GREATEST SINGERS OF INDIA

Hemanta Kumar

 Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay or Hemanta Mukherjee (1920 - 1989) was an Indian singer, composer and producer. For his Hindi songs, he adopted the name Hemant Kumar.

Hemanta was born in Varanasi ( Benares ) on 16th June, 1920. His family hailed from a village named Baharu in West Bengal and migrated to Calcutta in the early 20th century. Hemanta too grew up in Calcutta and attended a school in South Calcutta (Bhawanipore) named Mitra Institution. There he met his longtime friend, a celebrated Bengali poet, Subhas Mukhopadhyay. After passing the intermediate examinations (12th grade) Hemanta was admitted to Jadavpur University to study engineering. However, despite parental objection, he quit academics to pursue a career in music. Hemanta briefly tried his hand at literature and also published a short story in a prestigious Bengali magazine called 'Desh', but by the late-1930s he was committed entirely to music.

 

Under the influence of his friend Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Hemanta recorded his first song for All India Radio in 1933. The first line of the song was 'aamaar gaane te ele naba ruupe chirantanii'. Hemanta's music career was mentored by the Bengali musician Sailesh Duttagupta. In an interview on television in the early 1980-s, Hemanta had mentioned that he had also received training in classical music from Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, but his tutelage was cut short by Ustad-ji's untimely death. In 1937, he cut his first gramophone disc under the Columbia label. The songs (non-film) on this disc were 'jaanite jadi go tumi' and 'balo go balo more'. Lyrics were by Naresh Bhattacharya, music by Hemanta's mentor Sailesh Duttagupta. Thereafter, every year Hemanta continued to record non-film discs for the Gramophone Company of India(GCI) right till 1984. Hemanta's first Hindi songs were 'kitanaa dukh bhulaaya tumane' and 'o priit nibhaabewaalii', released in 1940 under GCI's Columbia label. Music for these songs were composed by Kamal Dasgupta, lyrics were by Faiyaz Hashmi.

Hemanta's first film song was in the Bengali film 'Nimai Sanyas' released in 1941. Music for this film was scored by Hariprasanna Das. Hemanta's first compositions for himself were the Bengali non-film songs 'katha koyonako shudhu shono' and 'amar biraha aakaashe priyaa' in 1944. Lyrics were by Amiya Bagchi. His first Hindi film songs were in Iraadaa in 1944 under Pt. Amarnath's music direction. Lyrics were by Aziz Kashmiri. Hemanta is considered a foremost exponent of Rabindrasangeet(Tagore song) - songs (and lyrics) composed by the 's first Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Hemanta recorded his first Rabindrasangeet disc in 1944 under the Columbia label. The songs were 'prangane mor shiriishh shaakhaay' and 'he nirupamaa'. His first movie as a music director was the Bengali film 'Abhiyatri' in 1947. Although many of the songs Hemanta recorded in during this time received critical acclaim, commercial success still eluded him, right until 1947. Some contemporary male singers of Hemanta in Bengali around that period were Jaganmoy Mitra(also called 'Jagmohan'), Robin Majumdar, Satya Chowdhury, Dhananjay Bhattacharya and Talat Mahmood.

In the mid 1940-s, Hemanta became an active member of the Indian People's Theatrical Association (IPTA) and started an association with another active IPTA member - songwriter and composer - [Salil Chowdhury]. One of the main driving forces behind the establishment of IPTA was the Bengal famine of 1943 and the inaction of the British administration and wealthy Indians to prevent it from happening. In 1948, Hemanta recorded a non-film song called 'gaaNyer badhu' (literally translates to 'The rural bride') that had music and lyrics by Salil Chowdhury. The 6 minute song was sung at a varying pace and lacked the conventional structure and romantic theme of a Bengali song. It depicted an idyllic, prosperous and caring rural woman's life and family, and how it gets ravaged by the demons of famine and ensuing poverty. This song generated an unforeseen popularity for Hemanta and Salil in eastern , and, in a way, established Hemanta ahead of his male contemporaries. Hemanta and Salil paired again in several songs over the next 4 years and almost all these songs proved to be very popular. Around the same period, Hemanta started receiving more assignments for music composition for Bengali films. Some of these films were for a director named Hemen Gupta. When Hemen moved to Bombay a few years later, he called upon Hemanta to compose music for his first directorial venture in Hindi titled 'Anandmath' under the [Filmistan] banner. Responding to this call, Hemanta migrated to Bombay in 1951 and joined the Filmistan Studios. The music of Anandmath(1952) was a moderate success. Perhaps, the most notable among 'Anandmath' songs is 'vande mataram' sung by [Lata Mangeshkar], which Hemanta set to a marching tune. Following Anandmath, Hemant scored music for a few Filmistan movies in subsequent years, the songs of which received moderate popularity. Simultaneously, Hemant also gained popularity in Bombay as a playback singer. Hemant's songs playbacked for actor Dev Anand under music director Sachin Dev Burman in movies like 'Jaal', 'House No. 44', and 'Solva Saal' became quite popular.

