A young woman, eloping with her classmate who has his eye on her necklace, boards a train, followed by a scoop-hungry reporter. Unlike Gregory Peck, his Hollywood counterpart in Roman Holiday (1953), who uncannily looked like him, Dev Anand doesn’t believe in being discreet. With his eyes on Waheeda Rehman, he bursts into a song, Hai apna dil o aawara na jaane kis pe aayega…’ Embarrassed, the couple disembarks at the next station…The song goes on to be the toast of 1958.
“When ‘baba’ (singer Hemant Kumar) returned from the recording, I’d asked how the song was and he’d shrugged, ‘Theek chilo’ (It was okay),” reminisces son Jayanta Mukherjee. It’s four hours to midnight in the US, Babuda, as Jayanto is popularly known, is en route to Washington DC. Back home, it’s just past 5 am and I’m dozing off. But as Babuda flashbacks to the’50s, sleep vanishes with the night.
Can I sing it?
Solva Saal was a forgettable flop, but Hai apna dil… topped the ’58 Binaca Geetmala charts, after staying there for almost a year. I wasn’t born then but have heard that it was a favourite with the singing beggars on the Mumbai local trains. SD Burman composed the timeless tune and insisted on using the unconventional voice of Hemant Kumar for Devsaab, upsetting director Raj Khosla who’d wanted to sing it himself. “Yes, Raj-ji had come to Mumbai with dreams of becoming a singer,” laughs Babuda. “But while he was a fine director, my father was the better singer.”
No one will dispute his claim because six years earlier in Jaal (1952), his ‘baba’ had turned Devsaab into a romantic icon with, ‘Yeh raat, yeh chandni phir kahaan, sun jaa dil ki dastaan…’. But when this was pointed out to him in a Doordarshan interview, he’d argued that it was Dev, the star, who’d made him popular as a singer in the Hindi cinema.
End of an era
I’ve interviewed Dev saab many times, met him weeks before the release of the colourised Hum Dono last year, when he’d insisted my colleague click a picture of us together. It was our last meeting, on December 3. I woke up to the news that he was gone. I wouldn’t cry, instead I called up Vyjayanthimalaji in Chennai for the obit and together we laughed over memories of the charming star both of us believed would suddenly walk into the room and say, “lights, camera, action!”
Chup hai dharti...
Hemant Kumar had passed away in ’89, I never got a chance to meet him but have grown up listening to his songs, often hummed by my uncle, whose voice had the same deep timbre. While the silken ‘Chup hai dharti chup hai chand sitaare…’ and the soulful ‘Teri duniya mein jeene se to behtar hai ki mar jayen…’ from House No. 44 (1955) and the sweetly sensuous ‘Yaad kiya dil ne kahan ho tum…’ from Patita (1953) are still sung, the naughty Sazaa (1951) duet with Sandhya Mukherjee, ‘Aa gupchup gupchup pyaar karen…’ is lost to many. So are other gems…
One of his best
A friend who’s a walking encyclopedia reminds me of the background song from Rahi (1952), ‘Chalnewale rahi ka na pata na manzil….’ that began with a ha ha ha... And ‘Yaad aa gayi woh nashili nigahen…’ from Manzil (1960), picturised at Mumbai’s NCPA with Burman Dada’s full orchestra. Devsaab who played a singer-composer rehearsed industriously with Dada and Hemant Kumar before the shoot and rated this performance among his top 10.
In the early years, Dev saab didn’t believe in making one singer his ‘voice’ and juggled between Hemant Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, Talat Mehmood and Kishore Kumar. In Munimji (1955), both Kishoreda (‘Jeevan ke safar mein rahi...’) and Hemant Kumar sang (‘Dil ki umangein hai jawan…’ and ‘Shiv ji bihane chale...’ for him.
Besides their songs, these two legends had a date in common. September 26, 1923, Dev saab came into this world. September 26, 1989, Hemant Kumar left it. That’s why this musical tribute to them together. Babuda’s car is cruising down the highway, I ask him his favourite Dev-Hemant song. Pat comes the answer, “It’s Baat Ek Raat Ki’s ‘Na tum hamen jaano…’, the song every creative Bengali wants to sing. I would too if I had my father’s voice, but I don’t.”
‘Na tum humein jaano, na hum tumhe jaane, magar lagta hai, kuch aisa, mera humdum mil gaya…’ I’m told director Shankar Mukherjee hadn’t wanted it initially but was coaxed by Dev saab after Dada Burman refused to give the music without this Hemant Kumar song in the film.
Two days later, it’s still playing in my head, bringing back memories of a star who always made me smile and a singer-composer who inevitably makes me want to sing even though as my 13-year-old daughter Ranjika complains incessantly, I can never get a tune right!
Caught in the Jaal
‘Yeh raat, yeh chandni…’ shot on the sea in Goa and recorded at Tardeo’s Famous studio... Six decades have passed and we’re still caught in this Jaal of melody that Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar spun for Dev Anand and Geeta Bali in the thriller. Together they endeared ‘bad boy’ Tony to generations of women. Dev saab couldn’t make it to the film’s premiere at Kolkata’s Roxy theatre, but Guru Dutt (the director) and Hemant Kumar were there. And, I’m told, at the end of the screening, they were elated to find many come out singing ‘Yeh raat yeh chandni…’
In the 1954 film, Ferry, Hemant Kumar who composed the song ‘O majhi re naav badha le…’ But it wasn’t picturised on either Dev Anand or Geeta Bali. There’s also a music piece composed by Ali Akbar Khan who played the sarod himself for Devsaab, while Babuda played the tabla. Ranudi (Hemant Kumar’s daughter) sang a childish snatch in a lullaby, ‘Rangila rangila chhabili rani nindiya…’