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Madan Mohan : In The Name Of The Father
Source: Filmfare, December 1997

(By Sanjeev Kohli, Son of Madan Mohan and
Senior Marketing Consultant of HMV)

To be honest, I remember Madan Mohan more as a father than as a composer. He kept us far away from the recording studios. Perhaps because he was disillusioned by the music industry.

He was a very affectionate father, but strict. He wanted his children to have a normal childhood. He wouldn't allow my brothers or me to hang around the music sessions. But we did cheat a bit. On holidays, we'd insist that nothing would keep us from the recordings.

Today, I feel he craved much more appreciation than he actually got. I can't help feeling bitter about the frustrations that my father had to go through, hiding his hurt behind a smile.

Since I've been a part of the music business for 20 years myself, I find more and more people returning to Madan Mohan's music. In Meri Pasand, the TV programme which I produce featuring the favourite songs of celebrities, one of the seven songs is always a Madan Mohan composition. The invitees select the song of their own choice, and not because Madan Mohan was the producer's dad.

It has even become fashionable for music directors to associate themselves with the name of Madan Mohan. Whenever Khayyam or Naushad give an interview, they make it a point to mention his name. O.P.Nayyar has gone on record to state that the Lata Mangeshkar-Madan Mohan combination remains unparalled. For young composers like Jatin-Lalit, it's the in thing to say Madan Mohan was one of the greatest composers.

In Meri Awaz Suno, the participants often want to render Madan Mohan songs. And I wonder why people didn't express their appreciation when my father was alive. He would tell my mother that he didn't get his dues from the film industry. The biggest banners never came his way. All the hotshot stars and directors like Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand were his close friends... Raj Kapoor had offered him Satyam Shivam Sundaram. But I don't know what happened.

What I do know is that my father had an ego. Maybe that came in the way. Jaikishen had died and Mera Naam Joker had flopped. Raj Kapoor was making Bobby. After that, he wanted my father to do Satyam Shivam Sundaram. My father probably died before the deal could be finalised.

Raj Kapoor, Suraiya and my father were childhood friends. Suraiya and my father would sing together on All India Radio. My father would feel very hurt when his songs would become hits but the films would flop. If he had done better films with better film-makers, his compositions wouldn't have been underrated.

Today everyone loves his songs but they don't feature in any of the lists of the 50 musical movie hits of all time. Some of the best songs of my father were picturised on second-rung heroines. Like Woh bhooli dastaan on Anita Guha in Sanjog. Or on Priya Rajvansh, who was considered a bad actress. Though Chetan Anand was one of my father's best friends and loyal supporters, I don't think the songs of Heer Ranjha and Hanste Zakhm in a Chitrahaar would stand a fair chance against lesser songs filmed on better actresses.

Many of my father's song were also filmed on Mala Sinha who wasn't considered one of the greats of her generation. He didn't get too many Waheeda Rehman songs.

He did get a Nutan film -- Dulhan Ek Raat Ki. And he composed the lovely number Sapnon mein agar mere for it. But the film ran for just seven days. Jahan Ara, which had some of his best compositions ever, was removed from theatres in four days. It broke his heart.

There were several music camps in those days and they were all so good. Even my father couldn't deny that. Navketan had the Burmans. The R.K. banner hand Shankar-Jaikishen. They were all so comfortable working together that no one was interested in breaking up the teams.

Today, film-makers are more open to change. Subhash Ghai worked extensively with Laxmikant-Pyarelal. He then dropped them for A.R. Rahman. He then dropped Rahman for Nadeem-Shravan. We don't know what he'll do next.

Once, the working environment was of the essence. My father had to feel comfortable with the film-makers he worked with. He worked a lot with Chetan Anand and Om Prakash, the character actor who produced Sanjog, Jahan Ara, Gateway Of India and Chacha Zindabad... none of them were hits.

My father worked closely with Raj Khosla. They would plan the films together. My father's first silver jubilee hit was Raj Khosla's Woh Kaun Thi.

There's an interesting story about Mera Saaya. The film was originally called Saaya. My father had a huge spool tape-recorder. After he had recorded the title song Tu jahan jahan chalega mera saaya saath hoga, he cooked dinner and listened to the song with Raj Khosla and other close friends over drinks. And they all agreed that the film's title should be changed to Mera Saaya. Back then, there was a constant give-and-take. Now there's just take.

