There is already a ‘Ten of my favourite Hemant songs’ list on this blog, compiled in the very early days of my blogging. Those songs were of Hemant singing; songs like Tum pukaar lo, where the haunting beauty of Hemant’s voice immortalized a song for me.
This list, to differentiate it from that one, is of songs composed by Hemant—since Hemant, besides possessing a beautiful voice, was also a very talented composer. And today being the birth centenary of Hemant, it would be unforgivable for me to not post a tribute to one of my favourites from Hindi film music.
Born on 16th June, 1920 in Benares, Hemant grew up in Calcutta, where he dabbled in various fields: writing short stories now and then, enrolling at Jadavpur to study engineering—but eventually deciding that music was where his heart lay. He first began as a singer, recording a song in 1935 for All India Radio. Starting from 1941, he began singing film songs—first for Bengali cinema and later for Hindi cinema as well. Interestingly, Hemant’s tendency to emulate his hero, Pankaj Mullick, was so pronounced that it led to him being nicknamed ‘Chhoto Pankaj’ (‘Little Pankaj’).
In the late 1940s, with the Bengali film Abhiyatri (1947), Hemant also made a transition into composing music for cinema. A few years later, at the invitation of the director Hemen Gupta, who had moved to Bombay, Hemant too shifted there to compose music for Gupta’s Anandmath. Over the decades to come, Hemant composed music for well over hundreds of Bengali and Hindi films, some TV series, as well as an English language film (Siddhartha, 1972). Besides, he continued to sing both in cinema and off it, and from 1959 onwards, began to produce films as well.
So, as tribute, ten of my favourite songs composed by Hemant. As always, these are all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen, and there are no two songs from the same film. Also, to distinguish this from my post on Hemant as a singer, I’ve made sure that none of the songs from that post figure on this one.
In no particular order:
1. Woh shaam kuchh ajeeb thhi (Khamoshi, 1969): If I were asked to name my very favourite Hemant song, whether sung by him or composed by him, it would be Tum pukaar lo. But, since I promised myself I wouldn’t repeat any of the songs from my ‘songs sung by Hemant’ list, I’m choosing another song from Khamoshi to begin this list. Hemant composed four songs for this tragic, tumultuous film, and of those four, this comes for me at #2. Kishore Kumar, singing playback for Rajesh Khanna, does full justice to the gentle, loving tune Hemant creates here. The music, with the tabla providing an almost continuous accompaniment—with the swelling of violins (?) and what sounds like the barely-heard voices of a chorus—strikes me as perfect to depict a song picturized aboard a boat.
2. Koi door se aawaaz de (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, 1962): Long back, I had started compiling a list of ‘gooseflesh inducers’: songs that are utterly haunting. At the top of that list was Koi door se aawaaz de chale aao. I have a very long association with this absolutely beautiful song: when I was a child, my parents had a ‘Best of Geeta Dutt’ LP, and this was part of that compilation. Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics are beautiful, and Geeta’s voice expresses the heartache and longing of the neglected Chhoti Bahu perfectly. And Hemant gives it the music that melds the voice and the lyrics together in such a way that the emotion—both in the lyrics and which Geeta portrays—holds centrestage. The music itself is very subdued, barely there. Exquisite.
3. Zara nazron se keh do ji (Bees Saal Baad, 1962): Hemant sang playback for Biswajeet in a lot of films—the softness and somewhat Bengali-ness (forgive the stereotyping; I cannot find a better way of putting this!) seemed to be a perfect fit for the actor. Hemant even ended up composing the music for several Biswajeet starrers, including Kohraa, Bin Badal Barsaat, Biwi aur Makaan, and Do Dil. And Bees Saal Baad, Biswajeet’s very first Hindi film. Beqaraar karke humein yoon na jaaiye was a song I included in my ‘Hemant sings’ list, so here I’ll feature my other most favourite song from the film. A playful, teasingly romantic song with cute little twirls and twists in the music.
4. Jhoom-jhoom dhalti raat (Kohraa, 1964): Another Biswajeet film, and another haunting song. Jhoom-jhoom dhalti raat appears in two versions in Kohraa, and both—one slightly less despairing than the other—are memorable. The music remains the same in both songs, it’s mainly the words that change. A song of pain, of loneliness, of leaving the world behind: and how brilliantly Hemant puts it to music, inserting those inspired pauses, those silences just before Lata’s voice again commences singing. I love that—the way she keeps singing, and then, just before the last line of each stanza, she pauses and the silence takes over. Then, when she sings the last line, it’s only her singing, with no musical instruments as accompaniment. Her voice echoes in the silence, highlighting the loneliness of this woman. Genius.
