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Simple, Soulful, Sublime: The Music of Hemant Kumar

September 26, 2015 | By

“Simplicity and generosity were his hallmark as a man, and the tunes had an innocence and sweetness that only he could have created. Steeped as he was in Rabindra Sangeet and classical music, he could transmute his grasp and knowledge in an uncomplicated way into his film compositions that made them utterly melodious, contributing to their instant appeal.” A humble tribute to the legendary singer-composer Hemant Kumar.

Hemant Kumar

Hemant Kumar (June 16, 1920 – September 26, 1989)
Many of his songs in a sublime manner make a permanent place in your heart.

Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahaan
Sun ja dil ki dastaan…

A wind blown beach. The moon plays hide and seek amid the dark clouds. A city slick Dev Anand beckons his lady love, leaning against the beach hut, strumming his guitar and sending Geeta Bali into throes of ecstasy. A song that becomes synonymous with the romanticism of the moon. A song that catches the imagination of the youth of the country. A song that catapults a tall, unassuming, dhoti-and-long-shirt clad, bespectacled singer into the frontline.

Jaal (1952) brought together the best of talent – Sachin Dev Burman’s music that touched the pulse of the audience, Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics that painted the most beautiful imagery of a moonlit night, the talented film director Guru Dutt, the debonair Dev Anand, the vivacious Geeta Bali and Hemant Kumar, whose deep, romantic voice had a unique, soothing resonance, unlike any other singer in Hindi film music.

Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahaan (Jaal,1952)

Hemant Kumar was not new to music or popularity when this song topped the charts nationwide. In his native Bengal, he was ruling the music world as Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay, creating music that spanned an extensive range from Rabindra Sangeet to non-film or adhunik to songs that spoke of the arduous struggles and pain of the common man. His voice is easily the most popular among all male voices and he had an uncanny ability to make even difficult Tagore songs hummable or radical poetry become the chart-topping hit 78 rpms. But more on that later…

Hemant Kumar Dev Anand

Hemant Kumar sings for Dev Anand
A journey through some of the greatest hits of Hindi film music

Born in Varanasi and educated in Calcutta’s Bhowanipore-based Mitra Institution, Hemanta did enroll in engineering in Jadavpur University, only to quit a year later to pursue his real calling… music. It was mid-1930s and Bengal was witnessing a historic surge in cultural revival and experimentation. The New Theatre’s Studios was creating path-breaking cinema and the great music composer-singer Pankaj Mullick was spearheading the spread of Rabindra Sangeet into popular idiom. The world of music was making space for innovation and bold socio-political expressions. There was ample opportunity for new talent to surface and spread wings.

Aa gup chup gup chup pyar karein was Hemant Kumar's first playback for Dev Anand in Sazaa

Aa gup chup gup chup pyar karein was Hemant Kumar’s first playback for Dev Anand in Sazaa

Hemant Kumar tried his hands at literature but egged on by his friends, the noted poet Subhas Mukhopadhyay and novelist Santosh Kumar Ghosh, he formally stepped into a music career with his first All India Radio recording in 1935.

Two years later, he cut his first non-film gramophone disc with the Columbia label. There was no looking back. For nearly five decades (from 1937 to 1984), Hemanta had the unique distinction of recording non-film discs with the EMI’s various labels including HMV and Columbia every year during Durga Puja. Even two decades after he passed away, his commercial viability remains undiminished propelling EMI to release his repackaged songs.

By 1947, Hemanta had dabbled in all kinds of music – Hindi non-film songs, Bengali film songs starting with Nimai Sanyas (1941), self-composed Bengali non-film songs and Hindi film songs, starting with Irada (1944). He had also sung Rabindra Sangeet in films (in Apradh, 1942 and Priya Bandhabi, 1944) and recorded a Rabindra Sangeet album. Alongside he joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), which driven by the ravaging havoc caused by the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 and the abject indifference of the administration and the wealthy classes towards controlling it, was breaking new ground in giving voice to the common people.

Mohd. Rafi, Ranu Mukherjee, Ila Basu, Geeta Dutt. Opore Manabdendra, Pabitra Mitra, Nirmalendu, Raj Kapoor, Hemanta.

(Sitting L to R) Mohd. Rafi, Ranu Mukherjee, Ila Basu, Geeta Dutt. (Standing L to R) Manabdendra, Pabitra Mitra, Nirmalendu, Raj Kapoor, Hemanta.
(Pic courtesy: From the collections of Sri Susanta Kumar Chattopadhyay)

Hemanta was being noticed, talked about and critically appreciated. But it was just one iconic song that propelled Hemanta and his fellow IPTA songwriter and composer Salil Choudhury into sky-rocketing popularity in 1949. Hemanta and Salil poured out their anguish against the hunger unleashed on the unsuspecting rural masses in “Kono ek gaanyer bondhu katha tomai shonai shono” (let me tell you the tale of a village bride) – a six-minute-long song that weaved a poignant imagery of a happy and contented farmer’s bride whose sweet, idyllic home is suddenly swept into the vortex of a crippling famine and poverty. The song recorded on two sides of a 78 rpm became a runaway hit, reaching audiences nationwide. Hemanta became a household name. My father remembers what an impact this song had created in Varanasi, when as school students he and his friends used to crowd around the gramophone to listen to the song.

