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Madan Mohan: The Composer of the Classes

July 14, 2018 | By

There is something really sophisticated about his music which has a timeless pull. It is not surprising that due to this quality his work has endured much after he passed away. A tribute to the Ghazal Samrat Madan Mohan

All pictures used in this article are courtesy the  offical website of Madan Mohan

Madan MohanI still remember the first Madan Mohan song I heard. On Doordarshan, the movie Mera Saaya was being shown and I fell in love with the title song ‘Mera saaya saath hoga’. The composition got “stuck in a loop” in my mind. I still sit sometimes in the evening and listen to its 78 rpm play in my drawing room (both sides have different moods of the song!). It was on more exploration of his repertoire that I was exposed to his commendable body of work. I also realised that my quite loved ‘Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De’ (Geeta Dutt) from Bhai Bhai is his composition! These compositions have been visited and re-visited over the years and in this article I aim to present some other facets of his work. You can write a whole book on his work but for now, I’ll resist that temptation!

Raju Bharatan had correctly said that he was a composer of the classes and not of the masses as his compositions were made to be heard in the drawing room. Indeed, his quality compositions were heard more in mehfils and homes rather than on the streets.

Madanji's mother Bhagwanti Devi, wife Sheila, children Sangeeta, Sanjeev and sameer and sister Shanti and neice Anju

Madanji’s mother Bhagwanti Devi, wife Sheila, children Sangeeta, Sanjeev and Sameer and sister Shanti and neice Anju

There is something really sophisticated about his music which has a timeless pull. It is not surprising that due to this quality his work has endured much after he passed away. In some ways, his work has reached more people after his demise. Lata Mangeshkar had once said that the destiny of some people starts after they are gone and it definitely holds true in his case. The number of CD compilations one sees of him being released is quite a bit more than some of his peers which is not very surprising to his fans.

Early Years

The young Madan Mohan spent his initial years in the Middle East, as he was born on 25 June 1924 in Baghdad to Bhagwanti Devi and Chunnilal who was an Accountant General with the Kurdistan Peshmerga forces.  Around 1932, the family returned to their native town Chakwal (in Punjab). His father moved to Bombay for work and went on to become the General Manager (and later a partner) in the prestigious Bombay Talkies and eventually the iconic Filmistan as well. Once, he had established himself in Bombay, he asked for his family to join him. Thus, young Madan started growing up with film personalities around him.

When Madan Mohan was in the Army

When Madan Mohan was in the Army

Though, Madan Mohan joined the army in 1943 (emergency commission), he later quit to pursue his interests in music. This talent he is said to have inherited from his mother and the encouragement from his grandfather Hakim Yograj and his younger brother Prakash also helped, all of whom were music aficionados.

While working with the All India Radio in Lucknow he got an opportunity to interact with stalwarts like Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Begum Akhtar, Roshanara Begum, Roshan, Jaidev and Talat Mahmood. Perhaps, this was the time when he fell in love with ghazals. After a stint in AIR Delhi, he went to Mumbai and his struggle period involved working as an assistant to Shyam Sunder and also with SD Burman, notably in Do Bhai (1947) and Munimji (1955) also.

The First Break

Madan Mohan with mentor SD Burman

Madan Mohan with mentor SD Burman

With his dashing Punjabi good looks, Madan Mohan thought of becoming an actor but went on to become a composer. His father did not like the idea of his son making the rounds of studios but could not dissuade him. In an interview, Shamshad Begum had told this writer that Madan Mohan approached her during a recording at Filmistan, requesting her to sing for his debut movie Aankhen (which released in 1950). She (the reigning queen of playback at the time) agreed and the film’s music did quite well. This first break flagged off a 25-year-long illustrious career in film music.

The Magical Music of Madan Mohan

Ghazal Samrat

He has been called as Ghazal Samrat (King of Ghazals) by many fans and co-artists due to his hold on this medium. (It is so embedded in the fans’ minds that many don’t appreciate his hold on other mediums!). Naushad is reported to have proposed to exchange all his work for two of his Ghazals in Anpadh, ‘Hai Isi Mein Pyar Ki Aabroo’ and ‘Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha Pyar Ke Kaabil Mujhe’!  His inclination towards Ghazals could be seen quite early in his career. His first movie Aankhen was more mainstream but in his second movie Adaa (1951) one gets glimpses of the things to come in the form of ‘Preetam Teri Duniya Mein’ and the Talat solo ‘Jise Dil Mein Basana Chaaha Tha Usse Apne Dil Mein Basa Na Sake’. 

The same year Talat’s rendition of ‘Meri Yaad Mein Ansoo Na Bahana’ in Raag Asawari for movie Madhosh only makes this “feeling” stronger. The Madan Mohan we remember was there soon enough. Just listen to the tasteful way he composed and made Talat Sing ‘Mohabbat Mein Kashish Hogi To Ek Din Tum Ko Paa Lenge’ which gives it the Madan Mohan ‘stamp’!

Mohabat mein kashish hogi (Khubsurat, 1952) Shaukat Jaunpuri / Talat Mahmood

Shaukat Jaunpuri’s lyrics have been done full justice in this song. Talat’s work with him is some of his best. I could listen to my Jahaan Aara (1964) LP for days!

