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The king of melody


Some are destined to be on earth much before their time, their glory to be sung many years after they are gone. Madan Mohan is one such, ruminates RATNA RAJAIAH.

``A great musical warrior of all times. The pretty soldiers of film industry, who could not match musical notes with him, defeated him by politics. But today they swear by his melody.'' A fan on the Internet

THERE ARE fans and there are fans. Those who pray in the sanctum sanctorum, so steeped in the lore about the object of their adoration, seeking to know every tiny mote, every shade so much so that they, very often, know more about their idol than perhaps the deity itself. I, not one of those, sat outside the temple, on the edges along with millions of other such devotees, not knowing why or how this man touched my untutored heart, not understanding which soaring note, which shade of his musical genius softly played my soul, just knowing that each time I listened to his music, some strange, wonderful magic made something inside me stir, then soar and take wing... And that was enough. The first time I came across Madan Mohan was in a college in Calcutta, three years after his death. As I sat in a friend's room one day, a beautiful song played from the little tape recorder that today we would have scornfully called a dabba. Not even the tinny, mono playback of that dabba (though we didn't think so at the time!) could ruin the sweet, sensuous beauty of that song...

``Ek haseen shyam ko dil mera kho gaya.

Pehle apna hua karta tha, ab kisi ka ho gaya.''

It was a time when the first generation of yuppies was being made, amongst whom it was becoming unfashionable to be a Hindi film fan but I recognised a few things about the song. Mainly that the velvet voice that could melt your bones was Rafi's. More than that? I knew my friend's father was a well-known music director in Hindi films called Madan Mohan. Did I connect him with the song? Dimly, maybe. And so, in the space of those two years, knowingly but unknowingly I stumbled on Madan Mohan again...

And once again, when the lonely, golden aching of a saxophone poured into the stillness of the night and I wondered what it would be like to love someone like that...

``Tum jo mil gaye ho, toh yeh lagta hai ke jahan mil gaya Ek bhatke hue rahi ko caravan mil gaya...``(Hanste Zakhm'' 1973)

The songs stayed with me like memories, bobbing up every now and then like an unexpected bonus down the river of life that had now quickened to head towards the falls... The next time Madan Mohan touched my life was many, many years later, when I had the privilege to work on a television show called Meri Awaz Suno, (produced by his son, Sanjeev Kohli), a show that was a search for future playback singing talent. It ran for three years and in those three years, whenever we worked in the editing studio to ``embellish'' the songs with photographs of the original singers and music composers, time and time again I would come across a face that could have easily been that of a matinee idol, with a quirky smile that mocked the world, as if to say, ``jab unhe humse pyar hi na raha, roye kya, intezaar hi na raha.''

If one went purely by the number of singers who, in the 160-odd episodes that we shot, chose to sing Madan Mohan's songs, you'd think that he had been one of the most successful composers of his time. Alas, the facts pointed to something very different. Madan Mohan's career as a music composer spanned a quarter of a century, from 1950 to 1975. During those 25 years, he composed close to 700 songs for over 100 films, which works out to an average of about four films a year, making him one of the most prolific composers of Hindi cinema. (In 1959 and 1964, he composed for eight films in each year!)

Madan Mohan died on July 14, 1975. His son Sanjeev Kohli recalls that his body was carried on the shoulders of Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna and Rajendra Kumar and when a photograph of this hit the newspapers the next morning, he says that he became more popular in college than he had ever been when his father was alive - because they suddenly realised the worth of the dead man by the men who were his pallbearers...

All of which makes all tributes and accolades including this one, the ultimate, painful irony. But some of us - and there are many such in the history of great men and women - are called to be on this earth much before our times, our glory to blaze many, many years after we are gone. Madan Mohan was one such and I write this tribute as perhaps a tiny attempt to make amends...

And I should thank Sanjeev Kohli without whose help this would not have been possible.