More non-film songs followed from the Hemanta-Salil team, each combining an eclectic mix of sensitive, pro-people poetry and heart-touching music.

Kono ek gaanyer bondhu katha tomai shonai shono (Hemanta Mukherjee, Salil Choudhury, 1947)

In Bombay, the scenario was changing just as rapidly. The world of Hindi film music was starting out on its golden era with Hindi films laying as much emphasis on the quality of music as on the storyline, star cast, crew and production values. Never before had the Hindi film industry had such a conglomeration of musical greats – Sachin Dev Burman, Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan, Sajjad Hussain, Anil Biswas, Ghulam Mohammad,  Bulo C Rani, C Ramachandra… each making music that explored new avenues, tapped the full range of the singer’s skills and created music that outlived the film for which it was used by years and decades.

S D Burman’s uncanny ability to find the perfectly matching voice for each song he composed made Hemant Kumar get one of the best songs of his career in Hindi films. ‘Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahaan’ firmly established Hemant Kumar as Dev Anand’s romantic voice. As Hemant Kumar remarked in an interview to Peeyush Sharma in January 1989, “A sort of romantic pairing of my voice with his (Dev Anand’s) screen image was created by Sachin Babu. People simply loved it. Those numbers were really popular. Dev Anand was a big name a very prominent hero. His songs had to be very carefully crafted with lots of effort and dedication.” (Read this exclusive interview of Hemant Kumar)

Hemant Kumar, Biswajit and Lata Mangeshkar

Hemant Kumar, Biswajit and Lata Mangeshkar during the recording of the songs of Bees Saal Baad, 1962
(Pic courtesy: From the collections of Pakanati Lakshmi Priya)

Writes Ganesh Anantharaman in his book ‘Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song’, “The true measure of Hemant Kumar’s musical virtuosity can only be comprehended when you consider him as composer, his awesome reputation as singer notwithstanding. Simplicity and generosity were his hallmark as a man, and the tunes had an innocence and sweetness that only he could have created. Steeped as he was in Rabindra Sangeet and classical music, he could transmute his grasp and knowledge in an uncomplicated way into his film compositions that made them utterly melodious, contributing to their instant appeal.”

Hemant Kumar’s haunting melodies

Hemant Kumar was not only an established singer but also an excellent music director. Hugely successful as singer-composer in Bengal, he brought his exquisitely soft and melodious, simple and sweet music to Bombay and made it his trade mark.

This typical Hemant Kumar style can be seen in a number of songs he composed. Kahan le chale ho bata do musafir (Durgesh Nandini, 1956) is an outstanding delicate melody. Or listen to the feather touch Kuchh dil ne kaha kuchh bhi nahin and Dhire dhire machal ae dile beqarar (both Anupama, 1956),  Rafi’s duet with Arati Mukherjee Sara mora kajra chhudaya tune (Do Dil, 1965) and Kishore’s soothingly melancholic Woh sham kuch ajeeb thhi (Khamoshi, 1969) exemplify the archetypal Bengal softness.

Says Vijay Kumar, a writer of great sensitivity, “Hemant was born in Varanasi. A believer will tend to attribute the divinity, the dignity, the loftiness in his voice to this connect. I would rather take it as the presence of aakash tattva – the ether – the tattva that is beyond the ken of sensory and therefore divine. It was this divinity, this religiosity in his voice that prominently involved him in Mahalaya: the invocation of the mother goddess to descend on earth, performed seven days before the Durga Puja.

On the flip side however, his singing could hardly deliver sensuousness intended in a song. Consider again that solo from Bees Saal Baad – Zara nazaron se keh do ji. It is so sweet, but falls short of the intended flirtation! But the same divinity takes the Mamta number – Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera, to a different level – what a self-effacing love is all about! And this song is so close and true to the circumstances of the lovers on-screen.”

Hemant kumar

At the invitation of director Hemen Gupta who was making the celluloid version of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s path-breaking novel Anandamath, Hemanta created his first musical score for a Hindi film in 1952. Taking on the name Hemant Kumar (dropping the ‘a’ to match the Hindi pronunciation), he created music that was an eclectic mix – Vande Mataram rendered by Lata Mangeshkar with its marching beat touched the patriotic fervour of the nation freshly independent from imperial rule, while ‘Jai Jagadish Hare’ with Hemant Kumar chanting the slokas and Geeta Dutt soulfully describing the Dashavatara presented Hemant Kumar’s command over Sanskrit (an evidence of this was reflected again in his rendition of ‘Kashchit kanta biroho guruna’ from Kalidasa’s Meghdootam in Alor Pipasa).

