Shyamal Mitra: A Musical Journey
A tribute written and compiled by Raktim Sen
01: My Motivation
I had never any hesitation in saying this- I am the most die-hard Shyamal Mitra fan. Even as a little kid, when I came to Kolkata the most precious moments etched to my memory are those of playing the gramophone at my Grandparent’s house (মামা বাড়ী) to hear Shyamal Mitra’s records. I can never forget playing over and over again his duet “Kuhu Kuhu Koyela” (কুহু কুহু কোয়েলা’) with Sandhya Mukhopadhyay from the film “Drishti” (দৃষ্টি) for which Anupam Ghatak, the genius scored music for. While listening to the song I would imagine a boat being rowed on Dhakuria Lake (now Rabindra Sarabar). I would listen to this and other 78-RPM records whenever I got an opportunity and I did not run out of gramaphone pins. (You could play only two songs with one pin!)
I find it quite fascinating that we can find very little information on the Internet about this great artist. His Wikipedia profile is incomplete and incorrect. Other profiles are just copies of the same. So as a tribute I will make an humble attempt to present his body of work. I will start jotting down what I know and concentrate on his musical journey as I am not qualified to write his full biography. Hopefully, others who know more will come forward to help complete this effort. ■
02: Shyamal Mitra: His Work
Compiling the works of an artist who has contributed to four decades of music as a vocalist and composer in several Indian Languages across several genres of music is a daunting task, more so because the custodians of this rich treasure of music did very little to archive and document these invaluable treasures. So it is left to individual efforts to at least give it a start. Hopefully, with your help one day we will be able to fill in all the blanks.
I thought it will make sense to present Shyamal Mitra’s work in a chronological way (instead of an alphabetical listing). The year of publication of the songs are accurate in most cases. However, in some I had resorted to my best guess. The links to listen to the songs are all external and this website has no relationship with them in any way.
Last but not least, I need your help to make this effort successful. So please send me your feedback and together, we will be able to make the compilation more complete and accurate. ■
03: Shyamal Mitra: His Early Life
Shyamal Mitra was born in Naihati, West Bengal, India to Dr. Sadhan Mitra (father) and Patibhamayee Mitra (mother). His birth date is debatable. His son Saikat’s website has it as January 14, 1929 and Wikipedia has it has Jan 14, 1928. Both seem incorrect given that he was born on a Sunday (and hence his nickname, Rabi- The Sun). January 14, 1929 is a Monday and January 14, 1928 a Saturday. So my best guess is Sunday, January 15, 1928.
Sadhan Mitra was a very reputed physician in Naihati and wanted his son Shyamal to follow his footsteps. However, Shyamal had other ideas. He loved music being inspired by his mother and influenced by the famous singer, Mrinal Kanti Ghosh who was also from Naihati and a local celebrity. When he was a 10th grade student he was introduced to composer Salil Chowdhury. Salil actively participated and composed for IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). He was in Naihati and was looking for a pair of lead singers to sing his composition, “O Alor Pathajatri” (ও আলোর পথযাত্রী). Once he heard Shyamal and (his sister Reba) he did not have to look any further. (This incident was narrated by Salil Chowdhury during an “All India Radio, Calcutta” interview sometime in the late sixties.
Shyamal Mitra attended Hooghly Mohsin College in Chinsura, West Bengal. (Chinsura is right across Naihati on the Hooghly River.) Some of the well-known alumni of this institution include Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (one of the first two graduates of Calcutta University, the other being Dinabandhu Mitra), Dwijendralal Roy, U.N. Brahmachari, Akshay Chandra Sarkar, Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, Sayed Ameer Ali, Indranath Bandyopadhyay, Dwaraka Nath Mitra, Charuchandra Roy, Kanailal Dutta and Sambhu Charan Ghosh. The famous vocalist, Satinath Mukhopadhyay was then a student at Mohsin College as well. Satinath was a pupil of Prabodh Ghoshal and Dhirendranath Bhattacharjee and later a disciple of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Pandit Chinmoy Lahiri. He was quite popular as a singer in his college. He discovered Shyamal and insisted on his singing during a college celebration. (This story was narrated by Shyamal Mitra to journalist Sandhya Sen and published in a Bengali monthly during the late sixties.) It was a nerve-wrecking experience for someone who used to be a noise-maker in the audience. Shyamal had the audience spellbound. ■
04: Shyamal Mitra: He Finds His Guru
Sometime during his days in college he had the opportunity to hear the legend, Sudhirlal Chakraborty live at a concert in Kolkata. He immediately knew that he found his guru.
