Pankaj Mullick was born in Calcutta in 1905. His father passed away early and the responsibility of take care of the family fell on Mullick’s young shoulders. Mullick could not complete his education but took to learning Rabindra Sangeet. Rabindra Sangeet made a deep impact on Mullick and its influence would become evident in the years to come in his music.
Mullick started his career as a radio broadcaster in 1927 and moved on to assisting music director R.C. Boral for the silents films and later the talkies of New Theatres. When R.C. Boral, working for director Nitin Bose, used introduced playback singing for the first time in the Bengali film “Bhagya Chakra” (1935), Mullick was part of the team.
Pankaj Mullick went solo with the Hindi film “Yahudi Ki Ladki” (1933). He is credited with introducing and popularizing Rabindra Sangeet. Before using Rabindranath Tagore’s lyrics for the first time in the Bengali film “Mukti” (1937), Pankaj Muliick met the great man himself and got his permission. With the help of instruments like harmonium and tabla, instruments that Tagore himself looked down upon, Mullick brought Rabindra Sangeet to the common man.
Along with Rabidra Sangeet, Mullick also incorporated elements of Western music into his songs. This can be heard in songs like “Duniya Rang Rangeeli” (“Dhartimata”, 1939) and “Aayi Bahar Aaj” (“Doctor”, 1941).
Another innovation he’s credited with is the tonga-rhythm which he used for the first time in “Chale Pavan Ki Chaal Jag Mein” (“Doctor”, 1941). The tonga beats were apparently created using coconut shells.
Pankaj Mullick sang for many of his compositions and was perhaps more known for his work as a singer than as a composer. Several songs sung by him, like “Piya Milan Ko Jaana” (“Kapal Kundala”, 1939), “Madbhari Rut Jawan Hai” (“Nartaki”, 1940) and “Aaj Aayi Bahar” (“Doctor”, 1941) became big hits. However, music lovers believe that his best compositions came when K.L. Saigal sang for him. Some of the songs Saigal sang for Pankaj Mullick are “Nukta Cheen Hai” (“Yahudi Ki Ladki”, 1933), “Ab Main Ka Karoon” (“Dhartimata”, 1938), “Main Kya Janoon Kya Jadoo Hai” and “So Ja Rajkumari So Ja” (“Zindagi”, 1940), “Preet Mein Hai Jeevan” (“Dushman”, 1940) and “Ae Qatib-E-Taqdeer” (“My Sister”, 1944).
Mullick’s dedication to Rabindra Sangeet and consequent reluctance to use other forms of music, his insistence on staying on in Calcutta and K.L. Saigal’s move to Bombay in 1941, took a toll on his career. Pankaj Mullick continued to compose for films till the 1950s, “Kasturi” (1954) being his last Hindi film, but met with limited success towards the end.
While many of Pankaj Mullick’s songs last in public memory to this day, his most enduring legacy is perhaps his composition and rendition for the radio program “Mahishasurmardini” which has aired on All India Radio every Mahalaya (beginning of Durga Puja) since 1931.