Tag Archives: guzra hua zamana


By : Sushrut Vaidya

When writing about Khemchand Prakash, one question is hard to escape. Most people will name him as one of the pioneers, one of the giants of the golden era of the Hindi Film Music. Yet most lay listeners will have heard very little of what he actually composed- save Ayega aanewala from Mahal and perhaps Diya jalao from Tansen. The question therefore is – ‘Why do people hold Khemchand Prakash in such a high regard as a composer?’ To explore the answer to this question, let’s journey back in time to 1982. MORTAL MEN IMMORTAL WOMEN In 1982 Noorjehan visited India, first time in 35 years after the partition. Who’s who of the Hindi Film Industry had gathered to celebrate this great re-union and to roll out a red carpet to this great singer. The program was wonderfully conceived. It was a retrospect of the Hindi Film Music. The program had many high points – but for me, two of them stand out the most prominently. The first was of course Noorjehan’s appearance on the stage and sang ‘Awaaz de kahan hai’. It made a mockery of the artificial divisions and forced separations. Awaaz de kahan hai – ceased to be a mere romantic duet that day and became a call from one estranged people to another – from one part of this great civilization to another. It became mythic.

The other high point of the program was a performance by Rajkumari. She sang ‘ghabaraa ke jo ham sar ko’ from Mahal. When old and frail looking Rajkumari appeared on the stage, even from the video of the program one could sense the skepticism and almost sympathy that the audience felt for her. They were fully expecting her to deliver a feeble, tired, long-past-her-prime performance. What followed was nothing short of miracle. She sang the song so flawlessly, that it became difficult to decide if one was listening to the 1949 original or its 1982 rendering. This was the second time an artist had made a mockery in that program – and this time it was of a force far bigger than a political divide. That day Rajkumari made a mockery of the Time-Almighty itself. Rajkumari’s frail, diminutive frame, large deep-set eyes that appeared lost in a vacant look, all became a statement of that mockery. It was as if her frail body had nothing to do with the music. The music was coming from some other-worldly source – where time had no dominion – no impact. The program was called ‘Mortal Men Immortal Melodies’ – aptly so – for what these two ‘women’ did was nothing short of immortal. THE COMPOSER AND THE MUSIC DIRECTOR It is interesting to note that the song that Rajkumari sang in that program was from Mahal. It was composed by Khemchand Prakash. The song that Noorjehan sang was composed by Naushad – who it is said, used to consider Khemchand Prakash his Guru. I have always believed that the people who compose songs for Hindi cinema have to live a dual life – Lets label these two as a *Composer* and a *Music Director*. Composer is an artist longing for self-expression. Music Director – due to the commercial nature of cinema – must keep an eye on the popularity of the song and must ensure its commercial success.

Let’s call this the ‘craft’. This is not to be confused with the command over the grammar of music. We are referring here to the command over the ‘grammar of mass-appeal’. It is a combination of the art and the craft that results in a *film song*. In every person who composes for cinema we find a mixture of the two in varying degrees. In people like Sajjad, the artist takes over almost entirely and produces great songs that do not succeed commercially. In many others (you can populate your own list here), we see the ‘craftsman’ taking over to produce a song that sells temporarily and is forgotten quickly. But there are people in whom we find a balance of the two. Film music is the new folk music of urban India. It must be accessible to the masses. Ordinary people like me must be able to relate to it. Making something easy is lot harder than it seems. It is this ability to catch the imagination of the people, to make music accessible to people, that perhaps Naushad learnt from Khemchand Prakash. Is it possible that if Khemchand Prakash had not died so young, he would have produced a few more ‘Tansen’s and ‘Mahal’s? We shall never know. But what we do know is that in a very short career of less than 40 films, he produced two landmark films. It is not to say that the music of these films was ‘superior’ to that of other films of that era. In fact any such absolute comparison in music is absurd by definition. It is only to say that they caught the imagination of the people, and became associated in their collective memory as the representatives of the golden era of film music – more so than other films of the time; including those that had better ‘artistic’ music.

Khemchand Prakash (12 December 1907 – 10 August 1950) was born in Sujangarh, Rajasthan. He was born in a family of musicians. His father Pt. Govardhan Prasad was the court singer of Jaipur. Young Khemchand got his initial training in music and dance (Katthak) from his father. He joined his father as a court singer in Jaipur at the young age of 19. He also served as a court singer of Nepal. Later he worked as a radio artist in Kolkata. This is where he met Timir Baran and eventually joined New Theaters. He is said to have assisted Timir Baran in Devdas (1935). It was at New Theatres that he met Prithviraj Kapoor who was instrumental in bringing Khemchand Prakash to Mumbai.

As the student of Khemchand Prakash’s music- and that of film music at-large, I struggle to find a single dominating pattern or style in his music – but we can indeed observe some attributes: • Ability to source the tunes from Hindustani classical music but make them simple and accessible to the masses. • Special affinity towards and mastery over ‘female solo compositions’. • Creative use of accent (आघात). Rhythm is basic. It keeps the time. It is the ‘ability to say’. Laya is more subtle. It is ‘the communication’ between the melody and the rhythm. Aaghat is even more subtle – it ‘adds the hue, texture and depth to what is being said’. We see this ability develop as his career progresses – peaking with Mahal. • Ability to spot and support new talent. We shall see this at a number of places in the course of our journey. • Lastly, and for the record – a lot has been said about his Rajashthani background and his mastery over the phenomenal folk music of that region, but I do not see that as a dominant theme in his work.

Looking at an overview of Khemchand Prakash’s career, we can imagine the following phases: 1939 – 1943: THE EARLY YEARS – These were the early years for the film music itself. It was in the process of finding its own ‘cinematic’ language of expression – trying to free itself from the idioms of Rabindra Sangeet, Marathi Natya Sangeet and Kothi Sangeet. The difference between music of these styles – with their limited instruments and chamber style performances – and that of cinema with its ever-expanding technological capabilities and vast resources was not yet clearly evident. The same can be said about the music of Khemchand Prakash from this era. In addition to this, he was also trying to find his own language of musical expression – as a composer. His journey began in 1939 with Meri Ankhen and Ghazi Salauddin. ‘Kabhi neki bhi’ sung by Kalyani had a tune that was later heard in a more famous Noorjehan song ‘hame to sham-e-gham mein’ from Jugnu (composed by Firoze Nizami). This was followed by ‘Aaj Ka Hindustan’ and ‘Diwali’ which inaugurated a long and successful collaboration between Khemchand Prakash and Ranjit Movietone. The tune of ‘kahe panchii bawriya’ seems to have been used many years later in ‘kadar tune na jani’ in Noorie.

In 1940 came ‘Holi’- the first commercial success of Khemchand Prakash. The decade was turning. The film music was on the verge of finding its own language and so was Khemchand Prakash. A delightful duet ‘Phagun ki rut aayi re’ sung by Sitara and Amritlal was the first instance of the ‘magic’ beginning to appear. The simplicity of the tune and its folk nature are noteworthy. ‘Dhanwaalon ki duniya hai ye’ by Sitara and Kantilal was also noteworthy. Both duets are remarkable for the combination of the male and female voices – the second voice appears much later in the song – a clear sign of an experimenting composer. Holi must be considered as the first film for Khemchand Prakash where the cinematic language of music unmistakably appears. These were followed by ‘Pagal’ and ‘Bambai ki Sair’ and then another hit – ‘Pardesi’. It could be said that the Khemchand-Khurshid collaboration – which began with this film – and K. Dutta-Noorjehan collaboration were two great success stories of this era. ‘Mori atariya hai suni’ by Khurshid and Snehaprabha as well as ‘Do nain tihare, do nain hamare’ by Khurshid, Kantilal were remarkable. The high point of this soundtrack however was of course – ‘Pahale jo muhabbat se’ by Khurshid. This must surely rate as one her all-time great songs. It also established ‘female solos’ as a clear strong point of Khemchand Prakash’s compositions. 1941 also saw Khemchand Prakash compose for ‘Pyaas’, ‘Shaadi’ and ‘Ummeed’. ‘Nadi kinara ho’ by Snehaprabha, Ishwarlal from Pyas was noteworthy. In ‘Shaadi’ the collaboration with Khurshid continued. ‘Bhigoee more saari re’ by Khurshid, Ishwarlal, Chorus was a lovely tune and clearly showed a glimpse of modernity.

