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25 June 2017

The Masters: Madan Mohan

25.06.1924 14.07.1975
The radio was a ubiquitous presence in our home when I was growing up, and weekends were rather special – there were hours of Hindi film music to savour, as I sat on the floor reading comics or the latest book. My father was an avid listener of old Hindi songs, and his favourite composers were Shankar-Jaikishen and SD Burman, followed by Madan Mohan. 

Composers didn’t come into my ken, however, though I was steeped in the songs of my father’s youth. Songs were identified by films and singers. Then, I got married – and listening to music was never the same again.

With his ability to recognise a composer by his ‘style’, my husband introduced me to the music behind the songs that I liked, and to his favourite trio, Salil Choudhury, Sajjad Hussain and… Madan Mohan. There’s also a personal connection there – Madan Mohan was a close friend of my husband’s maternal uncles; they went to the races together.

Madan Mohan Kohli (born 25th June 1924) spend the formative years of his life in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, where his father, Rai Bahadur Chunnilal was Accountant General with the Iraqi Police. When he was five years old, his father returned to Chakwal in Jhelum District (now in Pakistan). They then moved to Lahore, before the Rai Bahadur, in collaboration with Himanshu Rai, set up Bombay Talkies and settled in Bombay.

Madan Mohan had shown his affinity to music from a very young age, and had made a name for himself within the extended family and locals as a good singer. When they moved to Bombay, Madan Mohan’s attraction to music continued – he often sneaked off to neighbour Jaddan Bai’s (Nargis’s mother), on the nights she held musical soirees. Participation in the A.I.R programmes also brought him a friend – Raj Kapoor. 
After passing his Senior Cambridge examinations, Madan Mohan joined the military school at Dehradun upon his father’s insistence. Immediately after he completed training, he joined the army, though his heart was in music. His father, however, was against his son joining films, and Madan Mohan became a lieutenant in the army. When World War II ended, however, he resigned his commission and joined A.I.R. Lucknow. 

Unlike most other composers of the period, Madan Mohan was not classically trained. His talent was innate, and he'd honed it by absorbing different genres of music. His job as programme assistant brought him into contact with musicians and instrumentalists, as well as renowned vocalists of the time.

By 1947, however, he had quit his job and moved to Bombay to try his luck in films. His father was furious, and refused to even meet him. Thus, the pampered son of an influential father was forced to struggle. It was during these troubling times that the 24-year-old ‘acted’ in a small role in Shaheed (1948). The music director was Ghulam Haider. Madan Mohan also got a chance to record a duet with Lata Mangeshkar for him – Pinjre mein bulbul bole; this was his first meeting with the woman who would become a close collaborator throughout his life, both personally (she was his rakhi sister) and professionally.
In Parda, which did not see the light of day
However, Madan Mohan’s acting aspirations did not succeed – his film as ‘hero’, Parda, was shelved before completion. The decision to turn music director was the obvious one. He had earlier assisted SD Burman, a composer who not only encouraged him in his ambition, but would be friend and mentor forever, and Shyam Sunder. 
Finally, in 1950, he had his break – as the composer for Aankhen. The film’s release would end the estrangement with his father. Aankhen’s success brought him Madhosh (1951) and Aashiana (1952). Though Aashiana flopped, Madan Mohan had consolidated his place in the pantheon of great composers. Soon, offers flowed in – Baaghi, Railway Platform, Bhai-Bhai – the last named film was a huge success.

Madan Mohan chose his assignments carefully. Music, to him, was not something he could conjure up out of thin air; he needed to nurture it, create it, and most importantly, enjoy the process. For a man who averaged three films a year, 1964 was a landmark year; he had eight releases, all of them had incredible scores – Suhagan, Woh Kaun Thi?, Aap ki Parchhaiyan, Jahan Ara, Ghazal, Pooja ke Phool, Sharaabi and Haqeeqat.

To commemorate what would have been his 93d birthday, here are some of my favourite Madan Mohan compositions in no particular order. (If I seem to have not included some of his best compositions for Lata Mangeshkar, it is because I’ve already written about that collaboration.) The music notes are by my husband.  

