- Birth Date: 16 Jun 1920
- Birth Place: Varanasi
With his deep but passionate voice and melodic sensibility, Hemant Kumar (born Hemanta Kumar Mukherjee) helped steer the evolution of post-World War II Indian music. Well-known for his interpretations of Rabindranath Tagore's songs, Kumar was equally influential as a composer. In addition to scoring more than 150 Bengali films and 50 Hindi films, Kumar wrote an estimated 2,000 songs.
Hemanta Mukherjee was born on the 16th of June 1920 in Varanasi. From an early age he had developed an everlasting bond with music. He started his singing career on the radio in the late 30s. His first recorded Bengali (non-film) album was in 1937. His first song as a singer in movies was in a Bengali film. ‘Nimai Sanyasi’ released in 1940.
Appearing on Indian radio for the first time in 1933,at the age of 13. Kumar recorded his debut disc, "Janite Jadi Go Tumi" b/w "Balo Go Balo More," six years later. Despite his obvious talent, Kumar gave little thought to a career in music. Instead, he enrolled in a four-year course at the Engineering College of Jaduvpar Polytechnic and dreamed of becoming a writer. In 1937, Dash magazine published one of Kumar's stories. Six years later he cut his first gramophone disc for HMV. Recognition soon followed in the elite music circle of India. In 1940 he sang his first Hindi geet 'Kitna dukh bhulaya tumne'. But commercial success was yet to come.
Hemant Kumar sang his first Hindi song for in 1944 for Music Director Amarnaath in the movie Iraada produced by Indrapuri Studios Calcutta. He sang two solos,’phir muhabbat ke pyaam aane lage’, and, ‘aaraam se jo raaten kaate.n vo ashq bahaanaa kyaa jaanen’ written by Aziiz Kaash- miirii, and a duet with Raadhaaraanii,’nit nit ke roothane vaale saajan, tum deep bano’.
The impact of Kumar's voice could not be denied, however. Although he was turned down by the Senola and Megaphone Record labels, he was signed by Columbia and introduced to their staff trainer, Sailesh Dattagupta. Although he had previously begun studying classical Hindustani music with Ustad Faiyaz Khan, his lessons ended prematurely with Khan's untimely death.
Commercial success was much slower. For several years, Kumar sought a way to break into film playback. His chance came when he was chosen to be the playback singer in the hit film Nimai Sonyas. In 1944, he composed the entire score for Heman Gupta's film, Abhijatri. He resumed his work for Gupta in 1951 with the film Anandamath. He subsequently relocated to Bombay and took a staff composer position with S. Mukherjee's Filmistan Studios. Although he attempted to break into film direction with his own Geetanjali productions, his best work was done for other directors.
One of the most popular Rabindrasangeet singers of his time, starting under the tutelage of Anadi Dastidar, initially singing mainly in the tradition of Pankaj Mullick. Changed his style in context of a brief but fruitful collaboration with Salil Chowdhury(1949-52)associated with the Indian People's Theatrical Association(IPTA). Debut as singer in Bengali film with Phani Burma's Nimai Sanyasi(1940) and in Hindi with Iraada(1944). Early compositions for Hemen Gupta (Bhuli naai, '42, Anandmath, Kashti). Established himself as a Bengal composer with Ajoy Kar's Jighansa. Although he went on to become one of the most popular Bengali composers, his main fame derives from playback singing for Uttam Kumar, his baritone becoming a key ingredient of the star's romantic dramas; e.g., classic hits like 'Jhor uthechhe' in Sudhir Mukherjee's Shapmochan; 'Nir chhoto khati nei' in Niren Lahiri's Indrani; 'Ei path jadi na shesh hoi' in Ajoy Kar's Saptapadi; etc. Often partnered Sandya Mukherjee, female playback usually for Suchitra Sen.
Beginning in 1948, Kumar worked with lyricist/composer Salil Chowdhury to develop a new kind of music, Kavya-geeti, translated as "ballad but not necessarily romantic." From the 50's onwards his voice incarnated Bengali middle-class romanticism, having an enduring influence on all male playback singers in that language since. Became a star singer in Hindi with 'Ye raat ye chaandni' in Guru Dutt's Jaal(1952) picturised on Dev Anand on the beach among the fishing nets. Collaborated extensively with Dutt, e.g. 'Jaane vo kaise log the' in Pyaasa and scored the hauntingly beautiful numbers of Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam. First hindi hit as composer is Nagin adapting a tune from Bijon Bhattacharya's play Jivan kanya for the sinous snake dance number Man dole a landmark in the introduction of electronics into Hindi film music. Composed extensive for Tarun Majumdar and the early Mrinal Sen, producing Sen's Neel Akasher Neechey. As producer he often worked with set designer turned director Biren Nag, showing a penchant for thrillers like Bees Saal Baad (adapted from The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Kohraa borrowed from Daphne du Maurier's(and Hitchcock's) Rebecca. Also produced Pinaki Mukherjee's Faraar, Tarun Majumdar's Rahgir and Asit Sen's Rajesh Khanna psychodrama Khamoshi.
