It is often said that Madan Mohan received more recognition and acknowledgement of his contribution after his demise. Indeed, his colleagues, the media, his fans, were lavish in praise for the late composer in all the tributes they paid him when he died and continue to give him respect even more than 30 years later. Respect for Madan Mohan has only escalated over the years as more and more people discover his music and the impact it had on the listeners.
This may seem like a dream, yet it is a fact of my life. I still turn nostalgic when I think about such a great personality like Madan Mohan. I was staying in Delhi then. I had completed my matriculation at a very young age. Music was my forte. Somebody suggested I go to All India Radio. I was good at playing the guitar and violin. Since I was under age, I was not qualified to appear for the audition and become a regular artiste at the AIR. But I was given an opportunity to perform there as a casual artiste.
Oh yeah, I got to also exercise my vocal abilities there as a singer. There was this gentleman, Satish Bhatia who used to be the In-house music director of the AIR. He felt that my voice had a tonal base, different from most others. He was the one who used to give me some good numbers to sing. During the Indo-China war, I sang many patriotic songs under him. In course of time, we became very close friends - almost like family.
One evening, he came to me and said: "We must finish a little early, so that I can go home as Madan Mohanji is visiting my place". Didn't I say that this is just like a dream sequence? I casually asked "Who is Madan Mohan?" And you should have seen the expression on his face. "Don't you know who Madan Mohan is? Are you nuts?"
I would have never imagined a musical maestro like Madan Mohan from Bombay visiting his place. "I thought, you are talking about somebody from Delhi". I said: "Even I am an ardent fan of Madan Mohanji and his compositions. I keep playing his songs on my Hawaiian guitar. I do my guitar rehearsals playing his songs".
Bhatiaji asked me to join him at his residence. He was throwing a party in the honour of Madan Mohanji. All the top singers and musicians of AIR were there. I took a corner in the room. When the mood in the party was getting a bit dull, Madan Mohanji requested for some music and asked the artistes to sing some numbers. Most of the singers present sang their favourite numbers one by one. Then Bhatiaji introduced me. "This is Bhupinder Singh, a good singer. I have recorded some songs and ghazals in his voice." He then asked me to sing the latest ghazal, which we had recorded then.
It was that famous ghazal written by Bahadur Shah Zafar, Lagtaa Naheen Hai Dil Meraa Ujade Dayaar Mein. It was recorded in a very unusual manner. For the first time at AIR they had used three ferographers to make my voice reverberate while recording the song, which would give the effect as if it was emerging from the tomb of the late poet. Truly, it was a different experience and a unique experiment indeed.
Bhatiaji insisted that I present the same ghazal. After I sang it, people got busy with the food. After sometime, I could see Madanji was making his way towards me: "You sing well. And your voice is of a different quality. Would you mind visiting Bombay, if I ask you to come and record a song for me?".
I couldn't believe my ears. This is something beyond my imagination. I nodded in affirmation. Next day, Madanji left for Bombay. But then, I also knew that many music directors would come to Delhi and made offers to the singers, which proved to be just a promise and nothing more. As they say, out-of-sight, out-of-mind. So I did not take his offer seriously. I felt just forgot about it.
After few days, I got a message at the radio station. There was this gentleman called Chetan Anand, who wanted me to meet him. He was staying at the Ashoka Hotel and had left his telephone number to call back. When I rang him, he said he had come from Bombay: "Madan has asked me to see you. Would you mind coming to my hotel room?". I just rushed to the hotel. My excitement knew no bounds. A man as handsome as Madanji opened the door. Chetanji had indeed an impressive personality. "You are tired" he observed. "But if you don't mind, would you sing few lines for me? I want to hear your voice".
I sang "Har Ranj Mein Raahat Hai by Maqbool Dehlavi. There was this couplet at the end Hamaare Baad Bhee Andheraa Rahegaa Mehfil Mein, Bahot Chiraag Jalaaoge Roshanee Ke Liye, which touched him. After some time, I left his hotel room and Chetan Saab went to Bombay.
