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Hemant Kumar

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This is a tribute to singer-composer Hemant Kumar, whose death anniversary it was recently.

Dinesh Raheja selects 12 of his favourite Hemant Kumar numbers and throws some well-merited spotlight on the vintage voice:

  • Yeh raat yeh chaandni phir kahan (Jaal, 1952)
    When Hemant Kumar intoned Sun jaa, dil ki (emphasis) dastaan, it was not just a hapless Geeta Bali who succumbed to the lure of bad boy Dev Anand in Guru Dutt's Jaal. An entire nation also yielded to this exciting new baritone that so extravagantly caressed their eardrums.

    This early fifties' smash was Hemant Kumar's (nee Hemanta Mukherjee) first Hindi film hit. Composer S D Burman, who was aware of Hemant Kumar's earlier Bengali success, gave the singer a chance to make a major splash and brought him into the mainstream Hindi movie.

    In this feelingly rendered male siren call, Hemant Kumar's heavy, masculine voice coupled with Sahir Ludhianvi's luminous lyrical imagery (Pedon ke shaakhon pe soi soi chaandni) created a filigree-thin web of entrancement.

    Like most romantic songs rendered by Hemant Kumar, it transports you into a magical past.

  • Aa gupchup gupchup pyar kare (Sazaa, 1952, with Sandhya Mukherji)
    In this peppy duet, a guaranteed grin-getter, Hemant Kumar plays down the power of his voice and lets new singer Sandhya Mukherji hold centrestage. But his silky support catches your ear all the same. The often intense romantic crooner captures a lighter shade of l'amour with this naughty nugget.

  • Jaag dard-e-ishq (Anarkali, 1953, with Lata Mangeshkar)
    To adapt one's voice to evoke another period, the Mughal era, is no mean achievement. To top it, the song has a classical base. Hemant Kumar was more than equipped to meet the challenge.

    Despite the fact that Lata sang the stanzas and Hemant Kumar's voice, like bookends, can be heard largely in the beginning and end, you associate the number with Hemant. His variations of Jaag delight the ear as well as convey the urgency of a hazardous, hopeless passion under siege.

  • Dekho woh chaand (Shart, 1954, with Lata Mangeshkar)
    In this evergreen duet, Hemant's voice emanates from the inner recesses of his being. The haunting hum, Aa aaa aa, with Lata is mesmerising.

    It was one of Hemant Kumar's earliest jobs as a music composer in Hindi films. The film did not boast of major stars but Hemant studded it with hits which also included, Na yeh chaand hoga.

  • Zindagi ke denewale (Nagin, 1954)
    Hemant Kumar generously allowed his biggest blockbuster as a music composer, Nagin, to be a Lata-dominated show with the nightingale rendering as many as eight smash hits.

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    But Hemant gave his all to his own songs too, especially in this dramatic climactic song where he stretches his voice to give full play to the overall effect of an immense tragedy.

    The film's success made him the voice of actor Pradeep Kumar in many a fifties film.

  • Chup hai dharti, chup hai chaand sitare (House No 44, 1955)
    Another silken song endorsing that the softly-rendered romantic number was indubitably Hemant Kumar's forte.

    Not only did Hemant Kumar have a remarkably high hits to song sung ratio, but also most of his songs with Dev Anand, like this one, were hugely successful.

    Unfortunately for Hemant Kumar, Dev Anand in the fifties did not believe in forming a pair with any single playback singer and had hits with Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Talat Mehmood too.

  • Nayen se nayen nahi milao (Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, 1955, with Lata Mangeshkar)
    Hemant's voice is so delicately nuanced and low pitched in this song, you wonder whether he is afraid that if he sings any louder, the words like fragile glass, will break under the impact. His rendition of Hasrat Jaipuri's lyrics, Tumne chori kar li kamaan, kaise maroon preet ke baan, has the aural effect of a shower of arrows from Cupid's quiver.

    Incidentally, when Hemant sings Gaaye koyal tere hi geet, he could well be describing co-singer Lata's voice.

  • Jaane woh kaise log the (Pyaasa, 1957)
    An eternal classic where forceful writing, singing, composing and emoting were fated to intersect. A trifle morose and more than a tad self-pitying, but Hemant's voice lends pitch perfect emotion to thoughtful ironies.

  • Lehron pe lehar (Chhabili, 1960, with Nutan)
    This magnetic number composed by the sadly-underutilised Snehal Bhatkar gets a electric charge from Hemant Kumar's amorous Aaja aaja. Guess who is Hemant's fellow singer in this song? Nutan!

    Nutan also sang the lilting solo Aye mere humsafar from the same film, a home production for her and sister Tanuja's launchpad.

  • Chhupa lo yun dil main pyar mera (Mamta, 1966)
    Sans any sonic bric-a-brac and with minimal orchestration, this is a beautifully minimalistic Majrooh Sultanpuri-penned song (albeit some feminists have expressed their objection to Tum apne charnon mein rakhlo mujhko). Even the music interludes between the mukhda and antras are sparse. But nobody is complaining. There is so much music in the voices of Hemant and Lata, you don't miss the accompanying music.

    Once again, like on so many earlier occasions when Lata and Hemant sang together to create a hit number, Lata's sharp but sweet voice provides a fine contrast to Hemant's restrained, understated vocals.

  • Ya dil ki suno duniyawalon (Anupama, 1966)
    The bruise of heartbreak evident in his voice, Hemant Kumar can make one weep in this song, just as Shashikala does on screen, especially during lines like Kya dard kissika lega koi, itna toh kissi mein dard nahin. To heighten the mood of this unforgettable solo from Anupama, Dharmendra is a picture of restraint while the cameraman creates the perfect ambience with the chiaroscuro lighting.

    It is said Dharmendra was a little apprehensive about Hemant's voice matching his. He he need not have worried.

  • Tum pukar lo, tumhara intezar hai (Khamoshi, 1970)
    This self-composed Hemant Kumar number was his last major success but its impact will haunt one for years to come. After the number plays out, one just wants to soak in the silence thereafter. If one is expecting a similar whistle-along number in today's times, the intezaar could be long. Very long.

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