Lost in the Echo: Hansraj Behl
There have been only two composer emeriti in the Hindi film world who would be addressed as ‘Masterji’ – the great Ghulam Haider and Hansraj Behl
Hansraj Behl was the most creative, intense and talented composer in the mid-40s and early 80s. Yet, he didn't get the recognition due to him which he rightly deserved. He composed several all-time great hits. His singers respected and revered him. Unfortunately, he was lost to anonymity.
Hansraj Behl was born on November 19, 1916, in Sheikhupura in Punjab (now in Pakistan). His father Nihal Chand Bhel was a feudal lord. There was no place for his music in his household. Young Hansraj was inclined to music since his childhood. He started composing tunes in his teens and started giving background music in local Ramleelas.
Hansraj Behl took his formal training in music under the guidance of Pandit Chunnilal of Ambala. He also opened a music school in the famous Anarkali Bazar of Lahore. Soon, he started giving musical stage shows. He also recorded few non-filmy songs for HMV.
Hansraj Behl was lured by the film industry and left for Bombay to try his luck. He gave his first trial test in Bombay Talkies. Soon, he got a chance to assist Pandit Gobind Ram in Prakash Pictures' film. He also had a brief stint of two weeks in Navyug Chitrapat.
He was lucky to get his first break in Pujari (1946) starring Shanta Apte, Masood and Baby Mumtaz. The highlight of the film was Behl recording a bhajan Bhagwan mere gyaan ke deepak ko jala in Baby Mumtaz's voice who became the legendary actor Madhubala in later years. Gwalin (1946) was his second film in which he used Mukesh's voice as the main singer. A duet Nazar lagat tori chhalaiyya more gore badan in Mukesh and Sushila Rani's voice became extremely popular.
Sardar Chandulal Shah signed a contract with Hansraj Behl for four films – Chheen lein Azadi, Phulwari, Lakho Mein Ek and Duniya Ek Sarai. He composed remarkable duets and solos in these films, namely, Moti chugne gaie re hansani mansarover teer (Mukesh/Shamshad) and Champakali hai udsa (Hameeda) in Chheen Lein Azadi (1947), Dekh hame muskaye kyun balamwa sajanwa (Mukesh/Hameeda) from Duniya Ek Sarai. Agre se oadhini mangwa de balma and Tumhe chanda kahoon ya chakori in Lakho Mein Ek were super-duper hits. Behl separately recorded two songs. Legendary Meena Kumari sang some numbers as the side heroine in Duniya Ek Sarai. Hansraj Behl had hesitation in the beginning to record Lata's voice. He preferred using Shamshad and Hameeda in his early films. Later, he recorded some memorable compositions with Asha and Madhubala Zaveri. Surprisingly, Behl recorded, for first time, the melody queen in a Punjabi film Lachchhi. A Punjabi song in Lata's voice – Naale lambi wey naale kali hai we channa raat judariyan wali. After this, Behl started addressing Lata as the Saraswati of the era.
Lata recorded her golden nugget in film Chunariya (1948), Dil-e-nashad ko jine ki hasrat ho gai tumse. Another racy number of the film was Aankh meri lad gai re, lad gai hye hye re. Asha recorded her first song with him – Sawan aaya re jage mere bhaag sakhi re. Chunariya was a box office failure which hampered his career which had established him with his own identity and distinct style, for a short while.
He shared the credit jointly with different composers including Bulo C Rani in films Pahli Pahchan, Gun Sundari and Mitti Ke Khilone. Behl composed hit numbers, Hotel ka kinara ho nazara pyara pyara ho (Leela Mehta/AR Ojha) and Aana na tha jo dil mein (Ameeriebie Karnataki/AR Ojha) in Gunsundari.
Hansraj Behl returned as a solo composer once again in Pardesi Mehmaan with many super hits – Parwane ho parwane tu kya jalna jane (Mukesh/Husn Bano), Hosiyar naujawan jag e naujawan jal raha tera makan"(Mukesh). The film flopped. His next film, Satyanarayan, too had a similar fate.
Legendary producer-director BR Chopra made his debut with Karwat (1949) under the pseudonym Prakash. The film had hit numbers Dewana gaya daman se lipat kabhi is karwat kabhi us karwat (Paro Devi), Gaya andhera hua savera (Rafi/Geeta/Chorus), Badal ghir aaye rimjhim pani barse (Asha/Geeta), Gaa -e dil matwale jhoom kar (Geeta) and Chal diye muh pher kar (Geeta). In spite of its hit numbers, Karwat didn't do well at the box office, nor did Behl's next film Bhikhari.
After the partition, when Master Ghulam Haider decided to migrate to Pakistan, he couldn't complete the music of his film Kaneez starring Shyam and Munnawar Sultana. Hansraj Behl completed the remaining two numbers and background music. Kaneez was followed by Roomal (1949). Rafi recorded one of his chartbuster in this movie: Dil toota aur armaan lute. The film had other hits too – O ankhiyan milakar, Meri yaad tu apne dil se mita de (Meena Kapoor) and Aage aage chale jawani man piche ko jaye re (Shamshad).
Hansraj Behl was not deterred by the failure of a series of his films. He composed music for Chokori (1949) – the Bharat Bhushan starrer. Lata excelled in rendering her classical number Chanda gaye pardes. Other hits were: Kyun garam sarad hote ho, Chithiyan dard bhari (Geeta) and Tu hamse judai kar (Lata).
Veteran actor Jagdish Sethy became producer-director with film Raat Ki Rani. Behl embellished it with a scintillating ghazal in Rafi's voice – Jin raaton mein nind ud jati hai kya kahar ki rate hoti hai. Raat Ki Rani was a box office hit of Hansraj Behl and he was an established composer by now.
In 1950, he shared the credit with maestro Anil Biswas in Beqasoor. Behl kept on giving several hits in the film Zeveraat. He came off with a zestful foot-tapping duet Sajan ki oat lake haantho me haanth lake koi idhar na dekhe (Rafi/Lata). In Gulnaar (1950), he used Zeenat Begum's voice in Chan chai chai re jawani mori naiye, Samjha the ki ji lange mohabbat ka sahare and O husn ke deewane aankho se ek jam pilao. Khamosh Sipahi was another movie to his credit.
Hansraj Behl was in the same league with Madan Mohan and Chitragupt. Madan Mohan scored superhit music in films which didn't see the required box office collection. Like Chitragupt, Behl too was getting B/C grade films but their music was revered by connoisseurs.
Hansraj Behl gave super hit music in Khiladi. Suraiya sang soulful melodies like Dil-e-nasaad na ro, Mast hawaon me and Ye pyaar ki manzil. Lata's number Dard-e-dil tham ja zara also became very popular. In Rajpoot (1951), Suraiya sang her unforgettable number Raste per hum khade hain, Dil-e-beqrar laker.
Behl launched the banner NC Films with his brother Gulshan Behl. His first film was Laal Pari. The next film of NC Films was Mast Qalandar which had a timeless duet, Dil-e-nadan zamane me mohabbat ek dhokha hai.
In the mid-50s, Behl gave several hits in various films consistently. Hansraj Behl gave super hit numbers in his home productions. Miss Bombay, Changez Khan, Milan, Sawan and Sikander-e-Azam were a few such prominent films of Behl. In a career of nearly 40 years, he gave music in 55 films.
His last film was released after his untimely death due to cancer on May 28, 1984.
Hansraj Behl will be remembered most for his compositions in Punjabi style.