Hemant Kumar

Listening to Hemant da, I feel as though a sadhu sitting in a temple is singing a Bhajan." comments the nightingale Lata Mangeshkar about the unique unvanquished Hemant Kumar who was not only a fabulous singer but also an equally indomitable composer. In Hemant da's voice one could experience an amalgamation of Rabindra Sangeet, Bengali folk music, modern and classical elements. Every distinguished creative artiste is born with one gift, but, Hemantda was born with several gifts. As a singer he reigned supreme in Calcutta and Bombay. As a composer his versatility and staying - power in the charts were astonishing. From Naagin and Jaal to Bees Saal Baad and Kohraa the 50's and 60's were decades that 'belonged' prominently to the unique talents of Hemant Kumar.

With his deep but passionate voice and melodic sensibility, Hemant Kumar (born Hemanta Kumar Mukherjee) helped steer the evolution of post-World War II Indian music. Well-known for his interpretations of Rabindranath Tagore's songs, Kumar was equally influential as a composer. In addition to scoring more than 150 Bengali films and 50 Hindi films, Kumar wrote an estimated 2,000 songs.

Appearing on Indian radio for the first time in 1933,at the age of 13. Kumar recorded his debut disc, "Janite Jadi Go Tumi" b/w "Balo Go Balo More," six years later. Despite his obvious talent, Kumar gave little thought to a career in music. Instead, he enrolled in a four-year course at the Engineering College of Jaduvpar Polytechnic and dreamed of becoming a writer. In 1937, Dash magazine published one of Kumar's stories. Six years later he cut his first gramophone disc for HMV. Recognition soon followed in the elite music circle of India. In 1940 he sang his first Hindi geet 'Kitna dukh bhulaya tumne'. But commercial success was yet to come.

Hemant Kumar sang his first Hindi song for in 1944 for Music Director Amarnaath in the movie Iraada produced by Indrapuri Studios Calcutta. He sang two solos,’phir muhabbat ke pyaam aane lage’, and, ‘aaraam se jo raaten kaate.n vo ashq bahaanaa kyaa jaanen’ written by Aziiz Kaash- miirii, and a duet with Raadhaaraanii,’nit nit ke roothane vaale saajan, tum deep bano’.

The impact of Kumar's voice could not be denied, however. Although he was turned down by the Senola and Megaphone Record labels, he was signed by Columbia and introduced to their staff trainer, Sailesh Dattagupta. Although he had previously begun studying classical Hindustani music with Ustad Faiyaz Khan, his lessons ended prematurely with Khan's untimely death.

Commercial success was much slower. For several years, Kumar sought a way to break into film playback. His chance came when he was chosen to be the playback singer in the hit film Nimai Sonyas. In 1944, he composed the entire score for Heman Gupta's film, Abhijatri. He resumed his work for Gupta in 1951 with the film Anandamath. He subsequently relocated to Bombay and took a staff composer position with S. Mukherjee's Filmistan Studios. Although he attempted to break into film direction with his own Geetanjali productions, his best work was done for other directors.

Beginning in 1948, Kumar worked with lyricist/composer Salil Chowdhury to develop a new kind of music, Kavya-geeti, translated as "ballad but not necessarily romantic." From the 50's onwards his voice incarnated Bengali middle-class romanticism, having an enduring influence on all male playback singers in that language since. Became a star singer in Hindi with 'Ye raat ye chaandni' in Guru Dutt's Jaal(1952) picturised on Dev Anand on the beach among the fishing nets. Collaborated extensively with Dutt, e.g. 'Jaane vo kaise log the' in Pyaasa and scored the hauntingly beautiful numbers of Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam. First hindi hit as composer is Nagin adapting a tune from Bijon Bhattacharya's play Jivan kanya for the sinous snake dance number Man dole a landmark in the introduction of electronics into Hindi film music. Composed extensive for Tarun Majumdar and the early Mrinal Sen, producing Sen's Neel Akasher Neechey. As producer he often worked with set designer turned director Biren Nag, showing a penchant for thrillers like Bees Saal Baad (adapted from The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Kohraa borrowed from Daphne du Maurier's(and Hitchcock's) Rebecca. Also produced Pinaki Mukherjee's Faraar, Tarun Majumdar's Rahgir and Asit Sen's Rajesh Khanna psychodrama Khamoshi.

