Salil Chowdhury

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Salil Chowdhury
Background information
Born(1925-11-19)19 November 1925 [1]
Gazipur, South 24 Parganas, Bengal Presidency, British India (present-day West Bengal, India)
Died5 September 1995(1995-09-05) (aged 69)
Calcutta, West Bengal, India
GenresBengali, folk, film base, western classical fusion, Indian classical fusion
Occupation(s) Singer-Songwriter, Composer, Arranger, Poet, Lyricist, Story-writer

Salil Chowdhury; 19 November 1925 - 5 September 1995) [1] was an Indian songwriter, music director, lyricist, writer, and poet who predominantly composed for Bengali, Hindi, and Malayalam films. He composed music for films in 13 languages. This includes over 75 Hindi films, 41 Bengali films, around 27 Malayalam films, and a few Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Oriya and Assamese films. His musical ability was widely recognised [2] and acknowledged in the Indian film industry. He was an accomplished composer and arranger who was proficient in several musical instruments, including flute, the piano, and the esraj. He was also widely acclaimed and admired [2] for his inspirational and original poetry in Bengali.


The first Bengali film for which Chowdhury composed music was Paribortan, released in 1949. Mahabharati, released in 1994, was the last of the 41 Bengali films where he rendered his music. He is affectionately called Salilda by his admirers.


Early influences – childhood and teenage

Salil Chowdhury was born on 19 November 1922 [3] in a village called Gazipur in South 24 Parganas, West Bengal. Salil's childhood was spent in the tea gardens region of Assam. His father was reputed to stage plays with coolies and other low-paid workers of the tea-gardens. [2] From an early age he listened to the Western Classical collection of his father. [2] During the second world war Chowdhury got the opportunity to closely observe human sufferings, hunger and problem of the refugees. [4] He studied in Harinavi D.V.A.S High School and there after graduating from Bangabasi College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta in Kolkata, and during this period his political ideas were formulated along with a considerable maturity in his musical ideas. [2]

As a teenager in school, Chowdhury already had an interest in music, and played the flute, harmonium and esraj. He learnt to play the piano from his elder brother at the age of 6. Once in college, he also began to compose tunes. His first popular song was "Becharpoti tomar bichaar" (lit. the days of new judgement have come because people are now awake), set to a kirtan tune. Chowdhury composed it in 1945 during the Indian National Army trials when the freedom fighters had returned from Andaman jail. Chowdhury shifted to a village in 24 parganas to live with his maternal uncles, when he was witness to a big peasant uprising there in 1943. He got involved with them and began writing songs for the peasant movement. In 1944, while studying for his MA, Chowdhury witnessed people dying on the streets of Calcutta, as 50 lakh Bengalis died during the famine created by the British. The famine was man-made as local rice was instead directed to Britain's war effort overseas, leading to scarcity, aggravated by black marketeers and hoarders. This led Chowdhury to become fully involved in the peasant movement, and he became a full-time member of IPTA and the Communist Party. Subsequently, arrest warrants were issued in his name, and he went underground in the Sunderbans, hiding in paddy fields and supported by local peasants. During this time, he continued writing plays and songs. [5]

In 1944, a young Salil came to Calcutta for his graduate studies. He joined the IPTA [2] (Indian Peoples Theater Association) the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India. He started writing songs [2] and setting tunes for them. [2] The IPTA theatrical outfit travelled through the villages and the cities bringing these songs to the common man. Songs like Bicharpati, Runner and Abak prithibi [2] became extremely popular with the general population at the time.

Songs like Gnaayer bodhu (গাঁয়ের বধূ), which he composed at the age of 20, brought about a new wave of Bengali music. [2] Almost every notable singer at the time from West Bengal had sung at least one of his songs. A few examples are Debabrata Biswas, Hemanta Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukherjee, Manabendra Mukherjee, Subir Sen, and Pratima Banerjee.

