His music spelt class and showcased quality. His deep, resonant, sonorous and haunting voice cast a spell on his listeners. Vasanti Limaye pays a tribute to Hemant Kumar, singer and composer.
A doyen of Bengali music and Rabindra Sangeet, it was Hindi cinema that introduced Hemant Kumar, the singer and composer, to a larger audience. Though Bollywood provided him a bigger canvas to paint, it was Calcutta where his heart was most of the time—maybe because he received more reverence there. He made frequent trips there to record Bengali songs, film as well as non-film, so much so that he was fondly called their “daily” passenger by Indian Airlines. As a welcome gesture he was also honoured with the best passenger award by the airline.
May be because of his roots, the work he has done for Hindi cinema is less than half of what he did for Bengali music industry. The list of Hindi film songs that he sang is not very large when compared to the other famous singers of the Golden era; by and large, though, the songs that he sang were all major hits. The same is true for his work as a composer. Fewer films, as against the other stalwarts of the golden era, but all with excellent musical score, the memories of which have been etched in our memories forever. His music spelt class and showcased quality. Years have passed but his music still graces the sentiments and nostalgia of sensitive music lovers who enjoy soulful music.
Conveying emotions is the hallmark of Hindi Film Music as against Indian Classical Music in which emphasis is more on the swaras (notes). Emotions are conveyed to the audience in film music with the creative use of tune, lyrics, vocals and variations in the way words are sung. Apart from this, a diligent use of varied instruments also helps in the process. Hemant Kumar’s deep, resonant, and sonorous voice provided an additional allure here, the reason that his songs remain alive in our memories.
Hindi film music industry has, especially in what is called its Golden Era, seen many eminent music directors; every music composer having a style of his own. Some had a fascination for one particular raag, some were more inclined towards the use of Indian classical music, while yet others were charmed by fusion and believed in experimentation.
Hemant Kumar, however, carved a niche for himself in the film industry because of his simple and sensitive music that was not only melodious, but also conveyed the emotional requirements of the scene and human sentiments in the best possible way. Remember, for example, the music of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam.
If I were to brand Hemant Kumar’s music, I would label it as one coming from deep within on one end while having a direct connect to nature on the other. A good example of this connect is the song Hawaon pe likh do hawaon ke naam composed by him and sung by Kishore Kumar.
When Hemant Kumar was asked about his approach towards composing music, he had said that it was sweetness, simplicity, melody and rhythm. However, I feel there is one more dimension to his music. I would like to call it the lingering effect or a haunting power, a quality which is seen in many songs composed by him. While the song Tum pukar lo exemplifies this effect at its best there are many such songs, as you would know by reading further.
Hemant Kumar’s deep resonant voice was quite suitable for romantic songs. Manna Dey, the famous singer, had always praised Hemant for his god-gifted golden voice. Lata Mangeshkar who has sung many romantic duets with him, had once said, “Listening to Hemantda, I feel as though a sadhu (saint) is sitting in a temple singing a bhajan.” It is touching to recall what music maestro Salil Chowdhury said when Hemant Kumar died. He said, “Hemant Kumar’s voice was the voice of God.” No wonder! Each word he sings reverberates in your mind and the sound of his notes leaves a trail on your consciousness. The same haunting poignancy is also evident in his iconic music compositions.
Here is a collection of songs by Hemant Kumar divided into two sections, one for the songs he sang for other music directors and the other for music he himself composed (also includes the songs he sang). During this selection I have traversed through a beautiful terrain that was bedecked with lilt, melody and joy. So, enjoy!
Hemant Kumar’s career as a playback singer for Bengali films started in the 1940s. Before he came to Bombay he was already an established singer in Calcutta. It was during the 1950s and 1960s that his career as a playback singer for Bollywood songs was at its peak. In the Bombay film circles if a singer was called by SD Burman, it was big news. So, when Dada called Hemant Kumar to sing a song for the film Sazaa, it was a big reward. In fact, all the songs that he sang for Burmanda became super-hits, as given below:
S D Burman
Hemant Kumar had great respect for SD Burman whom he knew from his Calcutta days. Every morning, when Dada did his riyaaz, Hemant Kumar and his friends would gather outside his apartment to listen. Hemant Kumar’s mother had aspired that one day her son would also become as big as Sachin Dev Burman and Pankaj Kumar Mullick. And it was Sachin Dev Burman, the master, who also became the master craftsman for shaping Hemant Kumar’s career as a playback singer in Bollywood.
