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Awaaz De Raha Hai Koi Aasmaan Se: Ghulam Mohammed

Note : originally written for Sangeet ke sitare group
by – surajit bose
Unquestionable talent, chequered career, largely relegated to oblivion, but a final masterstroke to attain immortality.


Pic courtesy :Kaustubh Pingle

The twentieth annual Filmfare Awards ceremony was held in 1973 to celebrate the cinematic achievements of the previous year. It seemed that Sohanlal Kanwar’s Be-Imaan could do no wrong, racking up seven awards for everything from Best Film to Best Lyrics to Best Male Playback Singer. When Pran was chosen as the winner for Best Male Supporting Actor, however, he turned the trophy down. His reason? He felt that the Best Music Award given to Shankar-Jaikishan for this movie was undeserved; he felt that the honor rightly belonged to Ghulam Mohammed for the posthumously released Pakeezah.

The songs of Pakeezah were, and remain, tremendously popular. Their effortless charm belies the struggle it took to get the movie to screen. Begun in the late fifties, Pakeezah was fourteen years in the making. It was finally completed in 1971, by which time both its cinematographer Josef Wirsching and its composer Ghulam Mohammed were dead. The movie was released in February 1972 and showed every sign of becoming an expensive flop. However, with superbly calculated timing, the heroine Meena Kumari died too, within a few weeks of the release date. Audiences turned out in droves to mourn Hindi filmdom’s most celebrated tragedienne, and the movie became a colossal hit.

Ghulam Mohammed’s superb compositions played no small part in the eventual success of Pakeezah. The central figure of the story was a courtesan, which made the song and dance sequences critical to the story. The most popular song, “inhii.n logo.n ne”, adapted a jaunty tune that had been in prior circulation amongst dancing girls, and had already been used in a couple of earlier movies. Almost equally well-liked were the yearning “chalate chalate yuu.Nhii koii mil gayaa thaa” and the kathak piece choreographed by Lachchhu Maharaj, “Thaa.De rahiyo o baa.Nke yaar re.” These and other songs from the movie are now so firmly a part of the film music canon, it is hard to remember the sensation they created when the movie was first released. So immensely successful were Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions that a few years later, the record company HMV took the unprecedented step of releasing an album of nine outtakes that had been composed for the movie but not included on the soundtrack.

The paradoxes of Pakeezah embody those of Ghulam Mohammed’s career. Like the movie, his career was a quest for perfection beset by difficulties. Like the movie, he seemed destined for oblivion, only to be rescued at the last minute. Pran was prescient: Pakeezah and its music continue to be widely remembered today, while Be-Imaan is justly forgotten. But Pran’s gesture of turning down the award was, after all, purely nominal. It was not going to make the judges change their minds. Similarly, as far as Ghulam Mohammed was concerned, Pakeezah’s success was futile–it came too late to do him any practical good.

Ghulam Mohammed

pic courtesy : hamara forums

Ghulam Mohammed was born in 1903. His father Nabi Baksh was a tabla player in Bikaner. Since music was the family vocation, Ghulam Mohammed naturally received training in classical music. Under his father’s tutelage, he became well versed in genres such as Khayal and Thumri, and developed expertise on the tabla. He was also drawn to the folk music of Rajasthan and became adept at the Dholak. Such a dual influence of classical and folk was common among music directors in the 1940s and 1950s; the blend of the two gives the music of that era its distinctive sound. Ghulam Mohammed’s childhood and early training thus provided an excellent foundation for his later career.

As a teenager, Ghulam Mohammed used to join Nabi Baksh in performances at the Albert Theatre in Bikaner. He eventually signed on as a contract artiste for 25 rupees a month, but before he could take up the appointment, the theatre closed due to financial difficulties. He then began work as a jobbing musician, taking whatever appointments he could get in traveling troupes. It is said that on one such assignment, he made it to the princely state of Junagadh, where a minister was impressed enough by his performance to present him a gilded sword.

In 1924, Ghulam Mohammed arrived in Bombay. Regular work eluded him for several years. The emergence of sound in cinema finally afforded him an opportunity. He was engaged as a tabla player at Saroj Movietone for the movie Bhartruhari (1932), whose music composers were Sundar Das and Damodar Das. The movie proved popular, and Ghulam Mohammed received acclaim for his skills as a percussionist. He continued to work as a tabla and Dholak player throughout his career. One commonly heard story is that when Shankar-Jaikishan were composing their maiden venture Barsaat (1949), they insisted on having Ghulam Mohammed play the Dholak for “barasaat me.n ham se mile tum sajan”.

Ghulam Mohammed got his break as an independent music director with Baanke Sipahi (1937). Neither the movie nor recordings of its nine songs appear to be available; it is possible that no recordings were made. Ghulam Mohammed may or may not have actively sought additional work as a music director after this movie’s release. If he did, his efforts were unsuccessful. His next assignment as a composer was not until 1943, for the film Mera Khwab. At least some songs were released on 78 RPM records, such as the sweet female solo “u.D jaa re, u.D jaa papiihe, pii pii mat bol”.

naushad and ghulam

Ghaulam Mohd & Naushad – 1949
Pic courtesy :

In the meantime, Ghulam Mohammed had had struck up a friendship with Naushad Ali, who had arrived in Bombay in the late 1930s. Naushad faced some initial difficulties, but after the early 1940s, the younger composer began to achieve success. His career soon outstripped that of Ghulam Mohammed. Despite being some 16 years older than Naushad and some five years the senior as a film musician, Ghulam Mohammed began working as his assistant. His collaboration with Naushad spanned ten years and 23 movies, from Sanjog (1943) to Aan (1952).

Beginning in 1947, Ghulam Mohammed’s own profile as a composer began to grow as well. From 1948 to 1955, he composed an average of three films a year. The quality of his output is uniformly high, but some highlights may be recognized:
- a plangent duet from Shair (1949), “yah duniyaa hai, yahaa.N dil kaa lagaanaa kisako aataa hai”, which is both one of the earliest Mukesh-Lata duets and one of the few Mukesh songs to be picturized on Dev Anand
- Cuckoo’s lively dance number from “Pardes” (1950), “mere ghuu.Nghar waale baal”, sung with verve by Shamshad Begum
- the irresistible Rafi-Lata duet from Amber (1952), “ham tum yah bahaar, dekho laayaa pyaar, barasaat ke mahiine me.n”, surely one of the most charming confections of Hindi film music
- the song that arguably best showcased Talat Mehmood as a singing star, “zindagii denewaale sun”, a masterpiece of heartbreak from Dil-E-Nadaan (1953).

Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions for Mirza Ghalib (1954) were pathbreaking, and have left an enduring legacy. Prior to this movie, Ghazals were not commonplace in films. Traditionally, they were appreciated primarily as poetry and only secondarily as music. Their somewhat highbrow content was perhaps antithetical to the simpler demands of song lyrics. Today, however, we tend to think of Ghazal as a musical genre first, a verse form second. Indeed, for casual listeners, the musical component of Ghazal has far overshadowed its metrical definition: any soft, romantic, vaguely Urdu-sounding song, irrespective of verse form and meter, is called a Ghazal. Blogs are full of lists of “top ten film Ghazals”, invariably including such non-starters as “zindagii bhar nahii.n bhuulegii” from Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), “mere mahabuub tujhe merii muhabbat kii qasam” from Mere Mehboob (1963), “ aur nuur kii baaraat kise pesh karuu.N” from Ghazal (1964), etc. It is ironic that Ghulam Mohammed succeeded in making Ghalib wildly popular only at the expense of an accurate understanding of the very genre of Ghazal.

