Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Listening to Salilda

Salilda descended along the shores of Kerala when Chemmeen (The wrath of the sea, literally The shrimp) was released in 1965. The heart rending ditties in the movie caught the imagination of an entire generation and many that followed. Ramu Kariat took quite a risk bringing Salilda over, however I guess the shared love for music, spirit of Spartan life and ackowledgement of genius brought them close. The songs from Chemmeen is now an acquired heritage of keralites.

That was when a few of us realized that there was more to him that met the eyes and ears. His music spoke more than just the notes. It pervaded the artist's state of mind and the process of creativity in the most effortless of means while looking to sublimate awareness of lives around oneself. That was when we learnt about his father who whacked the white colonialist when the latter addressed him "dirty nigger", the large collection of western classical music and folk songs gathered from Bengal and Assam, we learnt further how IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association) and Indian communist party provided the right backdrop for an evolving artist, harmonizing the wave of turmoil Bengal and the rest of the nation was going through with his songs of social consciousness and awakening and the last phase that began when Salilda traveled to Bombay to remake his story Rikshawalla in Hindi (Do Bigha Zameen). His work in Madhumati was the high point in popularity.

However a lot of us were attracted to his creativity and the traits of possibly the last of renaissance men from Bengal. Aravindan invited da to compose music for his final film Vaasthuhaara, another non-descript director had a call from olden days to invite Da which was to be Da's final film as well. Besides late eighties and early nineties had a lot of meaningful television films and serials blessed with his title and background scores. You may recall the title and background music for Darpan, Alag, Charitraheen and a few others. Long after the half hour magic was over, the music lingered and it still does. Who would agree now that television could be that good!

Salilda's music has a haunting quality. It opens up an ethereal vision painted with elusive colors gleaned from a dying twilight and all that was good from Victorian and Tagore era. The prelude of his songs engulfs your being momentarily and the poetry is given a chance to catch up the lofty skies of imagination and then the interludes build a bridge between vision and memory. More often than not you recognize the musical notes transcending the mortality of lyrics and elevate aficionados to another plane.

Sometimes his music stood out to the discomfort of lesser artists who happened to be the directors and writers. We don't have too many outstanding musical films from Salilda because there were not too many to exploit his core genius. Instead it appears that he was given a free hand to fill the gaps with compositions that were apparently not really appropriate or relevant. His music rendered every other expression redundant: the longings of a lover, dance of monsoon rains, grief of a Vasthuhaara (dispossessed), introspecting on life and renunciation, freedom of a Baul singer on a distant country road, riding boat on a bending river...

His legacy is golden treasure of images drawn in musical notes.

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