He was introduced as a music director in Hindi films by director Hemen Gupta in the film Anand Math released by Filmistan in 1952, which had tunes for traditional songs, like ‘Jai jagdeesha hare’, the patriotic song ‘Vande maataram sujalam suphalam’ (Bankim Chandra Chatter-jee). The patriotic tunes continued in Jagriti (Old), with ‘De di hamen aazaadi binaa khad binaa dhaal’, (which was an adaptation of the Noorjehan-Naushad hit ‘Kya mil gaya bhagwan tumhein dil ko dukha ke’, and ‘Ham laae hain toofaan se kashti nikaal ke’ (Rafi) and ‘Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaaen jhaanki hindustaan ki’ (Pradeep).

As a music director, he made it big in Hindi films with his huge hit Nagin. This was the movie that introduced electronic synthesized music in films. As most people know, the famous ‘been’ music before the song ‘Tan dole mera man dole’ was synthesized and the credit for that goes to the music director’s assistants Kalyanji and Ravi. In Kohra, the song ‘Kahe bajaya tu ne paapi bansuriya’ by Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor too had such music.

For Lata, Hemant’s voice always reminded her of a sadhu/saint. It is probably this awe/reverence that reflects in her voice when she sang with Hemant. This was not just in the songs where Hemant was the Music Director, but also in most of their other duets, like, ‘Chandan ka palna resham ki Dori’ (Naushad), ‘Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag’ (C.Ramchandra), Lata has been the predominant female voice in Hemant’s films. The other female singers who have had their share of good songs with him were Geeta Dutt, ‘Na jaao saiyaan chudaake baiyaan’, Asha Bhosle, ‘Bhanvra bada nadaan hain’.

While Hemant sang most of his songs himself, he did leave some excellent compositions for some of his contemporary male singers. Rafi was used on and off is many of his movies Jagriti (Old), Miss Mary, Do Dil etc. For Talat Mahmood too, Hemant created some wonderful tunes in the movie Bahu. The Talat Mahmood -Geeta Dutt duets ‘Thandi hawaon mein tere hi baahon mein’, and ‘Dekho dekhoji balam aise birha ka gham mera nanha sa jiya tadpana na’ surely rank high in the list of the most popular songs of Talat Mahmood. He also gave Kishore Kumar the opportunity to sing the sensitive romantic duet with Sudha Malhotra ‘Aaj mujhe kuchh kahana hai’ penned by Sahir; Then with Gulzar, he again gave the opportunity to Kishore to sing evergreen songs like ‘Vo shaam kuch ajeeb thi ye shaam bhi ajeeb hai’ Khamoshi (Old).

He has worked with almost all the top lyricists of his time. Rajinder Krishan in Nagin, Kaifi Azmi in Kohra, Shakeel Badayuni in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Shailendra in Chaand, Gulzar in Khamoshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri Ek Hi Raasta, Sahir Ludhianvi in Girl Friend and Pradeep in Jagriti. Strangely though some of these associations were limited to a single movie. But they were nevertheless memorable. Kaifi Azmi, who has had a better share of movies with Hemant, said that Hemant's tunes always did justice to his lyrics. A sentiment, which is probably shared by all the other lyricists too.

Hemant Kumar was as endearing in ‘Tum pukaar lo’ as he was in ‘Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan’, the pathos in ‘Ya dil ki suno duniya waalon’ was no less than the one seen in ‘Jaane wo kaise log the jinke pyaar ko pyaar mila.

However the gradual fade out of Hemant Kumar was reflected by some of his last few songs,like ‘ya dil ki suno duniya waalon’( Anupama) accurately describing the mood of Hemant at that time. He was last credited five or six years ago for the title song of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's tele-serial ‘Talaash’ starring Moushmi Chatterjee and Alok Nath. The song, sung by Suresh Wadkar, ‘Jeevan ek talaash hai’, had the same tune as ‘Tum pukaar lo’ from Khamoshi (Old).