The law of unintended consequences notwithstanding, the songs of Mirza Ghalib richly deserve their reputation. Talat Mahmood and Suraiya do full justice to both the beauty of Ghalib’s poetry and the richness of Ghulam Mohammed’s music. Such Ghazals as “dil-e-naadaa.N tujhe huaa kyaa hai”, “aah ko chaahiye ik umr asar hone tak”, and “phir mujhe deeda-e-tar yaad aayaa” have been set to new music and sung by celebrated Ghazal exponents innumerable times since, but the popularity and accessibility of Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions remains unrivaled.

Surprisingly, the acclaim Mirza Ghalib received did not give Ghulam Mohammed’s career a fillip. His assignments began drying up soon after. He did not go beyond his usual three-movie average in 1955, and had no films at all in 1956. A few one-off assignments dribbled in over subsequent years, spaced out as widely as his earliest movies. The last two of his films released during his lifetime were Shama (1961) and the Bhojpuri Saiyan Se Neha Lagaibe (1965). His straitened circumstances led him to move to Borivili, then a remote suburb at the outermost reaches of the city. His constant companion at the time was Jamal Sen, a fellow Rajasthani who too had never achieved the sort of recognition he might have expected from the excellence of his compositions. Ghulam Mohammed died of a heart ailment on 17 March 1968.

A glance over the entirety of Ghulam Mohammed’s work reveals some enduring characteristics. The obvious one based on his background is his deft use of percussion. His rhythms are rarely complex, but the simple base is deftly overlaid with syncopated patterns that perk up the melody. Take for example the Geeta Dutt – G M Durrani duet for Dil Ki Basti (1949), “naazuk dil hai, to.D na dena”, with its emphatic upbeat of the Dholak on the second beat of the taal. Another way Ghulam Mohammed added spirit to his rhythms was through the use of the maT_kaa, or clay pot. He and Shyam Sundar were the pioneers in its use as a percussion instrument in film music. The solo by Shamshad Begum from Doli (1947), “a.nganaa bole kaag re, uja.Daa man kaa baaG re”, shows how the maT_kaa imparts a light, attractive feel even to an otherwise sad song.

The Dholak and maT_kaa beats in many Naushad compositions almost certainly owe their presence to Ghulam Mohammed. Lata Mangeshkar has stated in an interview that Naushad’s assistants left their stamp on his compositions, citing as an example “Dhuu.NDho Dhuu.NDho re saajanaa” from Gunga Jumna (1961), which was arranged by Mohammed Shafi. She gives no examples of songs where Ghulam Mohammed assisted Naushad, but the arrangements of Naushad’s compositions throughout the period when he was associated with Ghulam Mohammed are practically indistinguishable from the latter’s own. The maT_kaa in “tuu kahe agar” from Andaz (1949), for example, plays exactly the same pattern as that in “a.nganaa bole kaag re.”

“tuu kahe agar” demonstrates another Ghulam Mohammed characteristic: the use of short, staccato interludes. Between “detii jaa sahaare mujhako” and “mai.n raag huu.N tuu biinaa hai” there is an eight-beat step-like interlude with strings played in unison over clarinets and flutes. The signature sound created by this blend is impossible to miss in Ghulam Mohammed’s own compositions. The breathtaking (or not!) Shamshad – Rafi duet “laa de mohe baalamaa aas_maani chuu.Diyaa.N” from Rail Ka Dibba (1953) punctuates the sthaayi itself with a staccato pattern using this signature sound; the Amirbai Karnataki – Mohammed Rafi duet from Bikhre Moti (1951), “aa.Nsuu thii merii zindagii”, employs it in every interlude.

To point out these similarities between Ghulam Mohammed’s arrangements and those attributed to Naushad is not, however, to claim that Naushad was parasitic on Ghulam Mohammed. There is every reason to believe that their relationship was mutually beneficial. For instance, Naushad composed the music for two of his three home productions–Babul (1950) and Udan Khatola (1955). However, he gave the third, Maalik (1958), to Ghulam Mohammed. Maalik is the latter’s only score from that year, when his career was on the wane. It is reasonable to assume that Naushad was helping his senior and erstwhile assistant by sending work his way, knowing he could count on its excellence. The lyricist of Maalik was Shakeel Badayuni, a fixture for both Naushad and Ghulam Mohammed. Over Ghulam Mohammed’s career, Shakeel collaborated with him for 22 out of 37 movies.

And, of course, when Ghulam Mohammed passed away before putting the finishing touches on the much-delayed Pakeezah, Naushad stepped in to compose the background music, re-record one song (“chalo diladaar chalo”), and integrate the others into the final product. The transition between Ghulam Mohammed’s work for the movie and Naushad’s is relatively, though not entirely, seamless. Naushad’s willingness to complete Ghulam Mohammed’s work shows that he thought of the latter as more than just a mere assistant. They were colleagues and friends, and each relied on the other.

Commonalities aside, there are differences, too, between Naushad’s sensibility and Ghulam Mohammed’s. A notable one is in their use of ragas. In quite a few songs, Ghulam Mohammed achieves the rare feat of being both entirely within the grammar of a raga, and unobtrusive about it. He has a far lighter touch than Naushad, who could never compose a raga-based song without underlining the fact. The deftness with which Ghulam Mohammed handles, say, Brindavani Sarang in “muhabbat kii dhun beqaraaro.n se puuchho” from Dil-E-Nadaan, or Yaman Kalyan in “nuktachii.n hai Gham-e-dil” from Mirza Ghalib, is admirable.

Another characteristic of Ghulam Mohammed’s work is the wide variety of singers he used. G M Durrani, Shamshad Begum, Talat Mehmood, Sudha Malhotra, Geeta Dutt, Suman Kalyanpur, Jagjit Kaur, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Sitara, Amirbai Karnataki, Asha Bhosle, and Mahendra Kapoor, among others, all had memorable songs under his baton, in addition to the inevitable Lata and Rafi. This variety was partly a function of his active years. The spectrum of voices seemed to narrow considerably in the 1960s, with singers other than Lata and Rafi increasingly relegated to niches. Since Ghulam Mohammed had effectively stopped composing by then, it is hard to say whether he too would have restricted himself to two or three top names.

Ghulam MohammedOne index of Ghulam Mohammed’s creativity is the melodic variety within his songs. Given the brevity of a film song, it is quite usual for every antaraa to have the same tune. But this base case is extremely unusual for Ghulam Mohammed. His songs rarely have a repeated melody throughout. If there are three antaraas, one of them is usually different from the other two; occasionally, all three are different from each other. “dha.Dakate dil kii tamanna ho” from Shama (1961) has three antaraas with two tunes among them; Pakeezah’s “mausam hai aashiqaanaa” has four antaraas with three different tunes among them.

Ghulam Mohammed’s late scores–beginning with Maalik, with its memorable Talat solo, “zindagii kii qasam, ho chuke unake ham”; through Shama, with its Suman songs such as “dil Gham se jal rahaa hai jale”, in addition to the Suraiya numbers; and, ending, of course, with Pakeezah–show a heightening of this creativity. This is especially notable in the instrumental passages. His range seems broader, his sound less uniform. His orchestration is richer, incorporating guitars, sitars, and other instruments not often heard in his earlier scores. The polish and attention to detail, however, are every bit as much in evidence. These movies contain some of Ghulam Mohammed’s most beloved songs, which makes the decline in the number of his composing assignments from 1956 on a mystery.

It is hard to guess why a composer whose experience with film music dated back to its earliest days, whose perfectionism and sophistication were unflagging, who was by all accounts well liked by singers and colleagues, and many of whose songs were huge hits in his own lifetime, should have languished in such obscurity for the bulk of his career. Nalin Shah provides an explanation of sorts when he ascribes to Ghulam Mohammed a “lack of business sense”, and says that he “was too engrossed in his creativity to worry about his own future”. But perhaps we listeners are the richer for his poverty. By not chasing routine assignments, perhaps Ghulam Mohammed chose to concentrate on perfecting the few songs that came his way; perhaps he ensured his future and ours by bequeathing us a scattered handful of pearls instead of a storehouse of base metals.

