When I did a post on Kamal Barot it was natural that I should do one on Subir Sen as well. One connection between the two was that among the most famous Kamal Barot songs is a duet with Subir Sen Dil le ke jate ho kahan. Another similarity would be that he was also not among the top singers. But there was a vital difference between the two. While Kamal Barot had a distinct voice which you could recognise miles away, Subir Sen’s was indistinguishable from Hemant Kumar. Not much biographical detail is available about him except that he was also like Hemant Kumar a popular and prolific singer in Bengali. Many of his Hindi film songs are quite well known, but unless you know that he was the singer, you might attribute them to Hemant Kumar.
Not that he was making any conscious effort to copy Hemant Kumar like some top singers who, at least at the beginning of their careers, consciously imitated the style of whoever was their idol at the time. Subir Sen was what I would call an involuntary Hemant Kumar clone. You could tell apart CH Atma from KL Saigal, Suman Kalyanpur from Lata Mangeshkar, but it was almost impossible to distinguish Subir Sen from Hemant Kumar. So one reason for doing this post was also to remember his best songs, which are obviously very melodious, so that we give the credit to him in case we were mistakenly attributing them to Hemant Kumar. And here are my favourite songs.
1. Aa ja re nain dware by Subir Sen from Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1961), music Shankar Jaikishan
This song has been a most amazing discovery I made very recently, and I instantly fell in love with it. From this film I was aware of Talat Mahmood – Lata Mangeshkar duet Tum to dil ke taar chhed kar. But if you stumble upon an undiscovered gem it has a special fascination. And that perhaps explains why I put it at the top of my list. This is a background devotional song when you see a group of pilgrims on a boat swaying to its rhythm, then you come across a huge religious congregation at the bank of a river – has to be either Kumbh or a holy Ganga Darshan day such as Kartik Purnima. Even if you are not particularly religious you would appreciate the way the song is able to capture the faith of millions of Indians towards India’s holy places and rivers. It seems this song has multiple versions – apart from the Subir Sen version, there are also a solo by Asha Bhosle and a duet by Asha Bhosle and Subir Sen. Seeing so many riches I can not help wondering why this song remained hidden for so long.
2. Gori tere natkhat naina waar kare chhup jaye by Subir Sen and Geeta Dutt in Hum Bhi Insaan Hain (1959), music Hemant Kumar
It was typical of those times for singer composers to promote budding singers without any sense of jealousy or potential threat of competition to themselves. The most celebrated case of such generosity was of the actor-singer-composer Pankaj Mallik who played a big role in promoting KL Saigal.
3. Dil le ke jate ho kahan by Subir Sen and Kamal Barot in O Tera Kya Kahna (1959) by Kalyanji Virji Shah
This is one of the earliest films of Kalyanji Virji Shah when he started solo till he joined soon after with his brother to form the famed duo Kalyanji Anandji. He shows his great flair for melody notwithstanding the fact that it was a B-grade movie with Mehmood and Chitra as the lead actors.
4. Dil mera ek aas ka panchhi by Subir Sen in Aas Ka Panchhi (1961), music Shankar Jaikishan.
This is perhaps the best known song of Subir Sen. Rajendra Kumar releases a bird free and, as it soars in the sky, he wistfully looks at it. He then leads his group of NCC cadets on cycles singing this song of everyone’s desire to soar in the sky like a bird. This song transports you back to your NCC days.
5. Dheere chalao zara by Subir sen and Lata Mangeshkar in Aas Ka Panchhi (1961)
This is the second song from Aas Ka Panchhi figuring in my list. This is one of the joyous love duets in which the hero Rajendra Kumar is giving Vaijayantimala a ride in his car, perhaps driving a bit too fast out of bravado, prompting her to plead with him to drive slowly. The remarkable thing about this song was that I always thought the male singer to be Mukesh. Even after listening very carefully I find very strong resemblance to Mukesh style in some parts. Incidentally Mukesh-Lata had a duet Tum roothi raho main manata rahuun in adaaon par aur pyar aata hai in this film.
6. Main rangeela pyar ka raahi by Subir Sen and Lata Mangeshkar in Chhoti Bahan, (1959 ) music Shankar Jaikishan.
You again have a joyous duet between lovers, now in a horse carriage. The actors may not be mainstream stars. So what. Even with Mahmood and Shobha Khote as stars you could have great songs.
7. Humein un rahon par chalna hai by Subir Sen in Masoom (1960), music Robin Banerji.
This must have been the inspiration for Insaf ki dagar par bachcho dikhao chal kar composed by Naushad, sung by Hemant Kumar in Ganga Jamuna (1961)
8. Manzil wohi hai pyar ke rahi badal gaye from Kathputli (1957), music Shankar Jaikishan
SJ seemed to have a special liking for Subir Sen – they account for his most well known songs. In this song Balraj Sahni sings this melodious song on the piano, which makes Vaijayantimala break into a dance, but from the plaintive wording of the song and the actors’ glances and emotions it is difficult to figure out the state of their relationship – was there some setback, but they were still in love?
9. Gar tum bura na maano main tumse pyar kar loon by Subir Sen and Asha Bhosle in Mahlon Ke Khwab (1960), music S Mohinder
This picture was produced by Madhubala who also played the lead role against Pradeep Kumar.
10 Dekho na jao ae jane man from Boyfriend (1961), music Shankar Jaikishan
You had a Subir Sen song in Mukesh style in Aas Ka Panchhi . Now SJ make him sing in Mohammad Rafi style on Shammi Kapur, this is the typical Shammi Kapur naughty teasing style which SJ and OP Nayyar patented with songs by Rafi. Now while I am quite clear he did not imitate Hemant Kumar – he was born with a voice like him, I can not help feeling that there was conscious effort in imitating Mukesh and Rafi.
11. Pyar mein milna sanam hota hai taqdeer se by Subir Sen and Lata Mangeshkar from Ardhangini (1959), music Vasant Desai
Though Raj Kumar and Meena Kumari came together in several films, it is difficult to see Raj Kumar as a typical romantic lover. So you have this couple singing a somewhat unusual romantic duet on the screen, which must be one of their earliest pairings. Needless to say it is Subir Sen’s likeness to Hemant Kumar that makes this duet especially appealing.
This is a very good song to conclude this post with, but in case you want to end with fast paced numbers you could hear Subir Sen –Geeta Dutt duet Kya kaha zara phir kaho composed by Kalyanji Anandji, lyric by Qamar Zalalabadi in the B-grade movie Gangu (1962) starring Chandrashekhar and Naaz in lead roles; and another नोंक झोंक song Sun le dastaan yun na sata by Subir Sen from film Passport (1961) music by Kalyanji Anandji. Laxmikant Pyarelal who were assistants to KA must have learnt their melody and lilting style from them. The fast paced song is picturised on the wonder non-actor Pradeep Kumar and the ever alluring Madhubala rebuffing his advances as she did with many other heroes in several movies.
Even with this recapitulation the key questions remains – if you hear these songs a year hence would you be able to tell confidently that they are Subir Sen’s and not Hemant Kumar’s?