Madan Mohan: Heart on the charts

Composer Madan Mohan’s birth centenary falls on June 25, 2024. Photo: Publicity Photo

June 25 marks the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s biggest talents in music—Madan Mohan. Straitjacketed for his weighty songs of all genres (including the incredibly-layered Tum jo mil gaye ho from Hanste Zakhm), Madan Mohan could toe the fun-path as easily as in Zaroorat hai zaroorat hai (Man Mauji) or even, Humse nain milaana BA paas karke (in his 1950 debut film Ankhen).

He was a very emotional, sensitive and intense man. Madan Mohan knew only one avenue of catharsis – his songs, so he poured all the joys and sorrows of his life into them. Because of this, few other composers had the emotional quotient of his melodies.

It was in his long struggle phase from 1950 to 1957 that Madan Mohan found that his more substantial songs worked better than the fluff, and this consolidated his desire to metamorphose into a composer of heavyweight songs. In his most rewarding phase from 1962 to 1973, Madan Mohan acquired a solid reputation for being a merchant of intense, individualistic melody.

Madan Mohan’s music stands testimony to what commitment can do in overcoming basic constraints. For someone whose songs were suffused with raags, lovely ghazals and heavy-duty melody, Madan Mohan was never formally trained in music, and yet his music was often richer than the work of his classically-trained contemporaries. The son of a rich studio owner, Rai Bahadur Chunilal (a partner in Mumbai’s Bombay Talkies and Filmistan Studios), Madan Mohan was even born away from India – in Baghdad, Iraq where his parents had gone on a long visit!

The composer was always keen on music, and even assisted S.D. Burman and Shyam Sunder for a while. But his dad, a hard-headed businessman, refused to let his son take up a career in music. After a convent education, Madan was made to take up an army job. Though he served as a second lieutenant for two years, Madan Mohan soon ran away from the army and joined All India Radio, Lucknow.

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Begum Akhtar and many other luminaries were then working there, and this cemented the young man’s decision to make music his profession.

The Mumbai chapter began when Ghulam Haider called the young man down in 1948 to sing a bhai-bahen song with a then-struggling singer named Lata Mangeshkar for Shaheed. The recorded song was finally not included in either the film or its music, but it was the first meeting of the composer with his future vocal muse and raakhi sister.

Like buddies Devendra Goel, actor Shekhar and Ramanand Sagar, the khuddar (self-respecting) son of Rai Bahadur would then live in a chawl (a Mumbai residential block with common toilets) and share clothes for important occasions. So they decided to make a film together too: Ankhen (1950) was written by Sagar, directed by Goel and starred Shekhar. Madan Mohan composed the music of course, and another recent buddy of the music director, a young man called Raj Khosla, who had come down to become a singer, sang Rail mein jeeya mora.  Raj Khosla finally became a top-league filmmaker, and in the ‘60s, Madan Mohan was to score three of the filmmaker’s musical highs, Woh Kaun Thi?, Mera Saaya and Chirag.

Madan’s next two films, Ada (Sanwari soorat man bhaayi) and Madhosh (Hamein ho gaya tumse pyar), both 1951 releases, saw the professional beginning of the composer’s association with Lata Mangeshkar. The answer to why Lata did not play a part in Ankhen eludes historians to this date, and Lata had dismissed it as an ill-remembered whim.

With Lata coming in, Madan Mohan never looked back. Virtually the only non-Lata female solo of consequence in his 112 films remains Asha Bhosle’s much-remixed Jhumka gira re (Mera Saaya), though the composer also had other rare singers in his oeuvre, from Shamshad Begum and Suman Kalyanpur to Meena Kapoor and the young Vani Jairam, and also to non-film singers Nirmala Devi (actor Govinda’s mother), Parveen Sultana, Laxmi Shankar and Faiyyaz.

For Madan Mohan, Lata meant a solo, despite her few duets for him with various singers. In fact, the post-1951 films of Madan Mohan minus Lata Mangeshkar could be counted on one’s fingers, and of the whole lot, only Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare (1966) and Parwana (1971) were of musical consequence. Koshish (1973) also lacked an adult female singer, but for Sushma Shrestha singing a children’s song.

Even in later years, when Madan went into a creative decline, his Lata solos remained as potent as ever in films as late as Dil Ki Rahen (Rasm-e-ulfat ko nibhaaye and Aap ki baatein karen) and Sahib Bahadur (Mushkil hai jeena), his last film released in 1980. And in terms of sheer compositional brilliance, Lata’s Aap ki baatein karen ranks right up there among their dozen best-ever compositions!

Why was Madan Mohan so demoralized outside Lata in the 1970s? And how and why did a man who struggled doughtily through the ‘50s and learnt that quality mattered lose creative hold in what was loosely known as the beginning of the R.D. Burman-Kishore Kumar era?