Dr. Sadhan Mitra did not take his diversion lightly and this lead to Shyamal leaving the comforts of his father’s house in Naihati in 1946 for Kolkata to learn from the Maestro Sudhirlal Chakraborty. Sudhirlal accepted him as his disciple and Shyamal started living in a “mess” (shared accommodation with other boarders) close to his Guru’s house. Those were very difficult days for him. The little money he had was spent on his accommodation often leaving him without any money for food. ■
05: Shyamal Mitra: His First Break
Shyamal got debut as a playback singer was in the film ” Sunandar Biye” (সুনন্দার বিয়ে) for which his Guru, Sudhirlal Chakraborty scored the music. (Pratima Bandyopadhyay too debuted as a playback singer in this film.) The film was released in 1951. In the mean time the music label HMV contracted him to cut his first non-film record of Bengali Modern songs, popularly know has “Adhunik Bangla Gaan”(আধুনিক বাংলা গান). He recorded two of his guru’s compositions, “Shon Shon Ogo” (শোন শোন ওগো) and “Bandhu Go Jani” (বন্ধু গো জানি) in 1951. To Shyamal’s disappointment, neither song became popular.
In 1952 his Guru passed away. As a tribute to him he recorded two of his compositions (Lyrics by Pabitra Mitra). “Smriti Tumi Bedona” (স্মৃতি তুমি বেদনা) and “Asha Bandhe Ghor Akarone” (আশা বাঁধে ঘর অকারণে). “Smriti Tumi Bedona” became an instantaneous hit and a classic. (He recorded the song again in 1977 but it was a disappointment and the impact of the song was nowhere close to the original.)
In 1952 his Guru passed away. As a tribute to him he recorded two of his compositions (Lyrics by Pabitra Mitra). “Smriti Tumi Bedona” (স্মৃতি তুমি বেদনা) and “Asha Bandhe Ghor Akarone” (আশা বাঁধে ঘর অকারণে). “Smriti Tumi Bedona” became an instantaneous hit and a classic. (He recorded the song again in 1977 but it was a disappointment and the impact of the song was nowhere close to the original.) ■
06: Shyamal Mitra: His Early Hits
Shyamal Mitra never looked back. He produced one hit record after another and very soon became the most sought after artist. Some of his hits during those years are, “Emono Din Aste Pare” (এমন দিন আসতে পারে) (1954), “Mohul Phule Jomeche Mou” (মহুল ফুলে জমেছে মৌ) (1954), “Chipkhan Tindar” (ছিপখান তিন দাঁড়) (Satyendranath Dutta’s poem, 1954), “Sarabela Aji Ke Dake (সারাবেলা আজি কে ডাকে) (1955) “Ami Tomar Pashe” (আমি তোমার পাশে) (1955), Ekti Kothai Likhe Jabo” (একটি কথাই লিখে যাব) (1955), “O Shimul Bon” (ও শিমুল বন)(1955), “Jodi Dako Opar hote” (যদি ডাক ওপার হতে) (1955)… I can go on and on. To put things in perspective, if any artist today has even one song as popular and lasting as any one of these, it will be considered a feat. These were no flash in the pan. Their impact can still be felt even after almost 60 years. ■
07: Shyamal Mitra: His Film Hits
During the 1950s Robin Chottopadhyay had already made a name for himself as a Music Director. Satinath Mukhopadhyay and Dhananjoy Bhattacharjee were big names by then and sang for him. Robin Chattopadhyay was signed as the Music Diector for the Uttam-Suchitra starrer, “Sagarika” (সাগরিকা) and Shyamal was chosen to be the playback singer for Uttam Kumar. His rendering of “Amar Sopne Dekha Raj Konnya Thake” (আমার স্বপ্নে দেখা রাজকন্যা থাকে) was a mega-hit by any standard and is perhaps one of Bengali Cinema’s best romantic songs. He and Uttam Kumar became very good friends for life. ■
08: Shyamal Mitra: His Compositions & Contemporaries
In years that followed, Shyamal not only presented megahits of his own compositions e.g., “Sediner Sona Jhora Sondhya” (সেদিনের সোনাঝরা সন্ধ্যা), “Ei Pothe Jay Chole” (এই পথে যায় চলে), but also those of Satinath Mukhopadhyay, e.g., “Tumi Aar Ami Shudhu” (তুমি আর আমি শুধু) , “Eto Alo Aar Aet Hasi Gaan” (এত আলো আর এত হাসি গান), Sudhin Dasgupta, e.g., “Neel Aakasher Oi Kole” (নীল আকাশের ঔ কোলে) , Kar Monjir baje” (কার মঞ্জীর বাজে), “Naam Rechechi Bonolota” (নাম রেখেছি বনলতা), “Bhiru Bhiru Choke” (ভীরু ভীরু চোখে), Bhupen Hajarika, e.g., “Chaitali Chand” (চৈতালি চাঁদ), “Saptadinga Madhukar” (সপ্ত-ডিঙ্গা মধুকর) – these were Bhupen Hajarika’s first hit song in Bengali) and of course, Salil Chowdhury, e.g., “Ja Jare Ja Ja Pakhi” (যা যারে যা যা পাখী) , “Aaha Oi Aankabanka Je Poth” (আহা ঐ আঁকা বাঁকা পথ). During the same period several artists recorded his compositions and those were super hits as well. (Satinath Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Bandyopadhyay, Tarun Bandyopadhyay, Gayatri Basu, Talat Mahmood, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Utpala Sen, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Ila Basu, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukerjee, Basabi Nandi (who was a trained singer as well as film actress). ■
