22 September, 2014

Geet Salil - A musical journey in tribute to Salil Choudhury

(Image courtesy : Tharangini Choir, HK)

Geet Salil, a musical evening, was presented twice in as many weeks, to music lovers in HK.  The evenings were a tribute to Salil Chowdhury (better known as Salil Da), and the musical legacy  he has left behind.

This post should have been done earlier, but when one steps into the world of Salil Da’s music, nothing is ever so simple and straightforward.  His melodies, through the years, have echoed with many different emotions and served many different purposes.  Most of all, what one remembers the most about Salil Da’s compositions, is not just the the songs and the scores, but the impact that the music leaves on ones mind.  

His was never the kind of music one could hear and then let lapse into the unconscious mind.  Even if not in the forefront of consciousness, his melodies (as evidenced by the Geet Salil evening) stay put in the sub conscious mind.  There they stay, simmering, smouldering just beneath the surface, waiting for that one tiny cinder to set a chain of memories ablaze with a whole range of emotions – love, hope, anger, despair, sheer joy – his melodies encompass all these and much more.

Thus, this post could never have been easy – given the gamut, the array it needs to cover.  Also, had I just penned a post on the Geet Salil evening without setting the stage with the elan and flair of Salil Da and his compositions, it would be grossly unfair to the Tharangini team who must have worked so hard over the past many months, towards producing this musical evening, this tuneful, melodic tribute to Salil Da. 

Salil Chowdhury has always been known for his versatility, a distinct blending of Eastern and Western music traditions.  He is quoted to have said once “I want to create a style that transcends borders – a genre which is emphatic and polished, but never predictable” and through his lifetime of composing music, that’s exactly what he did.

I remember listening to many songs through my growing up years, music for which had been rendered so artfully by Salil Da.  The one thing that always stood out about his music was the wide variety that he composed.  His music was never predictable – one never knew what to expect.  In being able to do that in the 1960s and 70s, without any digital components, is nothing short of sheer magic in itself.  Some scores, as soft as lullabies crooned to put babies to sleep while others were forceful enough to send awareness ripping through the conscious mind, searing itself on people’s psyches.

Jaagte Raho was one such movie.  That evening, when Hrishikesh Joshi started the opening notes to the song “Jaago Mohan Pyaare” from the said movie, I could feel the goosebumps.  As his voice echoed through the hall, forceful yet not a note out of sync, it made images float across the canvas of my mind.   Raj Kapoor’s body doubled over on the floor with despair written large all over his face and the little child who ‘awakes’ in him a sentiment of hope, infuses in him a sense of purpose.  I could almost visualise Nargis with that faint hint of a Mona Lisa smile.  This number made me reel, it was vigorous, it was dynamic and it was powerful – all the elements that I’m sure Salil Da intended for it to be.

Another such number, soft yet equally forceful was Aye Mere Pyaare Watan from Kabuliwala.  One could almost sense the presence of Balraj Sahni who plays the Afghan in the movie and echoes his longing for his motherland in this particular song.  This song was soft on the senses but just as demanding as Jaago Mohan Pyaare on one’s emotions.  Therein lies the beauty of Salil Da’s music compositions and therein lay the passion amongst the Tharangini team members in delivering a tribute to the great music composer.

The numbers were skilfully mixed and matched through the evening and many of them stood out in their brilliance, weaving their musical magic on the audience.  I, for one, was hooked right from the first number and rather gladly gave myself over to the emotions that were flooding the mind, the sentiments that were flooding the senses.

Jaaneman Jaaneman from Choti Si Baat rendered beautifully and playfully by Kaustubh and Mugdha, a peppy number which flirted with the memories of ones youth, reminding one of a rather bashful Amol Palekar in his hey days.  Once again, this is but an indication of the wide repertoire that Salil Da had, when it came to composing music.

Krithika’s version of Rajnigandha Phool Tumhare was an unplugged one.  There are very few instances when I’m left totally speechless in any given situation and this was well and truly one of them.  She literally brought the roof down over this one.  The ease and the mastery that she exhibited over this number would have made Salil Da happy and I’m sure, wherever he was that evening, he was listening.

