Remembering Pankaj Mullick on his 41st death anniversary.
Pankaj Mullick, also known as Pankaj Kumar Mullick (10 May 1905–19 February 1978), was a Bengali Indian music director, who was a pioneer of film music in Bengali cinema and Hindi cinema at the advent of playback singing, as well as an early exponent of Rabindra Sangeet.
Pankaj Mullick earned legendary fame and popularity as a singer and teacher of Rabindrasangeet. He devoted his whole life to this cause using the media of the film, the radio and the gramophone — he succeeded in endearing himself to music loving Indians all over the country.
His contributions in the field of Indian cinema were manifold too. He was directly involved in the advent of play-back singing in Indian films, he pioneered the use of Western musical elements in Indian film songs and over a period of nearly thirty-seven years he sang and composed music for a gamut of films in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Tamil. Many of these songs after having defied the ravages of time continue to enthrall listeners cutting across age-groups and generations. Several eminent artistes, luminaries in their own right, including the likes of K. L. Saigal, S. D. Burman, Kanan Devi, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle sang his compositions in films which at times scored heavily at the box office only by virtue of the magic of his musical creations. Apart from singing and composing music for films, he also featured as an actor in quite a few movies, often in leading roles. Pankaj Mullick’s involvement with cinema made him a household name not just across the length and breadth of the country but in every nook and cranny of the world where Indian films were watched.
The indelible footprints he left on the bedrock of Indian cinema traced their way back into his life in the form of the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award which symbolized the culmination of his career in films in a manner that has few parallels.
Another medium that bore witness to the magnitude of his talents was the radio. In fact it was through radio that Pankaj Kumar Mullick first came under the public spotlight. From 1927 to 1975, over a span of about forty-eight years, Pankaj Kumar Mullick served Indian Radio in general and Kolkata Radio in particular with incomparable dedication and commitment. During his lengthy tenure at AIR (All India Radio) he got involved with two landmark programmes that have had an everlasting impact on the musical, social and cultural framework of India.
The first of these was Sangeet Shikshar Ashar, a weekly music-class on radio, broadcast every Sunday morning. Pankaj Mullick conducted these classes in an inimitable style that went on to capture the imagination of generations of music lovers. Starting in 1929 Pankaj Mullick conducted the programme for decades till 1975 — a feat probably without any comparison in the annals of radio broadcasting. The programme was so revolutionary that it broke the shackles encumbering female singers who till then were looked down upon when they expressed their desire to learn singing. This apart, the programme made many more significant contributions to the world of culture that are too numerous to list here.
The other one was of course Mahishasuramardini — the legendary radio programme broadcast annually every Mahalaya morning preceding the autumnal Durga Pujas. This programme, an oratorio comprising narrations and songs describing the victory of Devi Durga over the demon king Mahishasura, was started in 1931. Since then the programme was broadcast live every year till about 1965 after which a recorded compilation of the songs and narrations, broadcast live earlier, was played out annually. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon continues till date. Over time, the programme itself has developed a persona of its own and has transcended impermanence to evolve into a becoming a tradition that has become intertwined with the very culture of Durga Puja among Bengalis the world over. Through it, the creators of the programme — Banikumar, Pankaj Kumar Mullick and Birendra Krishna Bhadra have achieved virtual immortality along with the other renowned artistes who have performed in it. It is already into its 81st year and shows no signs whatsoever of abating or stopping.