Salil Chowdhury was a maestro of prolific talent. His métier as a composer crossed boundaries, blending the sounds of east with the west. His mastery of musical instruments was proverbial. He could play the flute, piano, esraj and any other instrument he could lay his hands on.
He loved Mozart. He took inspiration from Mozart's 40th symphony, and turned it into a Hindi song for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's film Chaya (1961). Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar sang Itna mujhse tu pyar bara ke mai ek badal awara.'
Salil Chowdhury joined Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), where Hemanta Mukherjee became his comrade. Teaming up with him, ge wrote and composed the song on the 1943 Bengal famine, Kono ek gayer bodhu (rural bride). Hemanta sang the masterpiece with all his heart. The same Hemanta-Salil pair set Sukanto Bhattacharya's poem, Runner, into a milestone song of class-consciousness.
In Bombay, he collaborated with Bimal Roy to make Do Bigha Zamin based on an adaptation of his short story, Rickshawala. It went on to win national award and prix for foreign language film at the Cannes film festival.
Salil Chowdhury also loved and excelled in raga based songs and folk music. He composed for Bimal Roy's Kabuliwala, where he penned a song depicting the Kabuliwala's wistful longing for his home. Ay mere pyare watan witnessed Manna Dey singing in an absorbed Arabic scriptural tone. To add to the pathos of drifting away from home to a distant land, Salil Chowdury set Hemanta to sing Ganga aye kahan se jaye kahare layhre pani me jaise dhoop chao re.
Dilip-Vyjayantimala starrer Madhumati was a box office hit and the songs composed by Salil Chowdhury were equally popular; Ajare pardesi by Lata Mangeshkar and Toote hue khabo me sung by Mohammad Rafi.
It is a Sisyphean task to prepare a list of popular songs of Salil Chowdury. Almost all the popular singers of his era, Hindi or Bengali, sang for him. Shyamol Mitra sang Jodi kichu amare sudhao, Hemanta sang Shono kono ekdin and Moner janala dhore unki dey, Lata Mangeshkar sang Jare ure jare pankhi and Ogo ar kichu to noi and O moina go.
Salil Chowdhury's songs were all about emphatic resonance and sublime modulation. He was born in Harinavi, West Bengal on November 19, 1922. The maestro passed away on September 5,1995.