It was summer then. The temperature in Delhi was soaring. So I left for Shimla along with my friends. There, I got a call from my younger sister, Charanjeet. It seemed Madan Mohan had sent a telegram for me. At once, I left for Delhi. The telegram stated that I should leave for Bombay immediately as Madan Mohanji wanted to record a song in my voice. I was little tense as whatever little money I had was spent on my Shimla visit. I could not afford a ticket to Bombay. I dropped the idea of making the trip. But my sister insisted and she arranged for some funds and forced me to go to Bombay.
Reaching there, I headed straight for Madanji's music room at Pedder Road. He asked me to rehearse for Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bhulaayaa Hogaa, the famous song from Haqeeqat (1964). But strangely, I felt that it was just a half song and not a complete one. There was only one stanza. Maybe the situation in the film needed a small song... I picked up its nuances very fast and finished the rehearsal in no time.
Let me clarify one point here. People always felt that Madanji liked to work with established singers only. This is totally a wrong notion. I am a glaring example of how he encouraged rank newcomers. And just see, the greatness of the man. He did not tell me that there were other singers also in the song. This was really a very intelligent move on his part. He knew that as a novice, once I'd know that there were some established singers in the song also, chances were I would get nervous and run away to Delhi. This is a great favour on Madanji's part. He and his team ensured that I didn't get an inkling of the other singers in the song.
On the day of recording, when I went to the studio, I couldn't believe my eyes. The singers I considered my idols - Rafisaab, Talatsaab and Mannada were all present at the studio even before my arrival. Madanji introduced me to all of them. I was just rubbing my eyes in disbelief. Could it be that they had come on a courtesy call on Madanji? But then, I saw that all of them were singing and rehearsing in hushed tones. I realized that all of them would be singing with me. I felt as though the ground beneath my feet was giving way. But I gained composure. I look up the challenge and decided to give my best to the song.
Those were the days, when a recording was done on a single track. Talatji and Mannada were made to stand in front of one mike and I was with Rafisaab on another mike. As compared to my height, Rafisaab was shorter, so he was made to stand on a box. I was feeling bad about it. A great singer like Rafisaab was made to stand on the box because of me. Rafisaab realized my predicament. He made me comfortable by telling a lot of jokes. He brought me to the level of a friend. His behaviour made me free of any sort of tension. During the recording, there were great musicians like Hazra Singh, Pyarebhai and Laxmibhai. I couldn't even imagine in my wildest dreams that I would be amongst these greats, rendering in front of the mike. All this could happen with the true blessings of only one person and that is Madanji. Today whatever stature I have gained in my profession is because of him. I owe my success to him.
As Madanji was a good singer, his way of teaching music was very good. He would demonstrate all the finer points of the song minutely, which really helped us understand what he wanted. During the rehearsals and recordings, he would treat all the singers with equal respect and dignity. This would bring out the best within us. I must also add that a chance to sing for a music director of Madanji's caliber was nothing less than a great fortune for any singer. Just one song under his belt with Madan Mohanji and the career graph of the artiste would sky rocket. When Madanji gave me a chance, many music directors got curious and offered me some important numbers. As such, I could settle down in the music industry quite comfortably.
My relationship with Madanji was quite formal in the initial days of my career. But soon it turned very cordial. He used to like me a lot. "Bloody Bum" was how he addressed me, affectionately. He would also tease me a lot. "Do you consider yourself a better singer than me? I can sing much better than you" he used to say. And to prove his point he would sing some songs and ask me again, can you sing better than this? He just loved doing that with me.
I recollect another incident during the making of Haqeeqat. After recording a song, Chetansaab came to me and said that for the shooting of the film, the unit would be going to Ladakh. Madan would also be going there. And I could also join them. But I didn't see any reason for my going there. "While we do the shooting, you entertain the troops there". Chetansaab explained. "How can I entertain the troops all alone?" I asked. But he just ignored my query and said "You are coming with Madanji".