Mukesh, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Talat Mahmood, S.D. Burman, Lata Mangeshkar, Nargis, Mohammed Rafi and Manna Dey with Madan Mohan (third from right). Photo: Publicity Photo

Those close to the music director are unanimous in their opinion that his sensitive soul needed constant appreciation from, and public endorsement for his songs. He was bitter about the fact that he began to lose ground to men he considered `compromise-oriented’ at a time when he was himself moving towards weightier songs.

Sensitive, honest people are known to be frank or blunt as the flip side of a passionate nature, and Madan Mohan’s tendency to mince no words about matters musical left him with few loyalists. Filmmakers for whom he scored great music went elsewhere, and by the mid-’60s, no one other than the loyal Chetan Anand had stuck to the music composer. Not many took easily also to his short temper too.

Other observers tend to have a more basic theory about the composer’s non-sustenance – his lack of basic musical training. Ravi, O.P. Nayyar and Usha Khanna, three other examples of formally untrained but God-gifted musical talents, also faced the same problem eventually, as they could not bolster their natural art with the weapon of trained musical craft.

And there must have been some pinch within his psyche somewhere when he realized that the natural strength of his compositions needed a trained arranger in Sonik (later of Sonik-Omi) or the masterly component of Rais Khan’s sitar, to bloom into complete finery!

In the mid-‘70s, matters also surely could not have improved when he got his last big film, Laila Majnu, only because Laxmikant-Pyarelal quit the movie! This was the only film that Madan left incomplete, and Jaidev completed three songs after Madan’s death.

Madan Mohan’s songs tended to touch chords deep down, and amazingly, always ranked among the most intricate and challenging songs ever sung by our master singers. One only has to hear Madan Mohan’s own introductory rendition of Lata’s Mai ri main kaase kahoon (Dastak) to realize how much soul the man could infuse into his creations. Lata Mangeshkar remembered how tunes would come to him in a jiffy, and while doing as mundane a thing as while going up an elevator. “All his softness and emotions as a human being completely went into his songs,” recalls the singer. Dastak also won him the National Award for Best Music.

Madan Mohan introduced Bhupinder Singh in Haqeeqat and scored a musical milestone by composing Hindi cinema’s first film made completely in verse—Chetan Anand’s Heer Raanjha.

He passed away on July 14, 1975, but long after he was gone, the composer was again destined to create history. It was in 2003 that Yash Chopra, returning to direction after six years, could not find a soul-mate among today’s active composers. Good friend Sanjeev Kohli (Madan Mohan’s son) suggested exploring the many tunes of Madan Mohan that were lying unrecorded in the composer’s own voice on his tape-recorder. Yash Chopra listened to them, selected songs suited for his cross-border love story, got the lyrics written by Javed Akhtar and the arrangements done by R.S. Mani. Besides Lata Mangeshkar, he got Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Jagjit Singh and others to sing them. The album of Veer-Zaara (2004) became a bestseller, and wrote history as it was the first-ever time that a late music director ‘worked’ for a contemporary film!

The Lata-Madan Mohan Crème-De-La-Crème

Aap ki baatein karen – Dil Ki Rahen / Naqsh Lyallpuri

Aap ki nazaron ne samjha – Anpadh / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

Agar mujhse mohabbat hai – Aap Ki Parchhaiyan / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

Do dil toote – Heer Ranjha / Kaifi Azmi

Hum pyar mein jalnewalon ko – Jailor / Rajendra Krishan

Lag jaa gale – Woh Kaun Thi? / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

Mai ri main kaase kahoon – Dastak / Majrooh

Nainon mein badraa chhaye – Mera Saaya  / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

Ruke ruke se qadam – Mausam / Gulzar

Yoon hasraton ke daag – Adalat / Rajendra Krishan

Ten non-Lata gems of Madan Mohan

Ab tumhare hawale –  Haqeeqat / Mohammed Rafi / Kaifi Azmi

Bhooli hui yaadon – Sanjog / Mukesh / Rajendra Krishan

Husn jab jab ishq se – Neena Hamari Khwab Tumhare / Asha Bhosle & Mohammed Rafi  / Rajendra Krishan

Jhumka gira re / Mera Saaya / Asha Bhosle / Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

Kaun aaya mere man ke / Dekh Kabira Roya / Manna Dey/ Rajendra Krishan

Meri awaaz suno / Naunihal / Mohammed Rafi / Kaifi Azmi

Phir wohi shaam / Jahan Ara / Talat Mehmood / Rajendra Krishan

Tu mere saamne hai / Suhagan / Mohammed Rafi / Hasrat Jaipuri

Yeh duniya yeh mehfil / Heer Raanjha / Mohammed Rafi / Kaifi Azmi

Zaroorat hai zaroorat hai / Man Mauji  / Kishore Kumar / Rajendra Krishan



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here