[Update: Anthony Gonsalves passed away in Goa on January 18, 2012, at the age of 84.]
In the 1977 movie AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY, composer Pyarelal (of the Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo) scored the music for the number My Name is Anthony Gonsalves that went on to become a super hit in India. Not as well known is that the opening line was Pyarelal‘s nod to his mentor, the great Goan composer and musician, Anthony Gonsalves.
Before I get to the subject of this post, let me dispose of a couple of niggles. One, I don’t find Amitabh Bachchan funny at all. His is the kind of oafish nonsense that passes for humour in India. Two, Kishore Kumar‘s pronunciation of “Gonsalves” even today grates on every Goan ear. The syllable “Gon” is phonetically close to “gone,” not to “lone.”
Anthony Prabhu Gonsalves was born in 1927 in the beautiful coastal village of Majorda in south Goa. His father, Jose Antonio Gonsalves, was a choirmaster at Majorda’s Mãe de Deus church. Musically precocious, Anthony quickly absorbed his father’s lessons and then, barely into his teens, went to Bombay to join his fellow Goan musicians. In those days, Goan Catholic musicians, with their grounding in Western music, were critical to the composers of Hindi film music as they helped in developing what became the defining sound of that genre. The Goans were also pioneers in establishing a strong culture of jazz music in Bombay. For a brief account of these then-unsung and today-forgotten Goan musicians, see this.
Anthony Gonsalves was in a league all his own. A highly cerebral musician, Anthony was ahead of his time, and that meant he was a man without a musical home. With his deep love and passion for Indian Classical Music, he did not quite fit into the mould of his fellow Goan musicians. On the other hand, he was self-taught, without much formal training in Indian Classical Music. This meant he did not have a support base in that tradition either. The musical world was not yet ready to appreciate the type of musician he embodied, a bridge between two disparate genres. The struggles and the attendant frustrations left Anthony deeply disillusioned.
An episode in 1959 was to injure Anthony‘s psyche, one from which he never quite recovered. The then-Minister of Information and Broadcasting, B.V. Keskar, in a display of bigotry, refused to let Anthony compose a score for an animation film because Keskar held the barbaric view that “Indian Christians should not even be provided with jobs.” This was the same douchebag who had banned the use of harmonium on All India Radio, and imposed his prejudices in other areas as well. For Anthony‘s sensitive soul, this was a fatal blow. He recounted the sorry tale in a conversation with me in 2008. I remember well the pain writ on his visage during this retelling 5 decades later. Here’s the relevant excerpt of that conversation –
[Update: See this for a background on Clair Weeks and his pioneering work in animation in India that Anthony refers to in the audio clip above.]
In 1965 Anthony left for Syracuse, New York, and joined the music department at the university. His son Kiran and daughter Laxmi were born there. In the early 1970s, he came back to India and retired to a quiet life in his ancestral village of Majorda. He never again worked in the music industry. All the symphonies and orchestral scores he wrote and conducted in his prime lie stashed away in an old rusty trunk. The musical works carry names like Symphony in Raga Multani and are a testament to his abiding love of Indian Classical Music. He still hopes that someday they will be revived and replayed.
I met Anthony-bab several times in 2008, and during one of our sessions recorded an extended conversation with him. He spoke about his experiences with the great music makers of yesteryear – Khemchand Prakash, Anil Biswas, Naushad, S.D. Burman, Salil Chaudhary, K.L. Saigal, Lata Mangeshkar, and many others. He cited some of the major scores he had written, such as for the movie JAAL (S.D. Burman), DO BIGHA ZAMEEN (Salil Chaudhary), and so on. An excerpt of that conversation is appended at the end of this post.
Last week I visited Anthony-bab and found that his health is in decline. In May of this year, he received an award from the Dadasaheb Phalke Foundation. Soon thereafter, a fall in his home left him confined to his bed. Other afflictions include a fading memory and impaired hearing. He is being looked after by his daughter Laxmi.
A documentary on the Anthony‘s life is slated for release in Panjim next week (Aug 5), and will be available on DVD. It has been produced by Shrikant Joshi, who made a similar documentary on composer Dattaram (Wadkar) some years ago.
Let us now turn to the photo essay. Following this series of images is an audio excerpt of my conversation with Anthony-bab.
More of my conversation with Anthony Gonsalves in May 2008 here –