The very first filial act in Bollywood

For the seventh program of the series on AIR FM Gold, the program host Kiran Misra ji chose Husnalal Bhagatram last week. I took up the task. Off the top of my head I could think of 5 songs that were worth presenting. Husnalal Bhagatram took me back nearly three quarters of a century, to an era when my parents had not even met. But that being the case, I thought I should give it my best shot. I am honestly obliged to Kiranji for the choice as she made me research and I was made aware of a treasure trove of excellent music.

Bhagatram (1914-1973) and Pandit Husnalal (1920-1968) were born in the village Kahma of Jalandhar District of Punjab. The brothers Batish were initiated into music by their father, Devi Chand and elder cousin Pandit Amarnath. Later they became the disciples of Sangeet Maha Mahopadhyaya Pandit Dilip Chandra Vedi.

Husnalal’s first passion was playing the violin which he learnt further under Ustad Bashir Khan of Patiala. He was also a vocal performer par excellence in Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Ghazal and Bhajan and had a vocal range of 3 octaves and was an accomplished master of complicated patterns of Taans similar to his Guru Vediji. He even would give solo vocal performances in Classical Music festivals.

 Bhagatram was an ace harmonium player. He was a good percussionist,too

During the period, 1939- ’40, the older of the two Bhagatram had composed music for a handful of films, either solo or with composers like Ramgopal Pande and Madhulal Master, but none of the films met with success along with his younger brother Husnalal. The tunes for the duo were most of the times composed by Husnalal and Bhagatram provided mostly the beat only as a tabla player. There was complete unison between the two and their beat fascinated the connoisseurs of good music.

Husnalal-Bhagatram shone like a set of bright stars and were very fond of a lyricist, Qamar Jalalabadi, with their main singers being Suraiya, Rafisaab and predominantly Latadidi who shared a great relationship with Husnalal. During this period they created some absolutely mesmerising songs but sadly in the latter part of playback singing, they did not diversify much beyond their preferred singers. Although they did use “newer” singers like Mukesh and Talat Mahmood, whenever they included them, Husnalal Bhagatram showed their immense potential, for example in Kismat bigadi duniya badli (Mukesh in Afsana) or Ai meri zindagi tujhe dhoondhoon kahan (Talat Mahmood, Adl-e-Jahangir). For the naysayers and the doubting Thomases who accused them of having a limited fare, they trashed that doubt with an absolutely superb duet with Kishore Kumar and Latadidi, Lahron se pooch lo ki kinaaron se pooch lo (Kafila). They had some good songs with Shamshad Begum as well.
Before 1948, they used a much larger number of singers. Their debut was in Prabhat’s Chaand  which had songs performed by the then established singers like GM Durrani, Zeenat Begum, Sitara Devi and Manju.

 Hum Ek Hain  Dev Anand’s debut film, saw an entirely different set of singers, namely Manik Verma, Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki. They repeated Zohrabai and Amirbai in a major way in Nargis . Immediately they used Paro Devi as the lead singer in Heera. In the same year, they combined with their elder cousin and mentor, Pandit Amarnath, in Mirza Sahiban  composing some of the career best songs of Noorjehan. Thereafter, they took to their favourite trio of Suraiya, Latadidi and Rafisaab in a big way, almost dispensing with the other singers. They did use other playback singers only occasionally, but created outstanding songs with them as well. So any discussion on Husnalal Bhagatram‘s music is deficient without listening to the immense variety of songs they composed for other singers, both in the vintage and in the golden era.

