Melodies of the Past

The fifties and the sixties were truly the golden era of music in Bengal. Television was still some years away and musical soirees and live concerts were the popular source of entertainment. Music lovers eagerly waited for the Puja album of their favourite singers and composers. Tarun Goswami relives the era reigned by some of our legendary names in music which saw the creation of innumerable hit songs popular even today


It was 1957. At a musical soiree or jalsa, organised by Bhanu Ghosh at CIT Road shortly after Durga Puja, the microphone developed a mechanical snag and the electrician had a trying time to repair it. Meanwhile, an artist, in his late twenties got impatient and requested the stars of the evening, Hemanta Mukherjee and Dhananjoy Bhattachrajee to allow him to go on stage and sing. Both laughed and said that they had no problem but he would have to sing without a microphone. Undaunted the young man went out and charmed the audience with the depth of his voice; he was none other than Nirmalendu Chowdhury.


In the same programme, V Balsara played for the first time an instrument, Univox designed by him which later turned out to be the origin of electronic key board or synthesizer. Balsaraji played tunes of Bengali and Hindi songs and his own compositions on the Univox and Melodica, thrilling the audience with his invention. In fact he had to play Univox and Melodica at almost every function that followed.

Jalsas were an important part of Durga Puja celebrations in the 1950s and 1960s, generally held after Lakshmi Puja. The most popular ones were held at Hrishikesh Park on Amherst Street, Laha Colony Math, Rajendra Deb Road and Bagbazar Sarbojonin in north Kolkata and Forward Club off Kalighat in south Kolkata. Enabling a live connect between musicians, singers and their fans the soirees usually began at 6 pm and continued well past midnight with the audience clamouring for “one more.”

The evening usually kicked off with an orchestra by either V Balsara or Himangshu Biswas. The artists were of three categories — star attractions, and then came the middle rung and finally the budding artists. Artists like Hemanta Mukherjee, Dhananjoy Bhattacharya and Sandhya Mukherjee were undoubtedly the stars; Shyamal Mitra, Manabebdra Mukherjee, Satinath Mukherjee and Utpala Sen also drew crowds. Young artists like Tarun banerjee, Mrinal Chakraborty and Ila Basu performed as well. But all jalsas had two mandatory items – parody songs by Mintu Dasgupta and Dwipen Mukherjee and comic or koutuk naksha by famous comedians, Bhanu Banerjee and Jahar Roy.

The songs sung in the jalsas were mostly new numbers (pujor gaan) from the discs released before the Pujas. All India radio also played these new songs on in Anurodher Asar where the people could send their requests and their names were read out before the song. HMV also brought out a magazine Sarad Arghya with texts and musical scores of the song along with photographs of the artists which sold out within a week.

Some of the hit numbers released before Pujas which later went on to become all time greats include kono ek gayer bodhu, shono kono ekdin and amai proshno kore neel dhrubotara written and composed by Salil Chowdhury and mellifluously rendered by Hemanta Mukherjee. These became so popular that the artist had to sing these numbers in almost every programme. Similarly when Deya Neya, starring Uttam Kumar and Tanuja was released the composer and singer, Shyamal Mitra had to regale the audience with ami cheye cheye dekhi saradin or jibonkhatar proti patae.

Similarly, mayur ponkhi rater nile, a song composed by Sudhin Dasgupta became hit because of its orchestration and singer Manabendra Mukherjee was flooded with requests to sing the song along with meteria medicar kabyo. Hits numbers of Sandhya Mukherjee included ke tumi amare dako (Agni Pariksha), tumi nahoy rohite kache (Pothe holo deri) and gane mor kon indradhonu.

Mintu Dasgupta was one of the most sought after artist in the jalsas because of his parody songs, sarir kotha age koto gechi kohi (from the original Hindi song mae hu rangila pyar ka rahi) or oi laldighir opar hote (from the original Bengali song oi mahasindhur opar theke).

Banasree Sengupta who had performed in many jalsas as a young artist recollects: “It was a real honour to perform and share the dais with senior and famous artists at the jalsas. Many of the audience had sharp musical sense and cheered the artists. The musicians who accompanied the artists were equally brilliant like Radhakanta Nandi (tabla), Topa or Amar Dutta (percussion), Himangshu Biswas (flute), YS Mulki  and Pratap Roy (piano accordion), Milan Gupta (mouth organ) and Khokon Mukherjee (guitar).”

Last but not least Mahisasurmardini by Banikumar aired on Mahalaya day marked the beginning of the festival. Only a few families owned a radio and people got up early in the morning, thronged the houses to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra, invoking Goddess Chandi in his rich baritone voice. The programme started at 4am and continued till 5.30am and so many people went to the Ganges for a holy dip and perform tarpan only after the programme got over.

The Naxal movement in the mid 1960s brought the curtains down as police refused to give permission for open air functions and the artists apprehending attacks refused to perform. In late 1970s the jalsas were replaced by daily cultural programme at the pandals. But old timers fondly remember the bygone days of jalsas when the legendary voices performed live and charmed the audiences without any technological intervention or aid.

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