When I reached Srinagar with Madanji, we came to know that due to bad weather conditions it wasn't possible to proceed to Ladakh. So to pass time, Madanji suggested visiting Dal Lake. By the time we reached Dal Lake, it was evening. We sat in a house boat and were enjoying the beauty of the Kashmir. It was very silent and the moon was up in the sky. On the other side, there was another boat and we could hear the strains of a song played on the radio. The song was Aap Kee Nazaron Ne Samajhaa. Madanji just turned towards me and said "That's what Madan Mohan is". I said "Sir, you are something much beyond you conceive and execute. I think nobody can ever imagine". I truly cannot imagine any other music director of that period working on those scales.
From Srinager, we had tried to go to Ladakh thrice. But we failed every time because of inclement weather. Finally, Madanji gave up and asked me to go to Ladakh all alone while he went back to Bombay. Finally I managed to reach there somehow. At the shooting venue, Chetansaab ordered the unit members to give me the get up of "wireless operator". I resisted, but in vain. At that time we were stationed in such an area where an aircraft would visit only once in a day to fetch and bring stuff for the soldiers.Though, Madanji was lucky, I got stuck in Ladakh. I stayed there for three months. Later, in the course of shooting, I came to know that even Madanji was to do a role in the film, which was eventually played by Vijay Anand. If Madanji would have played that role, that would have been a different story altogether. Imagine a personality like him in soldier's attire moving about in a jeep and singing a song with Rafisaab's playback. It would have been altogether a unique experience. But it was not to be.
After Haqeeqat, I again got a call from Madanji asking me to come and meet him at a recording studio. There he was working on the background score of Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (1966). He said "There are two small numbers, which will be used in background. And I feel you should sing it". I got to sing those two songs - Ghaayal Hirnee Ban Ban Bhatake and Zindagee Dulhan Hai Ek Raat Kee. There was another small film. Daak Ghar, a film for the kids made by The Children Film Society of India, where I got to sing two songs more under Madanji's direction.
Many people in the industry knew that I could play guitar well and my playing style was unique and different from the rest. In this industry, good work is always noticed and appreciated. I started getting assignments as a guitarist. R.D.Burman, S.D.Burman and Naushad were some of the legendary composers of industry who had given me my initial break as a guitarist. The musical piece I had played in the song Dum Maaro Dum from Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) was a great hit. As a guitarist, Madanji called me for the song Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho from Hanste Zakhm (1973). The song opens with a 12 string guitar piece which I composed and played. But during the actual recording of the song, somehow I got stuck. I had composed in a way, where I had to sustain two notes at a time and continue. While playing those notes, either I would use a wrong finger or a wrong string. Rafisaab and Lataji were ready on the mike. I was getting nervous. In turn, I would commit more mistakes. I realized that the whole recording was getting stuck because of me. But nobody raised any objection. They didn't even utter a word. Every one waited for the right note. Ultimately, the song was recorded and the piece went off very well.
But I was angry with myself. I said to myself, "Mr.Bhupinder Singh, you are a great name in guitar playing. How can you commit such silly mistakes? Shame on you?" I was very upset and while I was packing my guitar, I started getting punches on my back. I turned around and saw it was Madanji. "You bloody bum... Just go and listen to the song. You have played the piece beyond my expectations". Madanji would express his happiness and appreciation with punches on the back. This was his special way of acknowledging good work. The maturity shown by Madanji did it. If this would happen today, either the music director or the arranger would have asked to change the piece or composition and get on with the recording of the song.
From Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho to Ruke Ruke Se Kadam, I got many opportunities to work with Madanji. For Ruke Ruke Se Kadam, I was to play the second music on guitar and he had composed the piece on the lines of a sarod. Only a musician who knew his job thoroughly is capable to undertake experiments like this. Madanji was a perfectionist. The musicians and the instrumentalists would always be serious and worried while playing for his recording. He wouldn't accept mediocrity from anybody. If any musician went off-key, he had it. He was a real task master. There used to be two to three rehearsals before every recording. The song would be recorded after finalizing every aspect of the music pieces. It would be recorded in two or three takes.