There were many numbers from Anand too.  How could there not be ?  A monumental movie and the remarkable trio in terms of music – Gulzar, Salil Chowdhury and Mukesh.  This is one movie I will never ever forget.  When those numbers were on – Jairam enthralling with Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli and Narayanmoorthy’s charming rendition of Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye and Maine Tere Liye Hi Saath Rang ke Sapne Chune, one could almost visualise Rajesh Khanna with that half smile, drawling “Babu Moshaaiii ….. arey oo babu moshaiiii”.  Then it was the turn of, the Mugdha – Krithika duo to enthral the audience with Na Jiya Lage Na in both, Bengali and Hindi.

Another remarkable feature of Salil Choudhury was the fact that he’d composed music for lyrics in many different languages.  Tharangini paid tribute to this facet of Salil Da with Suresh Kumar and Sudha Dilip rendering a couple of Malayalam songs which effortlessly transported one to God’s Own Country.

Mugdha, apart from rendering melodious tunes (both in Hindi and Bengali), also proved to be a treasure trove of information that she shared with the audience.  The mind boggles at the amount of research she must have undertaken, for those snippets of information that she kept feeding the audience, to provide a background on Salil Da’s life and her script, interwoven with the songs, gave people a very thorough picture of Salil Choudhury, his life and his journey in the world of music. The narration was all the more important to the uninitiated, like our kids, who could therefore relate to the music and melodies and enjoy the show.

Jairam absolutely astounded with a couple of numbers in Bengali – beautiful, delightful numbers in a language that is exquisite and sweet like the Rosgullas and Sondesh which Kolkota is famous for.

The child artistes who began the show with a Bengali song and absolutely amazed the audience with their fluidity in the language.  The diction was flawless and all of them looked completely at ease singing in a language that was not their mother tongue or one they do not use for communicating regularly.  Music indeed transcends languages and these little people, these talented children were ample proof.

The Geet Salil evening is one that will remain etched in memory for a long long time.  These numbers (among many others) were even more dear to my heart because during my growing up years, the only music I was supposed to be listening to, was Carnatic Classical music.  Hindi film music was usually scoffed at, by the elders in the family for whom the only music that was music, was Carnatic classical.  While I’ve been trained in Carnatic Classical music, my heart lay elsewhere.  Listening to Vividh Bharati around 11 am was something akin to playing truant for me and I was drawn into that world, I fell for it hook, line and sinker.  Listen to it, I used to, almost every day and I simply fell in love with the numbers from the 60s 70s and 80s.  For me, music was not and will never be measured in terms of whether they were songs from films or a proper classical concert or someone singing in a subway with a guitar in hand and a hat on the floor.

Music is music – something that you need to let wash over you.  Music is something that touches the very core in all things living.  Why just humans, even plants respond to music. It simply takes over ones senses, it mesmerizes, it tantalizes, it leaves one confounded with its sheer depth. Music has the capacity to make one laugh and forget all the problems and issues that life often presents, it also has the ability to make one cry in despair that is born out of the pain and melancholy intertwined in some numbers.  

If one were to narrow that essence of variability, diversity and assortment down to one person, it would be Salil Da.  The sheer complexity of his musical compositions prompted someone to say “Salil Da often crafts symphonies of four and a half minutes”.   It would not be wrong to say that he was an individual whose music was way ahead of its times.

I cannot even begin to imagine the sheer amount of effort and commitment that must have gone into the production of Geet Salil – starting with the budding concept, the follow up research, the practice and rehearsal sessions over the past many months.  Geet Salil did total justice in fusing his tunes and molding them in many different languages that evening.  The ultimate tribute to a master, they re-created that atmosphere that evening.  The ambiance, the mood, the feel, the tone, the way the numbers were rendered made the evening a transcendental one – taking the audience to heights hitherto unexperienced.  In doing that, they highlighted and brought to the fore once again, the creative genius of Salil Da and yet again, cemented the fact in the psyche of the audience that day that music knows no boundaries.

Anirudha Chatterjee described it brilliantly in his eulogy to Salil Da when he said “In an era when dancing means acrobatics and grace has come down to catwalks; when melody is sulking in the dark and music weighed in decibels, it needs more than a passing effort to feel the pulse of an artiste like Salil Choudhury”.

Tharangini, you guys did all that and much more to put together an evening like Geet Salil.  That was one beautiful musical rendezvous, a tryst which had so many hearts beating as one as Salil Da’s music worked its magic into hearts and minds and made inroads into the audience’s memories.

Take a bow, Jairam and Tharangini.

That was a true homage to a master musician – whose every song was an extremely colourful imagination at work, an imagination that knew no boundaries.

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