‘Haunting’ is the first word I associate with Hemant Kumar (as a composer). I use the word haunting in a broader sense. Haunting does not mean spooky or ghost songs or ‘voices singing mournfully in the night’. By haunting, I mean songs that for some reason remain etched in your mind and you keep humming or visualizing the song often. Or, when a song conveys deep emotions that are unforgettable or which leave an impact even when you are not listening to the song.
In relative terms, Hemant Kumar composed music for fewer films when compared to other stalwarts of the golden era. But he left indelible memories of his tunes in movies like Nagin, Kohraa, Bees Saal Baad, Khamoshi, Anupama, Shart, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam among others. I am not knowledgeable about Bengali film music, so I will restrict myself only to Hindi films for which Hemant Kumar composed music.
I have discussed some of his best songs (as a music composer, not as a singer) in the commentary below.
Enjoy his songs in the playlist below.
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All of us listen to songs all the time. But, when a song leaves a deep impact it can be truly haunting. Most Hindi movies obviously have the usual dose of love, romance and songs about love. To me, one of the most hauntingly beautiful love songs in Hindi films is a Hemant Kumar composition – Humne dekhi hai (Khamoshi).
Pyar koi bol nahin, Pyar awaaz nahin
Ek khamoshi hai sunti hai kahaa karti hai
Noor ki boond hai
Sadiyon se bahaa karti hai
Sirf ehsaas hai yeh, rooh se mehsoos karo
Pyar ko pyar hi rehne do koi naam na do
These lyrics by Gulzar for this song capture deep, caring and sensitive feelings of love. The lyrics, the simple tune and Lata’s magical voice express the finest feelings of unconditional love in a very mature way. To me, this is a gold standard or benchmark for songs about love. Every time I hear this song, it gives me goose bumps for the sensitive feelings expressed in this song so beautifully. This is truly a haunting song that remains etched in your entire being.
There are many other reasons why Hemant Kumar’s music is haunting. One obvious reason is Hemant Kumar singing his own compositions. Blessed with a rich, deep and sonorous voice, his singing left a deep impression. When you hear his songs, you can feel the vibrations and deep resonance of his voice. When such a rich and resonant voice sings songs of yearning, love, wistfulness the effect can be very haunting. There are several songs that Hemant Kumar composed where he sang songs that are full of resonant humming and stress on a few notes like Tum pukar lo (Khamoshi) or songs that touch low notes and accentuate his deep resonant voice as in Ye nayan dare dare (Kohraa). In Tum pukar lo, the music, the humming, the ‘whistle’ and the words leave you spellbound. Similarly, the humming in Ye nayan dare dare leaves you enthralled. These two are perhaps the best examples of his resonance where you can feel the vibrations and humming long after the song is over. A similar song, but without humming is Ya dil ki suno (Anupama). The song without any percussion has Hemant Kumar resonating beautifully with its heart tugging melody. These songs keep playing in your head over and over again long after you finished listening to the songs.
Hemant also developed a good association with Kishore Kumar. Perhaps their bond was the resonance in their voices! The extremely popular Woh shaam kuch (Khamoshi) is a memorable Kishore number. I do feel however that Hemant Kumar need not have used the chorus in this song since the words and Kishore’s deep resonant voice were enough to make an impact.
Hemant Kumar skyrocketed to fame with Nagin. This was a great musical hit. One of the reasons for the appeal of Nagin’s music is the seamless integration of the been sound with the main melody. Kalyanji (of the Kalyanji-Anandji duo), played a new instrument called clayvioline for the first time in Hindi film music to produce the been sound heard in the chartbuster Tan dole mera man dole. The been is constrained and can only move from one note to an adjacent note. It cannot jump suddenly from a note to another note which is not adjacent. Also, you cannot produce short, staccato sounds on the been. The main melody in Tan dole mera man dole also is composed like been notes with adjacent notes smoothly woven into one another without short notes or breaks. The effect of the been sound and the lengthy, graceful flow of the melody is very lively and depicts the dance movements beautifully. Ye mard bade dil from Miss Mary, set to simple dance steps is a lovely song of the teasing variety. In contrast, Chali gori pee se (Ek hi raasta) is a lovely song set to classical dance movements and Meri jaan (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam) is set to a mujra setting.
