If one browses through the Hindi films made in the 1940s, it will be observed that there were many lesser known music directors who had tried their luck in Hindi films. My guess is that the number of such lesser known music directors in the 1940s may be a close to 50. Sadly, most of these talented music directors could not sustain their careers for long in the Hindi film industry. This blog has covered songs of many of lesser known music directors of the 40s such as Neenu Majumdar, Shanti Kumar Desai, Shyambabu Pathak, Madhulal Damodar Master, Ramchandra Pal etc. V Balsara was one among such music directors who started his career in Hindi films but could not sustain it for long as a music director. But he changed the track of his career and became a famous instrumentalist, orchestra conductor, a music teacher and the music director of non-filmy songs and a few Bengali films during rest of his life. I became aware of his name in the 1970s mainly for his beautiful compositions of some non-filmy Hindi songs.
Vistas Ardeshir Balsara (Vishtasp Ardeshir Balsara ? ) ( 22/06/1922 – 24/03/2005), known as V Balsara in the music world was born in Bombay (Mumbai) to a Gujarati speaking Parsi Zoroastrian family. From the childhood, he was inclined towards Western music. His first childhood teacher was his mother who taught him harmonium. At the age of 6, he gave his first public performance at C.J Hall in Mumbai where he played the pedal harmonium. 10 years later, he had mastery over five musical instruments including piano which he learnt from a German musician Hildafield. His filmy music career started with Hindi film ‘Baadal’ (1942) in which he assisted music director Ustad Mustaq Hussain. Later he assisted Master Ghulam Haider, and Khemchand Prakash. His first independent assignment was for the film ‘Circus Girl’ (1943) in which he composed music along with another music director Vasant Kumar Naidu. In all, he was the music director for about a dozen Hindi films most of which were released in 1940s and early 1950s. In 1947, he joined HMV as Orchestra Director and worked for R. K. banner and Naushad. Being a well respected musician, he became the founder secretary of Bombay Cine Musicians’ Association and Bombay Cine Music Directors’ Association.
In 1953, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, a well known music director of Bengali films ( he had composed music for a few Hindi films as well) invited him to Calcutta (Kolkatta) to attend a musical gathering. During this period, he fell in love with the City of Joy and made Kolkatta his permanent residence. Since he was now fully involved with Bengali films, he started learning Indian classical music from Muneshwar Dayal of Gaya and took interest in Rabindra Sangeet. During this period, he was connected with about 30 Bengali films in various capacity – Orchestra Conductor, background music, assistant music director and music directors. He also composed many non-filmy Hindi and Bengali songs mostly in the 60s and 70s. He had many music albums to his credit particularly as an instrumentalist and symphony orchestra music composer. Parts of his orchestra albums were often used by AIR and Radio Ceylon as filler after the end of a radio programme.
Those who knew him from the close quarter say that he was a well respected person not only for his mastery over musical instruments, orchestra conductor and music compositions but also for his simplicity, soft spoken and jovial nature without any show of ego. That is what perhaps earned him the title ‘Gentleman Musician’ from the film and music fraternities. During the last phase of his life, he lost many of his close relatives including his wife and two sons. However, his music and his well wishers gave him company until his death in March 23, 2005. In the same year, his last Bengali film as a music director ‘Til Theke Taal’ (2005) was released. After his death, Saregama (formerly HMV), brought an album containing his orchestral compositions of 10 Hindustani classical ragas as a tribute to him,. His well wishers in Kolkatta have constituted V Balsara Memorial Committee which arranges musical evenings on V Balsara’s birth and death anniversaries. Promising singers and musicians are given V Balsara Awards on these occasions, .
The ‘gentleman musician’, as the affable Parsi was known among friends, had only his music to give him company in the twilight years as he grappled alone with ill health in the absence of his wife and two sons had predeceased him.
The striking feature of Balsara was his never-say-die spirit. At 83, Balsara was still going strong on the music front with his Bengali film production ‘Til Theke Taal’ running in theatres in West Bengal.
He settled in Kolkata in 1954 after he was invited by legendary musician Jnan Prakash Ghosh, to the city. Earlier, he had been in Mumbai, then Bombay.
Born in June 1922, Balsara learnt music from his mother Nazamaye, and gave his first solo performance at the age of six with the pedal harmonium, in use in those times, at a packed C J Hall in Mumbai.
Barely ten years later, the young lad was assisting famous Music Director Ustad Mustaque Hussain, in a Bombay film production ‘Baadal’ and had made a place for himself as a permanent assistant music director at the Filmistan studio under popular directors Madan Mohan, Khemchand Prakash and Ghulam Haider.
Balsara had his brush with the who’s who of the music world after he became the orchestra director of music company HMV in 1947 and then switched over to the R K Films banner three years later to work with the likes of Shankar Jaikishan and Naushad.
As the Founder Secretary of peer bodies like Bombay Cine Musicians’ Association and Bombay Cine Music Directors’ Association, Balsara earned the love and respect of his associates and young musicians.
Basking in the audience appreciation during a musical soiree in Kolkata’s Hindustan Park in 1953, the young musician decided to make this cultural capital his home a year later with a prized film assignment ‘Agni Pariksha’.