Hemant Kumar, the singer, had a long association with SD Burman, with whom he had recorded a Bengali song as early as 1940. After Dada came to Mumbai, Hemant Kumar was especially chosen to sing the following song along with Sandhya Mukherjee who was invited to come all the way from Calcutta to sing the song for Sazaa.
Sandhya Mukherjee has very fond memories of the song. As it was a frivolous number, Sachinda wanted to put something funny in the song. So he started singing a line, Tangoly o tangoly, nakey mukey chun kali, meaning ‘nose and face blackened’, an expression in Bengali used for conveying embarrassment. Taking a cue, the lyrics of the song were modified to include the line Gup-chup gup-chup pyar karein. The romantic song penned by Sahir Ludhianvi also had excellent picturisation that cine-goers remembered for a long time.
Aa gup-chup gup-chup pyar karein (Sazaa,1951) with Sandhya Mukherjee/ Rajinder Krishan
It was the above song which had provided a foundation for Hemant Kumar’s long association with SD Burman. The song, in fact, provided him the break he needed to get established as a singer in the Hindi film world.
Sachin Dev Burman—the music genius that he was—had this habit of rehearsing the same song in the voices of two or three singers and choose the one which best suited the situation. For the song Ye raat ye chandni, from the movie Jaal, Guru Dutt wanted Mohammad Rafi but Dada said it had to be Hemant. After this super-hit song Hemant Kumar became an obvious choice for Dev Anand, the romantic hero of Hindi films; as he was in Calcutta for Uttam Kumar in Bengali movies. Singing for one of the top three heroes of Hindi cinema provided Hemant Kumar a strong footing and soon he was chosen by Naushad, C Ramchandra, Shankar-Jaikishan to sing in their films, especially for romantic numbers.
Ye raat, ye chandni phir kahaan (Jaal,1952)/ Sahir Ludhianvi
This next song Teri duniya mein is, what can be called, a one-hundred-percent Hemant song, each word having an impact in his baritone voice. Chup hai dharti is another hummable song from the same movie. The duet Peeche peeche aakar has only aa-ha-ha-oh-ho-ho and humming by Hemant while Lata sings the song. Hemant Kumar, in one interview, had said that these small techniques used by Dada had a great impact on him and he also used them for his own compositions.
Teri duniya mein jeene se (House No 44, 1955) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Sahir Ludhianvi
There is a frivolous duet song which Hemant Kumar sings with Geeta Dutt and Pran, the villain, who sings in a croaking voice adding an interesting element to the song. The song again proved that Hemant Kumar’s voice was as suitable for playful rhythmic numbers as it was for songs having serious undertones.
Dil ki umangein hain jawaan (Munimji, 1955) with Geeta Dutt/ Shailendra
Sachinda composed a special song for Hemant’s voice in Pyaasa with minimal use of instruments and no percussion. The song had a tremendous effect and became a hit. No wonder, the movie Pyaasa is remembered as much for its immortal poetry by Sahir Ludhianvi as it is for the grand music by SD Burman. Though the finest songs in the film were rendered by Mohammad Rafi under Burmanda’s training, no one can ever forget this mesmerising song by Hemant Kumar, where the reverberation of his voice with the poetry takes the song to a new height.
Hemant himself liked the song so much that he used the same effect later for his own composition Ya dil ki suno for the film Anupama.
Jaane vo kaise log the (Pyaasa, 1957)/ Sahir Ludhianvi
Recollect this legendary song from the movie Solva Saal of Dev Anand where RD Burman (Panchamda)plays the mouth organ. The song has been sung by Hemant Kumar in a style that had set the Pop song standards for that time. Here again the team of Hemant Kumar, Dev Anand and Sachinda created onscreen magic and people were mad over the song—not only in India but also outside India wherever the movie was released.