I don't know why Raj Khosla switched to Laxmikant-Pyarelal after Woh Kaun Thi and Mera Saaya. My father was hot-headed... maybe there was some misunderstanding between them. Raj Khosla had his own ups and down.

Chetan Anand was the most important film-maker in the latter part of my father's life. Chetan Anand was planning a small film, Aakhri Khat, at the same time as Haqeeqat. He wanted my dad to score music for both the films. But my dad said, "Why don't you give Aakhri Khat to my friend Khayyam?" And the film went on to revive Khayyam's career.

Chetan Anand, Kaifi Azmi and Priya would often drop in at our house. Priya would come into our room where we kids would have our dinner separately. She played carrom with us.

My father almost died at Chetan Anand's house while working on the music of Salim Anarkali which was eventually shelved. He collapsed in Chetan Anand's house.

When we went on long car drives, dad would tell us to sing a song. Small and unfeeling that we were, we would start singing the songs composed by other music directors. He'd turn around and say, "Hey, even you!"

At that time, we couldn't understand what he meant. We wouldn't sing his songs because they weren't easy to sing. That used to hurt him. Even his failmy didn't appreciate him. He started drinking heavily. He died of cirrhosis of the lever. It's not something I'm ashamed of at all. I don't allow this fact to disturb me at all.

When my father died, I had to get out of his shadow. I was very keen to become a music composer. But he had gone out of his way to keep me away from music. He felt he hadn't made it... he didn't want his son to go through hard times. After he died, I tried to learn the sitar. But nothing came of it.

Memories linger on though. By the time dad got his first major award for Dastak, he'd become very bitter. He pretended not to be happy with the honour. But he was happy because Sanjeev Kumar and Rehana Sultan also got National Awards for the same film. So they all went together to Delhi for the function.

The National Award wasn't widely understood then. It was not getting the Filmfare Award that really bothered my father. In the year when Mera Saaya was in the reckoning, he told us that all the issues of Filmfare had been bought. I'm not saying there was any cheating but when consumers had to fill in the coupons about their choices, it was so easy to manipulate the awards. I think my father lost out because he couldn't play such games.

My father was very sentimental. He cried easily. There was a very good arranger called Sonik who later became a composing duo with his nephew, Sonik-Omi. Sonik would arrange the songs for my father. Omi, who was the spokesperson of the two, said in an interview after my father died, that most of Madan Mohan's tunes were composed by Sonik. My question to them is--why didn't Sonik-Omi come up with one memorable tune when they were on their own?

My father's favourite sitar player was the renowned Rais Khan. If you've heard the Madan Mohan compositions carefully, you'd know that the sitar base is very crucial. Rais Khan claimed that he had composed all the sitar interludes. It's possible that he did. The point is, they sat together and worked in a room.

My father was so fond of Rais Khan that when there was a musical soiree at our home, he would invite Rais Khan to play the sitar. My father was too embarrassed to discuss money with his friend, so he told his manager to ask Rais Khan what kind of money he should be paid. Rais Khan took tremendous umbrage. A few days later, he called up my father and said there's a wedding at a friend's house and would my father like to sing there. If yes, how much money would he charge?

My father was very, very hurt. He decided that Rais Khan would never again play in his songs. From that day onwards, in 1972 to the day he died, the sitar disappeared from Madan Mohan's tunes.

He was a Sagittarian and completely emotional. My father never used the ghazal as a ghazal per se. He used it as a love song, a sad song etc. Like Zameen se hamen aasman par in Adalat and Aapko pyar chhupane ki buri aadat hai in Neela Aakash. At times, he even copied Western tunes. Like Dil dil se milakar dekho in Memsaab.

But because the ghazal was his forte he became typecast. Naushad goes on and on about the two ghazals from Anpadh -- Aap ki nazron ne samjha and Hai isi mein pyar ki abroo being equal to his entire oeuvre. I don't remember him saying that when my father was alive.