In the late fifties, He ventured into movie production under his own banner Hemanta-Bela productions. The first movie under this banner was a Bengali film directed by Mrinal Sen, titled 'Neel Akasher Nichey'(1959). The story of this film was based on the travails of a Chinese street hawker in Calcutta in the backdrop of India's freedom struggle. The movie went onto win the President's Gold Medal - the highest government honour for a movie. In the next decade, Hemanta's production company was renamed Geetanjali productions and it produced several Hindi movies such as 'Bees Saal Baad', 'Kohraa', 'Biwi Aur Makaan', 'Faraar', 'Rahgir' and 'Khamoshi' - all of which had music by Hemanta. Almost all of these, except 'Bees saal baad' and 'Khamoshi', weren't major commercial successes. Back in Bengal, Hemanta scored music for a movie titled 'Palatak' in 1963 where he experimented with merging Bengal folk music and light music. This proved to be a major success and Hemanta's composition style changed noticeably for many of his future films in Bengal such as 'Baghini', and 'Balika Badhu'. In Bengali films 'Monihar' and 'Adwitiya', both of which were major musical as well as commercial successes, Hemanta's compositions had a light classical tinge. In 1961, for commemorating Rabindranath Tagore's birth centenary, Gramophone company of India featured Tagore songs by Hemant Da in a large portion of its commemorative output. This too proved to be a major commercial success. Hemanta also went on several overseas concert tours in this period including his trip to the West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago. Overall, in the sixties decade Hemant Da retained his position as the major male singer in Bengal, and, as a composer and singer to be reckoned with in Hindi films.

By the seventies decade, Hemant Da output in Hindi films had become nominal. He scored music for a handful of his home productions, none of which were successes movie or music-wise. In Bengal, however, he remained the foremost exponent of Rabindrasangeet. His non-film output was popular in the early part of the decade. In 1971, Hemant Da debuted as a film director in for his self-produced Bengali movie titled 'Anindita'. The movie didn't fare exceedingly well at the box office. In the early to mid 1970s, two major music composers in Bengal, Nachiketa Ghosh and Robin Chatterjee, who had worked closely with Hemanta(for playback and singing non-film songs) since the early 50's passed away. Simultaneously, music composed by Hemanta for Bengali films like 'Fuleswari', 'Raag Anurag' and 'Dadar Kirti' established Hemanta as the major film music composer in the Bengal movie scene. In 1979, Hemanta re-recorded some of his earlier works with composer Salil Chowdhury from the 1940s and 1950s. This album titled 'Legend of Glory, vol. 2' was a major commercial success, despite Hemant Da aged and slightly tired voice.

In 1980, Hemant Da suffered a major cardiac arrest that severely affected his vocal capabilities, especially his breath control. He continued to record songs in the early eighties, but his voice was a shade of its rich baritone past. In 1984, Hemant Da was felicitated by different organizations, most notably by the Gramophone Company of India, for completing 50 years in music. Ironically, that very year Hemant Da released his last album with Gramophone Company of India - a 45 rpm extended play disc with four non-film songs. Over the next few years, Hemant Da released non-film songs under various small-time labels that had cropped up in the nascent cassette-based music industry. Only a few of these were commercially successful. He composed music for a handful of Bengali movies and one Bengali and one Hindi tele-series. However, by this time Hemant Da had become an institution, a beloved personality, courteous and friendly and gentleman, and, for his voice and songs of the fifties through the seventies decade. He continued to feature regularly on All India Radio, Doordarshan(TV) and live programmes/concerts during this period.

In September 1989, Hemant Da travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to receive the Michael Madhusudan Award. He performed a concert in Dhaka as well. Immediately after returning from this trip, Hemanta suffered a major cardiac arrest on September 26th and breathed his last at 11:15 pm in a nursing home in South Calcutta. Interestingly, even 15 years after Hemanta's death, Gramophone Company of India releases at least one album by Hemant Da every year, repackaging his older songs, because of the commercial viability of his songs. Hemant Da's legacy still lives on through the numerous songs he has recorded, music he has composed and through many male singers in Bengal and the rest of India who continue to imitate his singing style.