According to the Geet Kosh, In ‘Ummeed’, Noorjehan sung a duet with Ishwarlal – ‘Gend samajh ke uthalo na sajaniya’. If this is indeed true then this one must add Noorjehan’s name to a long list of illustrious singers whom Khemchand Prakash spotted and supported very early in their careers. ‘Chandni’ was released in 1942 and so was ‘Dukh Sukh’. This was one the earliest films of Mukesh when he was trying to establish himself as an actor. Sitara – Mukesh duet ‘Ab der na kar sajan’ – is interesting for historical purpose as one of the earliest songs of Mukesh and also as one of the few songs that he sung for himself – i.e. not as playback. It is a delightful tune – the tender manliness of early Mukesh is irresistible in this song too. ‘Fariyaad’ had Noorjehan as an actress but she had no song! This was followed by ‘Iqrar’ (alias ‘Tyag’) and ‘Khilona’. ‘Mile jule sab rang’ by Khan Mastana, Sumati Trilokekar and ‘Nazaron ke khel khele’ by Khan Mastana, Snehaprabha are more memorable for the wonderful voice and singing of Khan Mastana. The year ended with ‘Mehman’. It saw Khemchand Prakash work with Rajkumari. Her song ‘Kya chain se baithe hain bechain mujhe karke’ seems to anticipate SD Burman’s ‘Duniya ne hame do din’ sung by Ameerbai in Shikari (1946). The latter however has its unique points and is aesthetically far superior. This phase ended in 1943 with ‘Chirag’, ‘Gauri’ and ‘Kurbani’. ‘Majboor hai dil se’ by Shameem from Gauri again emphasized Khemchand Prakash’s mastery of female solos.