Filmography: 37 films

1. Baanke Sipahi (1937)
2. Mera Khwab (1943)
3. Mera Geet (1946)* – with Shankarrao Vyas, Geeta Verma, Bal Mukund, and Reejram
4. Doli (1947)
5. Tiger Queen (1947)
6. Grahasti (1948)
7. Kajal (1948)
8. Parai Aag (1948)
9. Pugree (1948)
10. Dil Ki Basti (1949)
11. Paras (1949)
12. Shair (1949)
13. Rasheed Dulhan (194x)
14. Hanste Ansoo (1950)
15. Maang (1950)
16. Pardes (1950)
17. Bikhre Moti (1951)
18. Nazneen (1951)
19. Ajeeb Ladki (1952)
20. Amber (1952)
21. Sheesha (1952)
22. Dil-E-Nadan (1953)
23. Gauhar (1953)
24. Hazar Raaten (1953)
25. Laila Majnu (1953) – with Sardar Malik
26. Rail Ka Dibba (1953)
27. Guzaara (1954)
28. Mirza Ghalib (1954)
29. Hoor-E-Arab (1955)
30. Kundan (1955)
31. Sitara (1955)
32. Pak Daman (1957)
33. Maalik (1958)
34. Do Gunde (1959)
35. Shama (1961)
36. Saiyan Se Neha Lagaibe (1965) – Bhojpuri
37. Pakeezah (1971) – with Naushad

* In his book “dhuno.n kii yaatraa”, Pankaj Rag mentions that the “Ghulam Miyan” who has composed two songs for Mera Geet (1946) is in fact Ghulam Mohammed.



1. Dissertation by Vidya Arya: “raajasthaan ke vilakShaN sa.ngiit pratibhaa sa.ngiit_kaar shrii khem_cha.nd prakaash”, Rajasthan University, 1992. A few pages of this dissertation touch upon Ghulam Mohammed as being one of three Hindi film composers who formed a “Rajasthan trinity”, the other two being Khemchand Prakash and Jamal Sen. Not always accurate–for example, treats “inhii.n logo.n ne” and “dupaTTa meraa” as two separate songs. Tone somewhat melodramatic and overstated: “filmii duniyaa kii viShailii raaj_niiti ne unhe.n zaar zaar kar Daalaa”. Nevertheless, has some extremely valuable information.

2. Pankaj Rag’s book “dhuno.n kii yaatraa”. Rag mentions that the “Ghulam Miyan” who has composed two songs for Mera Geet (1946) is in fact Ghulam Mohammed. The songs do indeed exhibit the hallmarks of Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions, such as the staccato short instrumental phrases with strings overlaying woodwinds, and the syncopated percussion. The songs are “ham se ruuThe hii bhale” and “tore binaa ho balamaa”, both by Zohrabai Ambalewali.

3. The article on Ghulam Mohammed. The essay is a fragmentary and rather poor translation of the relevant few pages of Arya’s dissertation, but the filmography is relatively complete, leaving out only two movies. One is Mera Geet; the other, the Bhojpuri film Saiyan Se Neha Lagaibe (1965). The omission means, of course, that the list given above is the only known complete and accurate filmography of Ghulam Mohammed currently available on the web. 

4. Wikipedia entry on Ghulam Mohammed. Consulted but discarded as being nearly entirely worthless. The information is inaccurate and incomplete, the latter being a saving grace considering the former. For example: claims that Ghulam Mohammed won the President’s Award for Mirza Ghalib, when in fact a music director award was not instituted until 1965.

5. Article by Nalin Shah in the Indian Express, 17 April 1999. Posted on the usenet newsgroup by Kalyan Kolachala on 16 April 1999. Aren’t time zones wonderful?

6. Other postings on about Ghulam Mohammed. Again, the information there had to be taken with a grain of salt (“yah kaisii ajab daas_taa.N ho ga_ii hai” is neither a Ghulam Mohammed composition, nor from Sikandar-E-Azam, and in any case, the latter movie isn’t one of Ghulam Mohammed’s, nor of Sajjad’s, who really did compose the song in question); but then, as someone who cheerfully promulgated his share of howlers on that forum, I just holler “caveat lector” and have at it.


1. To Aditya Pant and the rest of the SKS deities, first, for asking me to contribute a write-up, and second, for agreeing to my choice of Ghulam Mohammed.thank you I’m honored to be asked and delighted to have had the excuse to explore the work of a composer I’ve always liked without knowing much about. I’m also grateful to Aditya for alerting me to Rag’s book.

2. To my near-namesake Dr Surjit Singh, who sent me a PDF of some pages of Arya’s dissertation, reminded me to check, supplied me with recordings of Ghulam Mohammed’s earliest compositions, and responded to panicked last-minute queries with customary coolth and aplomb.

3. To all the nettors who contributed posts about Ghulam Mohammed to

Any merit in the article is due entirely, etc., and any errors or infelicities that remain are of course, and so on

#Ghulam Mohammed # Ghulam Mohammed composer  #composer # music director Ghulam Mohammed

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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Articles, info and facts


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Rajkumari Dubey :Kabhi Khushiyon Ke Naghme Hain,Kabhi Gham Ka Tarana Hai

Rajkumari by Gajendra Khanna

During the thirties the actresses used to primarily sing their own songs. Rajkumari had a big hand to play in changing this situation after the advent of playback singing.

RajkumariRajkumari’s name may not be a familiar one for the new generation but lovers of old film music take her name with as much respect today as they used to do during her career. Her voice had a unique sweetness which cannot be forgotten. She was a leading and an extremely talented singer during her time. Her voice entertained listeners for more than twenty years and she was the voice for numerous actresses in that time. She was responsible for giving career boosting successes to many composers, lyricists and actors/actresses. It is a tragedy of time that they forgot her in the future years and Rajkumari had to spend her last days in anonymity. By the blessings of the power that be, her voice however did not lose its sweetness. Her employment was stolen from her but her talent could not be stolen. Her songs feel as sweet to the ears and enter the heart today as they used to do more than half a century ago.

During the thirties the actresses used to primarily sing their own songs. Rajkumari had a big hand to play in changing this situation after the advent of playback singing. Due to the demand for her songs, many composers used her services and she became a shining star in cine skies. She sang all types of songs including thumris, mehfil songs, comic, romantic and sad songs. On one hand as per the wishes of composers she sang classical oriented songs in the thirties and on the other she sang many fun songs also.

Revolution was in the air in the forties and it did not fail to leave its effects on hindi film music also. While in the thirties slow speed songs were popular, the forties saw songs with fast speed tunes increasing in number. Rajkumari was a very intuitive singer who could grasp the tunes easily and sing according to the requirements of the composers. She had the inherent capability to learn even difficult tunes very quickly. She learned fine nuances like which word should be stressed on more, when to breathe etc during the thirties itself. An important point to be noted is that the custom of singing ghazals came into films because of her voice only. She could sing difficult songs like “Saiyaan Tu Ek Veri Aaja” with utmost ease. Composers were able to do a number of new experiments thanks to the availability of her voice at their disposal. An attempt at singing her songs immediately reveals what a great singer she was. She was perhaps the first singer to sing in many languages. In addition to Hindi/Urdu songs she had sung in Gujarati and Punjabi during first few years of her career itself. This became a trend in later years which was set by her.

Unlike most top singers who originated from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra, Rajkumari belonged to Benares in Uttar Pradesh and had brought the sweetness of its betel leaf in her voice.

