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Soul-stirring strains

Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan's second death anniversary fell on June 19 . Ranjan Das Gupta on his stint in films


Ustad Ali Akbar Khan never thought he would compose music for films. Coming from a conservative family, the stalwart of the Maihar gharana was disowned by his father Baba Alauddin Khan when he started composing for films. Yet, some of the maestro's compositions remain evergreen for their serenity.

Khan, along with Ravi Shankar, was a regular visitor to 41, Pali Hill where the famous Anands resided. Being a close friend of Chetan and Uma Anand, Khan often held his music recitals with Ravi Shankar at their residence.

Just like Ravi Shankar, Chetan Anand gave Khan the scope to compose for his third film, Aandhiyan (1952), a Navketan production starring Dev Anand, Nimmi and Kalpana Kartik. Khan composed a unique background score for this heavy theme based on a true story jointly with Ravi Shankar and flutist Pannalal Ghosh. His composition of the title song, ‘Har Kahin Pe Shaadmani', was rendered sonorously by Lata Mangeshkar and she did not charge any fee for it as a token of her respect for the sarod maestro. The other songs of Aandhiyan were equally melodious showing Khan's adeptness at music direction.

His compositions for Navketan's fourth film, Humsafar, were not of the same standard as Aandhiyan. Four years later, Khan composed a brilliant background score on sarod for the 800-feet silent sequence of Anjali in which Nimmi tries her best and breaks Chetan Anand's meditation. Though Jaidev was the music composer of Anjali, the sequence for which Khan composed remains the most musically rich in the film.

Tapan Sinha's Khudito Pashan based on Tagore's immortal “The Hungry Stones” in 1960 was another musical bonanza by the sarod king. Perhaps the biggest experiment Khan did in film music was composing for Ritwik Ghatak's Ajantrik in 1963. A film of a genre unknown to India, the Ghatak-Khan combination created musical history. The background score proved a major strength of the film. Khan's composition for Ismail Merchant's maiden venture, The Householder, had a unique combination of sarod, English flute and piano. He last composed for Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha, but by then he lost interest in film music. He was at his best while performing on stage or recording.

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