Khemchand Prakash – The Royal Musician of Hindi Films

[This post originally appeared here.]

Khemchand Prakash was one of the giants of Hindi film industry. He shaped and defined Hindi film music when it was still in its nascent stages. In a short career spanning just about a decade, he left behind a legacy that exceeded his output as a music director.

Khemchand had an early start in music. His father, Pandit Govardhan Prasad, was a musician in the royal court of Jaipur and also taught him music. He worked as a court singer and then tried his hand at acting in films before found his true calling in film music. After assisting composer Timir Baran in a few films, Khemchand Prakash debuted as a music director for the film “Meri Aankhen” (1939).

Khemchand Prakash died in 1950 when he was only 43 years old. In this post I discuss in five songs what he accomplished in ten years and how his influence on film music could be felt long after he passed away.

Lo Kha Lo Madam Khana (Street Singer, 1938) 

This song was composed by R.C. Boral, not Khemchand Prakash. Khemchand sang this comic song and appeared on screen for it. The reason I included this song – Khemchand Prakash dances in it. In fact, he was a trained kathak dancer (he does a kathak move in the song) and it is said that it was this skill that helped him imbibe a strong sense of rhythm in his music.

Pehle Jo  Mohabbat Se Inkaar Kiya Hota (Pardesi, 1941)

Early on in his career Khemchand Prakash showed glimpses of his ability to set trends and his penchant to handle the female voice. “Pehle Jo Mohabbat…” catapulted singer-actress Khursheed from relative obscurity to becoming one of the leading female artists of the time. She had been around in the industry for almost a decade when this Khemchand Prakash song launched her into stardom and helped her bag coveted lead roles opposite K.L. Saigal in films that defined her career – “Bhakta Surdas” (1942) and “Tansen” (1943). In a few more years, he would transform the career of another singer and Hindi film music would never be the same again. 

Sapt Suran Teen Graam (Tansen, 1943)

Tansen was possibly the first film to embrace classical music with gusto. Backed by excellent subject matter and K.L. Saigal’s glorious voice, Khemchand Prakash composed songs that became big hits while retaining their authentic Hindustani classical base. As Naushad pointed out in an interview, a remarkable aspect of Khemchand’s music for “Tansen” was the use of Dhrupad, which was the style in which Mian Tansen used to sing, and not Khayal which was more common in Hindi films. The music of “Tansen” set the stage for a phase in Hindi films that borrowed heavily from classical music. At the forefront of this phase was Khemchand’s one-time assistant and admirer, Naushad. In “Baiju Bawra” (1952), Naushad emulated his guru by creating music that was a balance of mainstream and classicism and the film’s success triggered a spurt in films steeped in classical music.

Marne Ki Duaaen Kyon Maangoon (Ziddi, 1948)

Khemchand Prakash is credited with launching the voice that captured the nations imagination for decades to come – Kishore Kumar. He spotted the young Kishore’s singing talent early on gave him his first solo, “Marne Ki Duaaen…” for Ziddi (1948). Although Kishore sang the song in Saigal’s style, his potential was unmistakable. It was a travesty that despite a solid start – a song picturised on a superstar in the making, Dev Anand – Kishore Kumar’s singing career did not really take off after Ziddi. One can’t help but wonder if Kishore may have seen success sooner if Khemchand Prakash had lived longer.

Aayega Aanewala (Mahal, 1949)

If we had to pick one song that had the biggest impact on Hindi film music, many of us would pick “Aayega Aanewala” (music by Khemchand Prakash, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and written by Nakshab Jarchvi). This was the song that made Lata Mangeshkar a household name, a name that would be at the forefront of Hindi film music for the next 60 years or so.

The song was not an accidental success. Khemchand Prakash was among the few composers who heard the tremendous potential in Lata’s voice, when most of Bollywood was unsure if the thin voice of young Lata would appeal to the masses. The song was not just a result of Khemchand’s vision – there was painstaking work involved. In the song’s opening, Lata’s voice was supposed to sound like it was coming from a distance. She was asked to stand away from the microphone and walk towards it as she sang the opening line so that she was at the mike when the second verse started. It took many rehearsals to perfect just the song’s opening.

Such was the song’s success that radio stations were flooded with calls of people trying to find out who the singer was and for the first time, radio stations started announcing the name of artists before playing songs. The song was a precursor to a new genre of spooky songs which included Lata hits like “Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil” (“Bees Saal Baad”, 1962), “Naina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim” (“Who Kaun Thi”, 1964), “Mere Mehboob Na Ja” (“Noor Mahal”, 1965) and “Mera Saaya Saath Hoga” (“Mera Saaya” 1966).

Sadly, Khemchand Prakash died the very next year after Mahal’s release, when he was still at his peak. Five songs and a few hundred words are just not enough to express his contribution to Hindi film music. I highly recommend that you further explore his compositions.