Dastak (1970) 
Singer: Mohammed Rafi 
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
In Madan Mohan's case, instead of choosing the 'best song' from a film, how much easier would it be to just choose the 'best score'! Offhand, I can think of so many of his films where every single song is a gem. Dastak is one of them. With Lata Mangeshkar singing three beautiful solos, the only male solo in the film is reserved for Mohammed Rafi – lip-synched by Sanjeev Kumar on screen. Majrooh Sultanpuri's lyrics are quite explicit, and the music keeps pace, heightening the sensuousness of the scene. Rafi's voice, soft, erotic, and seductive complements the lyrics and the music.  

SSW: The song has an interesting choice of instruments, the starting notes on the vibraphone, the introduction of the congas and muted strings in the background, and the first interlude where the taar shehnai takes the centre all set to a rhythm in triple metre, the antaras halting to be embellished with horses hooves and neck bells. In the second interlude, the santoor mingles with the guitar arpeggios, and finally there's the jal tarang in the final interlude.  The metronomic beats on the congas drive the song onwards.

Dil doondhta hai 
Mausam (1975)
Singer: Bhupinder
Lyrics: Gulzar
Gulzar had first worked with Madan Mohan in Koshish (1972), and subsequently, signed him for Mausam as well. Bhupinder, Madan Mohan's discovery, would also return to sing for his mentor. Madan Mohan is said to have composed several tunes for this song, pausing in between cooking his signature biriyani to ask Gulzar which tune he liked. [One of the unused tunes was later used by Yash Chopra in Veer Zara.] The 'sad version' (this one) is different in tune, tone and mood from the faster 'happy' version, a duet with Lata Mangeshkar. Having had a falling out with Ustad Rais Khan, the sitar would be conspicuous by its absence in the music director's compositions for this film. One of Madan Mohan's last scores (he died without completing the background score; Salilda stepped in to do that), Gulzar dedicated Mausam to the late composer. [The video seems to be that of the duet; the solo plays in the background when the credits roll at the beginning of the film.]

SSW: The prelude of the song always reminds me of the Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No.1 The two pieces are set to different time signatures but they both seem to take you back to bitter sweet memories.

Main paagal mera manwa paagal
 Ashiana (1952)
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 
Madan Mohan and Talat Mahmood were friends from their days in Lucknow A.I.R. The former had promised Talat that if he ever became a music director, he would use Talat as a singer. It is no surprise then that, while Madan Mohan was said to favour Mohammed Rafi, he should, at the same time, compose some beautiful melodies for his friend. Both composer and singer could distill melancholy to its purest essence, and Main paagal mera manwa paagal is a perfect example of a creation that melded music and voice to such effect.     

In my post on Talat Mahmood, I had used Phir wohi sham wohi gham (Jahan Ara) as an example of their collaboration. Talat's career had been slipping by then, and it is testimony to Madan Mohan's loyalty that he not only stood by his friend, insisting on his inclusion, but also crafted three beautiful melodies for him. 
It is unfortunate that despite a stellar score, Jahan Ara ran only for a week the shoddily made film was not deserving of Madan Mohan's talent.  

Har taraf ab yahi afsaane hai 
Hindustan ki Kasam (1973) 
Singer: Manna Dey
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi 
Almost ten years after he made Haqeeqat based on the Sino-Indian war, Chetan Anand would turn his attention to another war –  the Indo-Pak war of 1971, specifically, Operation Cactus Lily. When Madan Mohan called Manna Dey to sing this song, the latter was taken aback; it was a song meant for Mohammed Rafi, he averred, but the composer was adamant. He wanted the song sung in a particular way and he was sure only Manna Dey could do justice to it.  The anecdote, narrated by the singer, underlines how strict the composer was in deciding which singer would sing his compositions. Another Manna Dey song for Madan Mohan that I really like is Kaun aaya mere man ke dwaare  from Dekh Kabira Roya (1957). 

Preet lagake maine 
Aankhen (1950)
Singer: Mukesh
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
The film that began it all – Madan Mohan had wanted to be a singing star like Saigal, and had sung one duet with Shamshad Begum in both Aankhen and Shabistan (1951), and had formed a triad with Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar in Fifty Fifty (1956), but was unable to make his mark as a playback singer. He often joked that by concentrating on composing music, the film industry had lost a fine artiste. 