By the mid-fifties Hemant had consolidated his position as a prominent singer and composer. In Bengal , he was one of the foremost exponents of Rabindrasangeet and perhaps the most sought after male singer. In Bombay , alongwith playback singing, Hemant also carved a niche as a composer. A Hindi film called 'Nagin'(1955) with music by Hemant became a major success owing largely to its music. Songs of Nagin remained chart-toppers continuously for two years and culminated in Hemant receiving the prestigious Filmfare Award for best music director of 1955. The very same year, Hemant scored music for a Bengali movie called 'Shapmochan' in which he also playbacked four songs for the Bengali actor Uttam Kumar. This started a long partnership between Hemant and Uttam as a playback singer-actor pair that contributed to their becoming the most popular singer and actor respectively, in Bengal , over the next decade.

During the 1950s his full baritone voice established him as the undisputed star of middle-class Bengali romanticism, where love was found, lost and then regained; where joy was unbounded and despair fathomless. His style of delivery became the standard for all romantic heroes in Indian film since his time. His first Hindi success as a composer was Nagin, which introduced electronics into Indian film.

Hemant Kumar was married to Bela Mukherjee, who was also a singer in her younger days. They have two children. A son,   Jay ant and a daughter Ranu, who is also a singer. Jay ant is married to popular actress Mousumi Chatterjee.

 Even after his death in 1989, Hemant Kumar remains a leading role model that many male Indian singers imitate.

His life story in deatil

Hemanta's road to the recording studio was not laden with flowers. Even before this record got released from Columbia, Hemanta had taken the initiative to approach the Senola and Megaphone recording companies. But he was refused a recording session by both of these companies. Megaphone's selectors even refused to listen to his voice. Hemanta was extremely discouraged at this outset of events and refrained from approaching any recording company on his own.

In the meantime, Hemanta's voice had begun to become liked among relatives and acquaintances. In friend circles or when visitors came to their home, Hemanta would be requested to perform a song or two. It was on such an occasion that Hemanta's father's colleague took him to Columbia record company's music supervisor Sailesh Duttagupta. Sailesh Duttagupta took a liking for Hemanta at first sight. He heard his voice immediately, recommended him to the selectors and within fifteen days Hemanta's first disc was released. His next disc was released in another few months - 'Tomaare chaahiyaa priya' and 'Tumi je sudur chand kuasha chhaoa'.

Although Hemanta was making ground as a singer, he had never intended to become one in the first place. He cherished to become a writer. Hemanta used to attend writer's communions at the local library and was also the editor of the communion. A story written by him even got published in the prestigious 'Desh' magazine in 1937. But Hemanta's friends did not want the Hemanta the writer, they were more fond of Hemanta the singer. With a mild annoyance Hemanta gradually distanced himself from the literary world. Nevertheless he maintained deep ties with literary personalities throughout his life.

Columbia's trainer Sailesh Duttagupta first initiated Hemanta to Rabindrasangeet. In the beginning Saileshbabu used to stay near Hemanta's house in Bhabanipur, but later he shifted to Ballygunge. One day he scolded Hemanta, "What's up with you? Earlier you used to be on time, but since I have moved you seem to be consistently late." Hemanta hesitated a bit and replied in a mild voice, "Earlier you used to stay near my place. I have to walk all the way now, so sometimes I get late." Saileshbabu was taken aback, "You walk all the way? Why on earth?" Hemanta stood silently with a melancholic face, but Saileshbabu understood. He affectionately told Hemanta, "I will give you an anna daily to cover your travel expenses."

Sailesh Duttagupta was Hemanta's only music tutor. He went to an ustad to train in classical music for a few days but could not concentrate. (Hemanta Mukherjee mentions in his autobiography that he had started to learn Hindustani classical music under the tutelage of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, but his learning was cut short by the Ustad's untimely death.) Hemanta's lack of classical training proved to be a blessing in disguise. His god gifted voice was as fluent as the undeterred winds. Grammatical rules of classical music might have restricted the flowering of his sweet voice. The fluency with which Hemanta sings 'Amar bhanga pather ranga dhulaaye' or 'Dekonaa amare Dekonaa' might not have been observed in classical oriented songs such as 'Tabu mone rekho' or 'Era par ke apan kore'. Hemanta did not possess a harmonium for quite a few days after submerging himself in the ocean of music. He had to go to other people's homes to practice. After a couple of records Hemanta had enough to purchase his first harmonium. After his third record Hemanta decided to quit studies and direct all his efforts to music. His father was not happy with this, but Hemanta's mother supported her son's wish. She knew what was best for him.