In 1975, he called me once again to sing for Mausam. Madanji was very choosy about his singers. He had the perfect judgment about the capabilities of each singer. He knew correctly which song would suit a particular singer. Only when he was totally convinced about a song and selection of the singer would he proceed with the recording. So when he felt that the songs of Mausam needed my voice, he called me. What masterpieces those compositions were! Even today, during my live shows, I get a lot of requests from youngsters for them. Now you can imagine the way his songs have transcended the age barrier. Believe me, by singing two numbers in Mausam, I got a fresh lease of musical life in the industry.
As is well known, there were two versions of the song, Dil Dhoondtaa Hai. For the sad version, I recorded solo. And for the happy number, Lataji had collaborated with me. Out of these two versions, the sad and slow version was recorded first, in Keharwa Taal. The happy version was done in Khemta Taal, where one had to miss a beat. I don't think any body had done that kind of an experiment, where the lyrics of the song, once done in 2/4 (slow version) had to be elevated to 6/8 (fast number) level. For this kind of work, you need special cells in your brain. Both the songs of Mausam were and still are very popular. But personally, I would always go for the sad version.
Doubtlessly, there was sophistication in Madan Mohan's music. There was no hotch-potch and short cuts in his works. Compositions would grow from one level to another in a very logical manner. He was a modern composer and much ahead of his time. You will always find something rich and unusual in his music.
Madanji was a master at playing with words. He had the special ability of bringing out the essence of each and every word of the lyrics he composed on. I don't think anybody was as successful at bringing out the best in lyrics. Many a time, it has been seen that the lines of a song suggest one thing and the music composed is something opposite. Such songs do not last long. There should be synchronization in the word and the tune. In this matter, Madanji was an unquestionable master. That is the reason his songs are still fresh in our minds. They tug at our heart-strings. Take Yoon Hasraton Ke Daag (Adaalat) or say, Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho(Hanste Zakhm). They are unusual songs, starting on a high note. The thinking process is also very unique. Most of the songs start on a slow note and take a pitch after sign line is over. Here Madanji stands out from all others.
There were many artistes who worked with Madanji. And all of them were geniuses. Master Sonik, Ghanshyam, Gyan Verma, Kesri Lord.... so many names. All were greats in their own way. Master Sonik has shown his mastery in so many songs of Madanji and made all his numbers immortal. Madanji used to have only two musicians accompanying him during the rehearsal of a song in his music room. Nobody would know the real final shape of the song. Only Madanji was aware of it. While rehearsing and polishing a song, the whole canvas would emerge in the minds of the musicians. This was his style which nobody could match. He used to explain his thinking and imagination of the song to Master Sonik. Masterji would then design the arrangement, matching it with Madanji's visualization. If an arrangement fell short of his expectation, Madanji would get upset. He could get very angry. I have witnessed what a stickler to perfection he was. He always insisted for a peculiar tone from the violins and his team of violinists would necessarily have to render it beautifully. I would sum it up by saying that he had a strong team who could read his mind correctly.
Madanji was a master composer of ghazals as well. His uniqueness lay in presenting the ghazal as a modern composition so that it appealed to people of all ages and anybody could sing it easily. The ghazals of yesteryears were not so. Only a singer with expertise could sing them while ordinary folk could only listen and not sing. Madanji's ghazals had the quality of touching the common man. The tradition of ghazals remained alive and became popular only because of his contribution to this genre of music. This is one of his biggest contributions to Indian music.
Much as he was a great musician, he never showed it in his behaviour. He spent his life like a commoner. I still remember one incident when he had to go shopping. His car got stuck in the compound of his building. He just came out of the premises, caught a running bus and went ahead with his shopping. Another day, while talking to him, I confessed I was a big fan and I knew the finer aspects of his compositions minutely. I always wondered why his work didn't get recognition like the Filmfare Award, the only known award of that time. To this, he casually remarked: "They asked for Rs.25,000.... I will never spend money to purchase an award". I was shocked at his reply.
Indeed, Madanji never got his due from the industry. But he got all he deserved from his millions of fans and lovers of music. And I am sure, he was quite happy with that.
(This article excerpted from the book "Madan Mohan - Ultimate Melodies" by Vishwas Nerurkar)