A.K. Bagha
A tribute to the composer Madan Mohan

I was listening to some of the lovely compositions of a great composer, Shriman Madan Mohan, and it inspired me to pen a few of the things I have learnt about him.

Madan Mohanji, one of the greatest music composers of our time, was a product of the era of the "Golden years of Indian Music". Even after over seventy years, many of his songs are still popular with today's young generation.

He was born on 25th June 1924 and passed away after half a century on 14th July 1975. Although he only had 25 years of an active music career, he gave us numerous timeless songs, which will always be remembered and cherished. Some people are born with natural instincts and Madan Mohanji was certainly amongst them. From his childhood days he had music ingrained his subconsciousness. At the age of 7, after his family migrated from Iraq to India, he was often called up on stage to give a performance singing.

In his adolescence, his father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal, wanted him to join the army which Madan ji wasn't keen on. His requests of joining the film industry were totally rejected. His father was not open to any alternatives other than the army and told him to take it or leave it, and young Madan left home. After 3 years of struggling, he got his break as independent music director of the film "Ankhen", where his skills as a fine composer were recognised, particularly in a song sung by Mohammed Rafi; "Hum ishq me barbad hain, barbad rahenge".

Ankhen was followed by several more memorable films in which he provided notable music; Madhosh, Aashiyana, Pocket Maar, Adalat, Gateway of India, Bhai Bhai, Dekh Kabira Roya, Aakhri Dao and others were his contribution to films of the fifty's era. Prior to becoming a fully-fledged composer, he also acted in couple of films like "Shaheed" and "Munimji" staring Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand respectively. However, it was not acting but music where his passion lay and by the end of the fifty's decade, he had firmly established himself as a composer of merit.

The decade of the sixties brought more laurels and decorated his cap with more feathers. Just to list a few of his films during that period: Sanjog, Haqeeqat, Sharabi, Anpadh, Aap ki Parchaiya, JahanAra, Gazal, Woh Kaun Thi and Mera Saya, all with outstanding music. Mentioning just the names of these films, causes one to go back down memory lane and will instantly start humming songs such as:

"Aakhri dao" (Tuje kya batau mein dilruba, tere samne mera Haal hay by Mohammed Rafi)

"Dekh Kabira Roya" (Manna Dey singing: Kon aaya mere manke dware")

"Sharabi" (Mohammed Rafi singing "Kabhi na Kabhi, Kahin na Kahin, Koi na Koi to Aayega")

"Bhai Bhai" (Geeta Dutt singing "Hey dil muje bata de")

Last but not the least, one of the favourites of the undersigned is Talat Mehmood singing "Beraham aasma meri manzil bata hey kahan."from film "Bahana".

Madan Mohanji, by nature, was stubborn as far as the selection of singers were concerned. Talat Mehmood and Madan Mohanji had always been good friends. They often joined composer Jaikishan during his mid-morning coffee breaks in Natraj Hotel. While Talat Mehmood rendered some songs for him for his earlier movies, this was not to be the case for all his songs. When he was signed up for "Jahan Ara", Mohammed Rafi was at the top of the popularity list and the director, Vinod Kumar, really wanted all the songs in the movie to be sung by Rafi. Madan Mohanji flatly refused saying Talat Mehmood will be a better singer for the type of composition that he had in mind. The director had to abide by these wishes. When the songs of Jahan Ara were released, it validated that his choice as Talat was perfect. Talat Mehmood's ghazals actually shouldered the movie to greater heights "Teri aankh ke aansoo pi jau aesi meri takdir kahan" and "Phir wohi sham, wohi gham wohi tanhai hai"are songs that have remained classics.

Similarly, when he was signed for "Laila Majnu", he asked the producer to book Mohammed Rafi for all of Rishi Kapoor's songs in the movie. During that period, Kishore Kumar was the more popular singer and Rishi Kapoor requested that he be given the voice of Kishore. Madan Mohanji refused saying he was the composer and that he knows the capacity of the various singers for his compositions. No doubt, Kishore Kumar was a good singer, and had sung under his baton previously with his popular song "Zarurat hai zarurat hai" in film "Manmouji". Again, Madan ji's insight proved to be correct as all of Rafi's songs in "Laila Majnu" topped the popularity charts.

If "Anpadh" (1962) is not mentioned here it will make this article incomplete. There was an interesting episode that occurred after "Anpadh" songs. Two of beautiful ghazals rendered by Lata Mangeshker "Aap ki nazro ne samja pyar ke kabil muje" and "Hay isime pyar ki abroo"are so impressive and so melodious that six decades later these are still fresh in the minds of music lovers. When renowned composer Janab Naushad Saheb, heard those, he was so impressed, he personally went to Madan ji's house to give him his complements. Naushad Saheb went on to say that all his own compositions were below these two songs! Those were the days when musicians had a healthy competition between themselves. They used to socialize and give complements to each other. The late Raju Bharatan (recently passed away on 7th Feb 2020), a film journalist that wrote Lata Mangeshker's biography, and "Naushadnama" (work and life of Naushad) was a well-recognised critic of Indian music and a family friend of Naushad. When he asked his wife, Aaliya, about this statement, she replied saying that Naushad underestimates his own compositions and that when he was asked about his best compositions, his answer was always that his best was yet to come!

1964 was yet another great year for his success. All the songs of the film "Haqeeqat" (Produced and Directed by Chetan Anand) were so heart touching that it brought tears to the eyes of patriots.

"Zara si aahat hoti hay". By Lata Mangeshker

"Hoke majboor Muje usne bulaya hoga". with several top singers led by Mohammed Rafi.

"Kar chale hum fida jano tan sathio. Aab tumare hawale Watan sathio". by Mohammed Rafi.

This was also the year when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru passed away. This last song was the one chosen by the Government of India to be played during the funeral procession of the late Prime Minister.

Later in "Naunihal", (producer Sawan Kumar Tak) he composed a special song "meri awaaz suno"sung by Mohammed Rafi, based on the funeral of Pandit Nehru.

The foursome of producer Chetan Anand, composer Madan Mohan, singer Mohammed Rafi and lyric writer Kaifi Azmi gave the film industry many more lovely songs. After Haqeeqat they teamed together to give us other memorable songs such as "Tum jo mil gaye ho" from film "Haste Zakham" and "Yeh dunia yeh Mehfil mere kam ki nahi" from the film Heer Ranjah.

Madan Mohanji was considered best at composing Gazals. Besides his Gazals however, he had also shown his versatility in all types of songs. He had not had any training in classical music, but his natural instinct was his plus point and he was at ease composing classical songs.

While the Government of India awarded him with a National Award for his film "Dastak", it is disappointing that the popular media wasn't kind enough to honour him with the awards he deserved. When he was nominated for the renowned Filmfare award for his excellent work on "Woh Kaun Thi", the film pundits and critics were very hopeful that Madan ji will come out as the winner. However, the black lady, the trophy, preferred to decorate some other musician's shelf! Lata Mangeshker was very disappointed and to show her grief she called him to let him know her views. Madanji's reply was that her kind words and opinions were worth more to him than the award.

Before he passed away, he had prepared some tunes for any suitable forthcoming films. These were unused and lying in his tape recorder. After a lapse of 40 years those tunes were used by Mr.Yash Chopra for his film "Veer-Zaara" and all proved hits to win him a posthumous IFFA and Bollywood awards.

At the age of 51, after completing the recordings of six out of eight songs of "Laila Majnu" he passed away, while the movie was still in the making. His birth anniversary has just passed and as now we approach his death anniversary, I call upon fellow music lovers to take a moment to recognise his achievements.

A. K. Bagha
Mwanza, Tanzania