The Legend

Sameer Kohli
(Younger Son)

Even though my father passed away when I was little, I distinctly remember how very fond he was of me and the way we spent quality time together. Those moments are fresh in my mind even today and I treasure them with all my heart. He was very fond of the good things of life and lived life to the full. He enjoyed every moment. He had a fetish for good clothes, good food, cars and watches...

As a kid, I was aware that my father was a music director and composed songs for films. But I could not fathom what a great music composer he was. It just did not reflect in his behaviour. Those were the days when the Binaca Geetmala programme was aired on the radio. I used to listen to that programme regularly. Rarely did they play my father's songs. He did not receive many awards for his music either. Therefore, unlike other music directors' homes, you will not see many awards displayed in the showcase of our living room. In short, there were no visible symbols of success or fame that my father experienced at that time. Frankly, I was too young to understand all this. I became aware of his stature and the respect he commanded at a much later date, almost after his demise. I also realized the futility of judging success by the parameters of popularity and awards.

Music was his life. He always had music in his mind, although he could be doing something else. Even when we went out together, if a particular melody came to his mind, he would immediately sing it aloud. Little did I realize then that an eternal melody was taking birth and little did I understand the pain of its birth. I used to feel awkward, because when my father would suddenly start singing and would be lost to himself, people would stare at him in amusement. At times, he would accompany us to swimming pool, sit in a corner and start singing whatever song came to his mind. Some of our friends would tell us, "Your father is crazy to sit alone and sing to himself". Yes, indeed he was a "music crazy" person. Every single minute and every single second of his life was dedicated to music.

Most of my father's songs were recorded at Famous Studios, Tardeo. I remember he was very close to the legendary recordist, Minoo Katrak. He and my father complemented each other in many ways, both being perfectionists.

Rehearsals of songs were held in his music room in Shanti Sadan. The recording would begin after all aspects of the song were studied and only when my father was sure of the final output. He had a very disciplined approach, always serious while working and not wasting a single moment. There was happiness all around the day a song was recorded to his satisfaction. I attended many of his recordings; the place was charged with energy and full of life. What an immense pleasure it was to be present there. As children, my brother, sister and I would often visit his recording studio. The moment we made noise, we were packed off to the preview theatre on the floor above the recording studio and were called only after the recording was over.

His relations with colleagues were very different in those days. Music directors shared a very intimate bond with one another. Most of the meetings of Film Music Directors' Association were held in our house because a majority of the people wanted to eat bhindee gosht cooked by my father. He was an excellent cook and enjoyed inviting people over to our house for meals. The dishes he prepared were so lip-smacking that even today, people talk about them.

I remember music director C. Ramchandra and my father were good friends. If they got stuck at any point of time while composing a melody, they would telephone each other and ask for the other person's advice. My father considered Sachin-da his guru and in fact, even worked as his assistant. When Heer Ranjha (1970) was released, Sachin-da heard those songs and came rushing home. He hugged my father and kissed his forehead for about 10 whole minutes. He was extremely proud of his disciple and what affection he had for my father!

I must share an incident about the rapport music directors shared in those days. Roshanji had just passed away. He was working for a film Anokhi Raat (1968) and had composed the melody for a song but death cut him short before he could record it. His wife Ira Nagrathji got the song recorded under her supervision. All well known music directors were present at the time of the recording to pay homage to the departed soul. I accompanied my father to this recording. Everyone present there was emotionally charged when Lata Didi sang the song Mahalon Kaa Raajaa Milaa. This event will remain forever etched in my memory.

My father had very few friends in the industry but they were thick as thieves. Though they had some tiffs, their friendship remained strong forever. Actor Om Prakash was one of them. When he launched his own production house, he got all the songs - from his first film Gateway of India (1957) to the last one, Jahan Ara (1964) - recorded by my father. He gave such wonderful scores to Om Prakashji's films that it helped establishing him in the film industry as a producer and director. Similarly, he shared a great friendship with producer Chetan Anand. He composed melodies for films like Haqeeqat (1964), Heer Ranjha (1970), Hanste Zakhm (1973), Hindustan Ki Kasam (1973) and Sahib Bahadur (1977). Almost all the songs from these films became hits. When they had no work, these friends would meet each other in the evening and chat.

My father shared a special bond with lyricist Rajinder Krishan and they got along like a house on fire. For Madanji, Rajinder Krishan wrote 284 songs for 41 films. He stayed very close to our place. No wonder, day in and day out the two would meet and spend long hours in each other's company. Rajinder Krishan was so versatile that he could write a song on any given situation. Whenever my father received any of his songs, he would read it and prepare a wonderful melody within minutes.

Lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan was also a great pal of my father. He wrote the songs for Ankhen (1950), Ada (1951) and Madhosh (1951). Then after a long break, the duo started working together for the film Anpadh (1962). Raja Mehdi Ali Khan was a very talented lyricist. Before Anpadh, he used to write mostly comedy songs. It was my father who coaxed him into writing serious stuff and a unique aspect of his shaayaree (poetry) became public. My father had tremendous respect for him. He passed away suddenly after writing the title song for Jab Yaad Kisee Kee Aatee Hai (1966).

One particular incident after his demise shows exactly how my father felt for him. My father was always punctual, yet he reached late for a particular film's press conference. His reputation for punctuality preceded him and therefore he was questioned by some of the journalists as to the delay. To that he replied: "I left my house on time. On the way I saw the burial ground where Raja saab was laid to rest. I could not resist myself from going there for two minutes to pay my respects to his departed soul. That is why I am late and request you to excuse me".

Director Raj Khosla was also one of my father's close friends. When my father did his first film Aankhen (1950), Raj Khosla was his assistant. He also sang the song Rail Mein Jiyaa Moraa Sananand Hoye Re. After a gap of several years, the two worked again in Woh Kaun Thi? (1964). Later, my father set the scores of the songs in Raj Khosla's films like Mera Saaya (1966) and Chirag (1969). All the songs from these films became very popular.

When Raj Khosla decided to make a film independently, he approached my father and said: "I am starting my own production and would like you to set the melodies of all the songs. My father asked, "What is the story?" He replied: "It's nothing different. It's partly from Woh Kaun Thi? and partly from Mera Saaya. My father said: "Since you are my friend, I feel that it is my duty to advise you, this story will not work. Look out for an original story and I shall work for the film.

Unfortunately, Khoslaji did not approve of my father's bluntness. Instead of the story, he preferred to change the music director. As per my father's prediction, the film Anita (1967) turned a box office dud. Thereafter, Raj Khosla did not ask my father to work for any of his films. They remained good friends nonetheless, till the end.

With Lata Mangeshkar particularly, my father shared a fantastic and everlasting relationship. Lata Didi treated my father as her elder brother. She fondly called him "Madan Bhaiya" and tied raakhee to his wrist on Raksha Bandhan day. The two had great respect for each other. As far as music is concerned, they were musically made for each other. Their rehearsals were unique. My father would sing the melody to Lata Didi and then would say: "Now the song is yours. Sing the way you want to". He would be mesmerized when Didi would actually sing the song. When the song would come to an end, my father would ask her, "How did you know that I expected the song to be sung in this manner?" My father never had to explain any song in minute details to Lataji. Both of them knew what to expect from each other.

Lata Didi's style greatly influenced my father. He used to say: "Even while composing a song to be sung by male singer, I first visualize how Lata would render it. I cannot do my songs without her". They were completely and totally tuned to each other.

One day, when we were casually chatting, Lataji complained that she often suffered from sinus problem. Due to the sinus attacks, she had to cancel recording sessions, which in turn would disturb several people's schedule. Then when she recuperated a little, all the music directors would push to get their recordings done first. Only my father was an exception. He would say: "I will record your song only when you are 100 per cent fit. I do not want 50 per cent or 80 per cent fit Lata Mangeshkar". He never pressurized her to record his songs on priority basis.

In those days, several producers wanted Lata Didi to sing songs for their films but often did not have enough budget. My father would understand their difficulty and say: "Go and tell Lata Didi that I am doing this song". When Lata Didi learned that Madan Bhaiya was doing a particular song, she never enquired about the details and would unhesitatingly come for the recording. Once the song was recorded she would accept the envelope that was given to her and walk out of the studio without checking the amount inside. Lata Didi never bothered about money while singing the songs composed by my father.

She cares for us even after my father's death. Due to her, we have never felt lonely. She would time and again call up and ask, "What are you doing?" I would reply "Getting ready to go to college". She would then suggest, "Hey, bunk your college and come with me to Meboob Studios for a recording". Then instead of going to college, I would go to Mehboob Studios along with her. I have heard several songs of other music directors that she has sung. To hear her sing live was such a treat.

After the death of my father, my mother passed away within a short period. Yet Lata Didi never let us feel that loss. She always stands by us in our times of need and difficulty. In fact, she took the initiative in the marriages of my elder sister Sangeeta and brother Sanjeev. The wedding invitation read: "Lata Mangeshkar invites you...." Even today when we are in trouble, she lends us a helping hand. On the 25th death anniversary of my father, Sanjeev had organized a small get-together. When Lata Didi came to the event, I said, "I want to thank you for everything that you did for us". She just smiled and said, "I have not done anything great. This is just the beginning". Honestly, I cannot put down in words what Lata Didi means to our family.