Today as we look back on the profound career graph of this expressive singer composer we encounter a never ending terrain of beauty and harmony helmed by a man who could sing like an angel because he came close to being one in real life. Hemantda's career as a singer began in his teens when he sang on radio. In 1937 he recorded his bengali songs 'Janine Janite Jadi.' and 'Balogo More..'. He began training as a Rabindra sangeet singer under the well known practitioner of the style Aanadi Dastidar. Early vocal influences of Pankaj Mullick soon gave away to his own distinctive style. So pervasive was the 'Hemant Kumar style' in Bengali films and such was his indomitable powers as a vocalist that all the vocalists in Bengal who followed him modelled their vocals on the singing style of Hemantda. As a composer he shifted base to the Mecca of national popularity (Bombay) where he made an instant impact with the everlasting patriotic strains of 'Vande Maataram..' in Anand Math. As a singer in Bombay, Hemantda became a voice to record with in 1952 when he sang of 'Ye Raat Ye Chandni Phir Kahan..' in the thriller Jaal for the debinair Dev Anand. In 1957, Hemantda sang one of his career's best solos 'Jaane Wo Kaise Log The..' for Guru Dutt in Pyaasa. Songs like these branded Hemant Kumar as the melancholic romantic. However there was a lighter equally persuasive side to Hemantda's vocals tapped in flirtatious evergreen like 'Zara Nazron Se keh Do Ji..' and 'Dil Ki Umangen Hain Jawan..' the duet with Geeta Dutt which joyfully exemplifies the vocal genius of Hemant Kumar.

Hindi filmography as Composer

   Anand Math, Anjaan, Anupama, Arab Ka Saudagar
   Bahu, Bandhan, Bandi, Bandish, Bees Saal Baad, Bees Saal Pehle, Bhagwat Mahima, Bin Badal  
   Barsaat, Biwi Aur Makaan
   Chand, Champakali
   Daku Ki Ladki, Do Dil, Do Dooni Char, Do Ladke Dono Kadke, Do Mastane, Durgesh Nandini
   Ek hi Raasta, Ek Jhalak
   Ferry, Faraar, Fashion
   Girl Friend
   Hamara Watan, Hill Station, Hum Bhi Insaan Hai
   Inspector, Insaaf Kahan Hai
   J: Jagriti
   Khamoshi, Kohraa, Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan
   Lagan, Laalten, Love in Canada
   Maa Beta, Majhli Didi
   Nagin, Nayakeenicha Sajja
   Payal, Police
   Sahara, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Samrat, Sannata, Shart
   Us Raat Ke Baad
    Yahudi Ki Ladki

 ' Yeh raat yeh chaandni phir kahaN - Sun jaa dil ki daastan' - the romantic Dev Anand singing his heart out to heroine Geeta Bali saw the emergence of a young singer with a rich mellifluous voice on the firmament of the Indian Music industry- Hemant Kumar - whose deep voice and lilting melodies enthralled numerous music lovers for more than half a century.

Jaal, Nagin, Anarkali, Solva Saal, Baat Ek Raat Ki, Bees Saal Baad, Khamoshi, Anupama all are bedecked by jewels carved by this master craftsman. Hemant's jovial number from Solva Saal 'Hai Apnaa Dil to Aawara' finished as the chartbuster in the 1958 Binaca Geetmala. Every Dev Anand number to which Hemant lent a voice became an instant super-hit.

Hemant Kumar was also a music director of no less a calibre than he was a singer. In 1955, Hemant Kumar received the prestigious Filmfare Award for the Best Music Director for the film 'Nagin'. Interestingly, the famous been music of this film is used by snake charmers to this date and has been used innumerable times in films.

For more than fifty years Hemant Kumar gave to music listeners innumerble hits - jewels by thier own virtue. His recorded songs total about 2000. He scored the music of about 150 Bengali and 50 Hindi films. He also had a brief stint with film direction under his home banner "Geetanjali productions". Although not blockbusters, the films were modest runners.

Awards And Honors:Award                                MovieFilmfare Award - 1955         Film - Nagin    Best Of Hemant Kumar:Song                                         Movie'Zara Nazaron Se Kehado Ji '        Bees Saal Baad'Bequrar Kar Ke Hame Youn'     Bees Saal Baad'Ye Nayan Dare Dare '         Kohra'Ya Dil Ki Suno '             Anupama'Na ye chaand hoga'         Shart
The last song he sang in Hindi was 'Aaja Mere Pyar Aaja..' in Heeralal Pannalal (1978), for Rahul Dev Burman. It was a befitting finale to an illustrious but never cheaply flamboyant career. Exactly twenty-five years prior to 'Aaja Mere Pyar Aaja..' for R D Burman, Hemantda had sung his way into singing super stardom for RD's father Sachin Dev Burman in Jaal.