1943 – 1945: THE GLORY YEARS – By 1942 two great centers of moviemaking in India – Kolkata and Pune – were in decline. Mumbai was the place to be. It saw many stalwarts from both these places migrate to Mumbai. One of them was KL Saigal! With his arrival at Ranjit Movietone, Khemchand Prakash’s career was ready to see its biggest success. Pran Neville writes, “Tansen was the only one out of seven films that Saigal made in Bombay which kept his fame and popularity, thanks to the music director, Khemchand Prakash.”1 Sharad Dutt says, “After Raichand Boral and Punkaj Mullick he [Khemchand Prakash] was the only composer who made the appropriate use of Saigal’s genius”2 Tansen was the biggest success of their careers for Ranjit Movietone, Khurshid and Khemchand Prakash. Though Saigal’s songs in the film are phenomenal, the credit must also be given to Khurshid who had a number of solos in the film and sang them extremely well. It seems that having Saigal in the film brought the best out of her singing – not unlike the effect Lata and Rafi had on each other in times to come. ‘Ab raja bhaye more balalm’, ‘Ghata ghanaghor’, ‘Baraso re’ were stunningly beautiful. Saigal’s songs – ‘Kahe gumaan kare’, ‘Rumjhum rumjhum chal tihari’, ‘Baag laga doo sajani’; ‘sapt suran teen graam’, ‘bina pankha ka panchhi hoon main’ were all worthy of the great singer and the stature of ‘diya jalao’ has almost reached mythical proportions. The only duet of the two – ‘more balapan ke sathi’ pales in comparison in front of their individual solos. Though to be fair to the composer we must say that Saigal has sung a very small number of duets to begin with and except for ‘sar pe kadamb ki chhaiyyan’ – sung with Rajkumari – from Bhakta Surdas – all others pale in front of his solos. 1943 also saw him compose for Vish Kanya in which he collaborated with Surendra. ‘Naiya ko khivaiyya ke kiya hamne hawale’ by Surendra, Kanchan Mala was noteworthy in its similarity (again) with the tune that anticipated ‘duniya ne hame do din’ from SD Burman’s ‘Shikari’. Ranjit Movietone decided to make use of the few days left on their contract with KL Saigal to squeeze another film out. This was ‘Bhanvara’. The film disappointed. The music also failed but listening to the songs today it seems that the commercial failure of the music was unfair to the composer. Saigal’s solos – ‘diya jisane dil’, ‘ham apna unhe bana na sake’, ‘muskurate huye yun ankh churaya na karo’, ‘thukaara rahi hai duniya’ and ‘yeh who jagah hai jahan ghar lutaye jate hai’ were all good and deserved more credit than they got. The only duet that Saigal sang in this film- ‘kya hamne bigada hai’ was noteworthy for its tune, but also for being the first duet Saigal had sung with a professional playback singer – Ameerbai. Ameerbai’s solo – ‘teri pee pee ki pukaron ne’ was also delightful. This was followed by ‘Bhartruhari’ which was a big commercial success. Khemchand Prakash worked with Surendra and Ameerbai in this film. ‘Mora dheere se ghunghat hayaye piya’ as well as ‘chanda des piya ke jaye’ are exceedingly beautiful songs and would surely rank among the all-time best songs of Ameerbai. After Khurshid this was the second singer with whom Khemchand Prakash had once again proved his mastery over female solos. ‘Bhiksha de de maiyya pingala’, a duet sung by Surendra and Ameerbai, was an alright song which perhaps was appreciated in its day more for its connection with the story line and for the good sense of visual element it demonstrated, than for its tune. The film also had two solos by Kajjan Bai – ‘ghunghat pat nahi kholu’ and ‘Kookat koyaliya’. This was followed by another commercial success of Khemchand – Khurshid collaboration – ‘Mumtaz Mahal’. The orchestration of this film clearly showed signs of modernization – especially in its use of strings. The collaboration continued with ‘Shahenshah Babar’. 1945 began with ‘Dhanna Bhagat’ and ‘Prabhu Ka Ghar’. In Prabhu ka Ghar he worked with Manna Dey (‘Paritranay sadhunam… awatar liya jug jug’ and ‘Tum nath ho fir mai anath khyun hoon’) and Mukesh (‘paradesi dhola re – with Mohantara Talapade). With ‘Prabhu ka ghar’ the long and successful collaboration between Khemchand Prakash and Ranjit Movietone ended. It is not clear if this was the reason for the impending ‘Silent Years’ but that is what followed. 1946 – 1947: THE SILENT YEARS – No Khemchand Prakash film was released in 1946 and none of the three films from 1947 made an impact. 1948-1950: THE SECOND COMING – Great artists have an ability to reinvent themselves – without compromising the integrity of their expression. It is not clear what prompted this change in the present case, but the maestro re-emerged from the Silent Years as a modern composer- very much in tune with the changing times. The renaissance was stunning. This was the time of independence. Naïve optimism was in the air. Things were upbeat. This certainly reflected upon the film music as well. But that was not all. There were more changes. The film music had had watershed moments of its own. KL Saigal had made an untimely exit from this world. Noorjehan and Khurshid had decided to move to the newly formed Pakistan – and there was one new singer knocking on the doors of success. Her name was Lata Mangeshkar. But what was truly remarkable was a clear change in Khemchand Prakash’s approach towards the orchestration. The tempo increased. Fast rhythm in the background – playing throughout in many songs – made them appear even faster and more modern. The use of accent in the rhythm became far more pronounced and deliberate. Rhythm was no longer merely a mechanism to keep time – it had a big role to play in the dialogue with the listener. In fact this was one of the key factors in the success of ‘Mahal’. The overall approach gives an impression of ‘liberation’. More or less this was the sentiment felt by all great composers who were liberated from being forced to use actors as singers. With people like Lata, Asha, Geeta, Shamshad, Rafi, Mukesh, Talat, Kishore, Manna Dey, Hemant et al they had singers with the ability to render virtually anything they could imagine. But this change was very pronounced in case of Khemchand Prakash. It was not incremental – it was generational. He really was a brand new composer. It was indeed the Second Coming. But this phase of Khemchand Prakash’s career began while still in a pre-Lata mode – with Sindoor. After a series of failures, here was a commercial success. ‘Kisi ke madhur pyar me man mera kho gaya’ sung by Sushil Sahu, Naseem Akhtar made it big. Re-deployment of the famous Tansen tune ‘more balapan ke sathi’ as an Ameerbai solo – ‘koi roke use aur ye kah de’ was also noteworthy. ‘Asha’ was released in 1948. With ‘Asha’ began the collaboration that would take Khemchand Prakash to the highest heights of his career and make him immortal in people’s imagination. This was the first time he worked with Lata Mangeshkar. The soundtrack has five solos by Lata and two by Manna Dey. Lata solos are all very pleasing but what is even more striking is the way in which Khemchand Prakash handles the timbre of Lata’s voice. Yes, this was 1948 and Lata in those days could have sung a newspaper editorial and we would have still listened with rapt attention. But this was more than simply that. Khemchand Prakash demonstrated – yet again – his mastery of composing female solos. He had an ability to sense the subtle strengths of his singer’s voice and compose a tune that would bring out those strengths. ‘chet chet kar chale re chatur’, ‘ik moorat manohar re’, ‘kit jaye base ho murari’ and ‘sajana re tori kaun dagariya’ are great examples of this. But what stands out is the haunting number ‘door jaye re’. The orchestration, which perhaps for the first time saw a western rhythm like Waltz employed in his work, along with slow beginning and a deliberate focus on the accent in the rhythm, clearly anticipates Mahal – but this is a wonderful song in its own right. The two Manna Dey solos, ‘bhool ja woh jamana’ and ‘phir wohi moorat manohar saamane aakar hasegi’ were noteworthy as clear steps towards the music of the fifties. Ziddi began a short but most successful collaboration between Khemchand Prakash and the Bombay Talkies. This was the second innings of the famed studio, this time under the stewardship of Ashok Kumar. The studio had a clear influence on the style of the music that appeared in its films. The film is more famous as the debut of Kishore Kumar and it is indeed an important historical milestone for Hindi Film Music, but Lata solos from the film that are undoubtedly far more memorable. ‘jadoo kar gaye kisi ke naina’ and ‘rooth gaye more shyam’ again show Khemchand’s mastery of composing to the timbre of his singers voice. The high pitch ending of ‘rooth gaye’ also shows the feeling of liberation that we have talked about earlier. It is hard to imagine any female singer prior to Lata who could have pulled this off. ‘ab kaun sahara hai’ again anticipates the Mahal style. ‘tujhe o bewafa hum zindagi ka aasara samajhe’ is simply stunning. A dominant theme that we see in Khemchand Prakash’s career is his ability to spot and support new talent. It must also be said that he had a remarkable ear to spot the future successes. In ‘marane ki duayen kyun mangu’ he launched one such singer called Kishore Kumar. The song is remarkable for documenting for the ages what a phenomenal influence KL Saigal had on the country. Even Kishore – whose natural tendency, as we later came to know, is almost an antithesis of Saigal – was clearly trying to copy Saigal in his early days. The film also has the first Lata – Kishore duet, ‘ye kaun aaya’ and a delightful Shamshad solo, ‘chalee pee ke milan’. ‘chanda re ja re ja re’ though clearly sourced from the Hindustani classical treasure-trove is a fabulous song on all counts – the most remarkable is how he composed a long line ‘chanda re ja re ja re piya se sandesa more kahiyo jaay’ while still making the rhythmic element of the song its dominant feature. Again the accent on ‘chanda’ is noteworthy. The slow beginning of the song is again a clear anticipation of Mahal and does not give any hint of the much faster tempo of the main song. After Tansen here Khemchand Prakash was again successful in capturing people’s imagination for ages. His re-invention of himself was complete. The maestro was ready! When something really works in any school or style of art, it is difficult to explain why it works. But one can try. The best corollary I can come up with is that of Mughal Architecture. For a student of architecture, there are clear examples of various experiments being done beginning with the Charbaug garden designs brought in by Babur, architectural breakthroughs of Humayun’s tomb, Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb and of Jama Musjid. Each one had its successes and failures. Then there were external influences from Persia, Samarkand as well as a strong platform of earlier temple and Rajput secular architectural traditions. But they all finally come together in the Taj. In it everything works. This is not to say that Taj is better than a similar example of some ‘other’ school – but only that ‘in its school’, it represents culmination and fulfillment of what was strived for and attempted many times earlier. Mahal likewise was the culmination of various themes that Khemchand Prakash was trying to do master all his life. The mastery of female solos, understanding of the timbre of singer’s voice, dramatic use of rhythm with accents, making it an integral part of the communication, masterful adaptation and simplification of classical sources into accessible melodies, liberated, modernized orchestration, especially use of strings and lastly an acute awareness of the situational context of the song in a film. He had tried and achieved success in one or more of these elements before. In Mahal they all came together. ‘Mahal’ was the ‘Taj Mahal’ of Khemchand Prakash’s style of composition. Plenty has been written about ‘Aayega aanewala’ and it is all well-deserved. It is indeed a song for the ages. The orchestration is way ahead of its time – forget Naushad, or even SD Burman – it actually anticipates Salil Chowdhary and R D Burman. It takes a full 3:30 minutes before the song-proper begins. This was truly courageous. The use of counter-melody in the interlude after the first stanza is mind boggling. It is a great symphony. Like Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ in his last (Ninth) symphony, this is an ‘Ode to Joy’ of self-re-invention by the maestro. But other songs of this ‘female-only’ soundtrack are also exquisite. Like other such songs in the past, ‘ghabaraa ke jo gham sar ko’ must rank among the best solos Rajkumari has sung and even ‘ek teer chala’ would rank very high on that list. The other two Lata solos – ‘mushkil hai bahut mushkil’ and ‘dil ne phir yaad kiya’ are also nothing short of divine. Mahal also served as the prototype for the genre of ghost/ reincarnation movies which in turn lead to the genre of haunting, ghost songs (Madhumati, Bees saal baad, Woh kaun thi, Mera Saya and counting). It is noteworthy that Bimal Roy – who produced and directed Madhumati was the editor of Mahal. Another interesting observation about Mahal is a thread of similarity that connects the major songs of that film. This is not repetition – neither is it a weakness. In fact some of the greatest and exceptionally successful soundtracks like Hemant Kumar’s Nagin, S D Burman’s Pyasa and Ghulam Mohammad’s Pakeeza share this attribute. The argument here is not that they share same tune – but there is something that connects the ‘feel’ or ‘tone’ of the songs in the soundtrack and they seem to build upon each other in creating their impact. As can be seen from the examples above, this seems to happen only when the soundtrack is perfectly in synch with the rest of the movie – when the Composer is in perfect synch with the Music Director. In Rimjhim Khemchand Prakash worked with Kishore again. We see Kishore still in the shadow of Saigal in ‘jagmag jagmag karta nikala’ but in the same film we also see him emerging from it in ‘mere ghar aage hai do do galiyan’. Here is the Kishore that we know from his later years. In ‘bhini bhini chand ki raat’ sung by Mohna we see the first purely Western tune in Khemchand Prakash’s work. Mohammad Rafi – who has been curiously missing so far appears for the first time in ‘hawa tu unse jaakar jkah de’ – a duet with Ramola. Shamshad has two nice songs – ‘na tum aaye na nind aayi’ and ‘rah na sakoge ham bin’ in which we again encounter the ‘kahe panchii bawriya’ tune from Diwali (similar to ‘kadar mori na jani’ from Noorie). ‘Sawan aaya re’ saw a wonderful use of Ameerbai’s voice in ‘pahane peeli rang sari’ and that of Shamshad’s in ‘bagon mein hole hole bole maina’ and ‘thandi thandi raat me’. The latter seems to be inspired by the hit Noorjehan number from Gaon ki Gori – ‘sajan paradesi baalam paradesi’. Rafi made his second appearance in ‘ai dil na mujhe’ – a duet with Shamshad. Bijli was released in 1950. It is noteworthy as the first collaboration between Khemchand Prakash and Gita Roy – ‘mera jiya ghabaraye’ sung by Gita and Paro. It also saw him work with Asha Bhosale for the first time. Her solo – ‘taqdeer bata kya meri khata’ is an exquisite song. Her duet with Mukesh – ‘hum to ho gaye badnam saanwariya’ is also delightful. ‘Jaan Pahchan’ (with Manna Dey) which released in 1950 was an anomaly for Khemchand Prakash in that this was the first and the only time in his films that a duet – ‘armaan bhare dil ki lagan’ outshined the solos. This exquisite song sung by Talat and Gita was doubtless the best song of the soundtrack. All Gita solos – including ‘Pardesi se lag gayi preet re’ and ‘aaoge na saajan aaoge na’ pale in front of this duet. Even the two solos by Shankardas Gupta – ‘hum kya bataye tumse’ and ‘dukh se bhara huaa hai dil’ are more impactful. The latter certainly amongst the best solos of that singer. Muqaddar was the last time Khemchand Prakash worked for Bombay Talkies. He was one of the three composers for that film along with Bhola Shreshtha, James Singh – perhaps due to his failing health. Three solos by Nalini Jaywant – ‘jab nain me koi aan base’, ‘dekh gagan mein kali ghata’ and ‘aanhe bhar bhar ke tujhe yaad kiya karati hun’ were among the best songs of Nalini Jaiwant but not amongst the best of the composer. The film perhaps will be more remembered for its duet – ‘aati hai yaad mujhko janwari farwari’ – the first duet of Asha Bhosale and Kishore Kumar. 1950 – 1952:

THE SUNSET YEARS – Khemchand Prakash was at the top of his abilities in 1950 and it is indeed a tragedy of mammoth proportions that he vanished so abruptly. The last phase of his career saw only four films – and the fourth was only notionally his. In ‘Sati Narmada’ he was assisted by Manna Dey, in ‘Jai Shankar’ by his brother Basant Prakash and in ‘Shri Ganesh Janma’ again by Manna Dey. His last film ‘Tamasha’ was only nominally his. All but two songs in the film were composed by Manna Dey and the remaining two by SK Pal. His untimely demise at the age of 42 ended a potential mega career before it could materialize. Khemchand Prakash had worked hard on honing a number of attributes (which were discussed in the section about Mahal) into his compositions, had paid his dues both as a student of music and through the hardships of his early years, and just when he was primed to reap the benefits of that hard work, his life was cut down by cruel fate. Khemchand Prakash died on 10th August 1950. ‘Mahal’ premiered at ‘Roxy Cinema’ in Mumbai on 13th October 1950. _____________________________________

References: 1. 1 Neville, Pran: K.L.Saigal – The Definitive Biography: Penguin Books: New Delhi: 2011 2. 2 Dutt, Sharad: Kundan – Saigal ka jeevan aur sangeet: Penguin Books: New Delhi: 2007 (Translation mine) 3. Har Mandir Sing ‘Hamraz’: Hindi Film Geet Kosh – Vol II 1941 to 1950: Sumer Singh Sachdev: Kanpur: 1984 4. Har Mandir Sing ‘Hamraz’: Hindi Film Geet Kosh – Vol III 1951 to 1960: Satinder Kaur: Kanpur: 1984 5. Pankaj Rag: Dhunon ki yatra 6. 7. Potdar, Vasant : Anil Biswas te Rahul Dev Burman Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Mr. Har Mandir Singh ‘Hamraz’ for this monumental work in compiling the Hindi Film Geet Kosh; Prof. Surjit Singh for making a number of rare songs available and Mr. Aditya Pant for inviting me to write for the GHZ series

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Filmography 1939 Meri Aankhen
1939 Ghazi Salauddin
1940 Aaj Ka Hindustan
1940 Diwali
1940 Holi
1940 Pagal
1941 Holiday in Bombay/ Bambai Ki Sair
1941 Pardesi
1941 Pyaas
1941 Shaadi
1941 Ummeed
1942 Chandni
1942 Dukh Sukh
1942 Fariyaad
1942 Iqrar (alias Tyag)
1942 Khilona
1942 Mehman
1943 Chirag
1943 Gauri
1943 Kurbani
1943 Tansen
1943 Vish Kanya
1944 Bhanvara
1944 Bhartrahari
1944 Mumtaz Mahal
1944 Shahenshah Babar
1945 Dhanna Bhagat
1945 Prabhu Ka Ghar
1947 Chalte Chalte
1947 Gaon
1947 Mera Suhaag
1947 Mulaqat
1947 Samaj Ko Badal Dalo
1947 Sindoor
1948 Asha
1948 Ziddi
1949 Mahal
1949 Rimjhim
1949 Sawan Aya Re
1950 Bijli
1950 Jan Pahchan (with Manna Dey)
1950 Muqaddar (with Bhola Shreshth & James Singh)
1950 Sati Narmada (with Manna Dey)
1951 Jai Shankar (with Basant Prakash)
1951 Shri Ganesh Janma (with Manna Dey)
1952 Tamasha (completed by Manna Dey & SK Pal)

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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Articles


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Awaaz De Raha Hai Koi Aasmaan Se: Ghulam Mohammed

Note : originally written for Sangeet ke sitare group
by – surajit bose
Unquestionable talent, chequered career, largely relegated to oblivion, but a final masterstroke to attain immortality.


Pic courtesy :Kaustubh Pingle

The twentieth annual Filmfare Awards ceremony was held in 1973 to celebrate the cinematic achievements of the previous year. It seemed that Sohanlal Kanwar’s Be-Imaan could do no wrong, racking up seven awards for everything from Best Film to Best Lyrics to Best Male Playback Singer. When Pran was chosen as the winner for Best Male Supporting Actor, however, he turned the trophy down. His reason? He felt that the Best Music Award given to Shankar-Jaikishan for this movie was undeserved; he felt that the honor rightly belonged to Ghulam Mohammed for the posthumously released Pakeezah.

The songs of Pakeezah were, and remain, tremendously popular. Their effortless charm belies the struggle it took to get the movie to screen. Begun in the late fifties, Pakeezah was fourteen years in the making. It was finally completed in 1971, by which time both its cinematographer Josef Wirsching and its composer Ghulam Mohammed were dead. The movie was released in February 1972 and showed every sign of becoming an expensive flop. However, with superbly calculated timing, the heroine Meena Kumari died too, within a few weeks of the release date. Audiences turned out in droves to mourn Hindi filmdom’s most celebrated tragedienne, and the movie became a colossal hit.

Ghulam Mohammed’s superb compositions played no small part in the eventual success of Pakeezah. The central figure of the story was a courtesan, which made the song and dance sequences critical to the story. The most popular song, “inhii.n logo.n ne”, adapted a jaunty tune that had been in prior circulation amongst dancing girls, and had already been used in a couple of earlier movies. Almost equally well-liked were the yearning “chalate chalate yuu.Nhii koii mil gayaa thaa” and the kathak piece choreographed by Lachchhu Maharaj, “Thaa.De rahiyo o baa.Nke yaar re.” These and other songs from the movie are now so firmly a part of the film music canon, it is hard to remember the sensation they created when the movie was first released. So immensely successful were Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions that a few years later, the record company HMV took the unprecedented step of releasing an album of nine outtakes that had been composed for the movie but not included on the soundtrack.

