I have never—in all the years this blog has been in existence—compiled a list of my favourite Madan Mohan songs. An oversight, and one for which I have no explanation to offer: just reparation.
Born Madan Mohan Kohli in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) on June 25, 1924, the young Madan Mohan returned with his family to their home town of Chakwal (in Punjab) when he was 8 years old. His parents went on to Bombay, where his father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal, entered the cinema industry: as a partner at Bombay Talkies Studio, and then at Filmistan Studio. Madan Mohan too moved to Bombay, where he finished school and eventually joined the army—only to finally leave soldiering to become a music director. The first film for which he provided the score, at the age of 26, was Aankhen (1950).
Madan Mohan was to go on to compose songs for dozens of films over the next 25 years, when he died in 1975 at the far-too-young age of 51. While he was nominated for the Filmfare Best Music Director Award several times, he never won it (the only award he won was at the fag end of his career, the National Award for the score of Dastak, 1970). Yet, this was the man whom Lata Mangeshkar named ‘Ghazalon ka Shahzaada’. This was the man whose compositions were used in a film made almost 30 years after his death (Veer-Zaara, 2004). This was the man who gave Hindi cinema some of its finest and most enduring songs, both ghazals and not. This was a man vastly underrated during his lifetime, a man with a talent few possessed.
In memory of Madan Mohan, therefore, and to commemorate what would have been his 90th birthday had he lived: a list of ten of my favourite Madan Mohan songs. These are, as always, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen, and no two songs are from the same film. In no particular order:
1. Lag jaa gale ke phir yeh (Woh Kaun Thi?, 1964): Woh Kaun Thi? was one of the films (the others were Anpadh and Mausam) for which Madan Mohan was nominated for the Filmfare Best Music Director Award—and, at least as far as Woh Kaun Thi? is concerned, in my opinion, he should have won. The film had one fabulous song after another, and I dithered for a long time between this one, Shokh nazar ki bijliyaan, and Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim. Naina barse, by virtue of the anecdote attached to it (Lata was unable to record the song before shooting began, so Sadhana had to lip-synch to a version sung by Madan Mohan), was attractive; but I eventually settled on Lag jaa gale.
The beauty of Lag jaa gale, for me lies in the fact that while it is a come-hither song, it’s not at all playful or overtly seductive. There’s none of that breathiness and very Western orchestration one comes across in songs such as Jaan-e-chaman shola badan or Aaiye aapka thha humein intezaar: just Lata’s voice, clear and melodious, with little flourishes of humming, and of music here and there to act as a contrast. And the interludes, so very different in tune from the verses, making the entire piece one of my favourite songs from 1960s Hindi cinema. A classic.
2. Main teri nazar ka suroor hoon (Jahanara, 1964): 1964 was an unfortunate year for Madan Mohan—he created the score for Woh Kaun Thi? and was nominated for a Filmfare Award—but lost out to Roshan, who won the award for his music for Taj Mahal. Interestingly, in that same year, Madan Mohan had also scored the music for a classic Mughal-themed historical film, very similar to Taj Mahal: Jahanara.
Madan Mohan has been hailed by many as the best composer of ghazals (this generally from people who don’t realise that a ghazal is defined by its lyrics and not by its music). If proof of that is needed, its lies in this achingly beautiful ghazal from Jahanara, sung by Talat Mahmood. The music has layers to it—the main tune, but also lovely little ripples here and there, barely-audible hints of instrumentation complementing Talat’s voice. Sublime.
3. Unko yeh shikaayat hai (Adalat, 1958): Adalat is often cited, by virtue of songs like Yoon hasraton ke daag (one of my favourite ghazals,) as a stellar example of Madan Mohan’s skill with setting ghazals to music. Another great ghazal from Adalat is Unko yeh shikaayat hai, which occurs repeatedly through the film: a poignant and heartbreaking song in which Madan Mohan allows his ‘sister’ Lata Mangeshkar to hold centrestage with her voice: the instruments are there, but the onus of carrying the tune is on Lata’s voice. Right from the impressive aalaap, to the sorrowful, almost tired, last note, this is an unforgettable song.
4. Ek haseen shaam ko dil mera (Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, 1967): Despite starring three of my favourite actors—Dharmendra, Nutan and Rehman—Dulhan Ek Raat Ki was a film I didn’t much care for. It, however, did have this song, one of Madan Mohan’s loveliest. Ek haseen shaam ko is a beautifully lilting love song, the notes (and Rafi’s voice—oh, so good!) going the range from gentle and romantic to mildly teasing, playful. I also like the faint drawl, the hint of an echo that enters Rafi’s voice in the verses—it adds to the feel of a love that is equal parts affection, passion, and just sheer exhilaration.
