The Ultimate in Melody
Hemant Kumar in his voice brought the beauty of Bengal and melody of Rabindra Sangeet. When he joined with Lata Mangeshkar the effect was magical. Easily the best duets of Hindi films are of Hemant-Lata. One can also safely say no song of Hemant Kumar was pedestrian. With his deep resonant voice he could be nothing but melody personified. As for Lata, she surpasses any superlative. Here is my selection of their best duets.
1. Aa neele gagan tale pyar hum karein, film Badshah (1954) Shankar Jaikishan
There are two other very close contenders for the top spot – Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan and Chandan ka palna resham ki dori. After listening very closely I give this honour to Shankar Jaikishan’s Aa neele gagan tale pyar hum karein. The beautiful lyric, the opening prelude, Lata creating magical environment with the opening mukhada, then her first stanza at high pitch Ye shaam ki bela ye madhur mast nazaare transport you to a surreal world. Hemant Kumar enters in the second stanza in the lower octave Do jaan hain hum aise mile ek hi ho jayen to give a beautiful contrast. Finally Lata sums up again in the upper octave with Tu maang ka sindur hai aankhon ka hai kaajal, concluding with Saamne baithe raho shringar hum karein. The heavenly romance of this song mesmerises you.
Aa neele gagan tale pyar hum karein
Hil mil ke pyar ka iqaraar hum karein
Aa neele gagan tale…
Ye sham ki bela ye madhur mast nazaare
Baithe rahen hum tum yun hi bahon ke sahare
Wo din na aye intezaar hum karein
Aa neel gagan tale…
Do jaan hain hum aise mile ek hi ho jayen
Dhhoonda kare duniya humein hum pyar mein kho jayen
Bechain baharon ko gulzaar hum karein
Aa nele gagan tale…
Tu maang ka sindur hai aankhon ka hai kajal
Le baandh le daman ke kinaron se ye anchal
Samne baithe raho shringaar hum karein
Aa neele gagan tale…
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Aa neele gagan tale pyar hum karein>
2. Chandan ka palna resham ki dori, film Shabab (1954) Naushad
Starting with KL Saigal’s So ja rajkumari so ja from the film President (1940) composed by Pankaj Mallik, lullaby has been attracting composers. Aside from Saigal’s which is a class apart, lullaby never reached greater heights than Naushad’s Chandan ka palna, even surpassing C Ramchandra’s Dheere se aa ja ri ankhiyan mein from Albela (1951). Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics Oonche gagan se koi bulaye/Ayee hain pariyan dola sajayen create a magic world, and who else but Hemant Kumar to transport you there. I am so moved by this song every time I hear it, I could have very easily put it at No. 1 – it is just that between two great songs I have to give one of them the second slot.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Chandan ka palna resham ki dori >
But the real magic of Hemant Kumar’s voice comes out in the solo version of this song. The song is preceded by his recitation, not set to music, Sangeet hai shakti Ishwar ki har sur mein basein hain Ram/ Raagi jo sunaye raag madhur rogi ko mile araam, and then when he sings Ho chandan ka palna resham ki dori, you are transported to a fairy land.