In spite of her many achievements Rajkumari was a very humble human being. RajkumariAccording to an Indian saying, the tree which is most laden with fruits is the most down to earth. The best talent will always be modest and Rajkumari was an epitome of this virtue. She had a rare dignity in her demeanour while maintaining grandeur in her expressions.  Facets like these in her personality increase respect towards her immensely.  I have seen many people twist one such modesty filled comment made by her in a negative vein. She had said in an interview that her range was limited in her usual manner but I am not in agreement with the tone in which it is twisted around.  It is not a joke to sing with full emotions at low pitch and in this range there are few who can compete with her.  In any case, the trend of high pitch songs had not come up much in her career and we have consequently not had her sing much of those. Singers used to rehearse extensively each song in her days and due to this she was able to show every kind of emotion on screen very well. In any case, film music is for the common man.  The high pitch songs appear quite unnatural on most actresses’ lips and anyone can tell their characters would never have sung such songs.  According to physics, voice range is capable of being spread across eight octaves. Most songs of Indian films do not make the singer span more than two to two and a half octaves. The truly high pitch songs are only found in opera which isn’t heard in Indian films and we can say with certainty that in fact, the range of all Indian singers is limited.

I would be failing in my duties if I did not start from the beginning of her career. Unlike most top singers who originated from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra, Rajkumari belonged to Benares in Uttar Pradesh and had brought the sweetness of its betel leaf in her voice. She was also referred as Rajkumari of Benares or Rajkumari “Benares” in later half of thirties. The reason for this was that there was another singer Rajkumari of Calcutta in those days. Both of them had even sung for the same film Gorakh Aaya in 1938. One record had both their voices on either side. The real name of that singer/actress was Pullobai and not much information is available about her.

Many listeners may not be able to recall that before taking up playback singing, Rajkumari had been an actress also. According to sources, she had been born in 1924 and when she came in early thirties to Bombay, she had joined a gramophone company. She had sung and also spoke in dramas on some records in those days which are not available now. When she got interested in plays, she came on the stage. She had a good singing voice; hence, she was invited to do roles that required singing. This was how she did her first acting part and became famous for both acting as well as singing. On one occasion, Vijay Bhatt of Prakash Pictures came to watch one of her plays. He liked her acting and singing skills. His studio was working on a new film at that time and invited her to act in it. In those days stages did not have mikes on them. Each dialogue would have to be literally shouted for the audience and the songs were also sung in a similar loud manner. Lovers of her singing would often give a “Once More” request and Rajkumari would sometimes have to sing a single song 8-9 times. Her well-wishers suggested that she should stop spoiling her voice and accept the invitation. She was already interested in films and agreed. Most people do not know that Rajkumari had already done a small girl’s role in Lahore in 1932 in a film called Radhe Shyam which had been made by Kamla Movietone. Rajkumari was now ready to make her debut as a heroine.

 The proposed film was a bilingual being made in Hindi and Gujarati.  The year was 1942. The Gujarati version was called Sansaar Leela, while the Hindi version was titled Nai Duniya alias Sacred Scandal. Rajkumari was given the role of a heroine named Malti. Kashinath, Umakant Desai and Prakash’s heroine Gulab had also acted in the movie. The movie’s composer also acted in it and he was one of the popular personalities of the time. His name was Lallubhai Nayak and Rajkumari was to sing most of her early songs under his baton. Rajkumari sang songs like “Preet Ki Reet Sikha Ja Balam” and “Preetam Tum Ghan Ban Jaao” which were picturised on her.  Lallubhai was the main composer for the studio (though later Shankar Rao Vyas and then Naushad replaced him there. Years later when he was living under anonymity, Shankar-Jaikishan had brought him as an arranger for movie Patrani). Actor Jayant was in Prakash at that time and Rajkumari mostly was cast opposite him. The composer was, of course, Lallubhai. These films were as follows: Bambai Ki Sethaani, Bombay Mail, Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter and Shamsheer-e-Arab in 1935; and Snehlata in 1936.

Along with acting in Bambai Ki Sethaani, Rajkumari had sung the song “Humse Kyon Rooth Gaye Bansi Bajaane waale”. The songs of Bombay Mail were particularly popular in those days.Rajkumari Rajkumari had sung the song “Kiski Aamad Ka Yun Hai Intezaar” with Lallubhai himself and Ismail very beautifully. The orchestra is negligible in this song but the sweetness of Rajkumari’s voice is able to attract listeners.  She had sung a slow paced ghazal “Baaton Baaton Mein Dil-e-Bezaar” in the film with her sweet intonations. Her song “Kaaga RE Jaiyo Piya Ki Galiyan” was extremely popular in those days. The year 1935 was quite successful for her. Some people erroneously think that she acted in that year’s super duper hit Devdas also but that actress was a different one.

She sang songs like “Kudrat Hai Rab Ki Nyaari” for the movie Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter.  She sang many songs for the movie Snehlata also. This film had been made by the name “Bharat Ki Devi” in Gujarati also. The songs sung by her for this movie include, “Hey Dhanya Tu Bharat Naari”, “Sambhal Kar Rakh Kadam, Kaante Bichche Hain Prem Ke Ban Mein”, “Tum Ho Kisi Ke Ghar Ke Ujaale” and “Moorakh Man Bharmaane”. Rajkumari got more than sufficient training in singing while working at Prakash, which held her in good stead during her long career. Her song “Sharad Mayank Na Tab Mukh Sam Hai, Dekha Baar Baar Baar” in Passing Show (1936) was a melodious one which is probably lost like most songs of the period. She also sang songs including “Kali Kali Par Hai Bhramar” and “Aao Aao Pran Pyaare, Sansaar Ek Naya Basayen” for the movie Khwab Ki Duniya alias Dreamland (1937). She also started getting opportunities outside Prakash by that time. She acted and sang in movies including Parakh(1937), Chhote Sarkaar / Warisdaar (1937) (Sagar Movietone), Jungle Ka Jawan (1938) (Mohan Pictures), Toofan Express (1937)(Sundar Movietone), Vijay Marg (1938), Secretary (1938) (Ranjeet Movietone) and Gorakh Aaya (1938) (Ranjeet Movietone). It is a real pity that not a single of those movies is available now and we are unable to appreciate her acting skills.

One day, Motilal, who she used to address as Chacha (paternal uncle) met her. He advised her not to waste her voice in hopes of making a career as a heroine.

The custom of playback singing had arrived in Bombay around that time. Gradually, her acting offers reduced as she had put on a bit of weight. This was due to her fondness for eating good food. One day, Motilal, who she used to address as Chacha (paternal uncle) met her. He advised her not to waste her voice in hopes of making a career as a heroine. He told her that she was a good singer and her voice had everything, which she should encourage. He also told her that with passing age, she could not be a heroine but a singing career could last till her old age also. Rajkumari took his advice and started taking up playback singing offers. She was already popular and started getting more offers. During her career, thanks to her talent, she was able to sing for almost all the popular composers and actresses.

Gyan Dutt for whom she had already sung called her to sing the song “Saajan Nikle Chor, Meethi Meethi Kar Mose Batiyaan Jiya Churaayo Mor” with himself and Indubala for the movie Nadi Kinaare (1939). Dada Chandekar invited her to sing for Hans Pictures’ famous movie Brandy Ki Bottle for the song “Koi Le Lo Le Lo Le Lo Main Meetha Doodh Laayi” which helped her in her career. During 1940, she had songs in movies like Paap Ki Duniya, Anjaan / Ishwari Nyaay, Pyaar / Next to God and Suhaag. Famous studio Bombay Talkies was making the film Punarmilan with Ram Chandra Pal as composer. Her song “Sooniy Sejariya Saiyaan Tu Ek Beri Aaja Din Nahin Chain” was quite appreciated. She also sang a duet “Aaya Re Pardesi Sajaniya Aaya Re, Jal Bin Machhari Si Gat” with R C Pal himself for the movie. The information related to most of the songs of the period is quite rare and we shall probably never be certain how many songs she sang in the period. She may have sung many songs in the film versions alone as well. Major studios like Bombay Talkies and Ranjeet Movietone were utilizing her services. During an interview, Rajkumari had told that she had started playback singing at the princely sum of Rs. 50 per song!  One can imagine what that meant considering that even today that sum still has some value!!  It is an indicator of how much esteem her singing was kept in. Naushad had also mentioned once that she was the first respectable playback singer in Hindi films which is an indicator of her popularity.