5. Thodi der ke liye mere ho jaao (Akeli Mat Jaiyo, 1963): An example of ‘Madan Mohan-composes-a-club song’. It says a lot for this song that I watched Akeli Mat Jaiyo mainly because of this song; I’d seen it ages back on Chitrahaar, and loved the song so much that I decided I had to watch the film (which, sadly, isn’t a patch on the song).
In Thodi der ke liye mere ho jaao, Madan Mohan uses an interesting blend of musical styles—the castanets lend a Spanish flavour to the music, and there’s also a definite Middle Eastern lilt to the tune. Plus, the rise and fall of the pace—fast to begin with, then falling into a slow, seductive start to the vocals, then speeding up again, with triumphant flourishes of music alternating with slower, more lingering sections… all superb.
6. Main toh tum sang nain milaake (Manmauji, 1962): Back again to the sort of song Madan Mohan was better known for: gentle and melodious (do note, however, that in Manmauji itself, Madan Mohan also composed the tune for the madcap, rollicking Zaroorat hai zaroorat hai, further proof of this man’s underrated versatility). Main toh tum sang nain milaake is rather more ‘typical’ Madan Mohan, the voice perfectly complemented by the music—the latter, in the interludes, rather more fast-paced and light than one would have expected in a song that’s so anguished, but still managing to fit in perfectly.
7. Kaun aaya mere mann ke dwaare (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957): In an interview some years back, Manna Dey recounted an anecdote from the 50s. One day, Madan Mohan phoned him, with an invitation to lunch. “I’ll cook bhindi-meat curry for you,” the composer said (a blog reader, commenting on this, had told me that Madan Mohan was a very good cook, and the secret to his superb bhindi-meat was a good dose of whisky in the masala!) Manna Dey accepted, had a sumptuous meal, and when he was sated and mellow, was told by his host: “Now let me demonstrate a tune I’ve composed. I want you to sing it, whenever we record it.”
Kaun aaya mere mann ke dwaare was that tune. Dekh Kabira Roya had some lovely songs (including the peppy Hum panchhi mastaane and the soulful, romantic Humse aaya na gaya), but for me Kaun aaya mere mann ke dwaare is the best: the tune, the way Manna Dey’s voice and the music fits together—all of it makes for a lovely song about anticipation and love.
8. Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein (Chiraagh, 1969): This song is one of my favourites because it’s such a brilliant example of Madan Mohan’s virtuosity as a composer. Some of the other songs I’ve listed in this post (Main toh tum sang nain milaake is one) are beautiful tunes, but fairly straightforward: after a while, it’s not terribly difficult to predict the tune, since it repeats itself.
Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein is somewhat different: while there is (obviously) a common thread to the tune, there is a lot more intricate variation, with unexpected turns in the interludes, crescendos, and sudden bursts of unexpected—yet perfectly placed—music, making it a more complex, far more enjoyable song than it might have been otherwise. And the single line sung towards the end of the song by Lata is the ultimate unexpected twist.
9. Saba se yeh keh do (Bank Manager, 1959): This is one song I never fail to be impressed by. Not because it’s exceptionally intricate, not because it is flamboyant—but because it shows how a good music director can allow a song to be carried forward, not by an overwhelming array of musical instruments, but by the voice of a singer. In Saba se yeh keh do, the instruments are very subdued (except in the interludes, when they come in, though still gentle and soothingly romantic): it is Asha’s voice that is the song.
It takes restraint and a certain sort of musical genius, I think, to be able to compose a tune like this: simply exquisite.
10. Hoke majboor mujhe usne bhulaaya hoga (Haqeeqat, 1964): The Indian Army’s loss was the Hindi film industry’s gain, when Madan Mohan quit the military and became a composer. With his score for Haqeeqat (a film I consider the best Hindi war film), Madan Mohan paid back any debt he may have owed to the army. The most famous song from Haqeeqat—one of India’s most popular patriotic songs, as well as the quintessential army song—was, of course, Kar chale hum fida; but with his music for Hoke majboor mujhe, Madan Mohan created a heart-rending song about the soldier’s memories of his love back home.
Sung by four singers—Bhupinder, Rafi, Talat and Manna Dey—one after the other and with a chorus in places, Hoke majboor mujhe makes the most of each of these singers, all the way from the young but unmistakable talent in Bhupinder’s voice, to the trademark tadap in Talat’s: a song as immortal, actually, as Kar chale hum fida. Most composers confine themselves to composing solos or duets; how many would have the guts to take on four of the biggest names in Hindi film music in one song?