Millennium Post

Hemant Kumar: A Matchless Mellifluous Voice

Hemant da completed several glorious years in the music industry and worked with ace composers like Anil Biswas, SD Burman, and Salil Choudhary, singing numerous songs making them eternal numbers, writes Sharad Dutt.

India's nightingale and melody queen Lata Mangeshkar was often asked to comment on her contemporary male singers. Invariably, she paid ultimate tribute to singer-composer Hemant Kumar in these words, "Listening to Hemant da, I feel as though a sadhu sitting in a temple is singing a bhajan." A fabulous singer and iconic composer, a multi-talented Hemant da reigned supreme in Calcutta and Bombay dominating the musical scene in the 1950s and 60s.

Though his ancestors belonged to West Bengal, Hemant Kumar Mukhopadhyay was born in Banaras on June 16, 1920. His father Kalidas Mukhopadhyay was a clerk in a shipping company in Calcutta and wanted his son to secure a job like him. He was not very keen on studies, for destiny had paved a different trajectory for him. His schoolmate and long-time friend Subodh Mukhopadhyay was so impressed by Hemant's sonorous voice that he introduced him to All India Radio Calcutta. He faced the mike and sang his first song, 'Amaar gaanete ale nabarupi chirantani,' when he was barely 13 in 1933. This is where he met Jag Mohan in the corridors of AIR and became friends. After passing his intermediate he joined Jadhavpur University to study engineering.
Life can be quite ironic, as strangely enough, Hemant Kumar was rejected by recording companies. So he dabbled in writing short stories that were published by Desh and Vatayan. The editor of Vatayan was aware of his singing talent. Given his journalistic influence, he introduced Hemant da to Sailen Dasgupta of Colombia Recording Company. Dasgupta trained Hemant Kumar and recorded two songs of Rabindranath Tagore, 'Janite Jodi go tomey' and 'Bolo go bolo morey', to launch his music career. Hemant da recorded 12 songs for Colombia in one year. Meanwhile, he also recorded private Hindi songs written in 1940. His numbers, 'Bhala tha kitna apna bachpan' and 'Aaj sharabi aankhon mein', became immensely popular. With unprecedented success of these songs he started assisting Kamal Dasgupta.
Soon enough, he started singing for Bangla films, Nimai Sanyasi, that established him as a singer. The composer Prasanna Das was so overwhelmed that he deputed him as a chief assistant. Simultaneously, Hemant da kept pursuing Rabindra Sangeet under the tutelage of Nandi Dastidar, to begin with, and later by the great exponent of this genre Pankaj Mullick. He recorded Rabindra Sangeet in a Bangla film, Priya Bandhabi, in 1944, and subsequently cut private discs of Rabindra Sangeet for Colombia commencing with 'Pather shesh ko thai ye'.
His popularity as a singer was soaring and he recorded his first Hindi song for film Meenakshi under the baton of Pankaj Mullick, followed by the Hindi film Irada.
Hemant da took off as music director in V Shantaram's Shiv Shakti. Unfortunately, this film couldn't be completed and he composed independently for his first Bangla film, Poorbarang. His other Bangla films were Bhooli Nai, Priyatma, Diner Por Din, Sandeepan Paathshala and Swami.
Producer-director Hemen Gupta of Bhooli Nai was instrumental in bringing Hemant da to Bombay, having invited him to score music for Filmistan's Anand Math in 1951. The background music was much appreciated.
Hemant da scored music for Daku ki Ladki, Samrat, and Filmistan's Ferry. Though hurt after films did not do well, he went ahead and accomplished this haunting melody, 'Na ye chaand hoga na taare rahenge magar hum hamesha tumhare rahenge', set in Raag Kaafi, with beautiful interludes of sitar, sarangi and tabla.