09: Shyamal Mitra: His First Stint In Bombay
When Salil Chowdhury was invited by the legendary, Bimal Roy to do the music for “Do Bigha Zameen” (1953), a Hindi remake of the Bengali Film “Rikshawala” which was based on a story by Salil Chowdhury), he had Shyamal Mitra in mind to sing the duet,”Dharti kahe pukaar ke… Mausam Bita jaay” with Lata Mangeshkar. However, Chicken Pox prevented him from recording the song and Manna Dey was given the opportunity. The song went on to become a super hit. In the next couple of years, Salil Chowdhury had him sing for his films “Naukri” and “Biraj Bahu” and, later in the film “Musafir” (1957). But he did not click there as a playback singer. ■
10: Shyamal Mitra: The Versatile Singer
One of the greatest gift Shyamal had was his ability to sing in quite a few styles. His folk inspired songs are legendary. His ability to sing Indian classical is less known. One needs to hear a couple of compositions by Chinmoy Lahiri he sang to understand his grasp. The way he sang Salil Chowdhury’s composition made him one of the few artists who interpreted his compositions, perhaps most accurately. (The others, in my opinion are Hemanta Mukherjee, Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood, Sabita Choudhury and Madhuri Chattopadhyay.)
When the legendary Music Director, Robin Chattopadhyay was composing music for “Dwiper Naam Tiya Rang” (দ্বীপের নাম টিয়া রং) (1963) he was experimenting with Portuguese music and the instrument, Ukulele. He probably did not think twice before deciding on Shyamal Mitra to sing “Aami Chanderi Saampam Jodi Paai” (আমি চান্দেরই সাম্পান যদি পাই). What a wonderful rendition! His voice modulation and expression was out of the world. His diction and articulation of the lyrics were simply magical. ■
11: Shyamal Mitra: His Film Music
Just as he started to make a mark as a composere in the area of Bengali non-film songs, it was inevetible that he would get offers to score music for Bengali songs. As a music director of a Bengali film, he tasted success in the 1955 Bengali hit film, Joy Maa Kaali Boarding. Several other films followed but his 1963 film Deya Neya made him the legend he is. In the same year Bhratibilas was another big success story. Thereafter, he consitently produced hit film songs one after the other- Raaj Kanya, Trishna, Kheya, Duranta Charai, Jiban Jignasa, Banpolashir Padabali, Amanush, Ajashra Dhanyabad, Ananda Ashram to name just a few ■
12: Shyamal Mitra: The Film Producer
1963 was a another milestone year for Shyamal Mitra. This is the year he produced perhaps one of the Bengali cinema’s best musical films ever, “Deya Neya” (দেয়া নেয়া) under the banner of Rupchaya Chitra. This was his first venture at producing a film. The story by lyricist Gauriprasanna Majumdar is loosely centered around the conflicts Shyamal and his father had when he left home to pursue a career in singing. The cast included Uttam Kumar, Tanuja (her first Bengali Film), Pahari Sanyal, Kamal Mitra, Chhaaya Devi, Tarun Kumar and Lili Chakraborty. It was also Arati Mukherjee’s debut as a playback artist in Bengali films with “Maadhabi Madhupe Holo Mitaali”(মাধবী মধুপে হল মিতালী). All six songs of the film became all time hits and even till this day have listeners spellbound. The same year Uttam Kumar produced Iswar Chandra Bidyasagar’s “Bhranti Bilas” (based on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors) . Shyamal was the Music Director and gave three wonderful compositions, including “Sei Baasoro Nei” (সেই বাসরও নেই).
In 1965, Shyamal produced another Uttam Kumar Starer, “Rajkanya” and two classics – “E Jeno Ajaaanaa Ek Path” (এ যেন অজানা এক পথ) which he sang himself and “Nei Sei Purnimaa Raat” (নেই সেই পূর্ণিমা রাত) sung by Asha Bhonsle.
In 1967 he produced “Kheya”. Both songs from the film were hit. He himself sang “Aamaar Mon Ekhaane Raakhaalraajaa” (আমার মন এখানে রাখাল রাজা) and had Hemanta Mukhopadhyay sing “O Bidhire” (ও বিধিরে). (There is a duet version of the song which Shyamal sang with Hemanta.)