It did not help matters that Hemant Kumar was a six-footer and Geeta Dutt comparatively much shorter in height. Moreover, Geeta Dutt had to keep walking towards the mike and away from it to lower and heighten the volume of her rendition. To make matters more difficult, she had to keep climbing on and off a raised wooden plank to match height with Hemant Kumar! (Source of anecdote: Nirmal Phophalia quoting Devi Dutt)

Jai Jagadish Hare (Anandamath, 1952)

Sixteen songs, 16 hits and one film – Nagin (1954). Hemant Kumar the composer was now just as successful and popular as the singer.  The smart use of the clavioline to resemble the ‘been’ of the snake charmer and the use of folk was the talk of the town. Offers poured in.

Says Vijay Kumar, “If I am to pick one film that overwhelmingly owed its success to its music, it was Nagin. However, Hemant’s music achieved many a thing beyond the box-office success of the film. First, it confirmed the acting credentials of Vyjayanthimala and firmly entrenched her in the Industry. Second, it launched Pradeep Kumar rather high and this fortuitous ascent lasted him for quite a while, his histrionics mediocrity notwithstanding. Third, Hemant himself got launched as a commercially viable singer. His four songs in the film were as popular as those of Lata.”

Says Dibyendu Dey, a young record collector and music lover from Santipur, West Bengal, who is also admin of the Hemant Kumar The Man with the Golden Voice Facebook group, “His major contribution I think was the music of Nagin… Bela Mukherjee, Hemanta da’s wife wrote in the biographical book Amar Swami Hemanta that snakes came into cinema halls when the been music played in that film.”

Man dole mera tan dole (Nagin, 1954)

Hemant Kumar also excelled in haunting melodies, that used the delectable echo, humming and whistling to accentuate the voice and lyrics – sample Kahin deep jale kahin dil (Bees Saal Baad, 1962), Jhoom jhoom dhalti raat (Kohra, 1964) and Koi door se awaz de chale aao (Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, 1962) which used minimal instruments . The poignant and heart rending Na jaao sainyya chhudake bainyya by Geeta Dutt is inspired from his own Bengali hit Oliro kotha shune bokul haashe although the two songs sound very different in mood.

Says Vijay Kumar, “Hemant’s music in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam seems so much responsive to the sentiments on the ground, of the moment. Each song has a visual effect. Piya aiso jiya mein – one can visualize Chhoti Bahu’s bracing up for the occasion – the critical meeting with her swami! Despair is writ large in the music of Koi door se awaj de chal aao, unmistakably conveys the irreversibility of the situation – that the master will not return!”

Music directors Ravi and Kalyanji Anandji carried Hemant Kumar’s legacy forward composing many of their songs based on the training they received from their Guru.

Piya aiso jiya mein (Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, 1962)

Destiny had more in store for Hemant Kumar as Bengal was beginning to miss its preferred singer. Ace director Ajoy Kar went to Bombay to sign up Hemant Kumar as singer-composer for Shapmochan (1955), a romantic musical with Bengal’s famous on-screen couple Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen as the romantic lead. The film was a superhit and so were each of its songs. Bengal’s King of Hearts Uttam Kumar had found his perfect voice in Hemanta.

Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar during the recording of Palatak, 1963

Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar during the recording of Palatak, 1963
(Pic courtesy: From the collections of Sounak Gupta)

Says Sounak Gupta, blogger, collector and archivist of Indian Music on Gramophone Records who runs the YouTube channels GeetaDuttDevotee and Sounak93, “It is difficult to gauge a reason behind the immense acceptance that Hemanta’s voice got – there may be so many! One of his greatest powers, I believe, was his voice, which possessed a rare emotive quality, and could carry most compositions with ease. Hemanta, as it appears from his discography, didn’t get into singing musically complicated compositions – he himself is said to have refused offers to sing such songs.

Even when it came to the composition of two classical pieces in Shapmochan, where Hemanta was the Music Director, he didn’t hesitate to request his playback artistes for the film, Pandit D V Paluskar and Pandit Chinmoy Lahiri to compose the classical pieces independently.”

Hemanta Kumar and Uttam Kumar

Hemanta Kumar’s deep, soulful music was the perfect playback voice for Uttam Kumar’s own rich baritone. They worked together in several films starting with Shapmochan, creating everlasting golden hits. (Pic courtesy: ‘Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema’s First Couple’ by Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury)

Adds Sounak, “Whatsoever be the cause behind Hemanta staying away from complicated compositions, what one could easily conclude from the songs Hemanta sang is that, he could glide through the compositions with remarkable smoothness. No jerk of unnecessary musical ornamentations or extrovert expressions ever hinders the listening of Hemanta’s music!”

Hemant Kumar's Na tum humein jaano topped the charts as the number one song in 1962

Hemant Kumar’s Na tum humein jaano topped the charts as the number one song in 1962

Agrees Gajendra Khanna, music enthusiast, record collector, archivist and admin for,, and, “Hemant Kumar was amenable to experiments in genres of semi-classical, folk or western melodies. In general he preferred composing simple melodies that appealed to the common man as compared to over orchestrated works (though he has done those as well). This simplicity is at the core of his works and adds a real charm to it.

When you are watching movies having his compositions, they do not jump in your face and take away from the narrative. They are also easy to assimilate in the mind of the listener making him want to hum them and keep in their mind to be recalled later to enjoy in solitude.