Just like Lata Didi, my father had a great tuning with Rafisaab. I recollect one particular incident. In those days, my father was working for the film Hanste Zakhm (1973). My father had gone to Mehboob Studio for some work and heard Rafisaab record one song. He was very extremely upset. He called up Rafisaab the next day to his music room and said: "Yesterday I was at Mehboob Studios. I was shocked to hear your voice, the way you were singing. I could not believe that it is the same Rafisaab who sings for me. What's wrong with you? Is there a problem with your voice?" Hearing my father's words, Rafisaab had tears in his eyes. "I have sung several songs till today, but of late, everybody seems to be saying so. I have lost confidence. I do not know what to do". My father assured him: "I have composed a melody just for you. If you are ready to work hard, the magic in your voice will once again capture the audience". Rafisaab reacted. "I am ready to undergo as many rehearsals as you want. I will never let you down". Then he took great efforts and rendered the song, Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho. It was difficult to sing but Rafisaab did complete justice to it... who else could have sung it the way he did?

My father was very fond of classical music. After a day's hard work he would return home and telephone his friends to find out if there were any classical music concerts. Just like my father Jaidevji was also fond of attending classical music concerts. They would often go together for such events. They commanded great respect among classical singers. My father gave opportunity to several classical singers like Lakshmi Shankar, Faiyaz, Nirmala Devi and Parveen Sultana to sing his songs. He had very good relations with the renowned ghazal queen, Begam Akhtar. He unfailingly attended all her private and public performances. In fact, he took Begam Akhtar's death to heart in great measure.

Sadly, my father did not get much acclaim when he was alive. Very few awards came his way. Those were the days when television had not reached India. People heard news on the radio. One day, I casually switched on the radio to listen to the news. It was then that I heard that my father was given the best music director's award for the film Dastak (1970). I immediately contacted him in his music room and said: "I have a fantastic news for you. I shall tell you but you will have to give me a thousand bucks for it". He got slightly ruffled and said, "I am in the midst of a "sitting", don't disturb me". Unperturbed I continued, "I want to come to your music room only for two minutes".

His music room was located bang opposite our house. When I reached there, Rajinder Krishan and Rafisab were with him. My father saw me in his typical military style and said: "What do you want?" I replied: "You have received the best music director's national award for the film Dastak". To this, he plainly said: "Don't joke around, I will spank you". I said, "I am not joking. I just heard the news on the radio". While our conversation was going on, the door bell rang and there stood his dear friend Jaidevji with a bottle of champagne in his hand. "Congratulations Madan, you have been chosen for the national award!" When Jaidevji said this, my father believed it and said "Did they really think that I deserved this award?".

Now, when I recollect this event, I feel that my father must have been very hurt in those days. Most music directors of his time were getting more recognition for their mediocre work and after doing a fantastic job my father was deprived of his real dues. Today, he is getting so much recognition but had he received at least 50 per cent of the acclaim he is getting now when he was alive, it would have been a different story.

A year before he passed away, his health failed him. Three weeks before his death was his 51st birthday. He was in his music room. I called him up and wished him: "Father, you have crossed 50, we must have a big party". To this he replied: "Son, you should have thought of this earlier. It's too late now". Somewhere he must have sensed that his time had come. His dependence on the bottle was growing by every passing day.

One day, when I came home from school I saw my father's assistant Ghanshyam seated next to my mother. He told my mother that my father's liver problem had resurfaced in the morning and he had to be admitted to Nanavati Hospital. My mother left immediately for the hospital but before she could reach there, my father had breathed his last. I went totally numb.

After my father's death, my brother Sanjeev treated the collection of unreleased tapes and spools preciously. Yash Chopra used them for his film Veer-Zaara (2004). Many in the industry opposed Yashji on this. Everybody told him that it was the worst mistake that he was making. "Madan Mohan died 30 years ago and his music is outdated today. It will never click. "In spite of all the opposition, Yashji was confident. He told everyone: "Look I am investing crores of rupees in this project. The loss is mine and profit is also mine. I am quite clear in my mind that this is the music that suits my film". His faith in my father's music was unflinching and the rest is history.

As I was very young when my father passed away. I felt cheated of not having a fulfilling relationship with him. There was a lot left unsaid between us. But 34 years after his death, when I listen to Tere Liye from Veer-Zaara, I feel a re-bonding with him. And I sincerely thank my brother and Yash uncle for the opportunity to complete my relationship with my father.