Bengal’s matinee idol Uttam Kumar and its most popular male singer-composer Hemanta Mukherjee together created a massive repertoire of songs that are remembered till today for their melodious music, lyrical poetry and sterling performances. Silhouette pays a tribute to Uttam Kumar by revisiting the iconic Uttam-Hemanta partnership and some of their evergreen hits.
It was 1948, and Nitin Bose was directing S. B. Productions’ first film Drishtidan, based on Tagore’s story by the same name. Asitbaran, the legendary singer-actor of the days, was acting and singing in the lead role – Avinash; and a young, handsome newcomer, in his early twenties, was playing the younger days of Avinash.
“The advertisement of Drishtidan was published in the newspaper. I hoped to see my name printed,” the newcomer wished to himself. But luck did not favour him. His name did not appear in the film’s credits, the role being a small one and him being an unknown newcomer. The film did not prove to be a big success either. However, the songs of the film were hits, and Asitbaran and the other playback singers of the film basked in the glory. The struggling period of the newcomer actor of Drishtidan, Arun Chatterjee, began. Arun’s entry went almost unnoticed. Who knew, it was only a matter of a few years that Arun Chatterjee would become the heartthrob of all – Uttam Kumar.
Around the same time, elsewhere in the Bengali music industry, another young man, nearing thirty, was gaining popularity as a singer and composer day by day. Hemanta Mukhopadhyay catapulted to the height of fame with Ganyer bodhu in 1949 – his epic association with poet-composer Salil Chowdhury.
Uttam Kumar and Hemanta Mukherjee had known one another since their early days, as they lived in the same locality. Uttam was then a theatre actor and Hemant, senior in the industry by several years, was charting out successes in films and recorded music. Though the playback era had begun way back in the mid-thirties, singer-actors like Robin Majumdar and Asitbaran were still popular. But gradually the era of actor-singers was ebbing away. Since the newer generation of heroes were not singers, playback singers like Hemanta were coming into the limelight.
It was 1951. The director-quartet Agradoot was making Sahajatri under the banner of M. P. Productions, with Bharati Devi and Asitbaran in the lead roles. Uttam was chosen for a character role in this film. Luck favoured him this time, and owing to other engagements, Asitbaran couldn’t sign the contract for Sahajatri. Uttam, still a struggler, was signed on as the hero. In the films he had done so far, either his name wasn’t mentioned in the credits or he was named Arup Kumar and sometimes Uttam Chatterjee. Sahajatri saw the ‘birth’ of the legend – the first film to have his name printed in the credits as Uttam Kumar. The film booklet too featured his face on the cover. For the first time, Hemanta sang for Uttam on screen in no less than three songs composed by Robin Chatterjee – Phul hase aar cheye dekhi, Bhalobasar parashmani kothay tare pai and Gagane saghana ghata uraye ke megho jota (with Supriti Ghosh and others) . Sadly, neither the film nor the songs were successful.
This was the juncture in which Hemanta Mukherjee moved to Bombay to try his luck as Hemant Kumar, singing and composing for Hindi films. The struggling years for the singer-composer who was already established in Bengal began afresh in Bombay. Anandmath, Daaku Ki Ladki, Shart, Jagriti, Samrat came in quick succession to give Hemant Kumar the composer great opportunities to prove his excellence as a composer. But the stupendous success of Nagin pitchforked Hemanta into national limelight.
Some years passed by. It was around the time of Nagin, in the mid-fifties, that Sudhir Mukherjee planned to make Shapmochan under the banner of Production Syndicate Limited with Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. From the hardly noticed, Uttam had now become the most sought after hero, and with Suchitra Sen as his lead, the success of the film was a foregone conclusion.
Uttam and Suchitra as a romantic pair had shot into fame with the multi-starrer rip-roaring comedy Sharey Chuattor (1953) and they had then cemented their position with the box-office trailblazer Agnipariksha (1954). Hemanta, who had by now got a firm foothold in Hindi film industry was longing to work as a music director in Bengali films. Sudhir Mukherjee thus invited Hemanta, who came to Calcutta to compose for Shapmochan, despite a hectic schedule in Bombay. Hemanta not only composed the songs of Shapmochan but also gave playback to the hero. The four songs he sang for Uttam – Bosey aachhi patho cheye, Surer akashe tumi je go shuktara, Jhar uthechhe baul batas and Shono bondhu shono became super hits. Wrote Hemanta, “I was amazed by the reception of Shapmochan. The songs breathed life into the film and were loved by all.”