Many of his songs in a sublime manner are able to tug at your heartstrings and make a permanent place in your heart.”

Hemant Kumar, Ila Bosu, Director Hiren Nag, Kishore Kumar, Gouriprasannya Majumdar, Music director Gopen Mallick

Hemant Kumar, Ila Basu, Director Hiren Nag, Kishore Kumar, Gouriprasannya Majumdar, Music director Gopen Mallick are seen at the recording of the Duet song Tak dhin dhin ta [Kishore & Ila Bosu ] for the film Sabarmati, 1969
(Pic courtesy: From the collections of Dibyendu Dey)

Straddling both worlds of Bengali and Hindi film music as well as non-film and Rabindra Sangeet with equal dexterity, Hemant Kumar made sure that what he missed out in Bombay, he more than made up for it in Calcutta.

Hemen Gupta, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt

Director Hemen Gupta, Hemant Kumar and Geeta Dutt – Hemen Gupta’s Ferry and Anandmath both had music by Hemant Kumar and outstanding songs by Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar
(Pic: IMDb)

Harano Sur, Marutirtha Hinglaj, Neel Akasher Neechey, Lukochuri, Swaralipi, Deep Jwele Jaai, Shesh Parjanta, Kuhak, Dui Bhai, Surjatoran,  Alor Pipasa, Suryatapa, Nayika Sangbad, Taser Ghar, Adwitya, Kuheli, Sathi Hara, Swaralipi, Saptapadi and so many more in film after film Hemant Kumar created musical scores that were melodious, easy and hummable, establishing a direct connect with his audiences.

Says Sounak, “Hemanta Mukherjee’s characteristics as a composer, perfectly blends with the traits of the singer Hemanta Mukherjee. A typical ‘free flowing’ musical simplicity and a ‘straightforward’ approach towards capturing emotions through the tunes, I believe, form the base of Hemanta’s compositions. That’s perhaps one of the foremost reasons behind his successful compositions of ‘Romantic’ numbers, which demand not classical expertise, but expressions, that sound true.

One is simply swayed when one hears tunes like ‘Ei to hethay kunjachhayay’ (Kishore Kumar-Ruma Devi) or ‘Ei path jodi na sesh hoy’ (Hemanta Mukherjee-Sandhya Mukherjee) – the compositions just keep haunting! These songs have almost become synonymous with ‘Love’! Again, songs like ‘Tumi je amar’ (Geeta Dutt), ‘Michhe dosh diyona amay’ (Pratima Banerjee), ‘Chanchal mayuri e raat’ (Lata Mangeshkar) or ‘Nirobe jato kotha’ (Robin Majumdar, Alpana Banerjee) show, how easily emotions can be expressed through music!”

Alongside in Rabindra Sangeet his albums were outpacing his contemporaries. Especially, when he teamed up with Kanika Bandopadhyay and Suchitra Mitra to create the Gitinatyas (Tagore’s dance dramas) such as Valmiki Pratibha, Shyama, Shapmochan, Chitrangada and Chandalika, this triumvirate along with Debrabrata Biswas and Sumitra Sen became the most popular Rabindra Sangeet exponents of the era.

Hemant Kumar’s native language proved to be his platform for experimentation and innovation and he reused the successful tunes in Hindi. O banshi te daake she (Surjomukhi, 1956) in his own voice was replicated as an evocative Lata number Chhup gaya koi re (Champakali, 1957), Jibon purer pathik re bhai (Palatak, 1963) was reused as Janam se banjara hoon bandhu (Rahgir, 1968). He sang his own best solo Eyi raat tomar amar (Deep Jele Jai, 1959) again in Hindi as Yeh nayan dare dare (Kohra, 1964)… there are several such instances.

Chhup gaya koi re (Champakali, 1957)

Says Gajendra, “His renditions appealed to the heart rather than the mind. He could make it leap in joy as well as give an undercurrent of sadness to your surroundings. His voice had a “soz” which made him a popular choice among other composers as well. He was quite adept at expressing multi-layered feelings with his mellifluous voice which can never be forgotten.”

Observes Dibyendu, “Hemant Kumar was not like others composers. He liked to make light and sweet tune for his films and told his singers that he just wanted the simplicity with sweetness in the song. In an audio Interview, Lata Mangeshkar once said, ‘Hemant da was so simple at the time of composing music for his films… He always preferred melody in the song… the sweetness of the tune. He told me, Lata mai yehi chahta hoon is gaane mein.’ I personally think that he has a different place in the heart of millions of Hindi song lovers for this enormous quality.”

After Nagin, Hemant Kumar’s biggest hit was the Lata solo ‘Kahin deep jale kahin dil’, in Bees Saal Baad (1962), a film he produced himself, launching Biswajit opposite Waheeda Rehman.  Waheeda continued to be his chosen lead actor for two other successful movies he produced – Kohra and Khamoshi.

