Singer-composer-producer(his production house Geetanjali Arts produced Bees Saal Baad, Kohraa, Biwi Aur Makaan, Faraar, Rahgir and Khamoshi) Hemant Kumar Mukherjee was one of the most successful music composers and singers of Bangla and Hindi cinema.
Not many care to remember his vast contribution in the two languages.
Sachin Dev Burman was seen as Bengal’s foremost contributor in Bollywood in the 1950s and 60s. His songs for Guru Dutt’s cinema were rightly celebrated as monumental. But not many know that the most successful and exquisite soundtrack for Guru Dutt’s cinema was by Hemantda in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam where every song from Geeta Dutt’s Koi dur se awaaz de chale aao to Asha Bhosle’s Saqiya aaj mujhe need nahin aayegi was a masterpiece.
By the mid-1950s Hemantda was the most successful playback singer of Bengali cinema . He was to Uttam Kumar in Bengal what Mukesh was to Raj Kapoor in Mumbai. In Mumbai Hemantda found more success as a singer than a composer with hits in Anand Math(Vande Mataram), Nagin(Man dole mera tan dole, Jadugar saiyyan, Mera dil yeh pukare aaj, Tere dwar khada ek jogi), Bees Saal Baad(Zara nazron se keh do jee, Kahin deep jale kahin dil), Kohra(O beqaraar dil, Yeh nayan dare dare), Anupama(Ya dil ku suno, Dheere dhere machal), Do Dil(Sara mora kajra) and Khamoshi(Tum pukar lo, Wohsham kuch ajeeb tthi) flowing out with the free-spirited abandon of a tranquil mellifluent river.
“He was very very successful both as a singer and composer both in Bengal and Mumbai. But somehow he never got his due. But to this day his songs like Hawaon pe likh do(Do Dooni Chaar) and Dheere dheere machal(Anupama) are hummed,” says Hemant Mukherjee’s daughter-in-law actress Moushumi Chatterjee.
Lata Mangeshar who sang most of Hemant Kumar’s female compositions feels he had the voice of a minstrel singer. “When he sang I thought of a poojari singing in a temple. Hemantda’s voice had an exceptional purity. As a composer his range was astonishing. Some of the best songs that I sang were composed by him. My favourite is Kuch dil ne kaha…kuch bhi nahin in Anupama. Kitni shanti(tranquility) hai iss gane mein, aur kitni mithaas(sweetness).His songs were very melodious and uncluttured. Unlike Salilda (Choudhary) Hemantda’s songs were easy on the lips. Another favourite of mine is Yeh nayan darey darey which he sang in Kohra and also Teri duniya mein jeene se to behtar hai ki mar jaayen in House No 44.”
There is another reason why Hemantda occupies a special place in Lataji’s heart. “In the 1960s I had almost been forced to give up singing. I was a victim of slow-poisoning and doctors said it would be a very long time before I sing. I was bedridden and frail for months.Hemantda came home , convinced my mother that I could sing again, took me to the recording and then brought me back home. The song we recorded that day was Kahin deep jale kahin dil in Bees Saal Baad,one of the best songs of my career.”