Film career

Sitting from left: Robin Majumdar, Bhanu Banerjee, Robin Chatterjee, Ila Bose, Bani Ghoshal, Sabita Chowdhury and Salil Chowdhury
Standing from left: V. Balsara, Shyamal Mitra, Montu Bose and Jahar Roy Salil Chowdhury with eminent personalities 1.jpg
Sitting from left: Robin Majumdar, Bhanu Banerjee, Robin Chatterjee, Ila Bose, Bani Ghoshal, Sabita Chowdhury and Salil Chowdhury
Standing from left: V. Balsara, Shyamal Mitra, Montu Bose and Jahar Roy

The first Bengali film in which Salil Chowdhury composed music was Paribortan, released in 1949. Mahabharati, released in 1994, was the last of the 41 Bengali films where he rendered his music.

In an interview with All India Radio, Salil Chowdhury described his coming to Bombay in 1953 as a "stroke of luck". He was writing the script for a Bengali film about a peasant who was disowned of his land and had gone to Calcutta to earn money as a Rickshaw puller. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who heard of it from Chowdhury during a visit to Calcutta, liked it immensely and suggested that he narrate it to the director Bimal Roy. Roy heard it, and asked him to meet him again the next morning. However, when Chowdhury went to meet him the next day, he learnt that Roy had rushed to Bombay on an urgent call. A week later, he received a telegram from Roy that he wanted to turn his script into a movie. This resulted in Chowdhury's debut in the Hindi film industry in 1953 [2] as the music director for Do Bigha Zamin (1953). The movie was based on Tagore's poem by the same name, but the story was different and was written by Salil Chowdhury himself. Directed by Bimal Roy, this film took his career to new heights when it became the first film to win the Filmfare Best Movie Award and won the international Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. [5]

After working for about 20 years in Bengali and Hindi films, he entered the Malayalam film industry and, in 1964, composed music for the movie Chemmeen. [2] He went on to compose music for films in 13 languages. This includes over 75 Hindi films, 41 Bengali films, around 27 Malayalam films, and a few Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Oriya and Assamese films. Asked about his method, Chowdhury described it thus – He would usually ask the film maker to explain the situation to him, then Chowdhury would compose a tune to suit the mood, and the lyric writer would set in words. This remained his practice for most of his films including Madhumati, in which Shailendra wrote the lyrics subsequently. [5]

Poet, Playwright, Short story writer, Salil also directed a film Pinjre Ke Panchhi starring Meena Kumari, Balraj Sahani and Mehmood based on his own story and screenplay in 1966. Salil Chowdhury was the Founder of Bombay Youth Choir, the first ever Secular Choir in India in 1958 as its composer and conductor - he inspired scores of secular choir groups to be formed throughout India formulating a new genre of music using vocal polyphony for Indian Folk and Contemporary Music.

Personal life

Salil Chowdhury was married to the painter Jyoti Chowdhury in July 1953. He had three daughters with her — Aloka, Tulika and Lipika. Later, he moved in with singer Sabita Chowdhury, with whom he had two sons, Sukanta and Sanjoy, and two daughters, Antara and Sanchari. Sanjoy Chowdhury is a successful music composer and has scored music for over 100 feature films. Sabita Chowdhury was a legendary singer and their daughter Antara Chowdhury too a known singer. Smt. Sabita Chowdhury died on 29 June 2017. [6]


Chowdhury on a 2013 stamp of India Salil Chowdhury 2013 stamp of India.jpg
Chowdhury on a 2013 stamp of India



1953Do Bighaa Zameen
1954Biraaj bahu; Naukri; Manohar
1955Amaanat; Taangewaali
1956Aawaaz; Parivaar; Jaagte Raho
1957Aparadhi Kaun; Ek Gaaon ki Kahaani; LaalBatti; Musaafir, Zamaana
1960Jawaahar; Honeymoon; Qaanoon; Parakh; Usne Kaha Tha
1961Chaardeewaari; Chhayaa; Kaabuliwaalaa; Maayaa; Memdidi; Sapan Suhaane
1962Half Ticket; Jhoola; Prem Patra
1965Chaand Aur Sooraj; Poonam Ki Raat
1966Pinjre Ki Panchhi; Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose; Jawaab Aayega
1968Mitti Ka Dev
1969Ittefaaq; Sara Akaash
1971Gehraa Raaz; Mere Apne
1972Annadata; Anokha Daan; Anokha Milan; Mere Bhaiyaa; Sabse Bada Sukh
1975Chhoti si Baat; Sangat
1976Jeevan Jyoti; Mrigayaa; Udaan Chhoo
1977Minoo; Anand Mahal
1979Kalaa Patthar; Jeenaa Yahaan
1980Chehre Pe Chehra; Chemmeen Lahrein; Chirutha; Kuhasaa; Naani Maa; Room no.203; Daisy
1981Plot no. 5; Agni Pareeksha
1982Dil Ka Saathi Dil; Darpok ki Dosti; Artap
1984Kanoon Kya Karega
1989Kamla Ki Maut; Nehru The Jewel of India; Atmadaan; Aakhiri Badlaa
1990Triyaatri; Hamaari Shaadi * (MD: Sanjoy Chowdhury and Salil Chowdhury)
1991Netraheen Saakshi;
1994Tiriacharittar (or Striyascharittram)
1994Swami Vivekananda
1995Mera Damaad