The paradoxes of Pakeezah embody those of Ghulam Mohammed’s career. Like the movie, his career was a quest for perfection beset by difficulties. Like the movie, he seemed destined for oblivion, only to be rescued at the last minute. Pran was prescient: Pakeezah and its music continue to be widely remembered today, while Be-Imaan is justly forgotten. But Pran’s gesture of turning down the award was, after all, purely nominal. It was not going to make the judges change their minds. Similarly, as far as Ghulam Mohammed was concerned, Pakeezah’s success was futile–it came too late to do him any practical good.

Ghulam Mohammed

pic courtesy : hamara forums

Ghulam Mohammed was born in 1903. His father Nabi Baksh was a tabla player in Bikaner. Since music was the family vocation, Ghulam Mohammed naturally received training in classical music. Under his father’s tutelage, he became well versed in genres such as Khayal and Thumri, and developed expertise on the tabla. He was also drawn to the folk music of Rajasthan and became adept at the Dholak. Such a dual influence of classical and folk was common among music directors in the 1940s and 1950s; the blend of the two gives the music of that era its distinctive sound. Ghulam Mohammed’s childhood and early training thus provided an excellent foundation for his later career.

As a teenager, Ghulam Mohammed used to join Nabi Baksh in performances at the Albert Theatre in Bikaner. He eventually signed on as a contract artiste for 25 rupees a month, but before he could take up the appointment, the theatre closed due to financial difficulties. He then began work as a jobbing musician, taking whatever appointments he could get in traveling troupes. It is said that on one such assignment, he made it to the princely state of Junagadh, where a minister was impressed enough by his performance to present him a gilded sword.

In 1924, Ghulam Mohammed arrived in Bombay. Regular work eluded him for several years. The emergence of sound in cinema finally afforded him an opportunity. He was engaged as a tabla player at Saroj Movietone for the movie Bhartruhari (1932), whose music composers were Sundar Das and Damodar Das. The movie proved popular, and Ghulam Mohammed received acclaim for his skills as a percussionist. He continued to work as a tabla and Dholak player throughout his career. One commonly heard story is that when Shankar-Jaikishan were composing their maiden venture Barsaat (1949), they insisted on having Ghulam Mohammed play the Dholak for “barasaat me.n ham se mile tum sajan”.

Ghulam Mohammed got his break as an independent music director with Baanke Sipahi (1937). Neither the movie nor recordings of its nine songs appear to be available; it is possible that no recordings were made. Ghulam Mohammed may or may not have actively sought additional work as a music director after this movie’s release. If he did, his efforts were unsuccessful. His next assignment as a composer was not until 1943, for the film Mera Khwab. At least some songs were released on 78 RPM records, such as the sweet female solo “u.D jaa re, u.D jaa papiihe, pii pii mat bol”.

naushad and ghulam

Ghaulam Mohd & Naushad – 1949
Pic courtesy :

In the meantime, Ghulam Mohammed had had struck up a friendship with Naushad Ali, who had arrived in Bombay in the late 1930s. Naushad faced some initial difficulties, but after the early 1940s, the younger composer began to achieve success. His career soon outstripped that of Ghulam Mohammed. Despite being some 16 years older than Naushad and some five years the senior as a film musician, Ghulam Mohammed began working as his assistant. His collaboration with Naushad spanned ten years and 23 movies, from Sanjog (1943) to Aan (1952).

Beginning in 1947, Ghulam Mohammed’s own profile as a composer began to grow as well. From 1948 to 1955, he composed an average of three films a year. The quality of his output is uniformly high, but some highlights may be recognized:
– a plangent duet from Shair (1949), “yah duniyaa hai, yahaa.N dil kaa lagaanaa kisako aataa hai”, which is both one of the earliest Mukesh-Lata duets and one of the few Mukesh songs to be picturized on Dev Anand
– Cuckoo’s lively dance number from “Pardes” (1950), “mere ghuu.Nghar waale baal”, sung with verve by Shamshad Begum
– the irresistible Rafi-Lata duet from Amber (1952), “ham tum yah bahaar, dekho laayaa pyaar, barasaat ke mahiine me.n”, surely one of the most charming confections of Hindi film music
– the song that arguably best showcased Talat Mehmood as a singing star, “zindagii denewaale sun”, a masterpiece of heartbreak from Dil-E-Nadaan (1953).

Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions for Mirza Ghalib (1954) were pathbreaking, and have left an enduring legacy. Prior to this movie, Ghazals were not commonplace in films. Traditionally, they were appreciated primarily as poetry and only secondarily as music. Their somewhat highbrow content was perhaps antithetical to the simpler demands of song lyrics. Today, however, we tend to think of Ghazal as a musical genre first, a verse form second. Indeed, for casual listeners, the musical component of Ghazal has far overshadowed its metrical definition: any soft, romantic, vaguely Urdu-sounding song, irrespective of verse form and meter, is called a Ghazal. Blogs are full of lists of “top ten film Ghazals”, invariably including such non-starters as “zindagii bhar nahii.n bhuulegii” from Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), “mere mahabuub tujhe merii muhabbat kii qasam” from Mere Mehboob (1963), “ aur nuur kii baaraat kise pesh karuu.N” from Ghazal (1964), etc. It is ironic that Ghulam Mohammed succeeded in making Ghalib wildly popular only at the expense of an accurate understanding of the very genre of Ghazal.

The law of unintended consequences notwithstanding, the songs of Mirza Ghalib richly deserve their reputation. Talat Mahmood and Suraiya do full justice to both the beauty of Ghalib’s poetry and the richness of Ghulam Mohammed’s music. Such Ghazals as “dil-e-naadaa.N tujhe huaa kyaa hai”, “aah ko chaahiye ik umr asar hone tak”, and “phir mujhe deeda-e-tar yaad aayaa” have been set to new music and sung by celebrated Ghazal exponents innumerable times since, but the popularity and accessibility of Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions remains unrivaled.

Surprisingly, the acclaim Mirza Ghalib received did not give Ghulam Mohammed’s career a fillip. His assignments began drying up soon after. He did not go beyond his usual three-movie average in 1955, and had no films at all in 1956. A few one-off assignments dribbled in over subsequent years, spaced out as widely as his earliest movies. The last two of his films released during his lifetime were Shama (1961) and the Bhojpuri Saiyan Se Neha Lagaibe (1965). His straitened circumstances led him to move to Borivili, then a remote suburb at the outermost reaches of the city. His constant companion at the time was Jamal Sen, a fellow Rajasthani who too had never achieved the sort of recognition he might have expected from the excellence of his compositions. Ghulam Mohammed died of a heart ailment on 17 March 1968.

A glance over the entirety of Ghulam Mohammed’s work reveals some enduring characteristics. The obvious one based on his background is his deft use of percussion. His rhythms are rarely complex, but the simple base is deftly overlaid with syncopated patterns that perk up the melody. Take for example the Geeta Dutt – G M Durrani duet for Dil Ki Basti (1949), “naazuk dil hai, to.D na dena”, with its emphatic upbeat of the Dholak on the second beat of the taal. Another way Ghulam Mohammed added spirit to his rhythms was through the use of the maT_kaa, or clay pot. He and Shyam Sundar were the pioneers in its use as a percussion instrument in film music. The solo by Shamshad Begum from Doli (1947), “a.nganaa bole kaag re, uja.Daa man kaa baaG re”, shows how the maT_kaa imparts a light, attractive feel even to an otherwise sad song.

