Gulzar’s Tribute to Madan Mohan

When I entered the music industry, Madan Mohan was already an established name – a man of great repute and a music director respected by all. We could start working together only in the early 1980s. Nonetheless, we had known each other earlier for several years. In fact, I first met him at N.C. Sippysaab’s place. He was on one of his regular evening visits to Sippysaab’s household along with his sister, Shanti Mahendroo and niece Anju Mahendroo. For them, it was almost like a family reunion and for me those moments were golden opportunities to meet Madanji. On several occasions, I interacted with him in Sippysaab’s house and only twice had I met him at Sippysaab’s office in Ranjit Studio. Thus, through such close encounters, I got to know him better. Being in the film industry and already associated with music, I was aware what a luminary he was. I had immense respect for him and demonstrated it, whenever we met.

A few years later, I prepared the script of Koshish (1972), inspired by the Japanese film Happiness Us Alone and showed it to Sippysaab. In those days, Sippysaab was known to produce films of a different genre. He showed the script to other people known to him from the film industry and asked their opinion. There were three people who gave their comments after reading the entire script – Kaifi Azmi, Chetan Anand and Madan Mohan. These three friends of Sippysaab gave him the correct advice. Their unanimous opinion was: In the age of talkies, why do you want to produce a silent movie? Sippysaab conveyed to me the observation of these experts from the film industry. Neverthless, I felt that in spite of the expert opinion, I must make this film.

Picking up the framework of the Japanese film, I had adapted it to the psyche of Indian audiences and thus developed a story. Therefore, after a few months, I told Sippysaab that if he is not interested in producing the film, I would approach another producer. Upon hearing this, Sippysaab became curious: “Why do you insist on producing this film?” I replied: “I have everything ready, all scenes are ready, I have chosen all the locations, the photographer is ready; art director is ready… With all the paraphernalia and two actors, if I cannot convey to the audience what I have in mind, I am not an able writer and director. Direction is a visual art. It is possible to establish a dialogue with the audience without using a dialogue”.

Probably this reasoning appealed to Sippysaab. He called his son Romu and told him to bring his cheque book. “I want to give him the token amount”, he said. “I have decided to produce this film. If this guy is so confident, I shall definitely take it up”.

While discussing the details of this film, Sippysaab remarked: “This film will not have music. Isn’t it?” I replied:”There are probably two situations which may require a song”. To this he retorted: “I thought, there would be only background music and we can ask Madan Mohan to do it”. Doubtful, I questioned him “I do not mind, but do you think that he will accept a film with just a few songs? Would the film do justice to his talent?” He assured me, “Don’t worry about it. He will accept this offer. He is a very close friend of mine”. This marked the beginning of our work together.

I recall the first song that we recorded, So Jaa Baabaa Mere So Jaa. In those days, I used to call my little sister, Jaya Bachchan, by her pet name, Baabaa. Of course, she did not approve of it one wee bit. She would sulk and comment “Am I still a kid to be called Baabaa?”. Well, she was certainly not a kid, but while writing the lyrics, I was thinking of her character in the film and then the word Baabaa came to my mind very naturally and spontaneously.

The background music was very significant in the film. Those were the days when music directors not only composed songs, but also did the background scores. Evidently, Madanji gave such apt background scores to the film that I was able to convey to the people, very effectively whatever I had in mind. Also, due to Koshish, my long time desire to work with Madanji was fulfilled.

Yet, I was not completely satisfied. I wanted to work more with him. As luck would have it, the occasion arose very soon. I was working for the film Mausam. Names of Salilda and Pancham had been suggested for the film. However, Dhundida, who was producer P. Mallikarjun Rao’s guru, put forth Madanji’s name and I immediately accepted it.

He did a great job. The story was such that it gave him immense opportunity to articulate his genius. The five songs enhanced the mood of the situations in the film with befitting scores. Before telling you about the songs from Mausam, let me elaborate on Madanji’s personality and his style of working. He was a handsome man with a well built body. His personality was such that he looked more of an athlete than a music director. In fact, when he stood behind the glass screen at the Film Centre studio and conducted the orchestra, he would throw a glance at his arms and admire his muscles. Watching him do this was a fun.

Though he looked like an athlete, when he would compose music in his music room at Peddar Road, one knew one was working with a genius. He was very disciplined in his work. He was punctual and expected others to be equally so. If the musicians arrived late for the recording, they were sent back.

Madanji was completely involved in his work. His method of composing was unique. He would hum while playing the harmonium and play some strains. If he was in the mood, he would prepare some non-vegetarian dishes. While cooking in the kitchen, he would also try to compose a song. I have witnessed this when the song – Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee for my film Mausam was being composed. I was waiting in the living room while Madanji was in the kitchen, engrossed in preparing a mutton dish, I saw him add a little whiskey to the gravy. And simultaneously, he was working the tune of Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wohee. At times, he would come out of the kitchen and make me hear the tune and ask me if I liked what he had composed. I would give him my opinion and then he would go back to the kitchen to rework on the composition, saying: “Let me see if I can come up with something else”.