Hemant Kumar’s haunting songs are also of a different variety – the expected ‘lone voice singing mournfully in the night’ type. Lata and her voice are truly captivating in Kahin deep jale kahin dil (Bees saal baad). The instrumental music and arrangements, the voice and the ebb and flow of the lovely composition make this song a really memorable and haunting one.
Lata’s Mera dil ye pukare raja (Nagin) and another ‘lone voice singing mournfully in the night’ song – Jhoom jhoom dhalti raat (Kohraa) are also extremely haunting. Jhoom Jhoom dhalti raat (Kohraa), perhaps added to Hemant Kumar’s brand as the composer for ‘haunting’ (as in spooky) movies. Unfortunately, Bees saal pehle dissappointed with westernized tunes that were a big let down for heightened expectations of a repeat of the haunting effect from Bees saal baad.
Many moods of love
Among Hemant Kumar’s ‘love theme’ compositions, Beqarar karke hame (Bees saal baad) is the one that stands out. This number is cheerful and set to a catchy rhythm that captures the playful and teasing mood beautifully. Raah bani khud manzil (Kohraa) is another lively number set to great music that again plays on your mind mainly because of the sound of the instruments and Hemant’s voice. This song expresses the comfort and and the joy of being with a loved companion. His duet with Geeta Dutt in Fashion, Tum aur hum is also a lovely number that captures joy, optimism and hope. Dheere dheere machal (Anupama) is a well composed tune that expresses beautifully the longing, waiting associated with love.
Perhaps another reason why his music is haunting is the use of singers like Geeta Dutt in songs like Piya aiso jiya or Na jao saiyyan (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam). Geeta brings out the anticipation, desires, pathos, longing and unfulfilled desires so beautifully with her rich voice.
Hemant Kumar songs seem to take on an additional allure when it comes to moonlight settings. Miss Mary is a remake of a block-buster Telugu hit, Missamma. Miss Mary is a delightful family movie full of situational and light-hearted comedy. This movie has a lovely song asking for the moon to mediate in a couple’s tiff – O raat ke musafir, that is easy flowing and a delight for the years. And how can one forget the promise of undying love so beautifully captured in another moonlight song – Na yeh chand hoga (Shart). Jadugar saiyyan (Nagin) is another delightful tune composed for a night setting. Khoyi khoyi akhiyan (Chand) flows easily and is set to silken notes in the moonlight setting.
Apart from moonlight, natural surroundings also seem to bring out the best in Hemant Kumar. My personal favourite is Hawaaon pe likhdo (Do dooni char) with its soft instruments and music complementing Kishore’s lovely voice. Bheegi bheegi faza (Anupama) and Sanwale salone (Ek hi raasta) are two other delightful numbers with natural ‘tours’ in two different modes of transport – a bicycle and a car! But, the song that perhaps takes the cake for natural setting songs in Bhanwra bada nadaan (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam). Asha Bhonsle is truly a delight in this song. She sings in a variety of tones, sometimes teasing, sometimes endearing about the bhanwra. Though the lyrics are about gardens and bhanwra, Waheeda does not venture out of her room while singing this song!
Hemant Kumar also groomed music composer Ravi, who went on to become one of the stalwarts of the golden era.
Hemant Kumar is obviously well known as a singer and he used his resonant voice to great effect. He was also a gifted composer. He would choose the right instruments to produce the desired sounds and tone and focus on making the melody touch the right notes to leave an everlasting haunting impression. Hats off to this gifted composer who left an indelible mark with some of the most haunting songs in Hindi film music that keep reverberating in our minds, hearts and soul.