Hai apna dil to awara (Solva Saal, 1958)/ Majrooh Sultanpuri
For the movie Manzil, Sachinda had three singers lending their voice to Dev Anand. But for this particular song, Hemant was chosen. The song has three versions, the standard happy and sad ones and a third “inebriated” version. Listening to the song itself is intoxicating, the effect of Hemant’s voice is sure to engulf you!
Yaad aa gayeen vo nasheeli nigahein (Manzil, 1961)/ Majrooh Sultanpuri
The deep, sweet, romantic voice of Hemant Kumar has been put to best use in this song. The initial humming, the softness of his voice, everything is simply great. This was the last song that he recorded for Dada.
Na tum hummein jaano (Baat Ek Raat Ki, 1962)/ Majrooh Sultanpuri
Among the many hit compositions of SD Burman, Hemant Kumar had 13 songs to his credit. But what is great about it is that all songs rendered by him were super-hit songs. A composer like SD Burman had this discerning power to see who would be the best singer for a particular song or situation. Hemant Kumar was the obvious choice for his romantic numbers. It is interesting to know that out of these 11 songs, 10 were play-backed for Dev Anand, the romantic lead of that time, and one was for Guru Dutt.
This evergreen duet sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar became very popular for its simple and catchy music by Shankar-Jaikishan. Hemant’s romantic voice helps in making the yearning for love more evident. Love wins in the end, culminating into joy, as represented by Hemant Kumar’s amorous humming in the end.
Yaad kiya dil ne (Patita, 1953) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Hasrat Jaipuri
Another classic song in the category of romantic duets was tuned by Shankar-Jaikishan and supported with excellent lyrics by Hasrat Jaipuri. The ardent love song, composed in Raag Bhimpalasi starts with a prelude, building the mood. Lata starts the song beautifully in the higher notes, complemented by Hemant Kumar’s lower notes in the middle of the song with his deep and romantic voice; the two voices singing the last line together—what a befitting climax for this sentimental song. Enjoy the song for its lyrical beauty and melodic splendour!
Aa neele gagan tale pyar hum karein (Badshah, 1954) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Hasrat Jaipuri
’Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all
Said Alfred Lord Tennyson
Lyricist Rajinder Krishan in the same spirit, writes the following lines for the film Anarkali, the eternal love story where the protagonist loses her life for love:
Zindagi pyar ki do-char ghadi hoti hai
Kaun si cheez muhabbat se badi hoti hai
Hemant Kumar sings the song in his own special way, making it eternal!
Zindagi pyar ki do-char (Anarkali, 1953)/ Rajinder Krishan
The romantic Jaag dard -e-ishq jaag from the same film in the voices of Hemant Kumar and Lata also deserves a special mention. The song has a classical base, composed in Raag Bageshri. The song has been very beautifully sung by Hemant Kumar with simple but appealing aalaps. The repeated words Jaag Jaag are especially attractive.
Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag (Anarkali, 1953) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Rajinder Krishan
This is a delightful song for its lilt and melody. The song is a lullaby, having two versions, one by Hemant Kumar alone; the other as a duet with Lata Mangeshkar. This particular song has been sung by Hemant in the “Sehgal style.”
Chandan ka palna resham ki dori (Shabab, 1954) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Shakeel Badayuni
Listening to this song by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar is really a divine experience. Lata’s sweet voice singing in the lower notes with Hemant Kumar’s romantic voice. Coupled with a rare innocence that has a calming effect on the mind by providing a gentle relaxation to frayed nerves.
The music of the song is based on Raag Malgunji, similar to Bageshri. The ascending and descending aalaps by Hemant and Lata are the high points of the song.
Nain So Nain Nahi Milao (Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje,1955) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Hasrat Jaipuri
This song is very different from Hemant’s romantic songs: the reason it has been shared here. Sung in a joyful mood, it has a supporting chorus with the enticing voice of Hemant Kumar standing out.
