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Not Just a ‘Ghazal King’: Madan Mohan’s Far-Ranging Work Deserves Better

Madan Mohan rose like a phoenix and proved his musical prowess but was only recognised prominently post-death.

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Coincidences can be marvellously intoxicating at times. Just as the raindrops started their waltz across my portico, the stereo played that rare number which makes even a teetotaller like me swoon in ecstasy. The bubbly verses of Majrooh Sultanpuri entwined in Mohammed Rafi’s naughty timbre and the music of Madan Mohan made the listening akin to nirvana. Whosoever has heard “Sawan Ke Mahine Mein” (“Sharaabi”) concurs with Plato that music lends "charm and gaiety to life.”

As the frothy number came to an end, I realised it had been almost five decades since Madan Mohan departed from this world, and yet his delectable songs provide spiritual and sensual solace to millions like me. I can't resist but delve deep into the vast reservoirs of old Hindi film songs of the Golden Era and the refined melodies of Madan Mohan always bless me with a soothing equanimity. But what rankles me is why despite the overwhelming popularity of his songs, Madan Mohan was not given the applause and accolades that he so richly deserved in his lifetime and why most recognised his genius only after his demise.

Listen to the vast repertoire of his creations and you realise that his was a class act despite many of his films turning out as box-office disasters.
Madan Mohan rose like a phoenix and proved his musical prowess but was only recognised prominently post-death.

Film poster of "Sharaabi" which features Madan Mohan's composition  “Sawan Ke Mahine Mein” 

(Photo: Kamran Akhtar/The Quint)

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An Underrated Genius

From “Aakhri Dao”, “Adalat”, “Railway Platform”, “Anpadh”, “Dastak”, “Ghazal”, “Haqeeqat”, “Hanste Zakhm” to “Heer Ranjha”, “Jahaanara”, “Mera Saaya”, “Neela Akash” and many others, Madan’s songs exhibit finesse and finish of rare sheen. No wonder popular Music Director Pyarelal opines, "irrespective of banners, budgets, genres or pressures, Madan Mohan created songs of such rare feel that they draw applause across the globe.”

What strikes as quite incomprehensible as to why Madan had not been conferred the top status as a music director or a major film award in his heyday when most of his 650 odd songs were hits and enthrall millions till date? Critics contend commercial failure of many of his films led to an unfortunate impression that his music overshadowed the stories, but his son Sanjeev Kohli emphatically rejected the viewpoint in a private chat with this writer a few years ago. Sanjeev opined that "weaknesses lay with scripts and production values and that the only motivation for most audiences to watch those films was Madan Mohan’s music!”

The contention is not wayward as many flop films are now remembered only for his outstanding songs like Mukesh’s “Bhulee Hui Yaadon” (Sanjog), Lata’s “Mujhe Yaad Karne Waale” (Rishte Naate), Talat’s “Main Paagal Mera Manwa Paagal” (Aashiana) and Rafi Sahab’s “Tu Mere Samne Hai” (“Suhagan”). Even though his versatility ensured all-time favourite songs like “Meri Yaad Mein Tumna” (“Madhosh”), “Do Ghadi Woh Jo Paas Aa Baithe” (“Gateway of India”), “Baad Muddat Ke Ye Ghadi Aayi” (“Jahanara”) or “Jis Din Se Maine Tumko Dekha Hai” (“Parwana”), the abysmal failure of films dented his commercial stature.

Frankly, Madan Mohan was also undone by the illogical conclusion of some critics who declared his best came only because of Lata Mangeshkar. This was a monumental lie that did great injustice to Madan’s phenomenal calibre since his musical notes were as serene and pristine as his principles of fair play and justice.
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In fact, it was Madan’s dexterity that brought glory to Lata, and had he not been there to hone her singing, Lata would not have gained the halo that she acquired in the enlightening company of Madan’s exquisite compositions.

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Comparison With Contemporaries Mars Madan’s Talent

If Lata is adored for “Chaand Madham Hai” (“Railway Platform”), “Lag Ja Gale” (“Who Kaun Thi”), “Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha” (“Anpadh”), or “Mera Saaya Saath Hoga” (“Mera Saaya”), it is all because of the hummable tunes given by Madan Mohan to Lata to sing. It may be true that he shared a special bond with Lata, nevertheless, his songs are adequate testaments of the fact that he chose singers according to the needs of his compositions on screen.