Shapmochan marked the beginning of the glorious journey of the Uttam Kumar-Hemanta Mukherjee combination that gave Bengali cinema some of the best moments through song sequences. As Bela Mukherjee said, “Uttam Kumar and Hemanta Mukherjee thus became one. When one listened to Hemanta’s songs with closed eyes, the face of Uttam Kumar would rise in the mind, and while listening to Uttam Kumar’s dialogues, it would seem as if the singer Hemanta Mukherjee is speaking.”
Harano Sur had an interesting highlight. In the last scene, where the hero Alok Mukherjee having regained his lost memory, rushes back to his lady love Roma (Suchitra Sen), the director felt that the hero must call out her name. Hemanta who was around dubbed for Uttam calling out “Roma, Roma” but when the film released no one noticed it wasn’t Uttam’s voice.
After Shapmochan, the Uttam-Hemanta duo paired in films like Taser Ghar, Prithibi Amare Chaaye, Indrani, Joutuk, Bondhu, Mayamriga, Chaoa Paoa, Saptapadi, Marutirtha Hinglaj, Kuhak, Dui Bhai, Sudhu Ekti Bachhar, Mon Niye, Sonar Khancha, Bikele Bhorer Phool, and others, creating history through numerous songs that have etched a perpetual niche in the hearts of listeners.
Hemanta looked upon the Mahanayak as a younger brother “aamar chhoto bhai”. Not surprisingly, the two icons blended impeccably on screen as one voice. No other voice suited Uttam better than Hemanta. Tasher Ghar (1957) had the melodious Shunye dana mele pakhira ude gele (Bimalchandra Ghosh). Even when the song was used in the background, it was Hemanta singing it if Uttam was on the screen, sample Aaj dujonar duti poth (Harano Sur, 1957). When Uttam composed music himself in Kaal Tumi Aaleya, he asked Hemanta to listen to the tunes and correct them. Hemanta said, “Chamatkar shur korechho. Ete theek thaak korar ki aachhe?” (You have composed marvellous tunes. What is there to correct in it?)
Uttam Kumar, himself a good singer apart from being the matinee idol, was a great admirer of Hemanta’s songs, and in the words of Hemanta, “Had there not been Uttam, had he not lip-synced my songs on screen, I wouldn’t perhaps have been the Hemanta Mukherjee I am. I would have not gained this fame. We were a unique combination.”
Let’s enjoy some of their golden hits to remember Bengal’s most popular screen and music idols.
Shono bondhu shono (Shapmochan, 1955) Bimalchandra Ghosh/ Hemanta Mukherjee
Gharer bandhon chherei jodi (Prithibi Amare Chaaye, 1955) Bimalchandra Ghosh/ Nachiketa Ghosh
Aaj dujonar duti poth (Harano Sur, 1957) Gouriprasanna Majumdar/ Hemanta Mukherjee
Neer chhoto kshoti neyi (Indrani, 1958) Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Nachiketa Ghosh/ with Geeta Dutt
Surjo dobaar pala (Indrani, 1958) Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Nachiketa Ghosh
Mou bone aaj mou jomechhe (Bandhu, 1958) Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Nachiketa Ghosh
Tumi to jano na (Surjotoran, 1958) Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Hemanta Mukherjee
Taare bole dio (Dui Bhai, 1961) Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Hemanta Mukherjee
Eyi poth jodi na shesh hoy (Saptapadi, 1961) Gouriprasanna Majumdar / Hemanta Mukherjee / with Sandhya Mukherjee
Ogo kajol noyona harini (Mon Niye, 1969) Pulak Banerjee / Hemanta Mukherjee
(Pictures are courtesy Sounak Gupta unless mentioned otherwise)
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