A strange thing happens when you mention Madan Mohan's compositions - you almost never need to mention the films or the stars. For two reasons. One, because the films are often so obscure that it doesn't matter. Madan Mohan never worked on a Dilip Kumar film, his two films with Dev Anand - ``Pocketmaar'' and ``Sharabi'' - were both flops, so too with Raj kapoor in ``Ashiana'' and ``Dhoon'' and Rajesh Khanna in ``Bawarchi''. When he did get some of the other ``big names'' - Meena kumari (``Memsaab''), Nutan (``Aakhri Dao,'' ``Dulhan ek Raat ki''), Nargis (``Adalat''), Dharmendra - (``Neela Akash'', ``Anpadh'', ``Aap ki Parchaiyan'', ``Pooja ke Phool''), even Amitabh Bachchan in his second film ``Parwana'' (where he played villain to Navin Nischol's hero!) - it was either before they became stars or the films themselves flopped.

But there is a second more important reason why the credits of the film are unnecessary. Because the songs themselves are so well-known, standing on their own as immortal compositions, that nothing else matters. In Hindi cinema, in the triumvirate of music composer, singer and lyricist, the norm is that the composer and his tune are paramount. Except in the case of Madan Mohan. For whom it was the final song and what it sought to convey that was paramount and which he created and nurtured like one does a child, suffering as much heartbreak and agony as parenthood brings. Innumerable stories abound about how he toiled at perfecting a song, how he made the singer (including his beloved Lata) sing again and again, how he railed at the musicians (smashing a studio glass partition once, shouting, ``Besharmon, besura bajate ho!'), working with the lyricist to write and rewrite till he was perfectly satisfied with the song. (He composed ten tunes for ``Dil dhoondta hai'' in Mausam before he was satisfied with the final one.) Which is why it's almost never that you'll find a Madan Mohan song where the music and the instrumentation do not mesh perfectly. Listen carefully to ``Nainon mein pyar dole'' (Lata - Sheroo - 1957) and you will find that underlining the delightful melody are little trilling pieces of flute with which you can almost imagine the heroine's feet skipping happily as she thinks ``tumhe jab dekhoon piya, mera sansaar dole...''

Madan Mohan songs have some of the most exquisite pieces of sitar (from ``Meri yaad mein tum na'' Talat-Madhosh-1951 to ``Jaiye humse khafa ho gaye'' Lata - ``Chalbaaz'' - 1980), but not once is it ever out of the emotional context of the song. Even when, later on, he dared to use western instrumentation (the exquisite saxophone interludes in ``Mushkil hai jeena Lata-``Sahib Bahadur'' 1977), even western rhythms in ghazals and nagmas, (Chirag dil ka jaalao, Woh bhuli dastaan and Betaab dil ki in which he used only western rhythms and no tabla!), it seemed the most natural thing to do, never jarring, out of place or even remotely self- conscious.

And which is why it is such agony to mention a Madan Mohan song the way it is done usually, by quoting the first line. Because you cannot just stop at that, but want to go on the next and next and the next... till you find that it is the entire song. You are awestruck not just at the originality of expression, but at the way the words have been crafted so that the singer and the song flow across them like a river, never once stumbling or tripping...

Across his 700 songs, Madan Mohan worked mainly with just two lyricists - Rajinder Krishan, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan - both his friends and with whom he composed not tunes to which words were written but seamless song entities where you could not make out which came first - the words or the music. (Majrooh Sultanpuri and Kaifi Azmi were the other two lyricists who worked with Madan Mohan, largely in the later years, Kaifi Azmi for all Chetan Anand films. Sahir Ludhianvi worked with Madan Mohan in just three films, including Laila Majnu). And so it would not be too much to say that perhaps to no one more than to Madan Mohan fits the title of ``music director'', because his baton brought together the melody, the singer and the words in one perfect moment of harmony.....