After watching him cook and work, I felt that probably all good music directors must also be a good cook. We have instances of Salilda, Pancham, Madanji and Allarakhasaab. I have had the privilege of tasting their recipes. Probably because they are excellent chefs, they also have a good taste of music.

Here were two versions of Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wohee. My favourite is the sad version. However, many singers feel that the happy version is far better. I do not know much about music. I judge the song by the melody. The sad version of Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee evokes a nostalgic feel and somehow appeals to me more. I have not come across any better expression of a song than Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee…

I must narrate something more about this song. The original refrain of this song Jee Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee Fursat Ke Raat Din was written by Ghalib. Yet Madanji used to sing Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee. As the day of recording approached, I told Madanji. “You sing it as Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee, but the original song of Ghalib is Jee Dhundhtaa Hai. I feel one should not tamper with the original work. He accepted what I said. On the day of the recording he brought along with him Ghalib’s Deewan (the authentic literary book of Ghalib’s work). He opened it and pointed out at the refrain in question. It was Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee. He further stated: “I feel comfortable while singing Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee. So knowledgeable were the music directors of that era. How many music directors today go into such depths or have such a good study of poetry?

Madanji had great knowledge of shaayaree, folk music and classical music (Bandish). That brought completeness to his work. Several of his music sittings were memorable events. During the session he would often sing an old classical bandish or a thumree. Music composers like Madanji respected the fabulous heritage of classical music.

The refrain of the song Chhadee Re chhadee Kaise Gale Mein Padee came to my mind as I was writing a scene of the film. Based on the refrain, Madanji composed the melody of the entire song. Subsequently I wrote the stanzas suited to his melody.

Everybody knows his contribution in the field of ghazals. In one of the situations in the film Mausam that required a ghazal, I used the refrain from one of my old ghazals. Ruke Ruke Se Qadam, Ruk Ke Baar Baar Chale that had been written earlier. For Salil Chaudhary’s Bengali film Lal Pachor. I had penned Ruke Ruke Se Qadam sung by Mubarak Begam. For Mausam, I retained the refrain that was used in the Lal Pachor and wrote the rest of the sher (verse) afresh. Madanji set it to a mellifluous tune and it continues to be a favourite of many even today.

Once the melody was ready, Madanji choose the singer and while listening to the songs, we always concluded that his choice of singer was absolutely correct. Any singer, be it Lataji, Ashaji or Rafisaab would be ever willing to come for rehearsals at Madanji’s music room. Nobody had any doubt whatsoever of Madanji’s quality of music and therefore he got unqualified co-operation and support from the artiste.

I remember an incident when Lataji was recording a song with him. When she came for the rehearsal one day, she said “You know, last time when we met, Madanji had prepared a different melody and today, he has given another version. The former one was more melodious but I do not have the courage to tell him so”. Lataji was a big name too, yet this incident showed us how humble she is. Times have changed and today it is rare to find singers who accept the music director’s authority and also respect him.

Normally, Madanji used to compose 4-6 melodies for one song. He would make us listen to all of them and ask which one appealed to us. Though we would give our opinion, the final decision was always his. Madanji knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, a genius knows which of his works is the best. It was like Ghalib, who may have written 4-6 shers at a time and would have chosen only one amongst it because that was the ultimate one. This is applicable to Madanji also. From the five melodies that he would set for a song, the song Dil Dhundhtaa Hai Phir Wahee have been released on CD by his son Sanjeev kohli. On listing to variations he made in his music compositions.

For any film, it is essential to choose the right artistes, technicians, music directors, lyricists. Even if any one of these elements goes amiss, the film is bound to fail. An actor for example is as good or as bad as the script or the director. Same is the case with lyrics and music. If I do not have a script that would do justice to a certain artiste, I would say that I have done wrong casting. Many a times people ask me, “How can you write such a mediocre song?” I feel like counter questioning them, “What is the quality of that film?”

My lyrics always match the level of the film. I can understand if the film is excellent and the lyrics are not up to the standard. The lyrics should be of the same quality as the film.

Nobody should expect wonderful lyrics for a mediocre film. We should not forget that the songs are part of the film. Once we keep this point in mind then things fall in place. Given the right type of script and set-up the artiste can give the best in him. I have experienced this on several occasions. Once I choose the right artistes, technicians, music director and singer, I do not meddle in their work. In my capacity as a director, I explain to all my collaborators the concept of the film and its visualization. Thereon, they are given the liberty to express themselves and execute their roles in their respective manner. I applied the same principle while working on Mausam with Madanji. The ambience in his music room used to be light and jovial. There was no inkling of stress anywhere. On the contrary, everyone enjoyed every moment spent in that place. Honestly, it is an out of the world experience to work with such a genius.

Madanji and I struck an emotional chord while working on Mausam and I wanted to work even more with him. But destiny had different plans. Madanji passed away before Mausam could be completed. It was very unfortunate. I learnt about the sad news when I was in Moscow. Madanji had, in fact, completed the recording of all the songs, but the background scores remained to be done. Then Salil Chaudhary stepped in.

Today, I miss Madanji. We all miss people like him.



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