The Dholak and maT_kaa beats in many Naushad compositions almost certainly owe their presence to Ghulam Mohammed. Lata Mangeshkar has stated in an interview that Naushad’s assistants left their stamp on his compositions, citing as an example “Dhuu.NDho Dhuu.NDho re saajanaa” from Gunga Jumna (1961), which was arranged by Mohammed Shafi. She gives no examples of songs where Ghulam Mohammed assisted Naushad, but the arrangements of Naushad’s compositions throughout the period when he was associated with Ghulam Mohammed are practically indistinguishable from the latter’s own. The maT_kaa in “tuu kahe agar” from Andaz (1949), for example, plays exactly the same pattern as that in “a.nganaa bole kaag re.”

“tuu kahe agar” demonstrates another Ghulam Mohammed characteristic: the use of short, staccato interludes. Between “detii jaa sahaare mujhako” and “mai.n raag huu.N tuu biinaa hai” there is an eight-beat step-like interlude with strings played in unison over clarinets and flutes. The signature sound created by this blend is impossible to miss in Ghulam Mohammed’s own compositions. The breathtaking (or not!) Shamshad – Rafi duet “laa de mohe baalamaa aas_maani chuu.Diyaa.N” from Rail Ka Dibba (1953) punctuates the sthaayi itself with a staccato pattern using this signature sound; the Amirbai Karnataki – Mohammed Rafi duet from Bikhre Moti (1951), “aa.Nsuu thii merii zindagii”, employs it in every interlude.

To point out these similarities between Ghulam Mohammed’s arrangements and those attributed to Naushad is not, however, to claim that Naushad was parasitic on Ghulam Mohammed. There is every reason to believe that their relationship was mutually beneficial. For instance, Naushad composed the music for two of his three home productions–Babul (1950) and Udan Khatola (1955). However, he gave the third, Maalik (1958), to Ghulam Mohammed. Maalik is the latter’s only score from that year, when his career was on the wane. It is reasonable to assume that Naushad was helping his senior and erstwhile assistant by sending work his way, knowing he could count on its excellence. The lyricist of Maalik was Shakeel Badayuni, a fixture for both Naushad and Ghulam Mohammed. Over Ghulam Mohammed’s career, Shakeel collaborated with him for 22 out of 37 movies.

And, of course, when Ghulam Mohammed passed away before putting the finishing touches on the much-delayed Pakeezah, Naushad stepped in to compose the background music, re-record one song (“chalo diladaar chalo”), and integrate the others into the final product. The transition between Ghulam Mohammed’s work for the movie and Naushad’s is relatively, though not entirely, seamless. Naushad’s willingness to complete Ghulam Mohammed’s work shows that he thought of the latter as more than just a mere assistant. They were colleagues and friends, and each relied on the other.

Commonalities aside, there are differences, too, between Naushad’s sensibility and Ghulam Mohammed’s. A notable one is in their use of ragas. In quite a few songs, Ghulam Mohammed achieves the rare feat of being both entirely within the grammar of a raga, and unobtrusive about it. He has a far lighter touch than Naushad, who could never compose a raga-based song without underlining the fact. The deftness with which Ghulam Mohammed handles, say, Brindavani Sarang in “muhabbat kii dhun beqaraaro.n se puuchho” from Dil-E-Nadaan, or Yaman Kalyan in “nuktachii.n hai Gham-e-dil” from Mirza Ghalib, is admirable.

Another characteristic of Ghulam Mohammed’s work is the wide variety of singers he used. G M Durrani, Shamshad Begum, Talat Mehmood, Sudha Malhotra, Geeta Dutt, Suman Kalyanpur, Jagjit Kaur, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Sitara, Amirbai Karnataki, Asha Bhosle, and Mahendra Kapoor, among others, all had memorable songs under his baton, in addition to the inevitable Lata and Rafi. This variety was partly a function of his active years. The spectrum of voices seemed to narrow considerably in the 1960s, with singers other than Lata and Rafi increasingly relegated to niches. Since Ghulam Mohammed had effectively stopped composing by then, it is hard to say whether he too would have restricted himself to two or three top names.

Ghulam MohammedOne index of Ghulam Mohammed’s creativity is the melodic variety within his songs. Given the brevity of a film song, it is quite usual for every antaraa to have the same tune. But this base case is extremely unusual for Ghulam Mohammed. His songs rarely have a repeated melody throughout. If there are three antaraas, one of them is usually different from the other two; occasionally, all three are different from each other. “dha.Dakate dil kii tamanna ho” from Shama (1961) has three antaraas with two tunes among them; Pakeezah’s “mausam hai aashiqaanaa” has four antaraas with three different tunes among them.

Ghulam Mohammed’s late scores–beginning with Maalik, with its memorable Talat solo, “zindagii kii qasam, ho chuke unake ham”; through Shama, with its Suman songs such as “dil Gham se jal rahaa hai jale”, in addition to the Suraiya numbers; and, ending, of course, with Pakeezah–show a heightening of this creativity. This is especially notable in the instrumental passages. His range seems broader, his sound less uniform. His orchestration is richer, incorporating guitars, sitars, and other instruments not often heard in his earlier scores. The polish and attention to detail, however, are every bit as much in evidence. These movies contain some of Ghulam Mohammed’s most beloved songs, which makes the decline in the number of his composing assignments from 1956 on a mystery.

It is hard to guess why a composer whose experience with film music dated back to its earliest days, whose perfectionism and sophistication were unflagging, who was by all accounts well liked by singers and colleagues, and many of whose songs were huge hits in his own lifetime, should have languished in such obscurity for the bulk of his career. Nalin Shah provides an explanation of sorts when he ascribes to Ghulam Mohammed a “lack of business sense”, and says that he “was too engrossed in his creativity to worry about his own future”. But perhaps we listeners are the richer for his poverty. By not chasing routine assignments, perhaps Ghulam Mohammed chose to concentrate on perfecting the few songs that came his way; perhaps he ensured his future and ours by bequeathing us a scattered handful of pearls instead of a storehouse of base metals.

Filmography: 37 films

1. Baanke Sipahi (1937)
2. Mera Khwab (1943)
3. Mera Geet (1946)* – with Shankarrao Vyas, Geeta Verma, Bal Mukund, and Reejram
4. Doli (1947)
5. Tiger Queen (1947)
6. Grahasti (1948)
7. Kajal (1948)
8. Parai Aag (1948)
9. Pugree (1948)
10. Dil Ki Basti (1949)
11. Paras (1949)
12. Shair (1949)
13. Rasheed Dulhan (194x)
14. Hanste Ansoo (1950)
15. Maang (1950)
16. Pardes (1950)
17. Bikhre Moti (1951)
18. Nazneen (1951)
19. Ajeeb Ladki (1952)
20. Amber (1952)
21. Sheesha (1952)
22. Dil-E-Nadan (1953)
23. Gauhar (1953)
24. Hazar Raaten (1953)
25. Laila Majnu (1953) – with Sardar Malik
26. Rail Ka Dibba (1953)
27. Guzaara (1954)
28. Mirza Ghalib (1954)
29. Hoor-E-Arab (1955)
30. Kundan (1955)
31. Sitara (1955)
32. Pak Daman (1957)
33. Maalik (1958)
34. Do Gunde (1959)
35. Shama (1961)
36. Saiyan Se Neha Lagaibe (1965) – Bhojpuri
37. Pakeezah (1971) – with Naushad

* In his book “dhuno.n kii yaatraa”, Pankaj Rag mentions that the “Ghulam Miyan” who has composed two songs for Mera Geet (1946) is in fact Ghulam Mohammed.



1. Dissertation by Vidya Arya: “raajasthaan ke vilakShaN sa.ngiit pratibhaa sa.ngiit_kaar shrii khem_cha.nd prakaash”, Rajasthan University, 1992. A few pages of this dissertation touch upon Ghulam Mohammed as being one of three Hindi film composers who formed a “Rajasthan trinity”, the other two being Khemchand Prakash and Jamal Sen. Not always accurate–for example, treats “inhii.n logo.n ne” and “dupaTTa meraa” as two separate songs. Tone somewhat melodramatic and overstated: “filmii duniyaa kii viShailii raaj_niiti ne unhe.n zaar zaar kar Daalaa”. Nevertheless, has some extremely valuable information.