Kahin deep jale kahin dil (Bees Saal Baad, 1962)

The soothing, sweet and melancholic quality of his music found true expression in Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) where each song captured the mood of the situation perfectly. The desolation and melancholia of Chhoti Bahu could not have found a better voice than Geeta Dutt who came up with her three career best songs – Koi door se awaz de chale aao; Piya aiso jiya mein samaaye gayo re and Na jaao sainyya chhudake bainyya, tugging at the heart strings of countless music lovers. As Hemant Kumar put it in his interview to Peeyush Sharma, “Geeta was very gifted. Her voice was very, very sweet. I have never heard such a honey coated voice.”

Says Parag Sankla, an ardent Geeta Dutt fan who runs two YouTube channels (the flagship channel and Parag Sankla) devoted to her popular as well as rare music that have more than 1200 songs, “Amidst the tumultuous times and personal problems, Geeta Dutt found time to sing in 35 or so odd movies in 1957 honoring all of her singing commitments that were made before her difficult times. During this period one of the popular music directors was Hemant Kumar. Geetaji sang not in one or two but seven movies of Hemantda during 1957.

Aaja zara mere dil ke sahaare dilruba (Ek Jhalak, 1957)

Hemantda was very busy that year. So was Geetaji. These movies were Bandi (a solo and two duets), Ek Jhalak (three solos and two duets), Fashion (a solo and a duet), Hill Station (two solos and a duet), Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan (two solos), Miss Mary (a solo), and Yahudi Ki Beti (four solos and two duets). Amazing thing about this is that almost all songs in all of these movies were hits. A great achievement by Hemantda. And, Geetaji played a large role in that success. Most of these songs were pleasurable listening experiences.”

His duets with Geeta Dutt are a class apart, be it Hindi or Bengali. Can we ever have enough of the delicate Gumsum sa yeh jahan (Duniya Jhukti Hai, 1960) or Neer chhoto khoti neyi, akash to bodo (Indrani, 1958).

Neer chhoto khoti neyi, akash to bodo (Indrani, 1958)

If you think of Hemant Kumar, the composer, which song comes to your mind first? Opines Gajendra, “I think he was much more at home in his Bengali compositions where his work is more prolific of course. There are many songs one could choose but I would like to go for a song where he is not in usual “comfort zone” of soulful slow renditions being done by his singers. This song is Eyi Mayabi Tithi from Sonar Harin (1959), a nice pacey composition with lots more orchestration than normal where he uses Geeta’s talents very well.

Composer Santosh Sengupta with Hemant Kumar & Geeta Dutt in 1961

Composer Santosh Sengupta with Hemant Kumar & Geeta Dutt in 1961 (Pic courtesy: From the collections of Sounak Gupta and The Magical Voice of Geeta Dutt Facebook Group)

I absolutely adore his song, “Dil se shehzaade hum hain” from movie Lalten (1956) where he has brought out the joie-de-vivre very well and also has an edge of naughtiness which is not seen as often from him as I would have liked. The small touches like how he says “Dil se shehzaade hum hain soorat bhale mawali ki, khali pocket rakhte hain par photo Geeta Bali ki“.

I am also quite fond of his song “Tera hai jahaan saara” from Uski Kahani composed by Kanu Roy. The song has minimal instrumentation but his voice adds a lot to Kaifi’s words. Also like his singing in Raami Dhoban (just listen to Kaun akeli albeli jamuna nahaaye re!), dohas in Saranga (great job for Sardar Malik).

A discussion on his singing is totally incomplete if one does not include his non-film work. “Bhala tha kitna apna bachpan” sung by him for Kamal Dasgupta is a really fabulous example of the quality of his non-film work which was no less than his film work. Just listen to that song once and see what a level he has taken Faiyyaz Hashmi’s lyrics to. He transports one to one’s own “bachpan” instantly. Also, what he has been able to achieve in Rabindra Sangeet cannot be forgotten for a very long time.

Tera hai jahaan saara (Uski Kahani, 1966) – a tune inspired by the Rabindra Sangeet Amare paraye paraye khepiye bairaye kon khaipa shey

Two sparkling musical scores of his repertoire in Hindi films happened in the late sixties – Anupama and Khamoshi. Writes Ganesh Anantharaman, “In 1966, Hemant composed something as apt as Lata’s ‘Kuch dil ne kaha’ and his own ‘Ya dil ki suno duniyawalon’ for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s somber Anupama. But his best score came three years later for Khamoshi, where listeners had the predicament of choosing their favourite from three heart-tugging melodies. ‘Hamne dekhi hain un aankhon ki mehekti khushboo’ is lyricist Gulzar at his best. ‘Tum pukar lo’ in Hemant’s own voice is arguably the most haunting solo of the decade. And in getting Kishore Kumar to render the sublime ‘Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thhi’ Hemant Kumar proved Kishore’s caliber as a serious singer much before any other composer.”