Madan Mohan’s ghazals with Lata Mangeshkar are also an eternal joy for their fans. The first ghazal she sang for him was in Nirmohi (1952) in the form of ‘Ab Gham Ko Bana Lenge Jeene Ka Sahaara’.  It was this ghazal that set the ball rolling.

Listen to this lovely one from Baaghi, ‘Hamaare Baad Ab Mehfil Mein Afsaane Bayaan Honge’ as one of the master class acts by the duo.

Hamaare baad ab mehfil mein afsaane bayaan honge (Baaghi, 1953) Majrooh Sultanpuri / Lata Mangeshkar

Western Style Tunes

Jaagir’s ‘Tumse Nazar Mili’ (Geeta Dutt) is a typical song with a Jazz feel which many would not identify with Madan Mohan. He has composed many songs inspired of this genre which many fail to notice in his repertoire. Just listen to this wonderful song.  Just the mouth organ piece alone is sufficient to enthrall you!  Some would even say the song’s “Nayyarish”!

Tumse nazar mili (Jaagir, 1959) Raja Mehdi Ali Khan / Geeta Dutt

Mouth organ reminds me of another song where he used this instrument wonderfully. I am of course talking of ‘Hum Panchhi Mastaane’ from Dekh Kabira Roya  (1957) picturised on Anita Guha and Shubha Khote (Lata-Geeta delivered very well. Would have liked more of their duets by him!) Its good to see a lady play the mouth organ for a change in the song. Getting a glimpse of the Bombay of yore is another attraction!

Hum panchhi mastaane (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957) Rajinder Krishan / Geeta Dutt and Lata Mangeshkar

Madan Mohan with Lata Mangeshkar and Geeta Dutt at a recording from the film Baap Bete (1954)

Madan Mohan with Lata Mangeshkar and Geeta Dutt at a recording from the film Baap Bete (1954)

Madan Mohan had Geeta Dutt sing quite a few songs of this nature

  • Duniya Ke Saath Chal Pyaare (Pocketmaar, 1956)
  • Yeh Raah Badi Mushqil Hai (Gateway of India, 1957) (must hear for their fans)
  • Aankh Milaane Ke Liye (Chandan, 1958)

He showed that he was capable of doing heavily instrumented songs as well when he did such songs.

Fun Songs

While a composer known for serious songs, Madan Mohan composed a number of fun songs as well. This (his having a serious and fun side) is not surprising, as in real life, he not only worked hard but also played hard. He would find time to do cooking, play a number of games (cricket, tennis, billiards), go stay at Lonavala, entertain his friends and a myriad other things. Inspiration could hit him anytime, even when going in a lift!

Madan Mohan with his Black Alsatian dog Sugar

Madan Mohan with his Black Alsatian dog Sugar

Madan Mohan composed quite a few light fun numbers which bring a smile on one’s face. His first movie Aankhen for example had two which come to my mind immediately. One was the fun song, ‘Humse Nayan Milana BA Pass Kar Ke’ sung by Shamshad Begum and Mukesh. I am sure there were many exhorted in those days to do BA like they do for BE these days!  His friend Raj Khosla also sang a fun solo in this movie Rail Mein Jiya Mora Sanana Hoye.

‘Mera Naam Abdul Rehman’ (Bhai-Bhai, 1956) by Lata-Kishore is well known (It even spawned a version sung by Balbir and Sabita Chowdhury, such was its popularity! )

Shamshad and Kishore sang a lovely duet, ‘O Madam’, in Ashiana (1952). It is a really fun song, where lovers on marriage night are talking of a ‘Shaadi jiski muddat hai thodi’ aur gir sakta hai ‘divorce ka bomb’!  Really hillarious lyrics by Rajendra Krishan.

Ek Shola’s fabulous ‘Hum Kaala Tum White, Ab Apna Hai Day Night’, sung by Mohd Rafi and Geeta Dutt is pure delight with Madan Mohan giving us the Goan flavour. His duet with Shamshad Begum in Shabistan (1951), luckily for us, was on both sides of a 78 rpm.  Wish there were many more dozens of such songs for us!

Continued on Page 2

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Gajendra Khanna, born into a music loving Punjabi family has stayed across India and currently resides in Bangalore. An engineer by profession, he holds an M.Tech. degree in Computer Technology from IIT Delhi. Other than computing, he has interest in literature, writing, linguistics and collecting music and movies. He is the maintainer for a general artist website on artists called Anmol Fankaar as well as dedicated websites on singers Geeta Dutt, Noorjehan and Shamshad Begum in his spare time. He is a Life Member of the Society of Indian Record Collectors and the Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers.
All Posts of Gajendra Khanna

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8 thoughts on “Madan Mohan: The Composer of the Classes

  • Srirams

    Great article on Madan Mohan Saab. His Music grows on you that creates a state of being intoxicated.
    Touches your heart to the core. His rendering of a classical melody was very unique.

    Another beauty of Madan Mohan that has not been mentioned in any article that I have come across so far is that the music between Mukhada and Antara can sound very different and may sound obscure but when it connects, It is beautiful and refreshing

    woh bhooli dastaan and naina barse are such examples.

    His music takes you on a journey where you do not care about the destination anymore.

  • Vipin Dabhi

    Very nice and informative article. Sir.
    I, too, like Madan Mohan’s music but my first choice is ShankarJaikishan.
    Sir, may I have your email addr.

    Vipin Dabhi.

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