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Last of the doyens: S. Mohinder

Destined for greatness, S Mohinder’s journey took him from the depths of obscurity to the centre of a booming film industry where his unique compositions cemented his storied legacy

Destiny they say plays a vital role in our life. This is the true story of an 18-year-old young singer who had just finished his programme at the Lahore Radio Station. The singer used to come from Lyallpur to perform in programmes at Lahore Radio. After the programme, he headed for the Lahore Railway Station to catch his train. He arrived on time and waited for his train. After waiting for one hour, he enquired from the coolie about the delay. The coolie told him that no train would come as riots had broken out and several passengers had been killed at Shahdara Station in Lahore. He advised him to sit on the train which was about to leave. It was a frontier mail train and was going towards central Bombay.

He sat in the train and destiny brought him to Mumbai central. Having arrived, he asked someone for the way to the nearest Gurdwara. The nearest Gurdwara was at Dadar and he would stay there for nearly a month. As he was used to singing Shabad Kirtan at Nankana Sahib Gurdwara, he would do the same at Dadar Gurdwara.

The singer was Mohinder Singh Saran, later better known as S Mohinder. He was born on February 25, 1925, in the town of Sillanwala in Montgomery district, now in Pakistan. His father, Sujan Singh Bakshi was a sub-inspector who used to play the flute in his leisure time which Mohinder listened to keenly. His father was constantly transferred to different cities, affecting Mohinder's studies. Mohinder spent a few years in Lyallpur where he learned music from Sant Sujan Singh. Later he would be trained by Samand Singh and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. During his stay in Banaras, he learned under Pandit Laxmi Prashad.

When looking for work, he found a visiting card from singing star Suraiya, whom he had met at Lahore Radio Station. Suraiya had told Mohinder to meet her if he came to Bombay. After one month in Bombay, he met Suraiya at her residence.

Soon, S Mohinder got a film to compose for but it was never released. He got his first offer from Nirmala Devi and Arun (Actor Govinda's parents) for their film Sehre (1948). S Mohinder composed ten songs for the film which were sang by Nirmala Devi and Arun.

In 1949, he gave music for Jeevan Saathi. S Mohinder used five female voices for his compositions. Mil kar jaye hum preet ki diwane (Samshad and Rafi), S Mohinder duet with Prem Lata, O dear, my dear and Mohabbat ke wade nibha (Geeta Roy) were some of the popular songs from the film.

In 1950, he did a big banner film with Shankar and Vijay Bhatt under the banner of Prakash Picture, Shadi Ki Raat starring Geeta Bali and Rehman in the lead. The original composer of the film was Pandit Govind Ram. After he left the film, S Mohinder and Aziz completed the film. All of the three compositions of S Mohinder from the film became very popular – Poochh rahe ye yaar ki beebi kaisee ho (Surender Kaur/Talat), Shahr ankho ankho (Ameer Bai) and Hum dil kahani kya kahte (Lata). When Seth Chandu Lal Shah heard Lata's melody, he liked it so much that he asked about the composer from Vijay Bhatt and told him to send this composer to meet him. Next day, S Mohider was offered the film Mili starring star pair Suriya and Dev Anand. Besides Phool khile hai gulshan mi tu bhi dekh le main bhi dekh lu, nine other songs from the film also became hits.

S Mohinder was then asked by S Mukharjee to complete the music of Filmistan's film Shrimati Ji (1952). S Mohinder composed three songs but only one was to used in the film. The song, Do nania tumhre pyre pyre gagan ki taare (Hemant/Geeta) was an instant hit. Mukharjee then asked Mohinder to compose music for his next film, Anarkali. He composed two songs that were ultimately rejected by Mukharjee.

Next, Ranjit announced his new production titled Papi (1953) with another star pair Nargis and Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor liked one of Mohinder's tune – Kuna kahi unse ja ke ye hazoor (Asha Bhosle) – so much that he asked him to give this tune to him for his next film. Mohinder politely declined saying that he cannot betray Seth Ji. Later Raj Kapoor used the same tune in the film Aah (1953) and the song was Raja ki aayagi baraat rangili hogi raat (Lata).

Sometime later, Mukharjee called Mohinder and asked him about the song which he had rejected for Anarkali. Mohinder told him he had used it in the film Papi. Mukharjee reportedly got furious asking how Mohinder could have sold out their tune. Mohinder apologised but Mukerjee was so angry that he told him that the doors of Filmistan would remain closed for him. After a couple of years, however, he was called back and did five films in collaboration.

Madhubala's father produced the film Naata in 1955. It featured Madhubala and Abhi Bhattacharya. The film was directed by legendary lyricist DN Madhok and the composer was S Mohinder. He recorded several melodious songs in the voice of Lata – Jawani Jhoomti hai ashqi jhula jhulati hai, Is bewafa jahan ka dastur hai purna, Dekhte dekhte jal gya aashiyan and Lagan lagi hai sajan milan ki.

In 1956, S Mohinder and Tanvir Naqvi were back with their magic in the film Shirin Farhad. S Mohinder composed his evergreen iconic number Guzara hua zamaana aata nahi dubara hafiz khuda tumhara for this movie.

S.Mohinder could never re-create the magic of Shirin Farhad again. He was a unique composer and never made his compositions on tunes. He used Sitar, Sarod and Mandolin in his composition and composed music in more than fifty films in Hindi and twenty in Punjabi. He composed music in an Arabic style in the film Karvan (1956).

He did another film with Madhubala in her home production Mahlon Ke Khwaab starring Pradeep Kumar, Madhubala, Kishore Kumar and Chanchal. Its number, Ae jane jigar ghut ghut ke agar raatein ho (Kishore/Asha) and evergreen romantic song, Gar tum bura na mano (Subir Sen/Asha) proved that Mohinder had not lost his touch. Another film of his in 1960 was Ranjit's Movietone Zameen Ke Taare. His last film with Filmstan was Ek Ladki Saat Ladke in 1961. When he started getting B grad films, he switched over to Punjabi films. He gave super hit numbers in several Punjabi films as well. His music in Nanak Naam Jahaaj Hai (1969) touched new heights. Its iconic numbers were De shiva ver mohe (Mahinder Kapoor), Mere sahib (Asha), Hum maile tum ujjal karte (Manna Dey) and Kal taran guru Nanak aaya (Bhai Samund Singh Raagi). He recorded Sufiyana Kalam of Baba Fariuddin Ganj-e-Shakhar in the voice of Jagjeet Singh and Neelam Sahini which was much talked about. His Punjabi film Teri Merei Ek Jindari became a super hit. His last Hindi film was Dahej in 1981.

In 1982, he migrated to America with his entire family. He was very happy and popular in the Indian community in Washington DC and visited India frequently. His interview was recorded when he was 90. He was still fit and had an amazing memory. He remembered his songs, its tunes, his lyricist, singers and musicians he worked with. He is 94 and ready to celebrate his 95th birthday in February 2020.

S Mohinder can, to conclude, be called an unforgettable composer who composed equally timeless melodies.

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