Tum pukar lo (Khamoshi, 1969)

It was a labour of love from all concerned and hence the end result was immortal. As Hemant Kumar said, “The Khamoshi song, I recorded in a small tape recorder and gave it to him (Kishore Kumar). He took it home, listened to it for two-three days and then called me on the phone and said, ‘This is Kaka’s (Rajesh Khanna) film, I will bring the correct mood to the song. Please don’t worry. And he did sing it so beautifully.” (Exclusive interview with Hemant Kumar)

Haunting music composed by Hemanta Mukherjee (Hemant Kumar) was one of the most remarkable highlights of both Deep Jele Jai, and its Hindi remake by Asit Sen Khamoshi, that came ten years later. The ethereal number ‘Eyi raat tomar amar’, sung by Hemanta himself was a climactic number and captured the agony of Radha exceptionally well as she saw her world of love crumbling all around her. Asit Sen himself reportedly stepped in for the few silhouette shots required for portraying Debashish.

‘Eyi raat tomaar aamar’ (Deep Jele Jai, 1959) is one of the best known haunting numbers of Hemanta Mukherjee. He later used the same tune in Yeh nayan dare dare (Kohra), a superhit song. But what is not commonly known is that Tum pukar lo, the Hindi counterpart of Eyi raat tomar aamar used in the same situation is actually an improvisation on the Bengali number with the core elements remaining the same. So we got three gems Eyi raat tomar amaar, Yeh nayan dare dare and Tum pukar lo from one composition!

It’s been 26 years since Hemant Kumar breathed his last on 26 September, 1989. But his popularity remains unfazed. Walk into any Durga Puja pandal in Delhi and chance is you will hear Hemant Kumar’s evocative voice taking you through the arduous and lonely journey of the runner as he runs through the wild forests carrying bundles of mail… “Runner chhootechhe tai jhoom jhoom ghanta bajchhe raate”.

Think about haunting melodies in Hindi film music and ‘Tum pukar lo’, ‘Yeh nayan dare dare’, ‘Koi door se awaz de’, ‘Jhoom jhoom dhalti raat’, ‘Kahin deep jale kahin dil’, ‘Dheere dheere machal aye dil-e-bekaraar’, are sure to figure in the list.

Says Dibyendu, who created the Facebook group Hemant Kumar: The Man With The Golden Voice in 2008 with just 50 members, “It has crossed 3,250 members and most of them are not Bengalis. I have to add almost 20 members per day. Each day some rare pics and songs are shared here. Some members also share their personal experiences with him. He is an immortal singer, a legend. He is our Hemant Kumar… ‘Ekdine to hoini ami tomader eyi Hemanta’ (I did not become your Hemanta in one day).”

The legend lives on in the hearts of his listeners. The songs of solitude, the voice of humanity, the deep pathos and an outpouring of feeling that connects instantly… every time you listen to Hemant Kumar, his voice touches you to the soul.

‘Jaane woh kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila
Humne to jab kaliyan maangi kaanton ka haar mila’

Jaane woh kaise log the jinke (Pyaasa, 1957)

More to read

‘The Music Director Knows which Voice would do Full Justice to his Composition’ – In Conversation with Hemant Kumar
The Incomparable Music Of S D Burman Transcends Generations
Geeta Dutt – The Skylark Who Sang From The Heart
Manna Dey: A Rare Voice That Excelled In All Music Genres

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Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
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14 thoughts on “Simple, Soulful, Sublime: The Music of Hemant Kumar

  • Kusum Saxena

    Very informative superb write up Antara. Hemant Kumar was a very expressive singer and composer of sweet, soulful melodies. His singing was always smooth simple and sweet which put more charm in his songs. As we all know and Sounak Gupta also mentioned that he kept away from complicated compositions but he was able to glide through the compositions with great smoothness.

    What I noticed that in duets even his classical co singers like Lata ji… Asha Ji… Suman Kalyanpur followed their singing beautifully to match his style of smoothness… sweetness… simplicity… for example… Lata Mangeshkar… Chand Se Poocho Sitaron Se – Daku Ki Ladki (1954), aa neele gagan tale – Badshah (1954), Asha Bhosle… Yeh Mehfil Sitaron Ki – Arab Ka Saudagar (1956), Woh chand nahin hai dil hai – Aandhiyan (1952), ae dilruba janewafa tere siwa – Shirin Farhad (1956) Suman Kalyanpur … Tumhin mere meet ho – Pyase Panchhi (1961).
    What an awesome tribute to the great Legend Hemant Kumar!!

    Thanks a lot for the great post, Antara.

  • Antara

    Thanks Kusum for your wonderful comment… greatly humbled!

    Aa neele gagan taley is a personal favorite too – for the pure softness of the song… so delicately sung, its slowly settles down like the soft snowflakes.

    I agree with Sounak that he kind of kept away from complicated classical compositions. But some films reveal how much expertise he had in the classical range – an example being the Bengali film Alor Pipasha… it has some delectable thumris all composed by HK and of course the all time classic rendition by Hemant Kumar himself of Kalidasa’s Meghdootam.

    Hemant Kumar’s voice was the voice of humanity – soft, soulful, deep, introspective.
    And his music was one that would create a soothing environment of beautiful melody…that lingers and lingers on.