Her last song recorded during the fifties was for the Children’s Film Society film Jaldeep / Lighthouse which had been directed by Kidar Sharma. During her long and successful career, she sang for all the major composers in Bombay and for all the heroines. She has sung over 500 film songs. Some of her best songs can be heard in this radio interview:

A discussion on the different songs she sang can be seen separately in the main article.

In an interview when she was asked why she had stopped singing, she had said, “I did not leave anything. People stopped calling me. I am not in a position to tell why they stopped calling“

In the sixties, she was forced to sing in chorus due to financial problems. Naushad helped her a bit but it was not enough. She had no songs in the sixties and only two released songs in the seventies. Though appreciated they failed to get her more work. She last sang for Snehal Bhatkar’s film Pyaase Nain (1989) in a song “Dilbar Jaani” with Bela Sagar. She last appeared in public vision as a judge in Saregama program, where her performance was appreciated.

She passed away on 18th March 2000 with only Sonu Nigam representing the industry at her funeral. She went away but her songs shall always remain with us. The legacy she left behind for us can best be described by the opening lines of one of her songs…

Kabhi Khushiyon Ke Naghme Hain, Kabhi Gham Ka Tarana Hai….


  1. Songs of Rajkumari
  2. Hindi Film Geetkosh
  3. Radio/TV Interviews of Rajkumari
  4. Dhunon Ki Yatra by Pankaj Raag
  5. Numerous articles published over the years

    thank you Acknowledgements:

    1.  I got a lot of help about various songs from Rashmi ji. Girdharilal ji of Jodhpur also shared information regarding some rare songs. I’m deeply indebted to both of them.
    2. Thanks to all the music lovers who have shared songs of Rajkumari with me over the years (including all youtube uploaders)
    3. Thanks are also due to everyone associated with Geet Kosh and Dr. Surjit Singh’s website.
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Articles


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Inhe Na Bhulana : Pankaj Mullick

ये रातें ये मौसम ये हँसना हँसाना 
मुझे भूल जाना इन्हें न भुलाना

Pankaj Mullick. The name needs no introduction. A composer and singer par excellence, Pankaj Mullick had a defining role to play in the early stages of Hindi film music.

Heartfelt thanks to Khantha Mahadevan for putting together this exhaustive and wonderfully written article on the maestro. 

PANKAJ MULLICK by Khantha Mahadevan

pankaj mullick

pankaj mullick

In the annals of popular Indian music and culture of twentieth century, one extraordinary musician, composer, teacher, innovator and actor left an amazing legacy that will never be forgotten. He pioneered new techniques, new styles and had innumerable “firsts” to his credit that one marvels how so many distinctions could be achieved in a lifetime. His humble persona remained untouched by these achievements. He led his life in complete humility, loyalty, and, dedication to his passion: music. It is this unique combination of colossal talent and high ideals that establishes Pankaj Kumar Mullick as the finest cultural ambassador bridging films, traditional music and aadhunik gaan of the land. This article attempts to highlight those areas where Pankaj Babu revolutionized the art and its practice. Three institutions owe an eternal debt to Pankaj Mullick’s vision and talent. These are (a) All India Radio where his association started in 1927 and remained rock steady until 1975; (b) Indian films where he contributed from 1929 to 1972; and (c) Rabindra Sangeet which he imbibed, breathed all his life and nurtured it for future generations. In his own words, “Rabindra Sangeet is my life. Therein lies my redemption. It is not just music but something more. I can’t speak for others, but Rabindra sangeet transports me away from this world, far away, farther than even the sun and the stars.”

Anyone who draws a list of Pankaj babu’s “firsts” will include these and some more:

1. Playback singing in films started under his music direction in 1935.
2. Pankaj Mullick was one of the first to incorporate western instruments and elements of western music such as harmony and counter melody in Indian cinema.
3. He was the first teacher to teach music to millions via radio. The number of singers whom Pankaj Babu trained who then went on to scale extraordinary heights in their field is at least twenty names long beginning with Kundan Lal Saigal, Kanan Devi, Suchitra Mitra and more.
4. He was the first person to win Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s approval and permission to tune his poems, sing them in public and incorporate them in cinema. To quote Gurudev (Jorasanko Thakubari, 1937): “All those lyrics of mine that I will not get the opportunity to set tune during my lifetime, I leave to you to embellish them with your music.” Gurudev’s trust and Pankaj Babu’s dedication helped spread the tranquility and beauty of Rabindra Sangeet all over India. He is fittingly recognized as the foremost ambassador of Rabindra Sangeet.
5. Pankaj Babu introduced tabla in Rabindra Sangeet and also made harmonium an integral part even though Tagore had disliked the use of harmonium.
6. Pankaj Babu was the first music composer to be awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1972.
7. The longest running program on AIR remains the classic live early morning broadcast of Chandipath and Mahishasura Mardini on Mahalaya Amavasya that Pankaj Babu started in 1931 and conducted every year until 1975 (except 1944). The program continues even today.

Pankaj Mullick with the Tanpura in Kapal Kundla.. Pic courtesy Priya

Pankaj Mullick with the Tanpura in Kapal Kundla..
Pic courtesy Priya

It is impossible to do justice to this towering personality in a few pages. Endowed with a sonorous and seductive voice, his songs imbue serenity and divinity in the listener. His voice is soothing and often displays tremendous tonal modulation. The tunes he composed are complex and imaginative. His diction is crystal clear and the subtle nuances he brings to his singing show his mastery of music. Stranded on a desert island, a Pankaj Mullick disc will satiate the mind, body and soul for days, months, years, an entire lifetime.

The following tributes from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar offer a glimpse of the esteem he commanded (shared kindly by Archisman Mozumder). Kumarprasad Mukherjee, the famous musicologist and singer (Agra Gharana) writes in his award winning book in Bengali ‘Kudrat Rangibirangi’ about an incident: Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, at the peak of his popularity in the 1950-s, was performing at a popular and well-attended concert in Calcutta. Pankaj Mullick had come to listen to the concert. Just before the Ustad started the programme, Pankaj Mullick was led on to the stage by the organisers to be introduced to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. The moment Bade Ghulam Ali Khan heard of his name, he hastily hauled himself up on the platform (with difficulty, as he was a heavy person) to grasp Mullick’s hand. He said movingly, ‘hamara gaana to bahot kam log sunte hai, lekin aap ka gaana to Dhaka se leke Peshawar tak mashoor hai. Har baccha aur aurat bhi aap-ke gaana gun-gunaata hai’. He then, in his inimitable voice, broke into singing the opening lines of ‘piya milan ko jaana’ & held Pankaj’s hand & said, “kya gaaya hai aap-ne! Subhanallah!”

Pandit Ravi Shankar, in his Bengali autobiography,

pandit ravi shankar

pandit ravi shankar

‘Raag Anuraag’, mentions Pankaj Mullick’s name the moment he touches upon the topic of light music. He says (loosely translated), “If I have to link up our movies and its music, one of the first names that come to my mind is Pankaj-babu’s. Not only did he compose some beautiful tunes, he had a beautiful and sonorous voice. Also, he was such a polite and down to earth person!”

The rest of the article features a brief biography of Pankaj Mullick followed by a summary of how he nurtured three institutions for many decades. A reference list is included at the end and lists several websites and blogs created by his ardent fans.