With four flops in a row, he decided to go back to Calcutta. And this is when S Mukehrjee of Filmistan advised him, "Don't go back with flops, stay here. Compose music like Naushad first and then think of going back to Calcutta. With these words he signed him for Filmistan's next venture Nagin. The rest is history, as he composed twelve great numbers. He used composer Kalyanji's clavioline to create a song with the effect of a snake charmer's been. The solos of Hemant da including 'O zindagi ke denewale' and 'Tere dwar khada ek jogi'; became instant hits nationwide even before the release of the film.
Jaagriti, too, was produced by Filmistan and it created a storm with its music. Hemant da was in huge demand after the success of Nagin and Jaagriti. He built his permanent abode in Khar, Bombay, and named it Geetanjali. He had Ravi Shankar Sharma as his chief assistant. In 1955, he gave music in Shakti Samanta's debut directorial film Bahu, Filmistan's Bhagwat Mahima and also in Anjana. He was as sought after in Calcutta and would fly on a daily basis to Calcutta and be back in Bombay to complete his assignments. He was also awarded a daily passenger award by the Indian Airlines! He gave music in Arab Ka Saudagar too. Each film had a number with the marked signature of composer Hemant Kumar. Director BR Chopra signed him in his maiden home production, Ek Hi Raasta.
Bandi of Satyan Bose had 'Chup ho ja ye amiron ke sone ki ghadi hai', which topped the Binaca Geetmala. Other films like Fashion, Hill Station and Payal didn't do well at the box office though the music was great. Ek Jhalak, Pradeep Kumar's home production also had some intoxicating numbers like 'Aaja zara mere dil ke sahare dilruba', and 'Baharein bhi dekhi nazare bhi dekhe'.
In another Filmistan's Gevacolour film Champakali, Hemant da showed his genius in Lata's mesmerizing number, 'Chhup gaya koi dur se pukar ke', which had beautiful pieces on flute by wizard Panna Lal Ghosh. Hemant da gave an enthralling score in AVM'S super hit, Miss Mary. All the numbers of the film were chartbusters.
The 1950s and 60s belonged to Naushad, SD Burman, Shankar Jaikishan and OP Nayyar. And Hemant da was gettting low budget films like Chaand, Sahara, Police, Girl Friend, Maa Beta and Duniya Jhukti Hai. He had also become a producer with the Bangla film, Neel Aakasher Neeche, followed by the production of a Hindi film, Bees Saaal Baad, under the banner Geetanjali Films. A suspense thriller based on Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Hound of Baskerville', the film had Lata's classic gems and Hemant da lent his voice to these unforgettable numbers 'Zara nazron se keh do ji' and 'Beqrar karke hamein yoon na jaayei'. So did Bin Badal Barsat fared well. His next home production was Kohraa based on Daphne du Maurier's grand novel 'Rebecca'. Kohraa's renditions were simply beautiful, 'Raah bani khud manzil', 'Ye nayan dare dare', and 'Jhoom Jhoom dhalti raat'. These wonderful numbers could not sustain Kohraa, causing great anguish to Hemant da.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Do Dil also didn't do well. Thereafter, Hemant da produced Faraar, Biwi Aur Makan, Khamoshi, Anupama, Bees Saal Pahle, and Do Ladke Dono Kadke. These films had hummable numbers but didn't make a mark. Anupama, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, gave a new lease to Hemant da. It's numbers, 'Dheere dheere machal', 'Kuchh dil ne kaha' and 'Ya dil ki suno duniya walo' enchanted the audience. But Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Manjhali Didi didn't hit the bull's eye. All the same, Bimal Roy's Do Duni Chaar had Hemant da's evergreen composition, 'Hawaon pe likh do hawaon ke naam'.
Hemant da's all-time great number was 'Jaane wo kaise log they' that he sang for Guru Dutt's Pyaasa. Guru Dutt also signed him for his classic, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Hemant and Shakeel Badauni were back after Bees Saal Baad. Hemant da's music truly enhanced the spirit of the movie.
Love in Canada was his last film in the tinsel town of Bombay. Utterly dejected and disillusioned, Hemant Kumar left for Calcutta, but became an introvert, refused to talk about his achievements and even turned down the Padma Shri saying it was too late, though he continued to sing in Calcutta. Even Bangladesh conferred the Michel Madhusudan Award besides being honoured with a D.Lit by Santiniketan for his seminal contribution to music. Hemant da completed several glorious years in the music industry and worked with ace composers like Anil Biswas, SD Burman, Salil Choudhary, and Lakshmikant Pyarelal, singing numbers that became eternal: 'Ye raat ye chaandni', 'Teri duniya mein jeene se'
Such relentless work for nearly two and a half decades, heavy smoking and stress affected his health adversely. After his heart attack he was biding time on a pacemaker. The end came with a fatal cardiac arrest on September 26, 1989, in the Calcutta Nursing home, at 69. He received glorious tributes from the peer group as Satyajit Ray stated, "Rabindra Sangeet has died"; and Salil Choudhary his fellow composer lauded, "Hemant Kumar's voice was the voice of God". Just as Hemant da penned these words in his Autobiography, 'Amaar Gaaner Swar Lipi':
Amaar gaaner swaralipi lekha robe, Pantha pakhir kujan kakoli ghirey (The chords of my song will be preserved In the tunes of the flying words) he still stirs those chords through his mesmeric compositions.

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