    My mother was a big fan of Hemant Kumar and so was my Mashi… so we had these great cassette buying sprees every year in the HMV stall in the West Bengal pavilion during the India International Trade Fair. And I played the cassettes in the loop… over and over and over again.
    No wonder this music got soaked in the bloodstream for all times to come.

    Thank you again for reading and such kinds words of appreciation!

  • Madhu


    Really interesting and informative write up dear Antara.

    Your in depth research has really mesmerized……!

    The Great tribute to the majestic Legend Hemant Kumar!!

    Keep sharing & enlightening as is in future as well.

  • Silhouette Magazine

    Some comments received on this article on Facebook:

    Pisharoty Chandran:Quite extensive. In 1981 he was laid up for months after a massive heart attack. We feared we will lose him.But he rallied around & lived upto 1989.

    His Robindra Sangeet fascinates me. Mon mero meghero sung at a fast clip is in stark contrast to his Pankaj Mullick tuned Diner sheshe ghumer deshe. His popularity is despite that he is not a ‘perfect’ singer (e.g.2nd line of ‘Zindagi kitni khoobsurat hai, i.e. ‘aayiye aap ki zaroorat hai’is not upto the mark as his voice is not capable of intricate murkis . 🙂

    Antara Nanda Mondal: Wonderful analysis 🙂 Yes, his Rabindra Sangeet actually brought the elite genre into mass popularity… Diner sheshe of Pankaj Babu and of Hemant da are actually in two different moods…. somehow Diner sheshe always reminds me of another such melancholic song (not Rabindra Sangeet) but loaded with meaning … ‘Neel akasher neeche eyi prithibi, aar prithibir pore oi neel aakash, tumi dekhechho ki’ …..two different songs but both sung with extreme pathos and feeling …. thank you so very much for the feedback 🙂

    Pisharoty Chandran: Diner seshe is my most favourite among R.S. Not that I am a Gyani of it.

    Subhas Ghosal: Good write up Antara. As Chandran said above his voice was not suitable for alankars like moorki and harkats. For classical based songs he always sounded less skilled, Jaag dard-e-isq jaag type songs Lata is far superior than him. Having said that he was a master of simple flat singing, his voice quality in middle octave was incomparable. His choice of Rabindric songs was also excellent keeping in mind his limitations. He did not attempt Prathama adi tabo shakti type compositions which could land him in trouble.

    Antara Nanda Mondal: Subhas ji…. you are right absolutely. I always feel the actual appeal of Hemant da lies in the feeling his voice expresses so very effortlessly… it reaches right to the soul of the listener. From a musicologist’s point of view there would be gaps in his singing… I myself have noticed errors in lyrics in a few of his Rabindra Sangeet too 😀 but how does it matter to the regular listener.

    His is a voice laden with humanity, pathos, compassion and romance – that’s what appeals above everything else i suppose. Even today when we walk into a Durga puja pandal, chance is that the public address system would be playing his ‘Legends of Glory’ album – that is the kind of cult following he enjoys, irrespective of time barrier.

    Thank you so very much for appreciating! Very grateful for this feedback! 🙂

    Sundeep Pahwa: Simply delighted to read all the comments posted above How much more I can learn from these. Thanks!

  • Antara

    Thank you so very much Vijay ji… will cherish this super compliment from you always 🙂 makes a world of difference!

    True… Waheeda Rehman did her best… it was an impossible performance and screen persona of Suchitra Sen to match up to in Deep Jele Jai… and you expressed it so beautifully – “she was not of this world” 🙂

  • Soumyadeep Chakroborty

    So very well narrated with every details of his musical panorama… not only he was superbly brilliant in singing the conventional romantic numbers under a wide range of composers both in Bengal and Bollywood, he and Salilda were instrumental to popularize some unconventional metres that spoke in high volumes of the intellectual quotient of the duo..

    Here I would love to mention about two such songs in form of Shono kono Ekdin…a typical signature symphony based Salilda masterpiece with unpredictable twists and turns evoking the desolation of the soul to perfection…

    And the other one is Ami jhorer kaache rekhe gelam amar which the golden sublime voice of Hemanta Mukherjee is being backed up by vibrant background scores with a deep appeal of is said that the song was composed by Salilda on request of his close friend and the exceptionally talented film maker Shri Ritwick Ghatak, whom he fondly addressed as ‘ Jhor’ (Storm).

  • Antara

    Thanks for this hugely enlightening comment! Both songs you have mentioned are my all time favorites…

    Shono kono ekdin is the most surprisingly medley of racy beats with soothing notes… and Ami jhorer kaachhe rekhe gelam amar thikana is an inseparable part of our childhood Durga pujas… just as we used to near the pandal we could hear this song playing over the sound system – along with Runner, Abak Prithibi, Kono ek gaanyer bodhu and Dhitang dhitang bole

  • Soumyadeep Chakroborty

    Your wonderful response reminded me of yet another mind-blowing song of the legendary duo from the Bengali movie Raibahadur of 1960 – Jaye din emni jodi jaye jak na..

