Madan Mohan: Melodies and Memories of a Legendary Father

Know a different side of the legendary music composer Madan Mohan.

6 min read
Madan Mohan: Melodies and Memories of a Legendary Father
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Madan Mohan - the father, is more etched in my early memories than Madan Mohan - the composer. The composing legend, that he has now become, was something I discovered only after he was gone.

Of course, this was largely because he died too soon, while my sister, brother and myself were still too young to realize his redoubtable talent, and had less exposure to what the world thought of him. The father, whom I lost when I was only a teenager, will be an indelible part of my life and of course, his songs only help to keep his presence around us, even 47 years after he left us.

Madan Mohan with son eldest son Sanjeev Kohli

(Photo courtesy: Sanjeev Kohli)

It was obvious that, as we grew up, our affinity to music was strong - he did not completely shut us out from the musical environment but was very keen that we complete our education - that was his topmost priority. Thus, though we were allowed our forays to the occasional recording, he preferred that we did not bunk school for this purpose - of course, we would sometimes feign illness on early mornings to skip school only to ‘feel better’ later in the day so that we could go to a recording .


Madan Mohan with Mohammed Rafi at a recording session

(Photo courtesy: Sanjeev Kohli)

I can never forget some of the recordings I attended, only to marvel at the respect he commanded from the fraternity - musicians, recordists, singers, poets and even his peers. I recall other major composers sometimes dropping in to his recordings and hugging him for a well-composed song, it was a wonderful camaraderie that was the hallmark of those times.

Lata Mangeshkar with Madan Mohan, whom she used to call ‘Madan bhaiya’

(Photo courtesy: Sanjeev Kohli)

My fascination at the recordings was always to watch Lataji and Rafi saab through the thick glass windows of the control room - their expressions and their mellifluous voices reverberating on the huge speakers - a truly unforgettable experience!

The composer in him always held sway – as a kid, I remember him suddenly humming away in the most uncanny moments, whether it was in the swimming pool with us or even in a hotel lobby – he would be almost in a trance and to us children it was strange and embarrassing... little did we realize that it was a new melody striking him that would be heard 50 years later!

Madan Mohan with his eldest son Sanjeev Kohli

(Photo courtesy: Sanjeev Kohli)

All through school I craved to have my friends be aware of the hits that he had created. But obviously, they were all too young and patronized the more commercial, lighter and easier songs. In fact, due to this reason, even I would end up singing other composers’ songs at school functions.

In 1966 , a year when after a close contest with his Mera Saaya, the film Suraj won the Filmfare award for Best Music, he was extremely disappointed as the award had eluded him for the third time, despite him being the favourite among nominees .

Just a few months later, when on a long drive he asked the naïve 10-year-old me to sing a song, I ended up singing a popular song from Suraj, and today I realize how this must have hurt him further! It was the lack of mass adulation or at least awareness of it, that always caused him anguish and, over the years, embittered him. The man, who was acknowledged as a genius by people who understood and appreciated music, was never at the top rung in the hit parades or with the big banners or the big stars.

I also remember the evenings he spent at our residence with his colleagues - most often, Chetan Anand, Priya, Kaifi Azmi, at other times Rajinder Krishan and Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, and of course, Lataji. He would himself cook for them and play them a song he had recorded earlier in the day, while we children, way past our bedtime, would hide outside the room and listen.

The guests would marvel at the composition of the day as well as the delectable food he had cooked! In fact many in the fraternity hoped that they would at some time get the opportunity to experience a Madan Mohan meal!

Madan Mohan

(Photo courtesy: Sanjeev Kohli)

At his funeral, I was amazed at the grief-stricken people from the industry. I saw the top singers sobbing uncontrollably, the top stars of the day helped in the last rites - it was almost as if they were mourning the fact that they would never be able to work with him again. The front page news on 15th July all had eulogies with the headline. ‘The King of Ghazals is dead’.

After his death, when I joined the music business, I realised his worth even more. I got more respect from the industry professionals because I was Madan Mohan’s son. His compilations were among the bestsellers of HMV, younger music directors always considered him as their idol when they were interviewed, young singers would sing his songs in contests. I even remember the thunderous applause that a Madan Mohan song would get in Lataji’s concerts in various countries.

As a teenager who had lost his father at a tender age, and having observed his sense of not being as successful as his talent merited, I had an impossible dream! One day would I ever be able to achieve for him what he always craved for… a big banner film, a legendary director, a huge star cast, a popular award voted by listeners, a song on top of the charts?

Sanjeev Kohli with Lata Mangeshkar and Yash Chopra as they pay a tribute to Madan Mohan

(Photo courtesy: Sanjeev Kohli)

Miraculously, all this happened 30 years later with the film Veer Zaara, in which dear Yash Chopraji used some of dad’s rejected and unused tunes as the soundtrack of his film and asked me to recreate them.

These had accidentally been found by me on some tapes in his cupboard soon after he passed away. What more could I ask for, when this historic experiment met with much success and saw a dream fulfilled!

It is indeed true that many realised his worth when he was suddenly gone. His fans have multiplied in large numbers after his death. Events and concerts are held in his memory. In fact in this week itself, there are 11 commemorative events in a span of 4 days ! Some admirers have even done a thesis on him and his works. Colleges have conducted seminars on his music. And he is now always mentioned among the greatest composers of India. And to be remembered 40 years after you are gone, is the hallmark of success, even if he did not see it for himself!

(Sanjeev Kohli has been associated with the music business as a senior executive in music companies for 30 years. Therafter he has been the CEO of Yashraj Films, where he now continues as a Director and Senior Consultant, while devoting time to a website on his father

(This piece is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 14 July 2015. It is being reposted to mark the death anniversary of the late music composer Madan Mohan.)

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