5. Kuchh dil ne kaha (Anupama, 1966): Hemant was one of those composers who seems to have been very good at recognizing good lyrics, and of having the necessary sense (and grace) to tailor the music to act only as a sort of backdrop to highlight the lyrics. With great lyrics—see Tum pukaar lo, Jhoom-jhoom dhalti raat, Koi door se aawaaz de, etc—he composed muted, subtle tunes that do not impress because of the flamboyance of the music, but simply because they are so gentle. Kuchh dil ne kaha is another example of this particular skill of Hemant’s. Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics are the aching words of a timid, submissive girl who has only ever known rejection from her father. The softness of Hemant’s music, the near-whisper of Lata’s voice at times: so lovely an expression of the lyrics.
6. Gumsum sa yeh jahaan (Duniya Jhukti Hai, 1960): This is one of those songs for which I can pretty much pinpoint where I first heard it—it was on a ‘Best of Geeta Dutt Duets’ CD which my father had bought when I was perhaps in my early twenties. The rest of the songs on that list were old favourites of mine; Gumsum sa yeh jahaan was new to me—and, from the moment I first heard it, I fell in love with it. So much that I watched Duniya Jhukti Hai (an otherwise forgettable film, though it starred two of my favourite actors) just for this song. Although what struck me first was the sheer beauty in the way Geeta’s and Hemant’s voices blend together here, I also really like Hemant’s composition of it. The echoing “O-o-o” of the beginning, followed by that lilting music before the (equally lilting) voices begin. The tune is simple, uncomplicated—but there’s an elegance to that simplicity which I really love.
7. Saanwle-salone aaye din bahaar ke (Ek Hi Raasta, 1956): Sunil Dutt starred in several films for which Hemant composed the music. Ek Hi Raasta, while Ashok Kumar was the leading man for the bulk of the story, started off with Sunil Dutt paired with Meena Kumari, the two acting as a much-in-love couple, with a pampered and precocious child (Daisy Irani in one of pretty much cookie-cutter roles she played). In this song, as the little family sets off on a picnic in the countryside, Hemant composes a lovely, chirpy little duet which has all the pep and cheeriness of the sort of song I tend to usually associate with OP Nayyar. The rhythm is delightful, and the harmonica coming in here and there, the way Lata and Hemant take turns to sing alternate words or phrases: all contribute to make this a song which evokes spring perfectly.
8. Hawaaon pe likh do hawaaon ke naam (Do Dooni Chaar, 1970): Hemant and Kishore Kumar had, from what I can tell of their collaborations, a fruitful relationship. Both were composers as well as singers, and there are many instances of Kishore singing songs composed by Hemant (Woh shaam kuchh ajeeb thhi, Ek roz hamaari bhi daal galegi, etc) and the other way round—for example, the beautiful credits song of Door Gagan ki Chhaon Mein). In Do Dooni Chaar (a rejig of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors) Hemant composes the music for a lovely song in praise of nature. I love the way he is able to give us a glimpse of nature through the music itself, fitting the tune so well to the images conjured up by Gulzar’s lyrics: the rippling of the water, the tweeting of the birds, the sunshine…
9. Na yeh chaand hoga (Shart, 1954): Before I actually watched Shart, whenever I’d watch Na yeh chaand hoga, I’d think: this is a really sad, melodramatic film. These two are being separated forever and ever (Deepak, whom I don’t recall having seen in any other film, has this effect on me). Shart turned out to be quite different from what I imagined: Shyama’s character spends most of the film being harried and pursued by a psychotic IS Johar, who wants her to marry him, or (failing that) murder his uncle—either option will enable him to inherit. Shyama, however, falls in love with Deepak, and he (a cop in training) only discovers much later that his beloved is accused of murder (she’s been framed, though he doesn’t know it). But, heartbroken at her treachery, he decides to part ways, by singing the song he had heard her sing as a lullaby to her little brother.
Na yeh chaand hoga has two versions, the first sung by Geeta Dutt for Shyama. While that one’s beautiful too, this version, by Hemant himself, is for me the better one. His voice is so mellifluous and velvet (and of course, his music is so good).
10. Pyaar ki daastaan tum suno toh kahein (Faraar, 1965): Faraar is one of those many films I’ve watched simply because of one song; in this case, Pyaar ki daastaan tum suno toh kahein. Interestingly enough, this film did not just have its music composed by Hemant; it was even produced by Hemant, and he brought in two members of his family to sing for it. Hemant’s wife Bela Mukherjee sang Ae deendayal daya do humein, and their daughter Ranu Mukherjee sang Mera qaatil haseen qaatil, singing playback for Helen in what struck me as an offbeat and unexpected choice of voice.
But, back to Pyaar ki daastaan, for which Hemant opted for Lata’s rather more conventional voice, given that it was to be lip-synced by the film’s heroine, played by Shabnam. A lovely, melodious song, lots of sitar and tabla notes providing the accompaniment.
Thank you for the music, Hemantda. May your songs live on.