2. Pankaj Rag’s book “dhuno.n kii yaatraa”. Rag mentions that the “Ghulam Miyan” who has composed two songs for Mera Geet (1946) is in fact Ghulam Mohammed. The songs do indeed exhibit the hallmarks of Ghulam Mohammed’s compositions, such as the staccato short instrumental phrases with strings overlaying woodwinds, and the syncopated percussion. The songs are “ham se ruuThe hii bhale” and “tore binaa ho balamaa”, both by Zohrabai Ambalewali.

3. The article on Ghulam Mohammed. The essay is a fragmentary and rather poor translation of the relevant few pages of Arya’s dissertation, but the filmography is relatively complete, leaving out only two movies. One is Mera Geet; the other, the Bhojpuri film Saiyan Se Neha Lagaibe (1965). The omission means, of course, that the list given above is the only known complete and accurate filmography of Ghulam Mohammed currently available on the web. 

4. Wikipedia entry on Ghulam Mohammed. Consulted but discarded as being nearly entirely worthless. The information is inaccurate and incomplete, the latter being a saving grace considering the former. For example: claims that Ghulam Mohammed won the President’s Award for Mirza Ghalib, when in fact a music director award was not instituted until 1965.

5. Article by Nalin Shah in the Indian Express, 17 April 1999. Posted on the usenet newsgroup by Kalyan Kolachala on 16 April 1999. Aren’t time zones wonderful?

6. Other postings on about Ghulam Mohammed. Again, the information there had to be taken with a grain of salt (“yah kaisii ajab daas_taa.N ho ga_ii hai” is neither a Ghulam Mohammed composition, nor from Sikandar-E-Azam, and in any case, the latter movie isn’t one of Ghulam Mohammed’s, nor of Sajjad’s, who really did compose the song in question); but then, as someone who cheerfully promulgated his share of howlers on that forum, I just holler “caveat lector” and have at it.


1. To Aditya Pant and the rest of the SKS deities, first, for asking me to contribute a write-up, and second, for agreeing to my choice of Ghulam Mohammed.thank you I’m honored to be asked and delighted to have had the excuse to explore the work of a composer I’ve always liked without knowing much about. I’m also grateful to Aditya for alerting me to Rag’s book.

2. To my near-namesake Dr Surjit Singh, who sent me a PDF of some pages of Arya’s dissertation, reminded me to check, supplied me with recordings of Ghulam Mohammed’s earliest compositions, and responded to panicked last-minute queries with customary coolth and aplomb.

3. To all the nettors who contributed posts about Ghulam Mohammed to

Any merit in the article is due entirely, etc., and any errors or infelicities that remain are of course, and so on

#Ghulam Mohammed # Ghulam Mohammed composer  #composer # music director Ghulam Mohammed

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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Articles, info and facts


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Rajkumari Dubey :Kabhi Khushiyon Ke Naghme Hain,Kabhi Gham Ka Tarana Hai

Rajkumari by Gajendra Khanna

During the thirties the actresses used to primarily sing their own songs. Rajkumari had a big hand to play in changing this situation after the advent of playback singing.

RajkumariRajkumari’s name may not be a familiar one for the new generation but lovers of old film music take her name with as much respect today as they used to do during her career. Her voice had a unique sweetness which cannot be forgotten. She was a leading and an extremely talented singer during her time. Her voice entertained listeners for more than twenty years and she was the voice for numerous actresses in that time. She was responsible for giving career boosting successes to many composers, lyricists and actors/actresses. It is a tragedy of time that they forgot her in the future years and Rajkumari had to spend her last days in anonymity. By the blessings of the power that be, her voice however did not lose its sweetness. Her employment was stolen from her but her talent could not be stolen. Her songs feel as sweet to the ears and enter the heart today as they used to do more than half a century ago.

During the thirties the actresses used to primarily sing their own songs. Rajkumari had a big hand to play in changing this situation after the advent of playback singing. Due to the demand for her songs, many composers used her services and she became a shining star in cine skies. She sang all types of songs including thumris, mehfil songs, comic, romantic and sad songs. On one hand as per the wishes of composers she sang classical oriented songs in the thirties and on the other she sang many fun songs also.

Revolution was in the air in the forties and it did not fail to leave its effects on hindi film music also. While in the thirties slow speed songs were popular, the forties saw songs with fast speed tunes increasing in number. Rajkumari was a very intuitive singer who could grasp the tunes easily and sing according to the requirements of the composers. She had the inherent capability to learn even difficult tunes very quickly. She learned fine nuances like which word should be stressed on more, when to breathe etc during the thirties itself. An important point to be noted is that the custom of singing ghazals came into films because of her voice only. She could sing difficult songs like “Saiyaan Tu Ek Veri Aaja” with utmost ease. Composers were able to do a number of new experiments thanks to the availability of her voice at their disposal. An attempt at singing her songs immediately reveals what a great singer she was. She was perhaps the first singer to sing in many languages. In addition to Hindi/Urdu songs she had sung in Gujarati and Punjabi during first few years of her career itself. This became a trend in later years which was set by her.

Unlike most top singers who originated from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra, Rajkumari belonged to Benares in Uttar Pradesh and had brought the sweetness of its betel leaf in her voice.

In spite of her many achievements Rajkumari was a very humble human being. RajkumariAccording to an Indian saying, the tree which is most laden with fruits is the most down to earth. The best talent will always be modest and Rajkumari was an epitome of this virtue. She had a rare dignity in her demeanour while maintaining grandeur in her expressions.  Facets like these in her personality increase respect towards her immensely.  I have seen many people twist one such modesty filled comment made by her in a negative vein. She had said in an interview that her range was limited in her usual manner but I am not in agreement with the tone in which it is twisted around.  It is not a joke to sing with full emotions at low pitch and in this range there are few who can compete with her.  In any case, the trend of high pitch songs had not come up much in her career and we have consequently not had her sing much of those. Singers used to rehearse extensively each song in her days and due to this she was able to show every kind of emotion on screen very well. In any case, film music is for the common man.  The high pitch songs appear quite unnatural on most actresses’ lips and anyone can tell their characters would never have sung such songs.  According to physics, voice range is capable of being spread across eight octaves. Most songs of Indian films do not make the singer span more than two to two and a half octaves. The truly high pitch songs are only found in opera which isn’t heard in Indian films and we can say with certainty that in fact, the range of all Indian singers is limited.

I would be failing in my duties if I did not start from the beginning of her career. Unlike most top singers who originated from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra, Rajkumari belonged to Benares in Uttar Pradesh and had brought the sweetness of its betel leaf in her voice. She was also referred as Rajkumari of Benares or Rajkumari “Benares” in later half of thirties. The reason for this was that there was another singer Rajkumari of Calcutta in those days. Both of them had even sung for the same film Gorakh Aaya in 1938. One record had both their voices on either side. The real name of that singer/actress was Pullobai and not much information is available about her.

Many listeners may not be able to recall that before taking up playback singing, Rajkumari had been an actress also. According to sources, she had been born in 1924 and when she came in early thirties to Bombay, she had joined a gramophone company. She had sung and also spoke in dramas on some records in those days which are not available now. When she got interested in plays, she came on the stage. She had a good singing voice; hence, she was invited to do roles that required singing. This was how she did her first acting part and became famous for both acting as well as singing. On one occasion, Vijay Bhatt of Prakash Pictures came to watch one of her plays. He liked her acting and singing skills. His studio was working on a new film at that time and invited her to act in it. In those days stages did not have mikes on them. Each dialogue would have to be literally shouted for the audience and the songs were also sung in a similar loud manner. Lovers of her singing would often give a “Once More” request and Rajkumari would sometimes have to sing a single song 8-9 times. Her well-wishers suggested that she should stop spoiling her voice and accept the invitation. She was already interested in films and agreed. Most people do not know that Rajkumari had already done a small girl’s role in Lahore in 1932 in a film called Radhe Shyam which had been made by Kamla Movietone. Rajkumari was now ready to make her debut as a heroine.