Hemanta was one of those rare artistes who savours unearthly pleasure by keeping himself busy within the domain of his work. Affluence and luxury used to create the same emotions within him, as did melancholy and poverty. I have seen the same untainted humble countenance on a young struggling Hemanta, as I have seen years later on Hemanta sitting at the pinnacle of success surrounded with plenitude. Wealth, awards, trophies did not bring about a change in his simple attire. Clad in a dhoti and a shirt with sleeves rolled up, the same mundaneness in conversation, it was the same Hemanta always. Success never blinded him and so he stayed ever so close to our hearts.

Hemanta's struggle along the road to success started from the very first day. He worked tirelessly night and day, from music tuitions, to the radio office, to the Tollygunge studios looking for a break in film playback. But success seemed to elude him and he had to make his living from the meagre remuneration of the music tuitions and the odd song that he recorded. Then one day suddenly he got his much awaited break in a film called 'Nimai Sanyas' as the playback for the leading star Chhabi Biswas. A kirtan style devotional song 'Kotha krishna, kotha krishna, prabhu dekha dao dekha dao'. Two years after this Hemanta cut his first Rabindrasangeet disc 'Amar aar habenaa deri' and 'Keno pantha e chanchalata'. A rich voice with a clear throw of words. This time nobody taunted him as Pankaj's parody. The record won critical acclaim not only from the common masses but also from the educated elite. Thus began the saga of a new exponent of Rabindrasangeet, who brought Rabindrasangeet from the phonographs of the affluent to the lips of the common masses. Rabindrasangeets which were undoubtedly popular at that time, also became 'hits' in this golden voice. 

 It was 1948.Hemanta Mukherjee sang in a film called Zameen Aasmaan. Back then, little did people know that the young dhoti-clad man would go on to become one of the all time greats of Indian film music. That number from Zameen Aasmaan, however, had not made any significant contribution to Hemanta’s career, and Hemanta had come back to Calcutta.

But three years later, he returned to Bombay. It was Hiren Gupta who was instrumental in taking him to Bollywood this time for the film Anandamath.

Unfortunately, this film also did not bring him the success or fame he deserved. He was yet to have a firm footing in Bombay. Then, in 1952, Hemanta produced his first Hindi hit, Yeh raat yeh chandni (from the film Jaal), sung under the stewardship of another maestro, Sachin Dev Burman. With this number, Hemanta launched his flight to fame in Bollywood.

Hemanta Mukherjee settled down in Bombay and became Hemant Kumar. He brought his family over the Bombay and bought a new house which he named ‘Geetanjali’. In 1954 Nagin was released. The songs became an instant hit with the entire nation. Man doley mera tan doley in particular. Even today, snake-charmers play the tune of this song. Another interesting fact concerning Nagin is that the assistant to Hemanta in this film was Kalyanji, who later teamed up with Anandji to form one of the best music directio n teams of India.

Nagin brought Hemanta a lot of fame and money. Offers started pouring in and he started churning out one hit after another. The famous number from the film Pyaasa, Jaane woh kaise log they, deserves special mention. It was probably one of the best songs Hemanta had ever sung. Hai apna dil to awaara was another superhit.

Hemanta, however was never happy in Bombay, in spite of his success there. He missed Calcutta and went on working for Bengali films even while in Bombay. In 1960, Hemanta produced his first Hindi film, Bees Saal Baad, which sent cash registers at the box-office tinkling. Producing this film, he had taken the biggest risk of his career. “I would have been in big trouble had Bees Saal Baad flopped,” he commented. But Hemanta’s gamble paid off and the film ‘clicked’. Hemanta declared a huge profit and consequently had to pay taxes amounting to Rs. 4,00,000.

During this period, Hemanta produced a number of superhit tunes - Yeh nayan dare dare (based on the tune of the Bengali superhit Aei raat tomar aamar), Tum pukar lo and many others.

Following Bees Saal Baad, his film production took a turn for the worse. None of the films he produced since then was successful. He went on losing money. A time came when his loans went up to an astronomical Rs. 14 lakh. This brought Hemanta back to Calcutta, where he went on to become ‘the man with the golden voice’.

Hemanta became a foremost singer as well as music director in Bombay. Rabindrasangeet and Bengali modern songs had made Hemanta the darling of the Bengalis, Bombay gave him nationwide recognition. Hemanta's days of struggle and worries, were finally coming to an end. Success, fame, wealth, awards continued to radiate throughout his life.

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