    Salilda utilized flute and sitar as background scores to create the picturesque of a desolate island being hit by the eternally rolling sea waves.. Hemant Mukherjee’s graceful voice is a perfect match to the beautiful lyrics penned by Salilda himself !

    1. Antara

      That’s another awesome song… I think they had a Hindi version of this tune too? Can’t recollect!

      But hisheber khaatar paata antobiheen thaak poRe thaak na is the ultimate bindaas perspective on life one can have…

      These songs are part of our being … they are not songs. THEY ARE LIFE! 🙂

      1. Soumyadeep Chakroborty

        Mere Khwabon Mein Khayalon Mein… is the Hindi version (of Jaye din emni jodi jaye jak na) from HONEYMOON (1960)

        Ami ek triner khudro alingon a hariye gechi
        E bipul bisshye amar nishhota kei chhariye gechi
        Ke apon ke bai amar por hoye Jaye
        E amar ononto prem muhurteri majhhe dhora thak na
        Jaye din emni jodi jaye

        Arguably the finest of all the Salilda lyrics !
        Not to forget Lataji’s choral scores in the Mukesh ji rendered Hindi version !

  • Vineesh Vedsen

    Wonderful article as always. Hemant Kumar is one of the most wonderful singers of the Golden Era. His deep throated voice has been a source of pleasure for his ardent fans.

    There are so many aspects of Hemant Kumar to love appreciate and drool on for years. We already talked about his singing the deep throated voice. Some of the most memorable songs Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyaar mera. When you listen to it initially, feels like light bells being played in a temple. Such is the beauty of the song.

    One song that has touched a lot of us in our musical group, Bas Ek Chup si lagi hai abhi, nahin udas nahin, a song from Sannata 1966, the year I was born. It is in the rare song category almost. So the beauty is unexplained. But just listen to it. Specially when you are in a pensive mood and this song comes out of nowhere on your lips, you feel the song as part of your life.

    There are those Bekarar karke humen yun na jaiye and other such light hearted songs, which titillates the raw listener more. But then when you listen to some of his rare and more unheard numbers. Take Ek hi rasta beautiful duet with Lata, Saanware salone aaye din bahar ki. What a lovely number on handsome Sunil Dutt and a stunning Meena Kumari.

    The Hill Station beauty Nai Manzil nayi raahen with Geeta Dutt. I takes us to a zone where there can be little life beyond music. Whether it is Geeta Dutt, Lata or Asha, her duets are so much more magical. Love the sound of Aa Neele Gagan tale pyar hum karen. Such heavenly beauties.

    Some songs like Mujhko Tum Jo mile. Think of the song how Hemant Kumar starts and how the song flows. Gumsum sa yeh jahan ……so much of such wonderful music unearthed from listening to radios and some special programmes like Chhaya Geet in VB and those like Taamil-E-Irshaad on Urdu Services. We are a bit different type of music lovers who wander way out in the Bollywood wilderness to dig out rare unheard beauties.

    I can go on like this listing his such wonderful songs that we have found over years of patient listening. But Hemant Kumar will remain unearthed. I cant say much beyond what these greats have said. But to think of Hemant Kumar as a great composer too. Look at his films Anupama, Bees Saal Baad, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Nagin, Kohra and such others. Think of the songs created in these movies.

    In Hemant Kumar own voice Yaa dil ki suno duniya walon ……. or Lata’s sweet low sound whisper, Aisi bhi baatein hoti hain and Dheere Dheere Machal aye dil e bekarar. Even those Asha almost fast numbers kyun mujhe itni khushi on Shashikala. An actress condemned playing to vamps in other movies.

    Nagin 1954 songs indeed made a record of so many types. There is no parallel to Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam music. Finally what Antara has also talked about. If you do not talk of Hemant Kumar as a non film singer, you have missed almost half of his career greatness. I am so lucky to be born in a home where I have been treated to some of the most delectable Hemant Kumar non film songs. It is very apt on Father’s day, that I talk of Hemant Kumar, Abhi Na Parda Girao Thehro. Almost a music less wonder but what pathos. If you have grown up listening to this music, you know what music is.

    Then there were so many more … Kitna dukh bhulaya tumne pyaare ……Bhala tha kitna apna Bachpan …….Paakar bhi tumhe hum paa na sake ……Kal teri Tasveer ke. Again here I can go on and on. Similarly had the pleasure to being treated to some classic non film songs of Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood and such other great singers. It has been such a wonderful experience. But then you need a medium also where you can talk about this with absolute freedom without being turned down, ‘as they were not too popular’. We reached at a FB musical group run by the great Manek Premchand and Lata Jagtiani. This is the place where we began to realise, we can talk of the rarest of rare beauty and still have an audience a past master at such music.

    As if that was not enough, ran into one lady called Antara Nanda Mondal. Her presentation on Impact of Bengali music on Hindi film’ made my day like never before. To run a music site where each of the great musical person is treated at their best. They honour each of these great performers with such wonderful write ups to the size of manuscript on each is almost unthinkable. There cannot be a better article on the greatest of film maker Bimal Roy than what Vijay Kumar wrote on him. Then again Antara and our most revered Peeyush Sharma ji.

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