The Hindi film industry is known to be ruthlessly forgetful about some of its legends, and music director Khemchand Prakash is one of them. His timeless creations have been a part of our lives for over 65 years now. Few know that greats like Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Naushad, Manna Dey and Bulo C Rani were mentored by him. But the creator of these musical gems, and the mentor of this league of stalwarts is now largely forgotten.
Khemchand Prakash was born in Jaipur in 1907 where his father Goverdhan Das was a Dhrupad singer & Kathak dancer in the royal court of Madho Singh II, and the boy, Khemchand got his first training in music & dance from his father. Soon he became a popular for his Kathak dancing talent and for his unmatched skills in drawing animal sketches with gulaal on the floor using his feet while dancing!
By the time he reached his teens, Khemchand was invited by Ganga Singh, to join the Bikaner Royal court as a singer-performer but he did not stay there for long and moved to the royal court of Nepal. However, destiny had something else in store for him and after a few years, he landed in Kolkata and joined New Theaters as an assistant of Timir Baran, the music director of Devdas (1935).
Music director Daan Singh (My Love, Bhool Na Jaana), who was a formal protégé of Khemchand Prakash for a year and half, had told me that two of the classic compositions from Devdas, ‘Dukh ke din ab...’ and ‘Baalam aan baso...’ , were composed by Guruji (Khemchand) and yet his contributions as composer went uncredited. It was with Street Singer (1938), that Khemchand got a chance to face the camera in a song, thanks to his Kathak skills.
After his first break as a music director in 1939 with the film Meri Aankhein, Khemchand’s second assignment was for the film Gaazi Salauddin, on which he was assisted by none other than Naushad.
Khemchand ji ne Gaaji Salaauddin me pehla mauka diya, ye unki badi meharbani, inayat thi ki unhone mujhe mauka diya, mujhe aisa mauka mila, aise guni aadmi ke saath kaam karne ka.
– Naushad, Music Director
His initial years had a few more significant films like Pardesi, Holi and Fariyaad. Khursheed was his leading singer and both of them gave a lot of hits of the early 40s. 1941’s Pardesi turned out to be a big hit and made Khursheed a big star.
But it was in 1943 that came a film which pushed Khemchand Prakash much ahead of the other music directors of the era and the film was KL Saigal starrer Tansen, considered one of the finest musicals. Diya jalaao jagmag jagmag, Rumjhum rumjhum chal tihari, More balpan ke saathi, Sapt suran teen gram... are musical gems that have not their lost shine even after seventy years.
Jab unhone Tansen film me Saigal ko Dhrupad ang ka gaana “Sapt suran teen gram...” diya, to main iske baare mein ye bata doon ki Tansen se jab bhi (kisi film/drame mein) gaana gawaya gaya hai to khayaal gawaaya gaya hai, magar Tansen ke waqt mein khayaal gaayan hota hi nahin tha aur unke samay mein Dhrupad hi tha aur ye Khemchand Prakash ji hi the jinhone Dhrupad se introduction karawaaya Tansen ko (filmon mein).
– Anil Biswas, Music Director
Tansen mein unke raagdaariyo ka jo istemaal tha waisa koi doosra music director nahin kar paaya.. maine bhi koshish ki Baiju Baawara mein lekin un tak nahin pahunch paaya.
– Naushad, Music Director
1948 marked yet another significant film in Khemchand’s career - Bombay Talkies’s Ziddi, in which he gave Kishore Kumar his first major break as a singer with the song ‘Marne ki duaaen kyun maangu...’
It is known that, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice was initially rejected by producer Chandu Lal Shah, owner of Ranjit Movietone and Khemchand Prakash, music director with the studio, challenged his decision and told him that Lata’s voice will rule the nation one day and resigned from the studio. Khemchand’s first film with Bombay Talkies studio, Ziddi, also featured a beautiful song by Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Chanda re, ja re ja re...’. But what followed Ziddi was an outstanding piece of work in the form of the music of Mahal (1949).
Mahal made Lata Mangeshkar a popular name in every corner of the country. The haunting melodies and brilliant orchestration of Mahal, set the foundation for the golden period of Hindi film music of the 50s.
Have you noticed that ‘Aayega aane wala...’ forms the smallest mukhda of any Hindi film song, with just three words, Khemchand Prakash made a magical composition. All the other songs of Mahal (Ghabara ke jo hum sar ko..., Mushkil hai bahut mushkil..., Dil ne phir yaad kiya...) are just as timeless.
Unfortunately, Khemchand Prakash did not survive long enough to see the success of Mahal or the shaping of the golden era of the Hindi film music of the 50s. He passed away on August 10, 1950 at the relatively young age of 42. His immediate family, consisting of his wife Sridevi and daughter Chandrakala, didn’t get the required support from the industry and went through tough times financially. Chandrakala, who was a very good dancer like her father, had to do some small dancing roles in films to earn an income.
Mahal, Tansen, Pardesi and Ziddi are just a few samples of Khemchand Prakash’s talent in the short span of his career. Had he been there for a longer stint, I am sure he would not have been forgotten as easily.
(Explore the life and music of Khemchand Prakash in a two part documentary made by the author in 2007 to commemorate the birth centenary of Khemchand Prakash below)