Preet lagake maine was also Madan Mohan's first recorded song, and was picturised on his friend, Shekhar. Despite this beginning, Madan Mohan did not use Mukesh's voice much – around nine songs in a 25 years.  (More than a decade after their first film and with a mere three songs in between, he would give Mukesh one of the latter's career best songs Bhooli hui yaadon from Sanjog (1961)
Preet lagake maine is a quintessential Mukesh number, underlined by a new voice in melody – that of Madan Mohan's. However, the film, directed by first-timer, Devendra Goel, and starring a new hero, may never have seen a release, if it hadn't been for the debutant music director meeting the distributors and making them listen to his compositions. Aankhen was also famous for Lata Mangeshkar not singing for Madan Mohan due to a misunderstanding.   

Ae dil mujhe bata de 
Bhai Bhai (1956)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Bhai Bhai was Madan Mohan's first big hit. The score of the film, with gems such as the plaintive Qadar jaane na, the frothy Mera naam Abdul Rehman, and the soft Mere chhota sa dekho ye sansar catapulted the film into having a successful run at the box-office. The composer, however, was born under an unlucky star, perhaps. The  producer and distributor had a falling out and the latter yanked the film from the theatres a week short of a 25-week run. Poor Madan Mohan had to wait another eight years before Woh Kaun Thi? gave him his first Silver Jubilee hit. Ae dil mujhe bata de is one of my favourite Geeta Dutt songs ever. Song, melody, picturisation, all came together to create a classic. Another Geeta Dutt number that I really like is a very unlike-Madan Mohan composition, Kahan phir hum kahan phir tum  from Night Club (1958) that is picturised on a very young Helen.  
SSW: Madan Mohan took the idea from the base tune of the Portuguese Fado, Coimbra, and created a lovely version that remains one of Geeta Dutt’s immortal solos. The song pays a tribute to the original, just brushing the original melody but changing  the more plaintive fado tune into one of anticipation. Listen to this version by the queen of Fado, Amalia Rodriques.

Hai unki woh nigaahein 
Aakhri Dao (1958)
Singer: Asha Bhosle 
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri 
I had shortlisted two songs for the Asha-Madan Mohan collaboration. (The other song was Saba se ye keh do from Bank Manager (1959), with lyrics by Jalal Malihabadi.) It is interesting to note that the protagonist of both films was Shekhar. He and Madan Mohan had been friends from their Delhi days, and came to Bombay together to seek their fortune.

It is also interesting to note the similarity between two utterly different songs: Hai unki woh nigahein is a delightful song, very playful but almost introspective, whereas Saba se keh do is more sombre, but extremely sensuous. In the former, the tune is a simple melody; in the latter, he allows Asha's voice to carry the song, keeping the music to the interludes, and then, so unobtrusive is the music that it is only after you finish listening to it that you realise how beautiful the melody was in its simplicity.
While Madan Mohan's muse may have been Lata Mangeshkar, her sister, Asha Bhosle, sang quite a few songs for the composer. In Aakhri Dao, it is Asha who gets the cream of the score  she gets three of the solos and one duet while Lata has to be content with just one duet, which was unfortunately deleted from the film.  

Chand madham hai 
Railway Platform (1955)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar 
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi 
Originally a nazm titled Intezaar, Sahir Ludhianvi reworked the lyrics for the film which would see Sunil Dutt's debut. Picturised on Nalini Jaywant as she sings her anguished plaint in her lover's absence, Madan Mohan wove a melody that had different tunes for each of the three antaras. His music recedes to the background as Lata sings, allowing her voice to hold centrestage. Unfortunately, as is the case with several of his compositions, this song was deleted from the film. 
Another Madan Mohan composition for Lata that I like very much is Qadar jaane na from Bhai Bhai. As the story goes, Begum Akhtar was so enthralled by this melody that she called Madan Mohan from Lucknow, and made him sing it for her.  

SSW: One of my favourited Madan Mohan compositions, Chand madham hai is another song set to triple metre. The song is in Raga Bhimpalasi, but at end of the first antara just as the interlude begins, the tonic note moves up a tone; the scale changes and the song becomes more plaintive before it moves back to the original key.  It is a lovely change and beautifully executed.