1952Paasher Baadi
1953Baansher Kella
1953Bhor Hoye Elo
1954Aaj Sondhaay
1954Mohila Mahal
1956Raat Bhore
1956Ak din Raatre
1959Baadi Thekey Paaliye
1961Rai Bahadur
1964Kinu Goaalaar Goli
1964Laal Paathor
1972Marjina Aabdullah
1972Raktaakto Banglaa (made in Bangladesh)
1979Jibon Je Rakam;Rupaali Soikate (made in Bangladesh)
1979Srikaanter Will
1980Byapika Bidaay
1980Akaler Sandhaney
1990/91Aashrita **(background: Salil) (MD:Hridaynath Mangeskar)
1991Haaraaner Naatjamaai
1994Sei Somoy
1961Komol Gandhaar
1981Aswamedher Ghoraa


1975Thomasleeha (or St. Thomas)
1977Dweep (background music only)
1977Samayamayilla Polum
1977Etho Oru Swapnam
1979E Ganam Marakkumo
1979Chuvanna Chirakkukal
1979Puthiya Velicham
1980Air Hostess
1982Anthiveylile Ponnu
1984Vellam (background music only)
1990Vaasthuhaara (background music only)
1994Thumboli Kadappuram


Tamil1971Uyir (Salilda composed background music only - MD was Ramana Sridhar)
Tamil1979Azhiyatha Kolangal
Tamil1980Thooraththu Idimuzhakkam
Telugu1974Chairman Chalamayya
Telugu1978Amara Prema
Kannada1975Onde Rupa Eradu Guna
Kannada1977Chinna Ninna Muddaduve; Kokila
Gujrati1978Ghar Sansaar
Assameese1985Manas Kanya
Oriya1981Batasi Jhada


List of some songs for which music or lyrics were composed by Salil Chowdhury (in alphabetical order)

IPTA:: Indian People's Theater Association

Awards and recognitions

1953 – Do Bigha Zamin

A Hindi film directed by Bimal Roy based on a story in Bengali "Rikshawalaa" written by Salil Chowdhury.

1st Filmfare Awards (1954) [10] WinnerBest Film; WinnerBest DirectorBimal Roy;

1st National Film Awards [11] (India) WinnerAll India Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film

7th Cannes Film Festival (1954) [12] Winner – Prix International (International Prize) Nominated – Grand Prize (Best Film)

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival [13] Winner – Prize for Social Progress

1965 – Chemmeen

A Malayalam film directed by Ramu Kariat, based on a novel of the same name written by the renowned writer Thakazhy Shivshankar Pillai, where Music Direction was done by Salil Chowdhury.

Recipient of President's Gold Medal in 1965.

1958 – Madhumati

Received Filmfare Best Music Director Award along with eight other Filmfare awards [14] Madhumati won the National Film Awards for Best Feature Film in Hindi

The Uttar Pradesh Film Patrakar Sangh Puraskar in 1966 for his only Hindi directorial film 'Pinjre Ke Panchhi'

The Bengal Films Journalist Award, Kolkata in 1973

The Allauddin Smriti Puraskar in 1985 from the Govt of West Bengal

1988 – Salil Chowdhury received Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

The Maharahtra Gaurav Puraskar Award in 1990

Posthumously he was awarded the Mukti Judhho Maitreyi Samman Award by the Govt Bangladesh in 2012.

Poet, Playwright, Short story writer, he also directed a film Pinjre Ke Panchhi starring Meena Kumari, Balraj Sahani and Mehmood b

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Further reading