Anil Biswas was a Hindi film music director known for his pioneering contribution to playback singing and introduction of orchestral music and choral effects into music for Indian cinema. He was born on July 7, 1914 in Barisal in modern-day Bangladesh. Thanks to his musically inclined mother, he started singing, playing the tabla and acting in plays at a very young age. During the 1930s, he participated in the freedom struggled and was jailed several times.
In the early 1930s, Biswas migrated to Calcutta and joined Rangmahal Theatre where he worked as an assistant music composer, singer and actor. He moved to Bombay in 1934 and worked at a number of studios, including Bombay Talkies, before he became an independent music director. In 1935, Anil Biswas made his debut in the film “Dharam Ki Devi” as a singer and a background music composer. His debut as a composer was for the film “Bharat Ki Beti” in 1937 for which he composed just one song “Tere Poojan Ko Bhagwan”. While Mehboob Khan’s “Jagirdar” (1937) established him as a bankable music director, “Kismet” (1943) was his first bit hit.
The late 1930s and early 1940s were a frustrating time for Biswas because playback singing was in its nascent stages and actors used to fill in as singers. However, this limitation turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Indian music lovers. It is largely to cover up the flaws in singing that Biswas enhanced the orchestration in songs, a feature that lasts in Indian film music to this day. It was also to overcome this limitation that he embraced playback singing with enthusiasm and went on to discover and mentor many talented singers. While many singers like Surendra Nath, Parul Ghosh and Amirbai Karnataki attribute their popularity to him, Biswas’ biggest contribution to Hindi film music was perhaps his grooming of Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh and Talat Mehmood. With tracks like “Dil Jalta Hai Toh Jalne De” (“Pehli Nazar”, 1945) , “Mere Liye Woh” (“Anokha Pyar”, 1948) and “Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagah Le Chal” (“Aarzoo”, 1950), he gave Mukesh, Lata and Talat their first significant breaks.
Biswas was prolific through the 1950s with films like “Laajawaab” (1950), “Badi Bahu” (1951), “Rahi” (1952) and “Pardesi” (1957). Some of his most memorable tracks during this period were “Tera Khayal Dil Se Mitaya Nahi Abhi” (“Do Raha”, 1952), “Rahee Matwale” (“Waaris”, 1954) and “Intezaar Aur Abhi” (“Char Dil Char Rahein”, 1959). An important development in the 50s impacted him both personally and professionally. He became fascinated by the singer Meena Kapoor’s voice and then got romantically involved with her. On the personal front, this led to his divorce with his first wife, Ashalata and marriage with Meena Kapoor in 1959. On the professional front, this resulted in Lata becoming distant as he increasingly used Meena Kapoor in his songs.
With the coming of the 60s and the growing popularity of modern, rhythm-based music, Anil Biswas slowly retreated from the music scene because he was unwilling to compromise his musical integrity. His last film as a music director was “Chhoti Chhoti Baatein” (1965), where the song “Zindagi Khwab Hai Tha Hamein Bhi” sung by Mukesh became immensely popular.
Shifting base to Delhi, Anil Biswas worked as director of the National Orchestra at the All India Radio and the Chief Producer of the light music show, Sugam Sangeet, till 1975. He also composed the title score for the television serial “Hum Log” in 1984. He was conferred with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1986. Upon his death in 2003, the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee described him as “a doyen of film music who struck the rare balance between classical purity of music and popular pulse”.