He was a saint of music who created divine melodies on sarod with his eyes closed

Ali Akbar Khan was recording the bhajan, Ghanshyam Ki Aakhen for Aandhiyan (1952) rendered by Laxmi Shankar. Writer and director, Chetan Anand asked his Alubhai (the maestro of the sarod) to add a traditional rhythm to the devotional chant. kohl in the song that created the desired effect. For his debut, Aandhiyan Ali Akbar Khan roped Ravi Shankar (sitar) and Pannlal Ghosh (flute) to compose the background score. Lata Mangeshkar moved to tears singing title track Hai Kahin By Shadmani didn’t charge a single penny.

The sarod legend still considered Aandhiyan closest to his heart when it comes to film music. He has also composed music for Navketan’s, Humsafar (1953). Although Anadi Nath Banerjee served as the director, Chetan Anand supervised the musical score and acted in the film. Ali Akbar Khan used a rare fusion of sarod and violin to compose a score for a moving scene from Humsafar.

The Ustad had brotherly feeling for Dev Anand whom he called a “Cowboy”. So when composer Hemant Kumar asked the legend to perform the sarod in a scene from Ferry (1955) where Dev Anand would be seen playing it, he did so for free. Ali Akbar Khan taught the subtle nuances of the sarod to Dev Anand who, along with Hemant Kumar’s son Ritesh on tabla (played by Shantaprasad) canned the sequence in two takes for director Hemen Gupta.

In his director’s project Anjali (1956) based on the 2500th birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha, Chetan Anand again took help from Ali Akbar Khan. In an 800ft scene where Nimmi attempts to break Chetan Anand’s meditation, Ali Akbar Khan was emotionally inspired. He composed four different scores. Chetan Anand opted for the latter although Jaidev is Anjali’s official composer.

Appreciating the work of Ali Akbar Khan in Aandhian, Satyajit Ray entrusted him with the composition of Devi (1960). As required by the language of cinema, Satyajit Ray strictly controlled the use of music. The results were superb but Ustad, without compromise, strongly protested. He even challenged Satyajit Ray’s sense of Indian classical music. As the meticulous gentleman that he was, Satyajit Ray never responded to this criticism.

Ali Akbar Khan and Tapan Sinha have formed a good relationship working together in Khudito Pashan (1960) and Jhinder Bandi (1966). In Khudito Pashan, Ali Akbar Khan waved the stick as Hemanta Mukherjee delivered Tagore’s immortal number, Saghana Ghana Ratri in her golden voice. In Jhinder Bandithe maestro has well combined sarod with bamboo flute and Indian drums to compose the scores.

Ali Akbar Khan was at his creative best in the English and Hindi versions of Son-et-Lumet for the strong red in 1963. A light, shadow and sound experiment for the Ministry of Tourism was brilliantly directed by Chetan Anand. Ali Akbar Khan’s scores for both versions were masterpieces of fusion music hailed even by Yehudi Menuhin and Maurice Jar.

A memorable but all-time controlled score by Ali Akbar Khan was for Ritwik Ghatak, Ajantrik in 1958. There were memorable uses of the sarod, cellos and flute in Ajantrik. For his score in Householder, 1964, an English film Ivory Merchant, the ustad created unforgettable musical montages with classical Indian and Western symphonies.

His last score was for Bernardo Bertoluc, the little buddha 1996. Although tired at that time, he did his best and made some interesting musical improvisations. In its centenary, the Ustad will be remembered as Dev Anand rightly said he was a saint of music who created divine melodies on sarod with his eyes closed. When he opened his eyes, they were red.