Pankaj Kumar Mullick was born on 10 May 1905 in Calcutta. His father, Shri Monimohan, and his mother, Smt. Monomohini, nurtured an atmosphere of classical music in their middle-class home. Pankaj was drawn to music as a child. His grandson, Rajib Gupta, says that his grandfather could sing to the hum of a car engine or to the rhythm of a water pump. His formal training in classical music started at the age of ten under Shri Durgadas Bandopadhyay. It was comprehensive and included training in dhrupad, khayal, tappa and other genres. A turning point in his life came when he met Shri Dinendranath Tagore, a grandnephew of Gurudev. Shri Dinendranath and Gurudev had a working partnership where Dinu Thakur (as he is known) would write down the tunes composed by Tagore in staff notation. Pankaj Babu learned Rabindra sangeet under Dinu Thakur. This close association with the Tagore family had a lasting influence on Pankaj Da’s work, ideals and philosophy in life. Pankaj did not complete his college but turned to a career in music by the age of twenty. His first recording was for the Vielophone Company in 1926.


The Indian broadcasting Company, the forerunner of AIR, started operating the Calcutta radio station on 26 August 1927, a month after the Bombay station went on air. Pankaj Mullick’s first day at the radio started on 26 September 1927. He performed two Rabindra sangeet songs live that day. The first, “Emono dine tare bola jay” remains a classic to this day. The second song was “Ekoda tumi priye”. Shri Rai Chand Boral, another legendary composer and the first to be featured in the GHZ series, auditioned him. Boral was a year older. Both had impeccable classical training that helped them form a rich musical partnership. Pankaj Babu remained active with AIR and Kolkata Radio for the next forty-eight years of his life until 1975. The medium provided the perfect pathway for Pankaj Babu to reach to the masses. He crafted two immensely popular programs that helped change the cultural milieu of Bengal and the nation. The first of these was begun in 1929 and was a music lesson imparted on air. Titled “Sangeet Shikshar Ashar”, the Sunday morning program, was a live music class conducted by Pankaj Babu.raichand boral The listeners were treated to a mix of Rabindra sangeet, Nazrul geet, folk songs, patriotic songs, Hindi bhajans, etc., all taught patiently by an able master who could prod the men and especially women in the home to start learning to sing and appreciate music without embarrassment. The program became immensely popular not only in Bengal but all over the country. The music and his voice were the main attraction and the language barrier was not even felt. The longevity of the program suggests that Pankaj Mullick practiced distance learning very early. He taught many generations of men and women to appreciate, enjoy and learn music with pride.

The second program that Pankaj initiated was in 1931. Along with Banikumar (script writer) and Birendra Krishna Bhadra (the narrator), Pankaj Babu composed the music for an operatic recreation of Chandipath and Mahishasura Mardini, the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil Mahishasura. This epic broadcast was made live at the crack of dawn (4:00 am) on Mahalaya Amavasya following which Durga Puja commenced. To keep the novelty of the broadcast, new singers were inducted in the show and trained under Pankaj Babu. It can almost be said that every singer of repute in Bengal between 1930 and 1970s appeared on this show at least once and usually many times. Singers such as Angurbala, Suprabha Ghosh, Hemanta Mukherjee, Supriti Ghosh, Sumitra Sen, Sandhya Mukherjee, Arati Mukherjee, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Dwijen Mukherjee and Manabendra Mukherjee considered it an honor to be invited to sing live under the baton of Pankaj Mullick on the holy day. The show continues to this day each year.

Pankaj Mullick along with the danseuse and actor Vyjayanthimala were the first performers when Indian television was inaugurated in 1959. He also had the distinction of recording the national anthem at the request of Jawaharlal Nehru.


Along with Rai Chand Boral, Pankaj Mullick’s first association with the film industry came around 1930 when both conducted live music orchestra on the aisles of Chitra theatre in Calcutta during the screening of two Bengali silent films: Chasher Maye and Chorkanta. This experiment where live sound was added to the action on screen showed that both composers were adept at being orchestra conductors as well. Pankaj Babu had learned to play harmonium at a friend’s home. The orchestra typically included western instruments such as piano, accordion, clarinet and horns. The presence of western composers such as Francesco Casanova, Joseph Newman, etc., at that time in Calcutta helped both composers acquire intricate knowledge of many musical instruments. They were also open to experimentation and mixing the eastern and western elements without sacrificing the beauty of either form.

1931 saw the birth of New Theatres founded by Shri B N Sircar and the emergence of the talkie films. The first talkie film ”Dena Paona” in 1932 produced by New Theatres had Boral and Mullick team up as composers. Timir Baran, another fine composer joined New Theatres soon after and these became the trinity composers of Calcutta. It is remarkable that only Pankaj Mullick remained with New Theatres in Calcutta until its shutdown in late fifties. Pankaj babu had many opportunities to take up offers from Bombay but he remained loyal and content with his first and only film production house.

In 1933 New Theatres produced the classic “Yahudi ki Ladki” that had music by Boral and Mullick. Pankaj Mullick’s film career cannot be described without recalling how he met, nurtured and bonded with his bosom friend, Kundan Lal Saigal. Writing in the Illustrated Weekly in November 1974 and in his autobiography “Aamar jug aamar gaan” (reprinted in the book on The Legacy of the legend K. L. Saigal by V. Sonthalia and K. Beriwala, 2005),

kundan lal saigal

kundan lal saigal

Pankaj says that his first meeting with Kundan took place in 1931, in the studios of AIR at 1, Garstin Place. He found a young gentleman, slim with an impressive face, wanting to sing ghazals for the radio and hailing from Jullundur. Pankaj who was a singer and music trainer with AIR requested the program engineer, Nrupen Majumdar, to audition Kundan. Pankaj writes, “Kundan demonstrated charming melody and rhythm, distinct pronunciation, neat articulation, embellishing the ghazal with an exceedingly sweet and melodious nasal tone. He also showed a certain excellence in playing the organ in accompaniment.” The song was broadcast that very night and Kundan joined as a regular artist of AIR soon after.

Later when B N Sircar sought an artist for the Hindi film “Mohabbat ke Aansoo”, Pankaj Mullick recalled the slim, good looking young man from the radio station. Soon Saigal was hired by New Theatres. Apart from composing innumerable Saigal favorites, Pankaj Mullick also initiated Kundan to learn Bengali and was responsible for Kundan Lal Saigal’s Rabindra Sangeet non-filmy records as well (the first non-Bengali to sing Rabindra sangeet). Kundan and Pankaj remained the best of friends. They inspired and nourished each other’s music.

Yahudi ki Ladki had fine Saigal songs, the most famous one being the Ghalib ghazal, “Nukta cheen hai gam-e-dil”. This is considered a landmark composition as for the first time it helped bring Ghalib’s works to a medium patronized by the masses instead of the literati. The tune was such as to bring the poet’s words alive and the voice of Saigal was par excellence. Despite the innumerable versions of this song in the voice of many a fine singer, Saigal’s rendition is considered an all-time best. This film also boasted a solo nazm in a female voice written by Agha Hashra Kashmiri titled ‘Ab shaad hai dil, aabaad hai dil’. It was presumably sung by Radharani but is not available anymore. Pankaj Mullick had it re-recorded in 1948 by Utpala Sen and this version is widely available. An excellent write-up on this song was made recently (October 6, 2013) by Arunkumar Deshmukh on ‘atulsongaday’ website (Ref.: Dr. M. L. Kapur, a music connoisseur and an ardent Mullick bhakt made me aware of this one-of-a-kind exquisite song.

