The Legend

Shanti Mahendroo
(Only Sister)

Madan and I were born in Iraq. At that time, Iraq was under the British rule. When Iraq got its independence, my father was given the option to take up Iraqi nationality or resign and quit the land. He decided to return to India, to his own people. While he went about looking for a livelihood, we were put up in our native place, Chakwal, situated in Jhelum district of Punjab, now in Pakistan. Shortly afterwards, he realized that the educational facilities in Chakwal then were not up to the mark and so he decided to shift us to Lahore. We had joined school there.

After settling us down in Lahore, father decided to go to Bombay to look out for some business possibilities. On the way, while traveling by Frontier Mail, he met a gentleman called Deewan Sharar. He was a poet and associated with Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai. When he got to know that my father was visiting Bombay with the intention starting something on his own, he asked him if he (my father) would be interested in putting some money in film production. That was in 1933.

Deewan Sharar told my father that Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai had started a film called Karma and that they were shooting in England. Now they were stuck midway through production as they didn't have finance to complete the movie. If my father could help them out, they would take him as a partner in their film production company.

My father asked how much money they expected him to invest. To this, Deewan Sharar said they needed at least Rs.90,000 to complete the movie. Since the amount was very big, my father decided to take a decision only after consulting his family about it. So he returned to Lahore and talked to my mother about it. My mother's cousin who was very rich agreed to put in the Rs.90,000. My father gave that money to Deewan Sharar without anything in writing or a formal assurance. Deewan Sharar took the money and went away to England to complete the movie.

For six months there was no news from him. One fine morning, my father received a telegram saying that they had completed the movie and were coming back to Bombay for its release, so we all shifted to Bombay from Lahore. When my father saw the rushes of the movie, he was not very happy. The film was song-less. My father told them that to release it in India we should add some dance and music to it. At that time Sunalini Devi, Sarojini Naidu's sister was running dance classes. They roped her in. She also did one dance number for the movie. With the release of Karma, they started Bombay Talkies where my father was a partner with Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani.

During those days, we used to stay at Marine Drive near Suraiya's residence. At that time Madan used to perform in the children's programme aired by All India Radio. Madan along with Suraiya, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and my younger brother Prakash used to act and sing in those musical programmes. Subsequently, my father bought a bungalow near the Bombay Talkies studio in Malad and we shifted there.

We used to frequent the studio as kids. You will not find such a studio now. At that time the contract system was in force. Every artiste used to get a fix pay from the studio on monthly basis. My father was handling the administration side of the studio. He was a strict disciplinarian. So everything was in place in the studio. The studio had a big canteen hall. It was very huge. All the people connected with the studio, including the artistes, used to have their lunch and dinner together at that place. The studio was running on shareholders' money. Big people such as His Highness of Baroda and Sir Setalwad took shares and contributed to the studio. But the major shares of the company were held by the three main partners - Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani and Rai Bahadur Chunilal, my father. Some time later, Sashadhar Mukherjee joined Bombay Talkies in the form of a new partner. He had good knowledge of film production. Very soon, he became the big boss looking after production side of the company.

Bombay Talkies had produced lot of good films. But after the death of Himanshu Rai, things took a turn. Ashok Kumar and Sawak Vachchha took over the studio and my father started a new company, Filmistan, taking Sashadhar Mukherjee as his partner.

My father was not fond of music, but he had an ear for it. As was the practice those days, he employed one Sardarjee named Kartar Singh, to train us in music and singing. Prakash and I never took much interest in learning music, but Madan was very keen about it. He used to sit with the masterjee and learn the basics of singing from him. I remember there was a song Haaye Ve Toot Jaaye Darjee Teree Suee. While singing this, Madan used the stretch the last word suee in such a way that we burst into laughter. He learnt little bit of classical music from this masterjee. From then onwards, he became curious about classical music.