At the coveted New Empire Theatres, he charmed audiences again in 1962 arranging music for Rabindranath Tagore’s celebrated play ‘Debatar Grash’ while debuting his own group the Indian Symphony Orchestra.
He gave Kolkata another first — the city’s maiden stereo recording in 1970 — when he put together ‘The Sound of Music’ recording strains of four Indian instruments in one album.
He had to his credit numerous popular film albums, both in Hindi and Bengali, a language he chose to speak more frequently in and with much more ease than his native Gujrati.
From the obscure ‘Circus Girl’ in 1943 to O Panchi, Rangmahal, Madmast, Talash, Char Dost, Vidyapati and Pyar in Hindi to Madhu Shraboni, Joy Baba Baidyanath, Maa, Chalachal, Panchatapa, Subho Bibaha, Manik, Kanchan Kanya, Panna and Pathey Holo Dekha in Bengali, he had an enviable repertoire.
Balsara who was greatly influenced by western music learnt to play the piano from Hildafield, a German musician. His knowledge of the piano made him use it to play Indian classical music also with ease. He mastered the technique of using the instrument for playing Indian classical music from Muneswar Dayal of Gaya. He was equally at ease with string and wind instruments.
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My days with Hemant-da by V. Balsara
(translated by Prithviraj Dasgupta) – source
I have known him for more than 22 years. It was more than just knowing him, I was almost a part of his household. It was amazing how this exceptional person led such a simple life. He wore simple clothes, carried himself in a simple manner, all in all he lived life in a very simple way. Never did I notice any touch of ego within him. All this made him a very respectable person in everybody’s eyes. I still hold him in that high esteem and will do so for the rest of my life. If I were to talk about his music, I would say that he was miles ahead of his contemporaries. His voice had a mystic romanticism inherently mixed within it.
I first met Hemant-da at the Filmistan Studios in Mumbai. The year was 1943. And after that I had been his constant companion for 22 years. Over those years I had not only worked with him, I had also lived with him, as a part of his household. I was fortunate indeed to have lived in the company of a such person. He was like an elder brother to me. I remember once when my mother fell ill, he told me not to worry anything about it and took care of her as a son would. Hemant-da knew how to create a good song. The proof of this lies in the melodies that he created. Only when he was satisfied with a song, would he go ahead and record it. He was extremely adept in composing music. His compositions were sure to touch people’s hearts, to make a permanent seat in them. That is why those songs have become eternal, mesmerizing people even today.
Hemantda had tremendous determination and perseverance. Once we were recording a song at the India Labs of the New Theaters Studio. Power cuts were frequent those days and suddenly, half way through a recording session the power went away. Hemant-da was a person who wouldn’t waste a single moment. He told me “Balsara, I am having some tooth problems over the last few days. I think I will go and have a dental surgery now.” I was aghast, “But Hemant-da you have to record songs today”. “Don’t worry I’ll be back”. He returned after two hours and recorded two songs effortlessly. “Do these sound okay? If they aren’t I’ll record them again”. The songs were superb. All of us found it difficult to believe how a person could record songs effortlessly immediately after a dental surgery – such was his strength of mind.
Hemant-da was great believer in the power of the divine. And perhaps it was this belief that helped him accomplish many difficult tasks. One we had gone to Silchar in Assam. Lots of people were waiting to hear Hemant-da sing. In the meantime, the cold weather of Silchar gave Hemant-da a terrible cold that caused his voice to go flat. Hemant-da was not a person to disappoint the thousands who had come to listen to him. He went on stage in that condition and announced “I am sorry that I have caught a cold. I can’t even speak very well. But I will try my best to sing. Please be patient with me.” He drew the harmonium towards himself and started to sing a Rabindrasangeet on a low scale. For the next song, he raised the scale a bit. By the fourth song, he was singing on his normal scale. There was no way to guess that Hemant-da’s voice had completely cracked that morning. He continued singing for over an hour in that mellifluous voice.
My experinces with Hemant-da are innumerable. I will conclude with an incident that happened in 1967. Hemant-da was planning to go on a world tour that year. Personally, I was devastated at that time. A promising member of our team and a close friend Malay Mukhopadhyay had met with an untimely death. Another friend Arunabh Majumdar was battling death. I turned down Hemant-da’s offer to accompany him on the tour abroad in this situation. But Hemant-da prevailed over me and took me with him to England, Holland, Japan, West Indies and other countries. Had I not acoompanied him on that trip I would never have known the high esteem and respect that the residents of these countries have for Indian music. At every place we visited, we were welcomed by a huge crowd that enthusiastically appreciated our music. It was as if we came, we saw and we conquered. In Surinam and West Indies, people flocked to Hemant-da just to to touch his feet. I had never seen such respect being paid to a musician. I wouldn’t have believed, had I not seen it with my own eyes. He was truly a living legend who has surpassed his times through his music. –
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December 30, 2016 at 8:23 pm
a memorble musician i have never heard
May 27, 2021 at 10:41 am
You are right @rafiq, I am also saddened by his death, because if Mr. V. Balasara would have beed alive, I would have told him to play the BGM of our upcoming Warner Bros project which is “Sedin Dujone Dulechhinu Bone” for the movie whenever he felt free