Saturday, 28 July 2012

A versatile genius

Rare are those who become legends and rarer still are those who do so during their lifetimes. Singer, actor, playwright and music composer par excellence – Pankaj Kumar Mullick was one such who through sheer dint of genius and talent not only became a Living Legend but also a revered cultural icon of the nation during his lifetime.

His is a story of humble beginnings, monumental struggles and glorious achievements – achievements that have not only been written in golden words on the pages of the cultural history of India but have been inscribed on the very visage of time, making them truly eternal and everlasting.

He was the one who fought against massive odds and liberated Rabindrasangeet (songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore) from the clutches of the elitists to make them popular among the masses. In the process he earned the sobriquet of The First Man of Rabindrasangeet, an epithet he justified fully through the missionary zeal with which he sang and spread the magic of Tagore’s compositions across the country and the world.

A couple of quotations by two world-renowned people bring into perspective Pankaj Kumar Mullick’s communion with Rabindrasangeet:

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore to Pankaj Kumar Mullick (Jorasanko Thakurbari, 1937):
All those lyrics of mine that I will not get the opportunity to set tune to during my lifetime, I leave to you to embellish them with your music.

Satyajit Ray
Satyajit Ray in a eulogy on 22.02.1978: Pankaj Mullick earned legendary fame and popularity as a singer and teacher of Rabindrasangeet. He devoted his whole life to this cause using the media of the film, the radio and the gramophone – he succeeded in endearing himself to music loving Indians all over the country.

His contributions in the field of Indian cinema were manifold too. He was directly involved in the advent of play-back singing in Indian films, he pioneered the use of Western musical elements in Indian film songs and over a period of nearly thirty-seven years he sang and composed music for a gamut of films in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Tamil. Many of these songs after having defied the ravages of time continue to enthrall listeners cutting across age-groups and generations. Several eminent artistes, luminaries in their own right, including the likes of K. L. Saigal, S. D. Burman, Kanan Devi, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle sang his compositions in films which at times scored heavily at the box office only by virtue of the magic of his musical creations. Apart from singing and composing music for films, he also featured as an actor in quite a few movies, often in leading roles. Pankaj Mullick’s involvement with cinema made him a household name not just across the length and breadth of the country but in every nook and cranny of the world where Indian films were watched.  

Pankaj Mullick receiving the Dada
Saheb Phalke Award from then
President of India
Shri  V. V. Giri

The indelible footprints he left on the bedrock of Indian cinema traced their way back into his life in the form of the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award which symbolized the culmination of his career in films in a manner that has few parallels.

Pankaj Mullick on AIR
Another medium that bore witness to the magnitude of his talents was the radio. In fact it was through radio that Pankaj Kumar Mullick first came under the public spotlight. From 1927 to 1975, over a span of about forty-eight years, Pankaj Kumar Mullick served Indian Radio in general and Kolkata Radio in particular with incomparable dedication and commitment. During his lengthy tenure at AIR (All India Radio) he got involved with two landmark programmes that have had an everlasting impact on the musical, social and cultural framework of India.

Pankaj Mullick on
Sangeet Shikshar Ashar

The first of these was Sangeet Shikshar Ashar, a weekly music-class on radio, broadcast every Sunday morning. Pankaj Mullick conducted these classes in an inimitable style that went on to capture the imagination of generations of music lovers. Starting in 1929 Pankaj Mullick conducted the programme for decades till 1975 – a feat probably without any comparison in the annals of radio broadcasting. The programme was so revolutionary that it broke the shackles encumbering female singers who till then were looked down upon when they expressed their desire to learn singing. This apart, the programme made many more significant contributions to the world of culture that are too numerous to list here. 

Pankaj Mullick with
the Mahishasuramardini team

The other one was of course Mahishasuramardini – the legendary radio programme broadcast annually every Mahalaya morning preceding the autumnal Durga Pujas. This programme, an oratorio comprising narrations and songs describing the victory of Devi Durga over the demon king Mahishasura, was started in 1931. Since then the programme was broadcast live every year till about 1965 after which a recorded compilation of the songs and narrations, broadcast live earlier, was played out annually. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon continues till date. Over time, the programme itself has developed a persona of its own and has transcended impermanence to evolve into a becoming a tradition that has become intertwined with the very culture of Durga Puja among Bengalis the world over. Through it, the creators of the programme – Banikumar, Pankaj Kumar Mullick and Birendra Krishna Bhadra have achieved virtual immortality along with the other renowned artistes who have performed in it. It is already into its 81st year and shows no signs whatsoever of abating or stopping.

Besides these awe-inspiring achievements Pankaj Mullick had an array of other noteworthy accomplishments to his credit as well.

A small selection from these is listed below in gist:

·         He was appointed as the Honorary Advisor to the Folk Entertainment Section of the Government of West Bengal by the then Chief Minister of West Bengal Dr. B. C. Roy.
·         He was invited to sing the inaugural song during the launch of television in the country.
·         At the behest of Sri Sarat Bose, Netaji’s elder brother, he sang ‘Kadam Kadam Barhaye Ja’, set to his version of the tune, with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru being present during the recording. Other members of Netaji’s family too lent their voices to this record.
·         Following India’s independence, on Prime Minister Nehru’s request, he sang and recorded the Indian National Anthem – ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in a style that was deemed to set the parameters to be followed during the singing of the anthem by all Indians. The recording was also played nation-wide at almost every public place to familiarise every Indian citizen with the anthem of their newly formed independent country.

Legends like Pankaj Kumar Mullick are never forgotten. Memories of him may tend to fade but his tales invariably get told over generations and from each telling arises the spirit of the artiste, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, to once again ascend the seat of perpetuity and stake his claim to immortality once and for all.

A few honours that were posthumously bestowed on him are listed below:

·    The Government of West Bengal renamed Ritchie Road as Pankaj Mullick Sarani in his honour.
·   The Department of Information and Culture of the Government of West Bengal celebrated his birth centenary in 2005 with great pomp and splendour.
·  The Government of India, paid tribute to his memory by issuing a commemorative postage stamp in 2006.
·     The Kolkata Municipal Corporation declared his residence at Sebak Baidya Street a Heritage Site in 2007.
·    The Kolkata Municipal Corporation supported the erection of a statue in his honour at Maddox Square Park on Pankaj Mullick Sarani in 2010.

Signboard depicting road named after Pankaj Mullick

Commemorative Postage Stamp in honour of Pankaj Mullick

Statue of Pankaj Mullick in Maddox Square Park


  1. Just discovered this wonderful blog. I am excited and look forward to spending time here.

    1. Thank you. There will be quite a few more posts in the near future. Do keep a watch.

  2. many may not know the genius loved to compose rather than sing . he was intrested in making others sing. so we have the songs of my sister in saigal's voice, else the songs had earlier recorded in panaj mullick voice.

    1. There's a whole big story about why Pankaj Mullick and his dear friend K L Saigal landed up singing the same songs in MY SISTER (MERI BAHEN). It's the subject of another blog... read about it when I upload it.

  3. This is a wonderful and instructive post. Continue doing your blog entry and thank you such a great amount for your awesome post.

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