 The proposed film was a bilingual being made in Hindi and Gujarati.  The year was 1942. The Gujarati version was called Sansaar Leela, while the Hindi version was titled Nai Duniya alias Sacred Scandal. Rajkumari was given the role of a heroine named Malti. Kashinath, Umakant Desai and Prakash’s heroine Gulab had also acted in the movie. The movie’s composer also acted in it and he was one of the popular personalities of the time. His name was Lallubhai Nayak and Rajkumari was to sing most of her early songs under his baton. Rajkumari sang songs like “Preet Ki Reet Sikha Ja Balam” and “Preetam Tum Ghan Ban Jaao” which were picturised on her.  Lallubhai was the main composer for the studio (though later Shankar Rao Vyas and then Naushad replaced him there. Years later when he was living under anonymity, Shankar-Jaikishan had brought him as an arranger for movie Patrani). Actor Jayant was in Prakash at that time and Rajkumari mostly was cast opposite him. The composer was, of course, Lallubhai. These films were as follows: Bambai Ki Sethaani, Bombay Mail, Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter and Shamsheer-e-Arab in 1935; and Snehlata in 1936.

Along with acting in Bambai Ki Sethaani, Rajkumari had sung the song “Humse Kyon Rooth Gaye Bansi Bajaane waale”. The songs of Bombay Mail were particularly popular in those days.Rajkumari Rajkumari had sung the song “Kiski Aamad Ka Yun Hai Intezaar” with Lallubhai himself and Ismail very beautifully. The orchestra is negligible in this song but the sweetness of Rajkumari’s voice is able to attract listeners.  She had sung a slow paced ghazal “Baaton Baaton Mein Dil-e-Bezaar” in the film with her sweet intonations. Her song “Kaaga RE Jaiyo Piya Ki Galiyan” was extremely popular in those days. The year 1935 was quite successful for her. Some people erroneously think that she acted in that year’s super duper hit Devdas also but that actress was a different one.

She sang songs like “Kudrat Hai Rab Ki Nyaari” for the movie Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter.  She sang many songs for the movie Snehlata also. This film had been made by the name “Bharat Ki Devi” in Gujarati also. The songs sung by her for this movie include, “Hey Dhanya Tu Bharat Naari”, “Sambhal Kar Rakh Kadam, Kaante Bichche Hain Prem Ke Ban Mein”, “Tum Ho Kisi Ke Ghar Ke Ujaale” and “Moorakh Man Bharmaane”. Rajkumari got more than sufficient training in singing while working at Prakash, which held her in good stead during her long career. Her song “Sharad Mayank Na Tab Mukh Sam Hai, Dekha Baar Baar Baar” in Passing Show (1936) was a melodious one which is probably lost like most songs of the period. She also sang songs including “Kali Kali Par Hai Bhramar” and “Aao Aao Pran Pyaare, Sansaar Ek Naya Basayen” for the movie Khwab Ki Duniya alias Dreamland (1937). She also started getting opportunities outside Prakash by that time. She acted and sang in movies including Parakh(1937), Chhote Sarkaar / Warisdaar (1937) (Sagar Movietone), Jungle Ka Jawan (1938) (Mohan Pictures), Toofan Express (1937)(Sundar Movietone), Vijay Marg (1938), Secretary (1938) (Ranjeet Movietone) and Gorakh Aaya (1938) (Ranjeet Movietone). It is a real pity that not a single of those movies is available now and we are unable to appreciate her acting skills.

One day, Motilal, who she used to address as Chacha (paternal uncle) met her. He advised her not to waste her voice in hopes of making a career as a heroine.

The custom of playback singing had arrived in Bombay around that time. Gradually, her acting offers reduced as she had put on a bit of weight. This was due to her fondness for eating good food. One day, Motilal, who she used to address as Chacha (paternal uncle) met her. He advised her not to waste her voice in hopes of making a career as a heroine. He told her that she was a good singer and her voice had everything, which she should encourage. He also told her that with passing age, she could not be a heroine but a singing career could last till her old age also. Rajkumari took his advice and started taking up playback singing offers. She was already popular and started getting more offers. During her career, thanks to her talent, she was able to sing for almost all the popular composers and actresses.

Gyan Dutt for whom she had already sung called her to sing the song “Saajan Nikle Chor, Meethi Meethi Kar Mose Batiyaan Jiya Churaayo Mor” with himself and Indubala for the movie Nadi Kinaare (1939). Dada Chandekar invited her to sing for Hans Pictures’ famous movie Brandy Ki Bottle for the song “Koi Le Lo Le Lo Le Lo Main Meetha Doodh Laayi” which helped her in her career. During 1940, she had songs in movies like Paap Ki Duniya, Anjaan / Ishwari Nyaay, Pyaar / Next to God and Suhaag. Famous studio Bombay Talkies was making the film Punarmilan with Ram Chandra Pal as composer. Her song “Sooniy Sejariya Saiyaan Tu Ek Beri Aaja Din Nahin Chain” was quite appreciated. She also sang a duet “Aaya Re Pardesi Sajaniya Aaya Re, Jal Bin Machhari Si Gat” with R C Pal himself for the movie. The information related to most of the songs of the period is quite rare and we shall probably never be certain how many songs she sang in the period. She may have sung many songs in the film versions alone as well. Major studios like Bombay Talkies and Ranjeet Movietone were utilizing her services. During an interview, Rajkumari had told that she had started playback singing at the princely sum of Rs. 50 per song!  One can imagine what that meant considering that even today that sum still has some value!!  It is an indicator of how much esteem her singing was kept in. Naushad had also mentioned once that she was the first respectable playback singer in Hindi films which is an indicator of her popularity.

Her last song recorded during the fifties was for the Children’s Film Society film Jaldeep / Lighthouse which had been directed by Kidar Sharma. During her long and successful career, she sang for all the major composers in Bombay and for all the heroines. She has sung over 500 film songs. Some of her best songs can be heard in this radio interview:

A discussion on the different songs she sang can be seen separately in the main article.

In an interview when she was asked why she had stopped singing, she had said, “I did not leave anything. People stopped calling me. I am not in a position to tell why they stopped calling“

In the sixties, she was forced to sing in chorus due to financial problems. Naushad helped her a bit but it was not enough. She had no songs in the sixties and only two released songs in the seventies. Though appreciated they failed to get her more work. She last sang for Snehal Bhatkar’s film Pyaase Nain (1989) in a song “Dilbar Jaani” with Bela Sagar. She last appeared in public vision as a judge in Saregama program, where her performance was appreciated.

She passed away on 18th March 2000 with only Sonu Nigam representing the industry at her funeral. She went away but her songs shall always remain with us. The legacy she left behind for us can best be described by the opening lines of one of her songs…

Kabhi Khushiyon Ke Naghme Hain, Kabhi Gham Ka Tarana Hai….


  1. Songs of Rajkumari
  2. Hindi Film Geetkosh
  3. Radio/TV Interviews of Rajkumari
  4. Dhunon Ki Yatra by Pankaj Raag
  5. Numerous articles published over the years

    thank you Acknowledgements:

    1.  I got a lot of help about various songs from Rashmi ji. Girdharilal ji of Jodhpur also shared information regarding some rare songs. I’m deeply indebted to both of them.
    2. Thanks to all the music lovers who have shared songs of Rajkumari with me over the years (including all youtube uploaders)
    3. Thanks are also due to everyone associated with Geet Kosh and Dr. Surjit Singh’s website.
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Articles


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