(Born: 19 November 1923, 24 Parganas
Died: 5 September 1995, Kolkata)
As a teenager in school, Chowdhury already had an interest in music, and played the flute, harmonium and esraj. He learnt to play the piano from his elder brother at the age of 6. Once in college, he also began to compose tunes. His first popular song was "Becharpoti tomar bichaar" (lit. the days of new judgement have come because people are now awake), set to a kirtan tune.
The first Bengali film for which Chowdhury composed music was Paribortan, released in 1949. Mahabharati, released in 1994, was the last of the 41 Bengali films where he rendered his music. He is affectionately called Salilda by his admirers.
Songs like Gnaayer bodhu, which he composed at the age of 20, brought about a new wave of Bengali music. Almost every notable singer at the time from West Bengal had sung at least one of his songs. A few examples are Debabrata Biswas, Hemanta Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukherjee, Manabendra Mukherjee, Subir Sen, and Pratima Banerjee.
In an interview with All India Radio, Salil Chowdhury described his coming to Bombay in 1953 as a "stroke of luck". He was writing the script for a Bengali film about a peasant who was disowned of his land and had gone to Calcutta to earn money as a Rickshaw puller. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who heard of it from Chowdhury during a visit to Calcutta, liked it immensely and suggested that he narrate it to the director Bimal Roy. Roy heard it, and asked him to meet him again the next morning. However, when Chowdhury went to meet him the next day, he learnt that Roy had rushed to Bombay on an urgent call. A week later, he received a telegram from Roy that he wanted to turn his script into a movie. This resulted in Chowdhury's debut in the Hindi film industry in 1953 as the music director for Do Bigha Zamin (1953). The movie was based on Tagore's poem by the same name, but the story was different and was written by Salil Chowdhury himself. Directed by Bimal Roy, this film took his career to new heights when it became the first film to win the Filmfare Best Movie Award and won the international Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
After working for about 20 years in Bengali and Hindi films, he entered the Malayalam film industry and, in 1964, composed music for the movie Chemmeen. He went on to compose music for films in 13 languages. This includes over 75 Hindi films, 41 Bengali films, around 27 Malayalam films, and a few Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Oriya and Assamese films. Asked about his method, Chowdhury described it thus – He would usually ask the film maker to explain the situation to him, then Chowdhury would compose a tune to suit the mood, and the lyric writer would set in words. This remained his practice for most of his films including Madhumati, in which Shailendra wrote the lyrics subsequently.
Poet, Playwright, Short story writer, Salil also directed a film Pinjre Ke Panchhi starring Meena Kumari, Balraj Sahani and Mehmood based on his own story and screenplay in 1966. Salil Chowdhury was the Founder of Bombay Youth Choir, the first ever Secular Choir in India in 1958 as its composer and conductor - he inspired scores of secular choir groups to be formed throughout India formulating a new genre of music using vocal polyphony for Indian Folk and Contemporary Music.