I'll tell you something about Naushad sa'ab. My father used to take us to his house for dinner every two or three months. I remember hearing the songs of K Asif's Love And God at Naushad sa'ab's house. On our way home my father praised his songs wholeheartedly.

I vividly remember attending a recording for the song Chhayee barkha bahaar in Chirag. While Lataji was at the mike, my father said, "See how I'm going to make her say chhayee." The word actually spreads itself out when she sings it.

It was a very tough song to put together. The musicians were making a lot of mistakes. Lataji had to sing it about 15 times to get it right in one take. I remember asking her if she was exhausted. She said, "What to do? Most of my biggest hits have been sung at my tired worst". Today, of course, it isn't like that. Everything is dubbed.

For the doli song in Heer Ranjha, the main theme was derived from traditional sources. But all the antaras were my father's, I remember everyone was crying at the end of the recording. Kaifi Azmi, his wife Shaukat, Chetan Anand. They all went up to Lataji and my father to say, "You made us cry."

The song Aapki nazron ne samjha (Anpadh) was composed by my father in two minutes during the lift journey from the ground floor to the fifth floor of our building. I remember the moment when my father almost in a trance, shut his eyes and started singing to himself. When the lift reached our apartment, he rushed to the harmonium to complete the tune.

The song Naina barse in Woh Kaun Thi was composed in the early '50s. But it wasn't found suitable for any film until Woh Kaun Thi. Raj Khosla and my father mutually agreed that it would be right for the ghost story. At the time of the recording, Lataji was unwell. So the song was filmed on Sadhana in my father's voice, and redubbed later.

My father's first big commercial break was Bhai Bhai in 1956. I remember my mother telling me that I was lucky for him since it was the year I was born.

He was particularly fond of the song Yeh duniya yeh mehfil in Heer Ranjha because of the variety in arrangement. His own favourite composition was Sawan ke mahine main from Sharabi. He would sing the song for his friends at private gatherings. Perhaps he identified with the lyrics.

Lataji was the last word for him. I remember Asha Bhosle came for a recording of a cabaret song. She asked my father in front of me, "Madan bhaiyya, this song is nice but who's singing the other songs?" When my father told her that it was Lataji, Ashaji bluntly asked, "Why can't I sing them?" And my father replied, "Jab tak Lata hai Lata hi gayegi." That didn't make Ashaji very happy.

The point is, he was very honest. Lataji and my father had no other relationship except that of a brother and sister. When he would be asked why he was besotted with Lata Mangeshkar, my father would reply, "Why only me? S.D. Burman, Naushad, C.Ramachandra, Roshan, Shankar-Jaikishen are all besotted with her. Are they all mad?"

To make the world believe that Sharda was a better singer than Lataji and Ashaji required a lot of guts. The joke in those days was, love isn't only blind, it's also deaf. It wasn't just my father who said that Lataji was the best. It was the world. O.P. Nayyar said his style of composing suited Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle. Possibly he changed his style.

Because the fact remains that for the first film he ever signed he wanted Lataji to sing. But something obviously went wrong and he swore that he would become successful without Lataji. That was wonderful. I respect and admire O.P. Nayyar's achievements. What I can never forget about Lataji is that after my father died, she became closer to us than before, even though she had nothing to gain from us. She looked after us children completely after my mother died. When I got married, she sent the invitation cards out in her name. Today, I want to be there for her if she needs my help.

Coming back to my father, he scored his biggest hit, Laila Majnu, after his death. It was probably his weakest score though. Lataji tells us that he was often off-colour since he had too much to drink during the recordings. Lataji did tell him to get a grip on himself. But dad's frustrations in the last couple of years of his life had become too much to bear. Ironically, his best- remembered songs are from films released after his death -- Mausam and Laila Majnu.

I discovered my father's genius at the age of 16 when I accidentally found tapes of his songs in the cupboard. I heard all his released and unreleased songs on master tapes. I realised his worth. I discovered in the tapes that he had composed ten different tunes for the same song. For example, there were literally ten tunes for Dil dhoondta hai in Mausam. I realised there was still so much more to his genius than what the world had heard.

Today we're no longer called the Madan Mohan family. I never tell anyone I'm his son. One has to come into one's own.

Back to Madan Mohan




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