Ghazal king. A title befittingly bestowed upon someone who ruled a genre where few have managed to take the intricate craft of a ghazal and infuse it with the sweet intensity of emotion the way Madan Mohan did. (In fact, very often you realise that a Madan Mohan song is a ghazal much later on, knowing it initially as a sad or happy song.) But when you examine Madan Mohan's body of work beyond the ghazals, there emerges an astonishing breadth of musical expression. For example, he was one of the earliest to blend Western influences into his work, and that too, well before ``Tum jo mil gaye ho'' for Hanste Zakhm which he composed just two years before he died in 1973. Listen to his ``Zameen se Hamen Aasman pe'' (Asha Bhosle/ Mohd Rafi - Adalat 1958), actually a ghazal, but enchantingly set to a waltz rhythm or to the fabulous surprises of the saxophone interlude in the exquisitely traditional ``Sapnon mein agar'' (Lata - Dulhan ek raat ki - 1966).

Madan Mohan also created some of the most beautiful light, romantic songs like the early Talat-Lata duets ``Yeh nai nai preet hai'' (Pocketmaar 1956), ``Teri chamakti aankhon se'' (Chote Babu 1959) or the charming ``Dil unko uthake de diya'' (Lata-Baap Bete 1959), or Rafi's sweetly drunken ``Kabhi na Kabhi'' (Sharabi 1964) or the perky ``Simti si sharmayi si'' (Kishore Kumar - Parwana - 1971) or the utterly lilting Lata- Manna Dey duet ``Bheegi chandni...'' (Suhagan - 1964) or the two Asha sizzlers, ``Thodi Der Ke Liye Mere Ho Jaao'' (Akeli Mat Jaiyo - 1963) and ``Shokh nazar ki bijliyan'' (Woh Kaun Thi). Somehow these seemed to fade, giving way to maybe the more well- known, equally beautiful but often brooding shades that dominated his later work. I wonder if this in some way was a reflection of his frustration.

Some of Hindi cinema's best-loved classical songs came from Madanji's baton, a result of his love for classical music and close association with the greats of Hindustani classical music like Begum Akhtar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Alla Rakha, Rais Khan and Vilayat Khan. Influenced particularly by the dadra and the thumri, Madan Mohan's classical repertoire included glorious gems like ``Ja re badra bairi ja'', ``Bairon neend na aaye'', ``Meri veena tum bin roye'', ``Jiya le gayo jee mora saanwariya'', ``Kaun aaya'', ``Baiyan na dharo'', ``Maii re'' and ``Nainon mein badra chhaye''.

And then of course there was ``Bawarchi''. Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Rajesh Khana's only film with Madan Mohan, but that was not what was unique but the fact that all the songs in the film were completely situational, from the exquisite ``More Naina Bahayen Neer'' and the classic Manna De hit ``Tum bin jeevan'' to the astounding ``Bhor Aayi Gaya Andhiyara'' which unfolds like a musical play with everyone from Manna De, Kishore Kumar to - belive it or not - Govinda's mother, Nirmala Devi, singing in it!

Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar. Names that are often considered synonyms for each other. One was a man who said he would not have composed so much if Lata Mangeshkar had not been there to sing it. The other who said, ``Other composers gave me `Gaane' while Madan bhaiyya gave me `Gaana' to sing. The only other singer who sang nearly as often for Madan Mohan was Mohammed Rafi and to a lesser extent, Talat Mohmood. Yet, even with the singers who sang rarely for him, Madan Mohan's compositions for them became some of their greatest hits. No more for anyone else, than Asha Bhosle. With Madan Mohan she sang one of her biggest hits to date, ``Jhumka gira re''. But that apart, he gave her a clutch of songs that made her sound her sweetest, most poignant, something that few composers made her do. (``Saba se yeh keh do'', ``Humsafar saath'', and Jaane kya haal where you almost do not recognise her as the usual sensuous, theeki Asha.) Geeta Dutt sang just a handful of numbers with Madan Mohan and yet ``Ae dil mujhe bata de'' (Fifty-Fifty) became one of her all-time hits. The best-loved Talat numbers were Madan Mohan compositions (``Meri yaad mein tumna'', ``Phir wohi shyam'', ``Humse aaya na gaya'', ``Main teri nazar ka saroor hoon''). Even Mukesh who rarely sang for Madan Mohan had ``Bhooli hui Yaaden'' and the enchanting ``Hum Chal Rahe the'' as did Kishore Kumar with the wonderfully comic ``Zaroorat hai''.

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