A musical give & take

Looking back

A musical give & take

In the late 1960s, Sachin Bhowmik, the famed scriptwriter, had promised to write lyrics for a Bengali song for R D Burman. RD wanted to compose on, sing and release it during Durga puja.

But a sling of assignments for screenplays, like that of Brahmachari and Aradhana, kept the promise unfulfilled.

Finally, in 1969, Bhowmik penned a song based on his college-day flame. To protect her identity, he changed her name in the song to Ruby Roy — Mone pore Ruby Roy? (Do you remember, Ruby Roy?) the song goes. R D Burman composed the tune and sang. The song became a hit during the Durga puja of 1969.

Leap forward to 1973. The composition reappeared in its new avatar when R D Burman used it in the Hindi film Anamika and got it sung by Kishore Kumar. Mere bhigi bhigi si still romantically appeals after 40 years.

For more than six decades now, there is outpouring of artistic creativity in a Bengali during Durga puja, which coincides with Navaratri and Vijayadashami. These cultural harvests have nothing much to do with religion or devotion.

They are, however, expressions of joy and festivity on the return of Durga, the consort of Shiva and slayer of Mahishasura, to her parental home, even if only for a few days. The carnival begins. New novels are published, poetry written, literary supplements brought out, theatres enacted. Generically, they are all called puja sankha (puja numbers). But the most awaited of them all have been the puja-number songs, like the one of R D Burman.

There are only a couple of criteria laid down for a Durga puja number. Firstly, it has to be an original, non-film composition. And it has to be in Bengali language, released during Durga puja. But that never prevented singers of other languages to lend their voice. Lata Mangeshkar recorded her first Bengali song in 1955, not for any Bengali film, but as a Durga puja number. That was the beginning of Lata’s almost uninterrupted Durga puja releases over the years.

Apart from Bengali artistes like S D Burman, R D Burman, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle and Mukesh also sang puja numbers. R D Burman-Asha Bhosle combination sizzled puja songs from mid-1960s, for 30 years, till the sudden demise of the renowned composer.

The rocking Bollywood song “Jaa ne ja, dhundta phir raha”, sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle for the film Jawani Diwani (1972), is the Hindi remake of the 1971 Durga puja number of R D Burman-Asha Bhosle duet.

Puja numbers became a good launching pad for composers like Salil Choudhury, S D Burman and R D Burman to create and experiment with compositions. Salil Choudhury’s 1959 puja composition for Lata Mangeshkar reappeared the next year as one of the most endearing songs of Hindi cinema — O sajana, barkha bahar ayi.

Choudhury hit the creative jackpot again in 1969 puja. Mukesh’s “Kahi door jab din dhal jaye” for Anand and Yesudas’s “Nisa gama pani sare ga, ga gare mitwa” for Anand Mahal will haunt listeners for a long long time.

Later, 1974 saw a twist in the tale of Durga puja songs. Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar got into a pact. Lata would compose for Kishore’s puja numbers, and Kishore in turn would do the same for Lata. The songs clicked.

Durga puja still remains the cornerstone, around which Bengali creativity gets its annual pump of adrenaline. And being the fountainhead of musical compositions to die for, no one’s complaining.

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