"Listening to Hemant da, I feel as though a sadhu sitting in a temple is singing a Bhajan." comments the nightingale Lata Mangeshkar
about the unique unvanquished Hemant Kumar who was not only a fabulous singer but also an equally indomitable composer. In Hemant da's voice one could experience an amalgamation of Rabindra Sangeet, Bengali folk music, modern and classical elements. Every distinguished creative artiste is born with one gift, but, Hemantda was born with several gifts. As a singer he reigned supreme in Calcutta and Bombay. As a composer his versatility and staying - power in the charts were astonishing. From Naagin and Jaal to Bees Saal Baad and Kohraa the 50's and 60's were decades that 'belonged' prominently to the unique talents of Hemant Kumar.
Hemant Kumar Mukherjee was born on 16 June 1920 in Varanasi. Music seemed to be an inherent part of his life from the outset. Why else did he leave school to become a professional singer at the age of 17 ?? At an age when young Hemant's friends were taken up with teen sensations, the earnest boy studied music under stalwarts like Phani Banerjee and Shailendra Prasad Gupta. The early training stood Hemant in good stead. He could impart a luminous but light weight classicism to his film music without making his tunes cumbersome or over erudite. While Salil Choudhary couldn't quite master the popular idiom Hemantda could set aside his learned antecedents infuse a freshness and modernity into his songs. And that too without sacrificing tonal propriety. Lets take immortal solo 'Ye Raat Ye Chandni..'. The tune contains jolting jazz - tinged interludes which fit into the overall design of the song like a hand in glove.
The sound of Hemant Mukherjee is the sound of today. The past translates effortlessly into expressions of tuneful emotions. If 'Man Dole Mera..' in Naagin had audiences throwing coins at the screen in Bombay, in Calcutta Hemantda regaled audiences as the legendary Uttam Kumar's voice singing such all-time hits in Bengali as 'Nir Chotto Khati Nei..' and 'Ei Path Jadi Na Shesh Hoi..'. Hemantda virtually had the best of the worlds. And yet his head remained firmly on his shoulders. Friends were floored by his utter simplicity and genuineness as a human being and his generosity of spirit.
The distinguished film maker - composer - singer Bhupen Hazarika who was closely associated with Hamentda remembers him as one of the most generous human beings he had ever met. Bhupenda still recalls his first encounter with Hemant Kumar. "I had the opportunity of knowing what a great man Hemantda was." Bhupenda recalls going to Calcutta as a student to collect royalty for the songs he sang as a child artiste from a private music company. Suddenly a tall handsome man appeared in front of Bhupenda. By then Hemant Mukherjee was nationally famous as Hemant Kumar, singing both film and non-film songs. Bhupenda saw the famous singer composer approaching him. After introducing himself Hemantda offered to take Bhupenda to his own recording company HMV. "Which rival musician would provide that kind of encouragement to an unknown musician like me?" Bhupen Hazarika shakes his head in wonderment. Hailing a taxi Hemantda took the stupefied young Bhupen to the HMV office in Calcutta and a deal was finalized on the spot. Later in Bombay Hemant Kumar, already a reputed singer - composer, introduced Bhupen Hazarika to Lata Mangeshkar
and a host of eminent musical luminaries telling them about this talented young musician named Bhupen Hazarika.
who became famous in Calcutta as the voice of Suchitra Sen was brought to Bombay to sing the frolicsome duet 'Aa Gupchup Gupchup Pyar Karen..' under the baton of Sachin Dev Burman
, reportedly on the recommendation of Hemant Da. In a world where self-interest not only takes precendence, it also limits the human vision. Hemant Kumar always went out of his way to help as colleagues from the music world. To him the rites and process of music creation weren't isolated. He saw himself as just one unit in the creative universe a brick in the creative wall. This accounts for the illimitable reserves of abiding sweetness in the creative faculties of God's chosen one, aka Hemant Kumar.
Hemant Kumar never composed anything but the best melodies. Compromise was alien to him. Whether he composed flirtatious 'Saara Mora Kajra Chhudaya Toone..' or a sublime "Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha..' it was always his dil which spoke up on Hemantda's behalf in the language of the lilt. The piece de resistance of Hemantda's career as a composer in Bombay was Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962). For the opportunity that Hemantda got to compose for Guru Dutt's film (which was dominated by the music of S. D. Burman
and O. P. Nayyar
) Hemantda pulled out all stops for a score that ranks as one of the ten best ever composed for the Hindi cinema. Between them Geeta Dutt
and Asha Bhosle
created a universe of pain and romance in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. From Geeta Dutt
's 'Na Jao Saiyyan..' to Asha'a 'Bhanwara Bada Naadan Hai..', each song stuns each note cuts deeply in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam.
Today as we look back on the profound career graph of this expressive singer composer we encounter a never ending terrain of beauty and harmony helmed by a man who could sing like an angel because he came close to being one in real life. Hemantda's career as a singer began in his teens when he sang on radio. In 1937 he recorded his bengali songs 'Janine Janite Jadi.' and 'Balogo More..'. He began training as a Rabindra sangeet singer under the well known practitioner of the style Aanadi Dastidar. Early vocal influences of Pankaj Mullick
soon gave away to his own distinctive style. So pervasive was the 'Hemant Kumar style' in Bengali films and such was his indomitable powers as a vocalist that all the vocalists in Bengal who followed him modelled their vocals on the singing style of Hemantda.
As a composer he shifted base to the Mecca of national popularity (Bombay) where he made an instant impact with the everlasting patriotic strains of 'Vande Maataram..' in Anand Math. As a singer in Bombay, Hemantda became a voice to record with in 1952 when he sang of 'Ye Raat Ye Chandni Phir Kahan..' in the thriller Jaal for the debinair Dev Anand. In 1957, Hemantda sang one of his career's best solos 'Jaane Wo Kaise Log The..' for Guru Dutt in Pyaasa. Songs like these branded Hemant Kumar as the melancholic romantic. However there was a lighter equally persuasive side to Hemantda's vocals tapped in flirtatious evergreen like 'Zara Nazron Se keh Do Ji..' and 'Dil Ki Umangen Hain Jawan..' the duet with Geeta Dutt
which joyfully exemplifies the vocal genius of Hemant Kumar.
The abiding appeal of Hemant Kumar's songs in attributable to his expression of the common man's desires with uncommon genuineness. While Kishore Kumar
and Mohd. Rafi
vocals represent velvety romance, Hemant Kumar's chosen thread of expression is cotton home spun, natural, comfortable subtle and very middle class in its appeal. Hemant Kumar never thrust his vocals on any song. He could have insisted on singing each and every male number that he composed. After all Hemant Kumar was always a name to record with! But he chose Kishore Kumar
to vocalize the resplendent nostalgia of 'Wo Shaam Kuchh Ajeeb Thi..' in Khamoshi (1969) while he stayed in background with 'Tum Pukar Lo..'. This was typical of Hemantda. Never an attention-seeker either in real life or his musical output, he always wanted his songs to speak for him.
The last song he sang in Hindi was 'Aaja Mere Pyar Aaja..' in Heeralal Pannalal (1978), for Rahul Dev Burman
. It was a befitting finale to an illustrious but never cheaply flamboyant career. Exactly twenty-five years prior to 'Aaja Mere Pyar Aaja..' for R D Burman
, Hemantda had sung his way into singing super stardom for RD's father Sachin Dev Burman