Rewind: In Which Hemant Kumar Describes Guru Dutt as “Ruthless” 

A timeless interview with the inimitable Hemant Kumar.

6 min read
Rewind: In Which Hemant Kumar Describes Guru Dutt as “Ruthless” 

Close your eyes and listen to the song of Khamoshi - “Khwab Chun Rahi Hai Raat, Beqrar Hai, Tumhara Intezar Hai... Pukar Lo...” in the god-gifted, velvety smooth romantic voice of Hemant Kumar. Once Lata Mangeshkar said, “Listening to Hemant Da, I feel as though a sadhu (saint) is sitting in a temple singing bhajan.”

Incidentally, his music career started with All India Radio in 1931. Singer, composer and producer, Hemant Kumar set a new trend in Hindi and Bengali films. In the 50s and 60s, he scored many iconic numbers that set the benchmark in Hindi film music.

I first met him in 1985 in Delhi. He was special invitee for one of All India Radio’s Rabindra Sangeet programme. I was doing my weekly programme Sada Bahar Sur on the National Channel of All India Radio. My programme was based on Hindi film songs, interviews of composers,singers, lyricists etc.

Here’s an interview conducted in Hindi to remember the legend on his death anniversary (26 September).


MK Jha: Hemant Kumar, Hemanta Mukherjee, dada... what’s your real name?

Hemant Kumar: All three are same. You know in Bengali Mukhopaddhay is also known as Mukherjee, Chattopadhyay as Chatterjee and Bandopaddhyay as Banerjee... it’s common. But in the Bombay film industry, I am known as Hemant Kumar. The owner of Filimistan, Shashdhar Mukherjee gave me the first break as music composer and he told me “This is Bombay... people don’t understand complicated names, so I will call you Hemant kumar”. So I became Hemant Kumar.

Jha: When did you go to Bombay?

Hemant Kumar: My first Hindi film was a story of a revolution, Anand Math. It was written by Bankim Chandra, he wrote the famous song, which was sung by Lata Mangeshkar. I composed the song Bande Mataram. After Anand Math, Filmistan gave me two more films. I wanted desperately to go back to Calcutta. I was feeling homesick but Shashdhar Mukherjee told me, “Till you give me one hit film, I wont let you go”. I had no choice. I was doing Nagin and I wanted to give been tune. You know, the saperas (snake charmers), they play been.

My problem was, I didn’t want to use the been. Kalyanji Virji Shah was my assistant. Finally on harmonium and Clavioline, we got the been tune. The director and producer liked it and asked me to use it in the songs of Nagin. By the grace of god, the film and its songs were a great hit. I got my first Filmfare Award for music of Nagin. And it was my second film in Bombay. Pradeep Kumar and Vyjayanthimala became stars. The song “Mann Dole Tan Dole...” was very popular.

Jha: After Nagin?

Hemant Kumar: Jagriti, Shart and Samrat - all under the banner of Filmistan. Filmistan was a big studio, a well-respected banner.

Jha: I remember all those patriotic songs of Jagriti... “Aao Bachchon Tumhe Dikhayen Hindustan Ki...” in your voice, then “Sabarmati Ke Sant Tune Kar Diya Kamaal...” sung by Asha Bhosle.

Hemant Kumar: I did compose music for all these films... I sang songs also.

Jha: How did you reach Navketan Studio... sing for Dev Anand?

Hemant Kumar:

Sachin Babu ( Sachin Dev Burman) was associated with Navketan and he was a very successful music director in Bombay. I knew Sachin Babu before he came to Bombay and made a big name for himself. Yes, it’s true that before Rafi and Kishore Kumar, I was the voice of Dev Anand.

Jha: How many songs did you sing for Dev Anand ?

Hemant Kumar:

I sang 12-13 songs for Sachin Babu and all were very popular. All were picturised on Dev Anand.. “Hai apna Dil to Awara...”, “Na Yeh Chand Hoga, Na Taare Rahenge...” or “Yeh Raat Ye Chandini Phir Kahan...”, “Na Tum Hame Jano Na Hum Tumhe Jaane...”. And wherever I go for my concerts, people do farmaish for these songs. I enjoyed working with Sachin Babu. I remember when he was composing for Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, I got a phone call from him. He said in Bengali, “Are you free tomorrow... I have one song for you” and that song was “Jaane Woh Kaise Log The...” (Pyasa).