Zaroorat hai zaroorat hai zaroorat hai
Man Mauji (1962)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
At a time when Madan Mohan's name had become synonymous with ghazals, came this light, frothy, utterly delightful Kishore Kumar number with lyrics that complemented the playfulness of the score. The duo had worked together earlier in Bhai Bhai and Mem Sahib, among other films, and were lifelong friends. Unlike Bhai Bhai, however, Man Mauji wasn't as successful at the box-office, suffering the same fate as many of the other films for which Madan Mohan composed the music.
Zaroorat hai zaroorat hai zaroorat hai was a hit then, and has retained its popularity, both in its original form as well as the remixed version (which is not a patch on the original am I the only one who wishes they would leave our songs alone?)  

Tum jo mil gaye ho 
Hanste Zakhm (1973)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
A beautiful song, beautifully picturised, in a not-so-great movie – where have you heard that before? Tum jo mil gaye ho is quintessential Mohammed Rafi (with a couple of lines by Lata Mangeshkar), and if you wanted romance in the rains, you have no further to look. By this time, regular arranger Master Sonik had left to form the musical duo Sonik-Omi, and Madan Mohan had switched Gyan Verma and Kersi Lord to do the arranging for him. It didn't make a difference to the 'Madan Mohan style'; however, the composer was moving with the times – the music reflected the 70s. Chetan Anand definitely seemed to have a liking for Madan Mohan; four of his films were scored by the composer. However, this film was a train-wreck, and another one of those cases where Madan Mohan wasted his talents on an inferior film. It certainly didn't deserve him, or the beautiful songs (including Betaab dil ki tamanna yahi hai.)
SSW: Madan Mohan’s foray into a blues scale. First, the unaccompanied Rafi, then the chords on the guitar followed by the bass, the snare drum, and a rolling percussion, in that order. Finally, the slow build up of the strings,  then finally just before the thunder effects, the flute. Then, the frenzied interludes where the flute and strings play off each other just before Lata comes in. My favourite portion of the song is Rafi’s  vocalisation of the last verse the part where he sings “kaarvan mil gaya”, pulling the notes out and sliding between them. There is joy here, and a manic percussion and tumultuous violin accompaniment bring the song to an ecstatic conclusion.

Meri duniya mein tum aayi 
Heer Ranjha (1970)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar,
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
This is a very romantic melody, both erotic and sensuous, and Madan Mohan's music ably complemented Kaifi Azmi's inspired lyricism. Strangely enough, this song wasn't originally in the film; it was added a few weeks after the film was released. Picturised when Heer comes to visit Ranjha alone at night, Chetan Anand's visual imagery explores both romance and passion, both emotions heightened by the simplicity of the music that stays demurely in the background, allowing Rafi's voice to seduce our senses. Yet, oh, how beautiful that music that you sub-consciously absorb its unobtrusive presence. 
Heer Ranjha was Chetan Anand's very-close-to-the-original-in-essence interpretation of Waris Shah's Heer. An experimental film, all the dialogues were in verse (Kaifi Azmi), and Chetan Anand's Heer reflected Waris Shah's strong, empowered Heer who had a mind of her own. Madan Mohan helmed the music, with Kaifi Azmi providing the lyrics.  

SSW: Another great song with shades of Tumse kahoon ik baat. Notice the same triple meter, the congas beating out the time; instead of the taar shehnai, the sitar breaks into song. This song has a slightly different structure; there is no standard mukhda antara as in a normal song delineation. Instead, both singers repeat two separate melodies; then, a quicker third melody appears almost like a sanchari before moving back to the first melody. The juxtapositon of the non Indian congas with the flute and rabab in the interlude is quite lovely. The changes in tempo mimic the ebb and flow of a conversation.

Meri mehboob kahi aur mila kar mujh se
Ghazal (1964)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi 
Ghazal was a Muslim social which boasted of a wonderful score by Madan Mohan (including Rang aur noor ki baraat), and suffered the fate of many of the films for which he composed. Sahir Ludhianvi's cynical take on the Taj Mahal was first published in Talkhiyan in 1945. Three of those six verses were set to music by Madan Mohan, who prevailed upon Sahir to let him use them. Unsubstantiated reports say that the poem had been rejected by Naushad, who wanted to highlight the Taj's reputation as a monument to eternal love. So while Shakeel Badayuni wrote Ek shahenshah ne banake haseen Taj, Saari duniya ko muhobbat ki nishaani dii hai for Leader, the same year, Sahir's take couldn't have been more different. 'Ek shahenshah ne daulat ka sahara le kar,' he wrote, 'Hum gareebon ka muhobbat ka kiya hai mazaaq.' 
At the muhurat of Ghazal, with Meena Kumari
The nazm, sung in Rafisaab's mellifluous voice, and picturised on Sunil Dutt, was not fated to remain in the film. From all accounts, Sahir had a falling out with the producers, and demanded that it be dropped from the film and the records, remaining unheard until, years later, it was released as part of a compilation of rare songs, and also included in the film's video release.