In 1934, came the superhit film “Chandidas” where again the team of Boral, Mullick and Saigal captured the hearts of people with their compositions. The realization of playback technique instead of live singing by the artists came in an accidental encounter between the Director Nitin Bose and Pankaj Mullick one day. The grandson of Pankaj Babu, Rajib Gupta, writes, “The Director of the movie (Bose) had come to pick up grandfather (Mullick) to go to the studio together. There was an English song playing next door and Bose thought my grandfather was singing it. When he came out, Bose asked him if he was singing it. When my grandfather said “No”, even though the voice sounded like his, an idea sprang up in Bose’s mind. He told grandpa, “You do something. Start singing the words without putting your voice in”. This was the seed of the idea that would introduce playback singing in Indian films. The idea had appeal with the New Theatre musician trio and its sound engineer Mukul Bose. Boral and Mullick refined the idea and introduced playback singing for the first time in Bose’s Bengali film “Bhagya Chakra” (1935) which was also made in Hindi as “Dhoop Chaoon” in the same year.
geeta dutt

Boral and Mullick worked on about twenty films together for New Theatres. If Boral composed, Pankaj Babu provided the orchestration and background score. If Pankaj composed he claimed credit only jointly with Boral. In film credits, Boral’s name appeared in bigger font while Mullick’s was always the second name in smaller font. The issue did not bother him. Pankaj Babu recorded many non-film Bengali and Sanskrit songs between 1926 and 1936. His first film song appears to be for Manzil in 1936 under Boral’s music. The song “sundar naari preetam pyari” written by Arzoo Lucknawi is a delight to hear even today.

In 1937, Director P. C. Barua planned the film “Mukti” in Bengali and Hindi. Pankaj Babu accepted to play a small role, as a singer in the hills. This was also his first assignment as a solo music composer. At the film’s narration, Barua heard Mullick hum a song. He said he would like to use it. Mullick replied, “These are words by Tagore but the music is mine.” Barua insisted on using the song in the film even though Tagore compositions were never sung outside of an elite circle nor in public and no one had ever tuned a Tagore poem. Pankaj Babu decided to get the permission of Gurudev. According to his grandson, Mullick had to wait a long time before he got to meet Gurudev. Tagore asked to hear the song. When Mullick sang “Diner sheshey ghumer deshey” set to his own tune, Gurudev was so overwhelmed that he embraced Pankaj. He immediately granted permission for Pankaj babu to use the song in the film, named the film Mukti, and, also gave him the permission to tune any lyrics or poem of his after his lifetime. Pankaj Mullick thus became the first chosen ambassador to bring Rabindra Sangeet to people and places all over the country. The film Mukti and the song diner sheshey became runaway hits.

After the success of Mukti, Pankaj Babu acted, sang and also composed music for a number of New Theatre hit films. The Saigal films that are well known include “Didi” (1937), “Badi behen” (1937), “Jiban Maran” (1938), and the classic film “Dushman” (1938) where Mullick scored the music giving us the unforgettable hits, “karun kya aas niraas bhayi, karun kya aas niraas bhayi; pyari pyari suraton”, etc. Pankaj Mullick’s tunes always absorbed the poet’s lyrics deeply and followed an imaginative complex course that would capture the mood and the character of the film. Other distinguishing elements were the orchestration, the changes in tempo and a meandering structure that left the listener to marvel at the song. Combined with the magical voice of Saigal, the songs remain masterpieces now as they did when they were created.

Successful films and partnerships with Boral continued with titles such as “Dharti Mata” (Desher Mati) in 1938, “Abhigyan”, “Abhagin”. The famous “Kapal Kundala” (1939) with its exquisite song “Piya milan ko jana” established Pankaj Mullick as a foremost music composer.

One of Lata Mangeshkar’s regrets in life was not getting an opportunity to sing for Pankaj babu. She even told this in person when she met him at Nagpur a few months before he passed away. She sang “Piya milan ko jana” in her shraddhanjali tribute. “Badi didi” (1940) starred Pahari Sanyal and had music by Mullick. Then came the jaadu film “Zindagi” starring Saigal with Mullick as its composer. “Main kya jaanu kya..aa..aa jaadu hai, jaadu hai” is the best description of the powerful music Pankaj Babu gave in this film. Amongst other soulful numbers of Saigal, this film also featured the sweetest lullaby, penned by Kidar Sharma for his beloved wife, Raj Dulari. Saigal convinced Kidar Sharma to include this song in the film and the soft melody Pankaj Babu created by changing the word Raj Dulari to Rajkumari make it an all-time beloved song to this day. Pankaj Mullick also sang for other composers in New Theatres, especially Timir Baran (e.g., “Adhikaar” (1938) and K. C. Dey (e.g., “Aandhi” 1940). The three singing stars Kundan Lal Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and K C Dey had distinct traits. If Saigal’s voice was komal and madhur, and K C Dey’s vibrant, Pankaj Babu’s was a seductive blend of both. Apart from Saigal, Pankaj Mullick was the only other artist of New Theatres who achieved distinction as a singer, composer and actor.

To see the seamless integration of western elements into an Indian film song, one should hear Pankaj Babu render “madbhari rut jawan hai” in the costume drama “Nartaki” (1940). The preludes and interludes are as admirable as the tune and melody of the song. The film where Mullick’s creativity and talent were brought to the zenith was (“Daktar” – Bengali) “Doctor” (1941) directed brilliantly by Subodh Mitra. It was a reformist film and Pankaj babu had the role of an educated doctor fighting the dreaded cholera in a village setting. The first authentic ghoda-ghadi song “chale pavan ke chaal” featured in this film. In addition, it had many superb hits including “aayi bahar aaj aayi bahar”, “aaj apni mehenaton ka” and the most soulful number, “guzar gaya woh zamana, kaisa, kaisa”. The anguish in Pankaj babu’s voice is palpable in the latter even today and the soft vocals make the eyes moist and long for the bygone era.

By 1942, some of the stalwarts of New Theatres had left seeking greener pastures. Saigal left Calcutta to go to Bombay and created magic once again with Bhakt Surdas and Tansen. To change the waning fortunes of the famed New Theatres, a film titled “Meri behen” (“My Sister”) was planned with Pankaj Mullick as the composer. A few songs (“chhupo na chhupo na o pyari sajaniya”, “ae-qatibe-e-taqdeer” and “do nanina matware”) were recorded in Pankaj’s voice. It was then felt that Saigal be asked to return from Bombay and act in the film to have an impact at the box-office. Saigal agreed to Sircar’s request. Although Pankaj Babu could have used different tunes and retained his recorded songs for other films, he gladly made Saigal record the same songs again. The three songs became some of the most well known songs of Saigal. Pankaj Babu in all humility released his versions of the songs only after Saigal’s demise in 1948.

pankaj mullickPankaj Mullick taught Saigal how to bring his pitch down and modulate his voice, speak and sing Bengali songs and Rabindra Sangeet. Pankaj Mullick proudly acknowledged that he had never come across a singer of Saigal’s caliber and magic in his lifetime. There are numerous stories of their rich friendship. Mullick used to relish the home-cooked food that Saigal brought to the studio every day. In turn, Kundan was the only one allowed to have alcohol in Pankaj’s home. In his autobiography, Pankaj recalls an amusing incident that was kindly translated by Archisman Mozumder and brought to my attention. Pankaj had taught a Rabindrasangeet – ‘sharod pratey aamaar raat pohaalo’, which was recorded for the film Parichay (1941). Kundan was so besotted with the tune that he used to perpetually hum it. Kundan used to ride a motorcycle and often he and Pankaj would go for long rides in the outskirts of Calcutta. One day, Kundan came to pick up Pankaj from the latter’s residence. Just as Pankaj was supposed to sit on the bike, Kundan humming ‘aamaar raat pohaalo’ just drove away without even checking whether Pankaj was seated or not! So the bemused neighbours were treated to a sight of a slightly agitated Pankaj, running behind a bike (as fast as one can, clad in a dhoti!) yelling at a shirt and trouser clad Kundan to stop.

