Madan Mohan’s Story In 5 Songs

You may think it odd, but when I think of Madan Mohan, I can’t help but think about the parallels between his career and R.D. Burman’s. Both Madan Mohan and R.D. Burman had to work hard to grow out of their fathers’ shadows. R.D. Burman’s lineage is well known. What isn’t known well is the fact that Madan Mohan’s father Raibahadur Chunnilal Kohli was one of the co-founders of Bombay Talkies and later headed Filmistan. It’s another matter that while S.D. Burman was supportive of R.D. Burman and his career, Madan Mohan had strained relations with his father and had to build his career without his help. Both struggled for many years before seeing some success. It took them both about six years before they saw their first hit – “Teesri Manzil” (1966) for R.D. Burman and “Bhai Bhai” (1956) for Madan Mohan. Towards the end of their career, both Madan Mohan and R.D. Burman grew disillusioned with their careers and died before they could enjoy the success of their last films – “Mausam” (1975) for Madan Mohan and “1942 – A Love Story” (1994) for R.D. Burman. Finally, both Madan Mohan’s and R.D. Burman’s legacies have grown by leaps and bounds after their deaths. While R.D. Burman’s legacy grew mostly because of his fan base, Madan Mohan’s legacy had help from his family. Madan Mohan is the only Hindi film composer who is credited as music director for a film whose music was produced and recorded posthumously. Madan Mohan’s son Sanjeev Kohli recreated his father’s compositions for the Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee starrer “Veer Zaara” (2004), almost three decades after Madan Mohan’s death.

I didn’t include any songs from Veer Zaara in this post. However, I do recommend that you check out the making of Veer Zaara’s music embedded at the end of this post. There are some very cool snippets of Madan Mohan singing tunes while playing the harmonium that transition into the end product re-created from those old recordings – Veer Zaara’s songs. Also recommended is the website, run by his family. It’s a treasure trove of information on this great music director.

Picking five Madan Mohan songs is an exercise in futility because there are so many gems in his discography. A more meaningful list can be found here. What I will attempt to do is to tell Madan Mohan’s story through 5 songs:

Kadar Jaane Na (Bhai Bhai, 1956)

Madan Mohan’s first hit score was “Bhai Bhai” (1956) and came six years after he made his debut for “Aankhen” (1950).  He had fifteen films under his baton by this time and had even flirted with acting. Geeta Dutt’s spirited “Ae Dil Mujhe Bata De” may have been the film’s most successful song but Madan Mohan’s favourite was the beauty he had Lata Mangeshkar sing – “Kadar Jane Na”. He would proudly relate that Begum Akhtar loved the song so much that she called him long distance and had him sing the song over the phone. The film’s music may have been even more successful had the film not been prematurely withdrawn from theatres due to a dispute between the film’s producers and distributors.

Yun Hasraton Ke Daagh (Adalat, 1958)

In 1957, Madan Mohan scored what is considered one of his best albums – “Dekh Kabira Roya”. The film had some great songs, including Manna Dey’s “Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dware” and Talat Mahmood’s “Humse Aaya Na Gaya Tumse Bulaya Na Gaya”. However, it could be argued that Madan Mohan did not deliver because the film’s music was not in sync with its comic theme. Thankfully for us, Madan Mohan got to compose the music for a film that was right in his sweet spot the very next year – “Adalat”. It was in “Adalat” that he perfected the genre that he came to be best known for – the filmi ghazal. Madan Mohan’s pick of singers for the film was telling. He had Asha Bhosle sing the light and breezy numbers – “Jab Din Hasin Dil Ho Jawan” and “Zamin Se Hamen Aasman Par”, but picked Lata Mangeshkar for the film’s heavy hitters – “Jaana Tha Humse Door”,  “Yun Hasraton Ke Daagh”, “Ja Ja Re Ja Saajna” and “Unko Yeh Shikayat Hai”. Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar’s relationship was one based on mutual respect. Madan Mohan bestowed on Lata his best tunes and Lata considered him “Ghazalon Ka Shahzada” (“The King Of Ghazals”). Listening to the achingly beautiful “Yun Hasraton Ke Daagh” we cannot help but be grateful for their association.

Hai Isi Mein Pyar Ki Aabroo (Anpadh, 1962)

Madan Mohan had a string of brilliant scores throughout the 1960s – “Anpadh” (1962), “Woh Kaun Thi” (1964), “Haqeeqat” (1964) and “Mera Saaya” (1966) among them. He was in his prime, his music won critical acclaim and he had the respect of his peers. Naushad was so in awe of “Hai Isi Mein Pyar Ki Aabroo” from “Anpadh” that he said that he would gladly exchange all his songs for this Madan Mohan composition alone. Notable in this song was his favourite instrument, the sitar, possibly played by Ustad Rais Khan, whose sitar graced many Madan Mohan classics, including “Nainon Mein Badra Chhaye” (“Mera Saaya”, 1966), “Baiyan Naa Dharo Balma” (“Dastak”, 1970), “Aaj Socha Toh Aansoo Bhar Aaye” (“Hanste Zakhm”, 1973) and “Rasm-E-Ulfat Ko Nibhayen” (“Dil Ki Rahen”, 1973).

Mai Ri Main Kaase Kahoon (Dastak, 1970)

For reasons I don’t fully understand, Madan Mohan was a disillusioned man by the end of the decade. The fact that the films he scored did not quite succeed at the box office – “Mera Saaya” (1966) was an exception – may have bothered him. That his music did not win any awards, critical acclaim notwithstanding, could be another contributing factor. That changed with “Dastak” which won him the National Film Award for Best Music Direction. Madan Mohan did not plan to accept the award because he felt that the award had come too late. It was Sanjeev Kumar, who had won the Best Actor award for the same film, who convinced him to change his mind and accompany him to Delhi to accept the award. Every song from Dastak is brilliant but I picked “Mai Ri” because thanks to Madan Mohan’s family, we have a scratch version available that was recorded in Madan Mohan’s voice and it’s a treat to listen to.

Dil Dhoondhta Hai (Male) (Mausam, 1975)

Gulzar’s “Mausam” was the success that had eluded Madan Mohan all his career. Unfortunately, he did not live to enjoy it. He died of cirrhosis of the liver on July 14, 1975, before the film was released. But what a note to end one’s career, indeed one’s life on! Madan Mohan’s stellar composition, which many mistake for R.D. Burman’s, Gulzar’s lovely, Ghalib-inspired poetry and Bhupinder’s soulful rendition delivered a song for the ages. There’s a duet, upbeat version of the song as well but my favorite is Bhupinder’s solo.

Making Of Music – Veer Zaara

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

[This post originally appeared here. This is an edited version.]






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