he also extended to cover other genres, like Zia Sarhadi's Awaaz and Tarafdar's Ganga.

Entered films with Satyen Bose. First major hit was Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen, based on a story by himself, with full-blooded choral compositions celebrating peasant vitality (monsoon song 'hariyala sawan'), a form still most associated with him. Went on to score the pathbreaking soundtrack of Bimal Roy's Madhumati. Also did notable work for Hrishikesh Mukherjee films, e.g., his debut Musafir and the 70s hit Anand.

The only front-line Hindi composer to work in several languages: Assamese (the experimental Aparajeya by the Chaturanga collective), Kannada (A.M. Samiulla's films, including Samshayaphala, Onde Roopa Eradu Guna, etc., and Balu Mahendra's debut Kokila), Tamil (Doorathu Idhi Muzhakkam) and Telugu (Chairman Chalamayya). Most spectacular work outside Bengali and Hindi is, however, for Ramu Kariat, scoring several hits in his breakthrough Chemmeen, followed by Ezhu Rathrikal, Abhayam, Nellu etc.

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