This is amply proven by several melodious hits like "Sabaa Se Ye Kahdo” (Bank Manager), “Ashqon Se Teri Hamne” (“Dekh Kabira Roya”), “Thodi Der Ke Liye Mere Ho Jao” (“Akeli Mat Jaiyo”) and “Shokh Nazar Ki Bijaliyaan” (Woh Kaun Thi) that he created with Asha Bhosle and which rank alongside the best of Lata!

Similarly, his harmony with Mohammed Rafi is a delight for commoners and connoisseurs alike. Even to quote a few is a difficult task since the mellifluous numbers like “Tumhari Zulf Ke Saaye Mein Shaam” and “Meri Awaaz Suno” (both from “Naunihaal”), “Basti Basti Parbat Parbat” (“Railway Platform”), “Main Nigaahein Tere Chehre Se Hataon Kaise” (“Aap Ki Parchchaiyan”) to “Rang Aur Noor Ki Baarat” (“Ghazal”), “Kisi Ki Yaad Mein” (“Jahanara”), “Kabhi Na Kabhi” (“Sharaabi”), “Yun Rootho Na Hasina” (“Neen Hamari Kwab Tumhare”) and several others just take your breath away. That critics have been way off the mark is proven by the fact that Madan had more hits with Rafi Sahab than Lata Mangeshkar!

It is also a travesty of justice to call Madan Mohan just a "Ghazal King” since his versatility went way beyond the narrow confines of definition. The list of songs quoted in this article too belies the notion that Madan Mohan was just a composer of enchanting ghazals.
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Hear “Main Ye Soch Kar” (Haqeeqat), “Mujhe Le Chalo” (Sharabi), “Tumse Kahun Ek Baat” (“Dastak”), “Meri Duniya Mein Tum Aanyee” (“Heer Ranjha”) –perhaps the best ever fusion of sensuous and sublime along with the ultimate patriotic song “Ab Tumhare Hawaale Watan Saathiyon” to comprehend what a marvellous repertoire he commanded and what unconventional beats he created with his musical baton.

Madan Mohan rose like a phoenix and proved his musical prowess but was only recognised prominently post-death.

Madan Mohan, Rafi Sahab & Raj Khosla

(Photo: Kamran Akhtar/The Quint)

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“Composed Musical Hits Within Minutes”

He never had any formal training in music, yet he could conjure a tune within minutes without jeopardising the melody or situation of the film. Not many are aware that the masterpiece “Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha” was composed in fifteen minutes at the recording studio, abandoning the original song since Raja Mehndi Ali Khan came up with a new poem. Similarly, he created the Rafi evergreen “Ye Duniya Ye Mehfil” in a jiffy too.

According to Ketan Anand, Chetan Anand’s son, "the two friends had fought and disagreed over an earlier tune during the day. But an emotional, midnight phone conversation made the two friends meet after an hour, whereby an inspired Madan composed the tune within minutes.” Ketan adds that "the two then wept together till early hours of the morning” but still recorded the song later on the same day!

Sensitive and sentimental but imbued with great integrity and self-respect, Madan never took the help of even his illustrious father Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, the founder of Bombay Talkies, to establish himself in the film world.

A combination of a strong body with an extremely tender heart, this ex-Army man plodded on like a true soldier in spite of constant rebuffs by major awards and film banners. Although he resorted to liquor to drown his bottled-up sorrows, till his dying day, none ever complained about his dedication or punctuality.
Madan Mohan rose like a phoenix and proved his musical prowess but was only recognised prominently post-death.

(L to R) Mukesh, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Talat mehmood, S D Burman, Lata Mangeshkar, Nargis, Madan Mohan, Mohammed Rafi, and Manna Dey.

(Photo:Kamran Akhtar/ The Quint)

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The strange paradox is that just when Madan’s creativity was conquering the farthest frontiers of the musical universe, he hurtled himself to self-destruction. Sad that while the national award for “Dastak” came too late in life, his two greatest hits “Mausam” and “Laila Majnu” came only after his death. Receiving greater appreciation and recognition after his death, Madan Mohan rose like a Phoenix in 2011 when his immaculate label “Kaise Kategi Zindagi” achieved great commercial success.

Released to commemorate the death anniversaries of both Rafi Sahab and Madan Mohan, the label made up of unreleased songs of the composer took the top slot in sales, thus vindicating Madan Mohan was a dazzling composer of melodies for all ages and all seasons.

(Deepak Mahaan is a documentary filmmaker and an eminent author. A specialist on Cinema and Sports, he has published numerous pieces in prestigious publications in India and abroad. He tweets at @mahaanmahan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Mohammad Rafi   Madan Mohan 

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