The next decade (late forties to fifties) saw Pankaj Mullick give music to Bengali films made under the New Theatres banner. In 1952, Paul Zils (a German who had landed in Bombay in 1945 after the steamer he had boarded for Indonesia got torpedoed by an Indian naval ship; he was taken prisoner but released after the war and continued to remain in Bomay to make documentary and feature films), directed a movie “Zalzala” based on Tagore’s story titled “Four chapters”. Pankaj Mullick composed the music for this film but he did so by remaining in Calcutta and never venturing to Bombay. All songs were recorded in Calcutta. Geeta Dutt who sang in this film had to come to Calcutta, learn and practise with Pankaj Babu before recording the songs. Two other films that had songs sung and composed by Mullick include “Yatrik” (1952) and “Kasturi” (1954). Yatrik had several Sanskrit compositions while Kasturi with lyrics by Vrajendra Kaur had soul-touching songs such as “Apni preet ko dhoondh raha hoon”, “ae mere dil tu zara sambhal”.

Pankaj Mullick was stubbornly loyal to New Theatres where he worked as music composer for over twenty-five years. He never demanded any special privilege. His humility was such that he never even asked B. N. Sircar to pay him more when he contributed to a film as a singer and actor in addition to being its composer. This oversight makes only a threadbare appearance in his autobiography. He writes “I received remuneration as music director, but was never offered anything for my services as playback singer and actor. Sometimes it would occur to me that the authorities might at least acknowledge my services, even if they did not remunerate them. But no, let all that be! New Theatres was my nurturing mother and let me come back to the pleasant memories…” (taken from an article by Sharmishtha Gooptu titled, “The Glory that was: An exploration of the iconicity of New Theatres”, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 23, 2003, pp.286 – 300). On his demise, R. C. Boral was the first person to rush to his home to offer his tributes to a great human being and a composer, singer, par excellence.

pankaj mullick

pankaj mullick

Pankaj Babu gave music to a few Bengali films sporadically in the fifties, sixties and early seventies. These include “Nabin Yatra” (1953), “Mahaprasthaner Pathey” (1953), “Raikamal” (1955), “Louha-Kapat” (1957), “Ahwan” (1961) and his final film “Bighalita Karuna Jahabi Jamuna” (1972). According to Ajit Sheth, the writer of his biography titled “Guzar gaya woh zamana”, Pankaj Mullick sang 34 Bengali film songs, 72 Bengali non-film songs, 37 Hindi film songs, 15 Hindi non-film songs and 15 Sanskrit compositions. Yatrik and RajKamal (1955) won the President’s award for best music.

Pankaj Mullick composed and sang elegant non-film Hindi songs written by Fayyaz Hashmi, Pandit Bhushan and Pandit Indra. The most famous of these include “Ye raatein ye mausam yeh hasna hasana”, “jab chand mera nikla”, “maine aaj piya”, “tere mandir ka hoon deepak jal raha”, “mere hathile shyam”, “Prem bel mein phool na patte”, “Asha ne khel rachaya”, “Main rota hoon mat mana karo”, “jise meri yaad na aaye” (which has a distinct western prelude), “dharti ke us paar” (a Hindi translation of Rabindrasangeet), etc. The Tagore song “pran chay chokkhu na chay” better known in its translated version “Pran chahe nain na chahe” and “yaad aaye ke na aaye tumhari” (written by Pandit Bhushan) were composed by Francesco Casanova. The latter was a flautist and composer who lived in Calcutta for nearly twenty-five years until 1951. An amusing incident is mentioned in blogs comcering ‘Pran chahe nain na chahe’ song where staccato notes rule supreme. Once Pankaj and Francesco were traveling in a tram when a beautfiul lady got in. Francesco tried his best to turn around and get a good look at the lady but he could not. Pankaj then told him that Tagore’s lyrics “pran chay chokkhu na chay’ describe his predicament. Francecso composed the beautiful staccatto tune having understood the message of the poet. This song was first recorded by Kanan Devi in Bengali and some years later by Mullick in Hindi (Pandit Bhushan translated Tagore’s lyrics).

It is a testimony to the popularity of Pankaj Mullick all over India that in 1944 when the Maharaja of Mysore invited many singers for a concert, Pankaj Mullick drew much larger crowds than even the likes of Saigal and other classical singers. Pankaj Mullick had carried Hindi to every nook and corner of India, especially southern India.

Pankaj Mullick was well versed in Sanskrit. He wrote four books titled “Geet Valmiki”, “Swara Lipika”, “Raga Lakshana Geet Manjari” and “Mahishasura Mardini”.


Pankaj Babu used the medium of films (Mukti, Abhigyan, Adhikaar, etc.) and the radio to popularize Rabindra Sangeet for nearly five decades. His renditions of Tagore have an aura of their own. Even without understanding the lyrics, one is tempted to fathom the mood and emotions expressed by the poet. Consider Tagore’s words written in 1914, set to raag Kanara and taal keherwa:
Tumi Ki Keboli Chobi, shudhu Pote Likha
Oi – je sudhur niharika
Jara kore ache bhir akasher nir,
Oi jara dinraatri
Alo haathe choliache andharer jatri
Groho tara robi,
Tumi ki tader moto satya nao,
Hai Chodi, tumi Sudhu Chobi

Translation from

Are you merely the image?
Are you not as certain
As the galaxy of starspankaj mullick As true as the luminary

Wayfarers of darkness?

As you elude my sight,
You venture into the seat of my heart
Spreading in the green of the earth,
In the azure of the sky
And in that match, my world
Finds its harmony

None realize how
Your melodies play unheard
To blend in with my songs,
And how you become the muse
Within the poet’s heart

Mullick’s tender voice with its superb diction and the ability to breathe in emotions in chosen syllables enables us to conjure the poet’s vision as seen from this rendition:

Every Rabindra sangeet sung by Pankaj babu creates this feeling of closeness with the poet. Some well known songs of Mullick in this genre include the following: Dinguli more sonar khanchar, Ami Tomari Sange, Aji Basanta Jagrata, Tumi Kemon Korey, Aami Kaan Petey Roi, Joubana Sarasinirey, Gaganey Gaganey, Bhengechho Dwar, Prolay Nachan, Tomar Holo Suru, Tai Tomar Anando, Ekti Namaskare Pravu, Je Dhrubopada Diyechho, Tomar Ashan Shunyo, etc. Pankaj Mullick’s Rabindrasangeet is a rich treasure that transports the listener to a state of pure bliss when listened attentively until it is absorbed in totality.

Recently, Rajib Gupta, the grandson of Pankaj Mullick has stated that he would release the many hundreds of Tagore lyrics and poems that Mullick had the honor to compose and record after Gurudev’s demise in 1941. It is ardently hoped that this venture will soon be brought to fruition.

• Title of Surosagar in 1931
• Title of Sangeet Ratnakar in 1962
• Title of Padmashree in 1970
• Dadasaheb Phalke Puraskar by Govt. of India in 1972
• Title of Rabindra Tattyacharya in 1977, from Tagore Research Institute
• BFJA (Bengal Film Journalists’ Association) Award
• Rashtrapati Puraskar for composing the best film music of the year for the films Yatrik and Raikamal
• Commemorative awards from All India Radio on its Silver and Golden Jubile


I am deeply grateful to Aditya Pant, Dr. M. L. Kapur, Archisman Mozumder and Manek Premchand, who helped to add valuable content, editorial comments and precious songs. Their input has been invaluable. All errors and omissions are entirely due to me. I sincerely thank everyone who had the patience to read this long article.


1. One of the first comprehensive websites created for Pankaj Mullick by his ardent fan, Mr. Surinder Madani, at the insistence of his friend, a music collector and connoisseur, Dr. M. L. Kapur ( Dr. Kapur has a personalized license plate for his car bearing the name P MULICK.
2. The official website of Pankaj Mullick maintained by the foundation in his name:
3. Manek Premchand, “Yesterday’s melodies today’s memories”, Jharna Books, 2003.
3. Many blogs written by ardent fans:
4. Sound clips including a radio interview of the maestro:

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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Articles, info and facts


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