Rabindranath Tagore was a prolific composer with around 2,230 songs to his credit.The songs have distinctive characteristics in the music of Bengal, popular in India and Bangladesh.He was was very stringent about the fact that his poetry should be sung with purity. The aspiring singers were asked to sing in his presence and only after seeking his approval they could sing in public.
Pankaj Mallick started singing Tagore's song very early in his life.One day he came across a poem by his favourite poet Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. 'Jokhon porbe na mor payer chinho' enchanted him to the extent that he composed a musical version of this poem and started singing it. Later on, when Pankaj got to know that this very poem had been composed and sung by Gurudev himself, he also listened to the record, and naturally felt ecstatic that his composition was identical to that of Gurudev. This was his incipient introduction to Rabindra Sangeet.
He started musically tuning and rendering Gurudev's poems by singing in public functions as well. One such composition, 'Diner sheshe, ghoomer sheshe,' he sang very frequently.
When Tagore came to know that some one is composing and singing his poems in public and being appreciated by the people,he was summoned before Tagore and asked to sing in his presence. Pankaj was naturally quite nervous when he sang 'Diner sheshe' in the courtyard of Gurudev's mansion. Just as the song was over, Pankaj ran away. Tagore was amazed by his singing prowess and didn't object to his singing and composing his poems. When Pankaj came to know about Gurudev's reaction he felt exhorted and inspired to sing Rabindra Sangeet as his life's sole mission.
Dinendranath Tagore was the grandson of Gurudev's elder brother Dwijendranath Tagore and son of Dwijendranath Tagore. After listening to Pankaj he gladly accepted him as his disciple. Under his tutelage young Pankaj learnt the finer nuances of Rabindra Sangeet. He taught him the first song from Gurudev's most celebrated work, 'Gitanjali'. He taught Pankaj the importance of verbal sequence and stressed that verses should never be overtaken by music. And that the spirit of lyrics was of supreme importance.He started singing in Radio Station Calcutta which was started on 26th August 1927 In September 1927 Dr Iyengar took Pankaj to the radio station and introduced him to the Programme Director Nripen Majumdar. Quite impressed with his voice, he asked Pankaj to sing for them. And Pankaj sang two songs penned by Gurudev. This historic stint with radio lasted for more than five decades.
The production of the first radio play on Calcutta Radio is also credited to him. Pankaj was equally responsible for popularising Rabindra Sangeet on radio. During his radio days, he came into close contact with Rai Chand Boral.With him he started giving music in films.In 1929 this duo was approached by BN Sircar to compose for his silent films, Chor Kanta and Chasher Meye. During the era of silent films, music was given live from the pit dug near the screen. Later in 1931 Sircar founded his New Theatres Studio and asked Boral and Pankaj to join its music department. Pankaj was co-composer of Boral in Dena Paona, the first talkie in Bangla that year. Pankaj had assisted Boral in most of the films and some of the credited compositions of Boral in Puran Bhagat and Chandidas were actually composed by Pankaj.
Pankaj Mullick was given a chance to compose the songs of the film Mukti independently by P C Barua.There is an interesting story about this film. When Barua was narrating the story of this yet to be titled film to Pankaj Babu, he started humming 'Diner sheshe, ghoomer deshe'. Barua heard this and asked Pankaj Babu that he would like to use this rendition in his film. Pankaj Babu told Barua, "Though I have composed this poem and sung it in concerts, we would require the permission of Gurudev to use it in the film."
Tagore not only gave permission for 'Diner sheshe', but even two more songs for the film. He also suggested the title Mukti for the film. It was the very first time that Rabindra Sangeet was used in a feature film. These three songs of Gurudev became instant hits after the film was released in 1935
Following the success of Mukti/Mukti, Pankaj Babu’s screen appearances became more frequent. He appeared as an elderly singer in the Hindi version of Kapal Kundala (1939), an adaptation of the bestselling novel by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya, directed by Phani Majumdar. He composed and sang the unforgettable Piya Milan Ko Jaana, undoubtedly his most well-known song in Hindi. The next highlight of Pankajbabu’s career was Debaki Bose’s musical extravaganza Nartaki (1940) where he sang the evergreen hits Ye Kaun Aaj Aaya Swerai, Madbhari Rut Jawan Hai and Prem Ka Nata Chhuta in his rich, sonorous vibrato. 1941 saw Pankaj Mullick reaching the zenith of his career as an actor-singer with the film Daktar/Doctor.
During the Second World War and its aftermath, New Theatres went into decline and many of its luminaries went to Mumbai but Pankaj Mullick preferred to stay at Calcutta. In 1944, he composed music for Meri Bahen and this film he had Saigal singing some of his best ever songs Ae Qatib-e-Taqdir Mujhe Itnaa Bata De, Do Naina Matware and Chhupo Na Chhupo Na. Pankajbabu also worked for some Mumbai productions among which were the Dev Anand-Geeta Bali starrer Zalzala (1952),
Pankaj Mullick was also a music scholar and theoretician and he wrote several books on Indian classical music. He also recorded the definitive version of the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in deference to Premier Jawaharlal Nehru’s wishes.
Yatrik (1952) and Raikamal (1955) won Pankaj Mullick the President’s Award for the best film music. He was honoured with the Padmashree in 1970 and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award for his ground-breaking contributions in Indian cinema in 1973. A commemorative postage stamp honouring Pankaj Mullick was issued by the Department of Posts, Govt. of India on the occasion of his birth centenary.He died on 19th Feb 1978.
It is a matter of special pleasure for me to present a compilation of my favourite Pankaj Mullick songs as my tribute on his birthday May 10.