Hemant Kumar sings Chandan ka palna>
3. Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan, film Jaal (1952) SD Burman
It is sad that I have to put it at No. 3. Sahir Ludhiyanvi – SD Burman association which had started a year earlier with Baazi and Naujawan reached greater heights in Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan. No wonder Sahir was regarded as a poet’s poet in the film world, and you do not often get more romantic, lyrical and profound lyrics than:
Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan sun ja dil ki dastan
Chandni raatein pyaar ki baatein kho gayin jane kahan
Aati hai sadaa teri toote hue taaron se
Aahat teri sunati hun khamosh nazaaron se
Bheegi hawa doobi ghata kahti hai teri kahani
Tere liye bechain hai sholon mein lipati jawani
Seene mein bal kha raha hai dhuan
Sun ja dil ki dastaan
Lahron ke labon par hain khoye hue afsane
Gulzar ummidon ke sab ho gaye veerane
Tera pata paaun kahan soone hain saare thikane
Jane kahan gum ho gaye ja ke wo agale zamane
Barbad hai arzoo ka jahan, sun ja dil ki dastan
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan sun ja dil ki dastan>
The reason why I had to give it No. 3 spot is that this duet has very little of Hemant Kumar – he comes only in between to sing the refrain Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan. And once you have taken in the full Hemant solo version of this song which is slightly faster paced (different lyrics though, another masterpiece by Sahir), the duet suffers in comparison. The lyrics of Hemant solo are so beautiful it is worth reproducing them:
Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan, sun ja dil ki dastan
Pedon ki shakhon par soyee soyee chandni
Tere khayalon mein khoyee khoyee ragini
Aur thodi der mein thak ke laut jayegi,
raat ye bahar ki phir kabhi na ayegi
Lo ek pal aur hai ye samaan, sun ja dil ki dastan
Lahron ke hothon pe dhima dhima raag hai
Bheegi hawaaon mein thandi thandi aag hai
Is haseen aag mein tu bhi jal ke dekh le
Zindagi ke geet ki dhun badal ke dekh le
Sun meri ab dhadkanon ki zuban, sun ja dil ki dastan
Jaati baharein hain uthati jawaaniyan,
taaron ki chhaon mein kah le kahaniyan
Ek baar chal diye gar tujhe pukar ke
Laut kar na ayenge kafile bahar ke
Aa ja lagi zindagi hai jawan, sun ja dil ki dastan
Hemant Kumar sings Ye raat ye chandni phir kahan
4. Badli mein chhipe chand ne kuchh mujhse kaha hai, film Shatranj (1956) C Ramchandra
C Ramchandra completed the big quartet with Shankar Jaikishan, Naushad and SD Burman. After they have occupied the first three slots, it is befitting that he takes the 4th slot. I put it over his more well known Jaag dard-e-ishq jag from Anarkali (1953), as Badli mein chhipe chand ne kuchh mujhse kaha hai has the same ethereal beauty which is the hallmark of Hemant Kumar.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Badli mein chhipe chand ne kuch mujhse kaha hai>
5. Ek baar zara phir kah do mujhe sharma ke tum deewana, film Bin Badal Barsaat (1963) music Hemant Kumar
After floating in fairyland with the first four songs I come down to this planet for my No. 5 in the list. When Hemant Kumar himself is the composer you can expect he would take his talent to a still higher level. No song perhaps illustrates this better than Ek bar zara phir kah do mujhe sharma ke tum deewana from Bin Badal Barsaat. Biswajeet prancing around Asha Parekh in the midst of trees and flowers in a very unabashed Shammi Kapoor or Joy Mukherjee style, and Asha Parekh’s playful yes/no and finally yielding to call him deewana as demanded by him, is a perfect cliché of Bollywood. You can visualise any number of Rafi-Lata or Rafi-Asha Bhosle duets fitting this scene composed by Shankar Jaikishan or OP Nayyar. But Hemant Kumar makes this song to a trite situation into a classic. See how, to Lata’s Aisi meethi meethi baatein kar ke kahan seekha hai dil ka lagana, Hemant Kumar instead of responding to that query, persists with O jaane jaan, ek baar zara phir kah do mujhe sharma ke tum deewana. This duet stretches the bar he had set for naughty, playful numbers with his solo Zara nazron se kah do ji nishana chook na jaye in Bees Sal Baad a year earlier.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Ek baar zara phir kah do>
6. Jaag dard-e-ishq jag dil ko beqaraar kar, film Anarkali (1953) C Ramchandra
It would be a surprise if this beautiful duet from C Ramchandra’s most renowned film Anarkali, the music of which became the bar for Naushad to surpass in Mughal-e-Azam, did not figure in the top 10. It is a tribute to the quality of Hemant-Lata duets that this had to figure at No.6.
Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar sing Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag>
7. Nain so nain naahi milao, film Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje (1955) Vasant Desai
This film had the title song by the doyen of Hindustani classical Ustad Amir Khan, and Lata Mangeshkar’s heavenly solo Saiyan ja ja tose na bolun. Therefore, when Hemant Kumar had to sing this duet with Lata Mangeshkar to the pure classical dance of Gopi Krishna and Sandhya, the challenge must have been enormous. Yet see how effortlessly he sings Nain so nain naahi milao which is an all time classic.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Nain so naahi milao>
8. Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera, film Mamta (1966) Roshan
When it comes to melody, Roshan’s name would always be among the very top. The mood of this song is serene appropriate to Raag Yaman. You can see the imagery of a lamp, diya or deepak often in poetry from Mahdevi Verma’s Yah mandir ka deep ise neerav jalne do or Madhur madhur mere deepak jal/ Yug yug pratidin prati kshan prati pal priyatam ka path alokit kar to Pankaj Mallik’s bhajan Tere mandir ka hun deepak jal raha to songs like Jalte hain jiske liye teri ankhon ke diye. Shama of course is one of the stock imageries of Urdu poetry. Chupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera ki jaise mandir mein lau diye ki uses the imagery of the lamp in a temple to describe the love between a man and a woman. You needed the voice of Hemant Kumar to lift the song to a spiritual plane.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyar mera>
9. Yaad kiya dil ne kahan ho tum, film Patita (1953) Shankar Jaikishan
Shankar Jaikishan who topped this list come again with this mellifluous Hemant-Lata duet. This shows SJ’s versatility who combined creative talent with huge commercial success.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Yaad kiya dil ne kahan ho tum>
10. Tumhe yaad hoga kabhi hum mile the, film Satta Bazaar (1959) Kalyanji Anandji
Kalyanji Anandji debuted in the late 50s, initially solo by Kalyanji Virji Shah and soon joined by his brother Anandji Virji Shah to make the official duo Kalyanji Anandji. This was a very crowded field with the big composers Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan, SD Burman and OP Nayyar at their peak, followed by greats like Madan Mohan and Roshan and several others. Yet KA made tremendous impact with their very initial films. This Hemant-Lata duet is a testimony to their talent. Even in the crowded field they achieved acclaim, especially for their Mukesh songs and his duets with Lata in Madari, Chalia, Himalay Ki God Mein etc. After the decline of the old era stalwarts in the seventies, they occupied the top slot with RD Burman and Laxmiknat Pyarelal, with these three capturing over 80% of all the big films. It is remarkable the way they reinvented themselves in the 1970s and 80s – it is difficult to believe the same composers could give Khaike paan banaraswala for Kishore Kumar who gave songs like Chaand si mehbooba hogi meri kab, Hum chhod chalein hain mehfil ko, Mere toote hue dil se koi to aj ye poochhe, Tumhe zindagi ke ujale mubarak andhere humein aj raas aa gaye hain etc for Mukesh.
Hemant Kumar-Lata sing Tumhe yaad hoga kabhi hum mile the>
This completes my list of top ten Hemant Kumar-Lata duets. This still leaves out great songs like Dekho wo chand chupke karta hai kya ishare (Shart, 1954, Hemant Kumar), Saanwle salone aye din bahar ke (Ek Hi Rasta, 1956, Hemant Kumar) and Neend na mujhko aye (Post Box 999, 1958, Kalyanji Virji Shah). If you include his duets with other singers such as Aa gup chup gup chup pyar karein with Sandhya Mukherji in Sazaa (1951, SD Burman); Ye hansta hua karwaan zindagi ka na poochho chala hai kidhar with Asha Bhosle in Ek Jhalak (1957, Hemant Kumar); Mujhko tum jo mile ye jahan mil gaya with Geeta Dutt in Detective (1958, Mukul Roy); Tumhi mere meet ho tumhi mere preet ho with Suman Kalyanpur in Pyase Panchhi (1961, Kalyanji Anandji) and Na tum humein jano na hum tumhe jane with Suman Kalyanpur in Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962, SD Burman), the choice becomes further difficult.
Rafi and Mukesh were more prolific than Hemant Kumar – they were mainstream, he was unique. Yet his songs, especially his duets would rank among the greatest of all. He was truly God’s gift to music.