Jha: A very soulful song, but didn’t you use the same tune for the song of Anupama. You sang for Dharmendra in “Ya Dil Ki Suno...”.

Hemant Kumar: There are seven ragas and 36 basic raginis and what’s wrong in that? If you see the mood of both, the scenes are quite similar and while composing, Kaifi Azmi the lyricist of Anupama liked the tune. All the songs of Anupama were soulful. It was called “The Sound Of Silence”... only music and song.

Hemant Kumar with his wife Bela and Pt Jawaharlal Nehru.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/ nirmalbhadra)

Jha: Which was your last film with Sachin Babu?

Hemant Kumar: I think it was Baat Ek Raat Ki... “Na Tum Hamein Jaano...”. After that he did not call (smiles). In Bombay film industry, when a singer got a call from Sachin Babu, it was big news. But I didn’t get a call. I don’t know the reason. I also got busy in Hindi and Bengali films as music director.

Jha: You did very few Hindi films as a composer as compared to your two friends from Bengal - Salil Chowdhary and Sachin Dev Burman.

Hemant Kumar: I got busy with Bengali films. Uttam Kumar became the star and he used to demand that I should be the music composer of his films. We made a successful actor-composer /singer pair.

Jha:  When did you decide to start your film production company?

Hemant Kumar: Same time. Earlier it was known as Hemanta-Bela Films and we used to make Bangla films. My first film was Neel Akasher Neeche directed by Mrinal Sen and it got the President’s Gold Medal. I later changed the name to Gitanjali Films and produced Hindi films like Bees Saal Baad, Kohra. These two were horror-suspense films and launched Biswajeet as an actor. While Bees Saal Baad was a big hit, Kohra was average. Then I produced Khamoshi. Kaka ( Rajesh Khanna) and Waheeda Rehman were in lead roles. Khamoshi was a hit and was appreciated. Gulzar wrote the songs on my tunes.

Jha: I remember, all the songs were superb. My favourite ones were “Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi...” and “Tum Pukaar Lo...”.

HK: Khamoshi was based on a Bengali writer’s story. All songs are popular even today.

Jha: You have always been praising Lata Mangeshkar but there is not a single song of Lata in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.

Hemant Kumar: That was Guru Dutt’s film. For his films, he used to pick the best. He was ruthless about choosing music and songs for his own films. When Guru asked me for Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, I said you have a reputation of discarding music directors if you don’t like their music. I told Guru, “Gadbad mat karna... tum ek gaana record karoge, phir bologe, no”. But Guru told me, “This wont happen. Only you can do justice to Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Since the background of the film is set in Bengal, only you can do best music because you understand the culture of Bengal.”

If you hear the songs, there was no place for Lata there. Geeta Dutt, Guru Dutt’s wife was a great singer and Asha Bhosle’s youthful voice was fit for “Bhanwara Bada Nadan Hai...”. In my films, I always go for Lata first, then for others. She has sung many Bengali songs for me.
(From left) Pulak Bandyopadhyay, Kishore Kumar, Tarun Majumdar, Gulzar, Hemant Kumar and Asha Bhosle at a recording session. 
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/ Imprints)

Jha: Why and when did you decide to leave Bombay ?

Hemant Kumar: I had no work in Bombay. Many new composers had joined the industry. My hands were full in Bengal. It was not possible to do Bangla movies sitting in Bombay, so I decided to settle in Calcutta. Even today, I have a lot of work but my health is not permitting me. So I have become choosy. See, I am very progressive... I don’t rubbish new composers. Even in my time, old music composers had the same feeling about us. Music means melody .

Hemant Kumar (third from right) with Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/ bengalisforever)

True, Hemant da. His last concert was in September 1989 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he was awarded the Michael Madhusudhan Award. After coming back to Calcutta, he suffered a severe heart attack and died on September 26, 1989. But his songs still play on in my mind... “Sirf Ahsas Hai Rooh Se Mahsoos Karo....”

(Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha is a broadcast journalist with over 25 years of experience. He worked for Newstrack and AajTak (TV Today) and IBN7 (TV18 Group). He has two passions News and Hindi music. He can be reached on twitter @mrityunjoykjha)

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