Hoke majboor mujhe 
Haqeeqat (1964)
Singers: Bhupinder, Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi 
In 1964, Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat, possibly the finest war movie made in India, offered Madan Mohan not only a chance to compose the score, but also an important role as a soldier. It was, in a way, of reel meeting real. However, that dream was to remain a dream; weather conditions stopped him from reaching the unit filming in Ladakh. Madan Mohan had to be satisfied with composing a stellar score for a great film.However, this film saw the debut of Bhupinder, both as singer and accidental actor. (Bhupinder managed to make his way to Ladakh, where he was handed a radio operator's outfit, and told to put it on; that's how he realised he was also supposed to be acting in the movie.) Having called Bhupinder from Delhi, Madan Mohan was considerate enough to not tell him that Hoke majboor chala also had verses sung by three of the greatest male singers of the day.
At the recording of the song
Bhupinder recalls that at the end of the recording session, however, his seniors were gracious in their praise of him. Madan Mohan was also pleased with the recording
his singers had given him more than he had expected. In an interview (Hindustan Times), Manna Dey recalled how when he began singing his verse, he chanced to look at Mohammed Rafi, and saw tears in the latter's eyes this gave him the impetus to add to the pathos of the lyrics. When the recording ended, Rafi hugged him tightly saying, "Mannada, lajawab.' 

Like Dastak later, Haqeeqat had one of Madan Mohan's best scores with songs like Kar chale hum fida, Khelo na mere dil se, Zara si aahat hoti hai, Main ye sochkar, etc. Unfortunately, the composer's favourite Khelo na was deleted due to the length of the film.

SSW: Possibly inspired by Sajjad Hussain’s wonderful number, Phir tumhari yaad aayi ae sanam from Rustom Sohrab, this song is more sombre. Phir tumhari yaad aayi ae sanam was helmed by three singers, Hoke majboor by four; and if you must listen to one, you must listen to the other. I really like the little clarinet pieces in Hoke majboor mujhe.  

For someone who was not classically trained, Madan Mohan used ragas very effectively (and very innovatively). While it is Roshan who is usually associated with Raag Yaman, Madan Mohan composed two gorgeous songs in this raga Jaa re badra bairi jaa from Bahana (1960), and what my husband considers a 'joyous Yaman', a variation of this same melody in Jiya le gayo ji mora saawariya from Anpadh (1962) 
Madan Mohan may have taken inspiration from his own tune, but in doing so, he gave us two songs in which composer and singer complement each other, neither imposing on the other.

It was not that Madan Mohan was unappreciated in his lifetime his peers certainly valued him; his fans adored him; his raakhi sister, Lata Mangeshkar, considered him one of the finest composers she had worked with; yet, the value that the world places on ‘success’ – the sort that can be quantified – and its lack, was not lost on the man.

Despite a national award for Dastak (1970 – his first, and only award), later offers were for films that didn't deserve his compositions. 
With Sanjeev Kumar, being felicitated for his national award for Dastak.
Madan Mohan was too self-respecting a man to beg for favours; but he continued to compose excellent tracks for the few films that he did get – Heer Ranjha (1970), Hanste Zakhm (1973), Mausam (1975), Laila Majnu (1976). The lack of offers, of appreciation, of awards – he lost the Filmfare Award for Woh Kaun Thi? to Laxmikant-Pyarelal (for Dosti) and for Mausam to Khayyam (for Kabhi-Kabhie) – disheartened him very much. Soon, too soon, he would leave the world of music. He was only 51. 

In these intervening years, Madan Mohan's music has given joy to countless people, and will continue to do so. He once said that "...the foremost requirement of a song is only one thing;  it should be capable of capturing the interest of the listeners in a short period and sustaining it in the years to follow." He needn't have worried; his legacy endures, as timeless as his soul-stirring compositions.

*All personal photographs are the property of Madan Mohan's family and have been taken, with their kind permission, from madanmohan.in. I'm also indebted to them for much of the trivia regarding the late composer.

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