In 1974 he produced another Uttam Kumar Starrer, “Ami Se O Sakha”. Haimanti Shukla got a break as a playback artist in this film singing “Emon Swapa Kakhamo Dekhini Aage” (এমন স্বপ্ন কখনো দেখিনি আগে). Shyamal sang ” Ei Haashi Maanaay Naa To” (এই হাসি মানায় না তো). The film as well as the two songs were hits. ■
13: Shyamal Mitra: His Car Accident
At around 3:20 AM on Wednesday, May 21, 1969, Shyamal Mitra, while returning home after a concert had a terrible car accident. It was summer vacation for me and we were visiting our grandparent who live in Dhakuria. My mother had a dentist appointment on that day and I was with her on a double-decker bus at the Ballygunge Bus terminus when the bus driver mentioned the accident. He also remarked that the car was in very bad shape. I became restless. I went to the dentist with Ma but told her that I needed to go to the accident site. She understood and let me go. I took a bus back to the accident site (the Junction of Rashbehari Avenue and Purna Das Road). Shyamal Mitra’s car hit a Steam roller head on and the driver side was really in bad shape. The steering wheel looked like the letter D. It seemed Shyamal had dropped off the famous Tabalia Radhakanta Nandy and one other artist and was driving back home.
I walked to Shishu Mangal Hospital on Lansdowne Road (now, Sarat Bose Road) where he was taken after the accident. I waited for quite a while and then finally saw Salil Mitra (his younger brother) coming out. I asked him about Shyamla Mitra’s condition. He voice was not too encouraging. Nearly every day I would go the hospital with my prayers to get updates. To the amazement of everyone and by God’s grace, he made a miraculous recovery. On Sunday, September 9, 1969 I heard my favorite singer again. In the morning we heard a couple of new songs (which I later gathered were from the film “Panna Heerey Chuni”(পান্না হীরে চূনী) and then during the 10:45 PM session we heard his “Thank You” song, “Tomaader Bhaalobaasaa” (তোমাদের ভালবাসা) – a song specially written for him by Gauriprasanna Majumdar. A song he dedicated to his fans.
His first film playback after his accident was in 1969 for the film “Paannaa Heeraa Chuni” “(পান্না হীরে চূনী, Music by Ajay Das), a very low budget film. He must have recorded the songs when he had not fully recovered. The film and all the songs were super hit. ■
14: Shyamal Mitra: His Second Stint In Bombay
Bengali Modern and Film music started to lose its luster or so it seemed. There were occasional hits. But the general trend was worrisome. But then came Shakti Samanta’s “Amanush” in 1975 – a double version Uttam Kumar starrer as chartbuster in every respect. It re-launched Uttam Kumar and Shyamal Mitra into Hindi films. Shyamal went to score music for the second Shakti Samata a double version Uttam Kumar starrer, “Ananda Ashram” and a few more Hindi films (Safed Jhhoth, Bandi – a double Version Uttam Kumar starrer and Mamta. ■
15: The 1980s: The Spectacular Downfall of Bengali Adhunik
The 1980s:: The Spectacular Downfall of Bengali Adhunik
Looking back, the 1950s through most of the 1970s was the “Golden Era” of Bengali modern songs. “Bangla Adhunik” and film songs lost its aura completely in the 1980s. The downfall was spectacular. Part of it could be because the artists (vocalists, lyricists, composers and musicians) from the golden era were aging and probably exhausted their creativity. Part of it could be the shift in taste of the Bengali audience. Songs like “Lalita, Oke Aaj Chole Jete Bolna” (ললিতা, ওকে আজ চলে যেতে বলনা) and “Jakan Keu Aamaake Paagol Bole” (যখন কেউ আমাকে পাগল বলে), “Ebaar Mole Suta Habo” (এবার ম’লে সুতো হব) became mainstream and songs like “Bhaabite Parini Bhuleo Kabhu” (ভাবিতে পারিনি ভুলেও কভু) and “Chand Tumi Sundar” (চাঁদ, তুমি সুব্দর) remained unappreciated. Of course, the main reason was that we did not have the next generation ready at all. We neither had good compositions nor singers to carry them. Everyone wanted to be another Kishore Kumar, Hemanta Mukherjee and Manna Dey. So Bengali songs stepped into the age of “re-makes”. ■
16: 1987:: The End Of An Era
In 1987 we lost two great artists, Kishore Kumar and Shyamal Mitra. Kishore died on Tuesday, October 13. Shyamal Mitra left us on Sunday, November 15 at the age of 59 years and 10 months – 33 days after Kishore Kumar passed away. Shyamal was born on a Sunday. He left us on a Sunday too. “Rabi”, the Sun still shining bright! ■