He was introduced as a music director in Hindi films by director Hemen Gupta in the film Anand Math released by Filmistan in 1952, which had tunes for traditional songs, like ‘Jai jagdeesha hare’, the patriotic song ‘Vande maataram sujalam suphalam’ (Bankim Chandra Chatter-jee). The patriotic tunes continued in Jagriti (Old), with ‘De di hamen aazaadi binaa khad binaa dhaal’, (which was an adaptation of the Noorjehan-Naushad hit ‘Kya mil gaya bhagwan tumhein dil ko dukha ke’, and ‘Ham laae hain toofaan se kashti nikaal ke’ (Rafi) and ‘Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaaen jhaanki hindustaan ki’ (Pradeep).
As a music director, he made it big in Hindi films with his huge hit Nagin. This was the movie that introduced electronic synthesized music in films. As most people know, the famous ‘been’ music before the song ‘Tan dole mera man dole’ was synthesized and the credit for that goes to the music director’s assistants Kalyanji and Ravi. In Kohra, the song ‘Kahe bajaya tu ne paapi bansuriya’ by Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor too had such music.
For Lata, Hemant’s voice always reminded her of a sadhu/saint. It is probably this awe/reverence that reflects in her voice when she sang with Hemant. This was not just in the songs where Hemant was the Music Director, but also in most of their other duets, like, ‘Chandan ka palna resham ki Dori’ (Naushad), ‘Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag’ (C.Ramchandra), Lata has been the predominant female voice in Hemant’s films. The other female singers who have had their share of good songs with him were Geeta Dutt, ‘Na jaao saiyaan chudaake baiyaan’, Asha Bhosle, ‘Bhanvra bada nadaan hain’.
While Hemant sang most of his songs himself, he did leave some excellent compositions for some of his contemporary male singers. Rafi was used on and off is many of his movies Jagriti (Old), Miss Mary, Do Dil etc. For Talat Mahmood too, Hemant created some wonderful tunes in the movie Bahu. The Talat Mahmood -Geeta Dutt duets ‘Thandi hawaon mein tere hi baahon mein’, and ‘Dekho dekhoji balam aise birha ka gham mera nanha sa jiya tadpana na’ surely rank high in the list of the most popular songs of Talat Mahmood. He also gave Kishore Kumar the opportunity to sing the sensitive romantic duet with Sudha Malhotra ‘Aaj mujhe kuchh kahana hai’ penned by Sahir; Then with Gulzar, he again gave the opportunity to Kishore to sing evergreen songs like ‘Vo shaam kuch ajeeb thi ye shaam bhi ajeeb hai’ Khamoshi (Old).
He has worked with almost all the top lyricists of his time. Rajinder Krishan in Nagin, Kaifi Azmi in Kohra, Shakeel Badayuni in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Shailendra in Chaand, Gulzar in Khamoshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri Ek Hi Raasta, Sahir Ludhianvi in Girl Friend and Pradeep in Jagriti. Strangely though some of these associations were limited to a single movie. But they were nevertheless memorable. Kaifi Azmi, who has had a better share of movies with Hemant, said that Hemant's tunes always did justice to his lyrics. A sentiment, which is probably shared by all the other lyricists too.
Hemant Kumar was as endearing in ‘Tum pukaar lo’ as he was in ‘Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan’, the pathos in ‘Ya dil ki suno duniya waalon’ was no less than the one seen in ‘Jaane wo kaise log the jinke pyaar ko pyaar mila.
However the gradual fade out of Hemant Kumar was reflected by some of his last few songs,like ‘ya dil ki suno duniya waalon’( Anupama) accurately describing the mood of Hemant at that time. He was last credited five or six years ago for the title song of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's tele-serial ‘Talaash’ starring Moushmi Chatterjee and Alok Nath. The song, sung by Suresh Wadkar, ‘Jeevan ek talaash hai’, had the same tune as ‘Tum pukaar lo’ from Khamoshi (Old).