Written by Maya Rao ji
Way back in 1964, when I returned to India after training in choreography in the Soviet Union, I was full of rosy ideas about starting an institute where
I could produce many good ballets. Many a theatre personality supported my venture, but the one who offered his heart to my dreams was Anil Biswas! And since then, he has breathed soulful music into all my works.
Prior to my sojourn in the Soviet Union, I was fortunate in having eminent musicians like Sarvasri Dagar brothers, P. Kalinga Rao and A Subba Rao as my music directors in Delhi and Bangalore respectively.
But now, after the experience of seeing, ballets at the Bolshai Stanislavsky and other theatres in Moscow the music of Delive, Adam and Tchaikovskyi was fresh in my ears.
I had misgivings about finding a composer of that stature who could provide symphonic music, and when Mrs. Kamala Lal introduced me to Anil Da, I knew I had found a Tehaikovsky! I first met Anilda at the home of Smr. Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay where the launching of our Natya Institute of Choreography was to be finalised with the experts. He came driving a white Fiat and he breezed into the house to announce “Mujhe Anil Biswas Kehte Hain” (I am called Anil Biswas). I was surprised by his unexpected simplicity and hearty laugh. The halo around him as a living legend in Hindi music receded and seemed parked outside, like his car, also he was neither dreamy and long-haired like a composer nor patronising like a celebrity. He was keen to go down to brasstacks instantly. The only feature reminiscent of his film association was the fragrance of his foreign perfurme which enveloped the room like the warmth of his personality. By the time the meeting ended I felt as if I had known Anilda all my life. Such is the magnetic power he seems to possess.
Since that day, I have worked with Anilda in several productions and everytime he has something fresh to offer in terms of music, movement or mime. Such is his versatility in every sphere of theatre arts, besides music.
When I met him at work again in 1964, he was busy listening to the music recordings for the ballet Krishna Leela of Natya Ballet Centre, in which apart from direction, he and his wife Meena Kapoor, a renowned siner, have lent their voices to the production. As aptly remarked by a connoiseur “The ballet moves on the wheels of Anil Biswas’s music”. The Krishna Leela has been presented in over three thousand performances being a major attraction in Delhi in the season. The special feature of the music is that Anilda has blended Vaishnava-inspired music from Bengal, Maharashtra, Braja and South India giving predominance to the narrative content. While listenin to his own music Anilda would jump up from his seat with elation and tell us how the movement of that particular piece should be visualised. At times, he would screw up his face and say it could have been better. This is a good habit with Anilda, he is critical of his work as well as the ones he is asked to opine about – No wonder then that he creates musical enemies too!
Amir Khusro was the first production of mine in which I asked Anilda for music. he asked me to read my libretto to him. As I was just openng my script he said, “Look, let there be a tombof Khusro on the stage as I recite his famous line ‘I am a votary of Love …”‘. “Thrilled with it I opened the script and showed him my note on the prologue where I had written almost the same thing. He clasped my hand and said that the ballet is ready! To my surprised look he replied,”Why, because our thoughts are working on the same wavelength”. As prophesised by Anilda, the ballet is universally acclaimed as “a beautiful blending of highly imaginative music and choreography” and has been presented in several places with thumping success. While planning the music, I could have only a glimpse of the untold wealth of ghazals Anilda has in his treasure house. He only needs an intent listener and a good harmonium to bring forth the ghazal in melody.
While Anilda reigns supreme in the domain of North Indian Classical music and folk songs, he is equally at home in the Carnatic genre. While producing the Hoysala Vaibhava ballet based on the sculptured friezes of Belur (Karnataka) when I sought Anilda’s help for music, he asked me to get him a good Veena player and vocalist specialising in Carnatic music. Then he asked them to render a few Ragas and asked me to take down the notations. The music of the ballet was ready and it was beautiful too. No critic of the ballet even in South India could guess that the composer is a North Indian specialist nor that the intonations have been picked by Anilda only from an instantaneous feel for the mood that the music inspies. Again, the ballet in its thousand performances has been hailed as a feast of music and dance, because of the close co-ordination between melody and movement.
Anilda has composed superb music for our ballet Basaveswara which was first presented in Delhi for the All India Basava Jayanthi, Sri B.D. Jatti, the Vice-President then, came back-stage to meet the musician who had sung the Vachanas of Basaveswara in Kannada and was just wonder-struck when he came to know it was Anilda who had sung it.
Similarly, when we were planning the ballet Venkateswara Vilasam, we had an expert, Shri Rajani Kant Rao to help Anilda. Anilda picked up the intonations and set off to work as his wont is. Later, at the recording studio, when Anilda asked me for the song to be taken, Rajani Kant Rao, thinking that he needed the intonation started explaining, to which Anilda impatiently sounded, “I need the cure, not information”. Such is Anilda’s confidence in his capacity. This is also one of our very successful ballets presented in over five hundred performances.
While at performances or at recording studios, Anilda does the work of five musicians, apart from singing. He plays several instruments, the favourites being percussions on which his fingers weave dextrous patterns in rhythm and speed. Times without number I have had Anilda’s rings repaired by jewellers after his enthusiastic drumming which have not only made his fingers sore but also twisted his rings out of shape!
Even when his health or moods are at a low ebb, music works its charms on Anilda and he springs to action. I remember the recording session of our ballet Surdas at Bombay, when Anilda was dejected over not finding a suitable good voice for a certain song. Suddenly Anilda announced that he would sing, forgetting completely that five minutes earlier he had complained of a bad throat, congestion in the lungs and high blood pressure. As he sang, his face and eyes lit up, the music soared to great heights and physical pain was shelved for the remaining session. I think Anilda remembered to complain only four days after the recording when he was sitting in the train on the journey back to Delhi. Wrapt in music till then he had created wonders in taking motifs of the classical mode like Dhrupad Dhamar in the ballet. High encomiums have been showered on the ballet Surdas for exquisite music and choreography.
Anilda’s quick silver timing for recording sessions, and genius for on-the-spot composing is just incredible. In fact, all the musicians hold him in high esteem for it and they are awe struck in the studio till they complete his recordings. I remember, once a sarod player was unable to pick up a difficult piece Anilda had composed. After listening to the player for the third time, Anilda asked him to go out for a ‘Pan’ and used the board of his sarod as a percussion instrument for a rythmic pattern! Thereby replacing both the melodic pattern of the sarod and Tabla player who was late in reporting!
And yet, there are times when Anilda sulks like a small child, sitting aloof on a chair, during the script-reading sessions of the Natya Ballet Centre. To every query at the beginning of the session his reply is either a negative nod of the head or a rude answer, “I am not her. Carry on”. As the session moves on, Anilda not only throws in suggestions, but dicates the list of instruments that have to be used for particular scenes. When the session ends, Anilda is no longer aloof on the chair, but at the harmonium singing away. That is ho he ets tied to the ballets and itis our good fortune.
Anilda, as I said before, has a soft heart which melts even for people much younger than him, engaged in the art, who are just seeing the dawn of creativity. At out institute, where he is the Adviser, designing music for student productions of the young aspiring choreographers, he has been lending his mite not only in the melody and rhythmbut in the movements too, as he could give a visual representation of the music created. Students of our Natya Institute of Choreography who have benefitted by their association with Anilda, to name a few are Raja Reddy, Satyanarayan, Sonarchand, Swapna Sundari and Shakti Bhatnagar.
The sensitivity to music and life which Anilda portrays through his work is an inspiration to all of us who create ballets with him. I wish there are more to draw his unceasing fount of music called Anil Biswas!
Bharatiya Natya Sangh
Flat 34, New Central Market
New Delhi – 110001