Mein gareebon ka dil (Abe Hayat, 1955)/ Hasrat Jaipuri
This song by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar is another duet where Hemant’s voice provides an intrigue to the saga of romance in a night setting. The song has been beautifully composed in Raag Kirwani and also has been well picturized on Sunil Dutt and Shakeela. The music for this movie was composed by Kalyanji alone, as the younger brother had not joined him as yet.
Neend na mujhko aaye (Post Box No. 999, 1958) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Pyarelal Santoshi/ Kalyanji Veerji Shah
Here is another song in the same mould, after Anandji joined his older brother to form the composer duo.
Tum hi mere meet ho (Pyase Panchi, 1961) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Qamar Jalalabadi
Ae dil ab kaheen na ja is an evergreen hit sung so beautifully by Hemant Kumar. The sublime music combined with its subtle singing makes you listen to the song repeatedly. There is something special about Hemant’s voice that every song in his voice sounds so special!
Ae dil ab kaheen na ja (Bluffmaster, 1963)/ Rajinder Krishan
Ravi Shankar Sharma started off as an assistant to Hemant Kumar. Ravi was not very keen to be on his own despite his talent, it was Hemant Kumar who really encouraged Ravi to start composing independently. Ravi has given the film industry many of its finest compositions; this one is one of his earlier compositions where the soulful singing of both Lata and Hemant provides the song its real cadence. The lyrics were written by Prem Dhawan.
Ye jhoomte nazaare (Nai Raahen, 1959) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Prem Dhawan
This next song, a devotional, has been extremely popular. The deep Hemant Kumar teams up with the delicate voice of Sudha Malhotra and the strong notes of Manna Dey in a superb blend. The song, a good composition in Raag Kedar, makes you soak into divinity easily.
Darshan do Ghanshyam naath (Narsi Bhagat, 1957) with Sudha Malhotra and Manna Dey/ Gopal Singh Nepali
This is quite a magical song in the melodious voice of Hemant Kumar. It is also picturised as a duet song in the voice of Nutan and Hemant Kumar. The song makes excellent use of the mandolin for creating the effect of the waves. Listening to the song makes me feel as if the music here is the ship and it is the voice of Hemant Kumar which is making the ship sail buoyantly over the waves. Do join the ship and enjoy the sail as well!
Leharon pe leher (Chhabili, 1960) with Nutan/ S Ratan
Raahi tu mat ruk jaana, the title song for this Kishore Kumar film has been sung by Hemant Kumar in his sweet, passionate voice. This is an inspiring song worth hearing.
Raahi tu mat ruk jaana (Door Gagan ki Chhaon Mein, 1964)/ Shailendra
This is an unforgettable duet in the voice of Hemant Kumar and Lata. The song has excellent lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri:
Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera
Ke jaise mandir mein lau diye ki
When music director Roshan heard the lyrics he was ecstatic. This song is one of Roshan’s compositions based on Raag Kalyan. The sublime music, inspiring lyrics and the devout singing both by Hemant and Lata engrosses you completely into the song and makes your heart glow like the steady flame of a lamp.
Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera (Mamta, 1966) with Lata Mangeshkar/ Majrooh Sultanpuri
Who can forget this nostalgic and classic song? A film by Bimal Roy, story by Rabindra Nath Tagore, and set to tune by none other than Salil Chowdhury, Hemant Kumar’s best buddy.
Gulzar had once said that Hemant’s serene voice reminds him of Mother Ganges. So true here! Hemant’s divine voice really makes us completely soak into it. For this song he sings in high notes, unlike his romantic songs where he preferred to sing in the lower notes. The song is based on deep-rooted Bengali folk music. A Bhatiali song, peppered with Baul. The lyrics for this particular song were written by Gulzar.
Ganga aaye kahaan se (Kabuliwala, 1966)/ Gulzar
Rahul Dev Burman
This was his last song for a Hindi film, nearly 25 years after he made his debut as a singer for Hindi cinema for great Sachin Dev Burman. What a befitting climax to his illustrious singing career—to start with the father, and end with the son!
Aaja mere pyar aaja (Heeralal Pannalal, 1978)/ Majrooh Sultanpuri
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