Madan had a handsome build. Any girl would fall for him. He did his Senior Cambridge from St. Mary's Convent at Byculla. My father didn't want my brother to visit the studio and get influenced by the filmi atmosphere there. So he sent Madan to undergo military training at the Colonel Browns' Military High School at Dehradun. Sir Akbar Haidari, the Governor of Assam, was a very close friend of my father. He suggested Madan be sent to Army school and promised to take him as his A.D.C. upon successful completion of the military training. Madan didn't like the idea, but my father didn't budge.

Madan continued pursuing his interest in music while undergoing military training. He had a good voice. He used to sing a variety of songs for his fellow cadets. The boys loved it. Many a time, while trekking the road they used to carry Madan's luggage so as to keep him free to entertain them. I think Madan inherited this obsession for music from my mother. My mother was very fond of music. She used to sing lot of traditional folk songs for us. She was a poet also. After her death, I found a diary containing poetry penned by her.

When Madan finished the military training and returned to Bombay, my father didn't know what to do with him. He knew Madan was not interested in an A.D.C.'s job and wanted to take up music and acting as his career. So, one day, he requested his friend Mr.Bukhari, who was the chief of All India Radio then to take him there. But Bukhari told my father that Madan had to either complete his graduation or learn one language to qualify for employment with A.I.R. My father nevertheless prevailed upon him and Madan joined the Lucknow station of A.I.R. He was hardly 19 at that time. That's where he really got into music. We used to visit him at Lucknow during our school holidays. There we met Talat Mehmood, who was doing his B.A. and was very good friend of Madan. Every night there would be musical programme at some place or the other. Madan was very happy in that atmosphere. He got what he was craving for. But good days don't last forever. He got transferred to Delhi. He didn't like the atmosphere there and resigned the job and returned to Bombay.

My father did not take kindly to this decision. Madan was not allowed to enter the house. For a few days he was literally on the roads. Then O.P.Dutta and Rajinder Krishan took him to a room at Dadar and he started staying with them. At the age of 25, he got his first assignment as a music director. The film was Ankhen (1950). The music was a big success. After this, Madan bought a place at Orlem, Malad. My father also let him in the studio. During those days he used to spend his time with S.D.Burman. He assisted him for some of his films also. Dada used to call Madan, Prakash and I in his music room and would play the tunes composed by him for us. He would ask us to select the best tune out of them. We used to select one for him. Once Madan composed a tune which Dada Burman liked very much. He took it from him and used in his film Do Bhai (1947). The tune became a super hit, but Madan never revealed this to anybody. Only a few of us were aware about it. That song was Meraa Sundar Sapnaa Beet Gayaa. Madan then was asked to complete the score of incomplete film Shabistan (1951) by Filmistan. He did it on his own terms and conditions.

Some time in 1951, my father sold his shares in Filmistan to Tolaram Jalan. He was planning to start a new company. But it was not to happen. He went for the premier show of Sargam (1950) at Odeon, Delhi and while the film was going on, he died of a heart attack in the hall. He was just 49 years then. That was a great setback for all of us.

Talking about Madan, I remember he was very naughty during his childhood days. Being the elder one, he used to trouble us like anything. We used to tease him by calling him Maddu Kaddu. I remember when we were in Lahore, Chinese jugglers used to do a road show to entertain peddlers. One day, after school, Madan told us to accompany him to see that tamasha. We followed him. God knows where he took us. At that time we were new in Lahore. We couldn't locate the road going back to our home. The police realized we were lost and took us home. We got lot of scolding from our father that day.

One thing that always amazed me about Madan was his mastery in cooking. Mutton was his favourite. He would try different recipes using mutton as the base item. His aaloo gosht and bhindee gosht were very famous. Bhindee gosht is an Iraqi dish. We left Iraq when he was five years old. From where he learned the recipe, I do not know. He was fond of Punjabi Sattoo and Kaale Gaajar Kee Kaanjee - typical Punjabi dishes. He was house proud. We used to go to Chor Bazar to pick up antiques for our house.

My mother was very fond of him. She died one year before his death. She witnessed the success of Madan and enjoyed his music immensely. She was very very proud of him. Madan was her weakness.

He attained great heights as a composer and the family will always be proud of his work and achievements.