Chitragupta Srivastava was born in Gopalganj district in Bihar in 1917. His elder brother, Brij Mohan ‘Azad’, an acclaimed journalist-freedom fighter was a major influence on Chitragupta during his childhood. Under his watch and guidance, Chitragupta completed his education, earning a double MA in Journalism and Economics from Patna University, and became a lecturer of Economics. While the focus may have been on academics, both the brothers learnt classical music from Pt Shiv Prasad Tripathi. It is said that Chitragupta played the tabla very well. While he obeyed his elder brother and completed his education, his heart lay elsewhere. Chitragupta desired to become a professional singer. This led to his taking a big risk and relocating to Bombay along with a friend, Madan Sinha (who later on became a well-known cinematographer). Luck favoured him and he found work as a chorus singer under music director Nitin Bose. He went on to become the assistant of the legendary composer, S.N. Tripathi, who mentored him and secured him a break as an independent music director. Chitragupta made his debut in the film Fighting Hero (1946). This was followed by several mythological, period, stunt and action films – the staple of the B-grade movie industry. Despite the tight budget, his calibre and talent shone through.
Early songs such as Ada se jhoomte huye (Sindbad the Sailor, 1952, Rafi-Shamshad) and O naag kahin jaa basiyo (Naag Panchami, 1953, Asha Bhosle) became big hits. However, Chitragupta got typecast. AVM’s Shiv Bhakta (1955) was his first big banner production – he bagged it after S D Burman rejected the offer as he did not work in mythologicals. This was also the first film where Lata Mangeshkar sang for Chitragupta – starting a fruitful and memorable association for both. By the end of Chitragupta’s career, Lata is supposed to have sung more than 200 songs for the composer.
A second AVM production in 1957, Bhabhi, proved to be super successful for Chitragupta. Chal udja re panchchi till date remains popular – counted among Rafi’s best. A lesser man would probably have cashed in on this success and turned his back on his early movie producers and stopped signing B-grade movies. However, Chitragupta did not. He remembered the men who gave him his early breaks and continued doing B-grade films for producers like Nanabhai Bhatt.
Through the 60s, Chitragupta continued composing songs for films – churning out popular, melodious ditties. Some of the famous songs in this period include Machalti hui hawa (Ganga Ki Lehrein, 1963, Kishore Kumar-Lata), Dil ka diya (Akashdeep, 1965, Lata Mangeshkar), Jaagdil-e-deewana (Oonche Log, 1965, Mohd Rafi), Main kaun hoon (Main Chup Rahungi, 1962, Mohd Rafi) and Yeh parbaton ke daayere (Vaasna, 1968, Rafi-Lata).
Vastly underrated but extremely talented, Chitragupta gave music for over 150 films from the 60s through to the 70s. It is ironical that despite his sons Anand-Milind’s popularity as music directors in the 1990s and 2000s, not many know of their talented father, Chitragupta.
Chitragupta died on January 14, 1991, satisfied and happy at having seen his sons succeed and achieve what he never could – they had won the Filmfare Award for their compositions in the 1988 film Qayamat se Qayamat Tak.