The beginning of the creative partnership of the first music director pair in Bollywood was nothing less than serendipitous. It just so happened that DD Kashyap, who was directing Chaand  for Prabhat Films, wanted to engage Pandit Amarnath based in Lahore, who was a towering figure in music. As he was heavily preoccupied, he strongly recommended his younger cousin Pandit Husnalal who was staying with him and assisting him in the Lahore-based films of Pancholi and others, assuring Kashyap that Pandit Husnalal was no less talented than him. Pandit Amarnath was like a father-figure to his younger brothers, especially to Pt. Husnalal. A music session was organized to demonstrate Pt. Husnalal’s talent. Kashyap was highly impressed. When it was time for Pandit Husnalal to proceed for Poona/Bombay, Pandit Amarnath, out of concern for his kid-brother, suggested Kashyap to also engage Pandit Bhagatram with him, who had already composed music for a few movies earlier. Kashyap expressed difficulty in arranging the payment for two as the contract was already made out. Pandit Amarnath assured him that he should not bother about increasing the fee, but the two brothers must work together. (Thus it was that Bhagatram got appended to Husnalal, forming the duo Husnalal Bhagatram. Another reason why the younger brother’s name preceded the elder brother was simply the aesthetics – Husnalal-Bhagatram probably sounded better than the other way around.)

Husnalal Bhagatram soon became hugely popular. There came a time when 75% of the theatres in Bombay would show Husnalal Bhagatram films. Bhagatram, the older brother handled the commercial part of the contract. Husnalal played a major role in teaching Latadidi the proper accent for Hindi and Punjabi-style songs. Uma Devi (Tuntun) and Kishori Amonkar too learned from him for some time.

There was magic in the duo, Husnalal Bhagatram’s spell-binding compositions. While working together, they captured almost every possible genre and mood. They were the first to popularise Punjabi folk music as an art form in Bollywood and their music always has this identifiable beat. Their music has a rare lilt and rhythm and is also soulful and poignant. Husnalal Bhagatram became the most sought after composer duo with the success of films like Pyar ki Jeet and Badi Bahen . Pt. Husnalal was an accomplished violinist and a renowned classical singer while his brother, Bhagatram was an ace harmonium player. The duo was fond of fast paced music thanks to their roots which was created through the dholak and atonal drums. The rhythmic pulse runs through much of their music as a kind of theme.

They made a musical statement with innovations like having successive song lines with descending and repetitive tonal contours which appeared harmoniously created a complete melody.

Bhagatram initially gave music solo in Bahadur Ramesh, Bhedi Kumar, Chashmawali, Midnight Mail ; Deepak Mahal and Tatar Ka Chor (with Ramgopal Pandey), Hamara Desh, Hatimtai Ki Beti (with Madhulal Damodar Master) and Sandesha. In some of these films he used his full name Bhagatram Batish. These films and, with them, the musical scores in them went unnoticed, too.

Husnalal Bhagatram made their debut as music composers with the Prabhat Film Company’s film, Chaand directed by DD Kashyap. They composed songs of different genres for the movie. The song, Do Dilon ko yeh Duniya sung by Manju was their first hit together. In their subsequent ventures, they developed a liking for the emotion filled voice of Suraiya. They made their debut at a time when the Hindi film music was truly in its infancy and introduced lilting and foot- tapping Punjabi music to Bollywood which paved the way for other music directors like O P Nayyar and Laxmikant Pyarelal. They actually have trained Shankar (of Shankar – Jaikishan), Laxmikant (of Laxmikant Pyarelal), Khayyam and Mahendra Kapoor.

I chose to start with Rafisaab’s first big hit in Bollywood.

1. Ek dil ke tukde hazaar huye is from the film, Pyaar ki jeet, which was one of the highest grossing films of the year. The lyrics were by Husnalal Bhagatram’s favourite lyricist Qamar Jalalabadi. This is an early Rafisaab song which is still very popular and is perhaps his first big hit. The film has Rehman and Suraiya in the lead, with Rehman looking very handsome and far removed from the villain my generation was used to seeing.

In the case of Rafisaab, stardom was still some distance away. Although Rafisaab had entered films a few years earlier, he had by then sung 45 or so songs and a few of them did become popular, none of them were huge hits. He always had all the attributes of a great singer and soon, he would take his rightful place as the Numero Uno male playback singer in Bollywood and would rule for the next few decades. This wonderful song is composed in Raag Tilang by Husnalal Bhagatram. It is a very sweet Raag and resembles the Carnatic Music Raag HansShri.

2. Chup chup khade ho zaroor koyi baat hai , from the film Badi Behen, had lyrics by Rajinder Krishan whose.lyrics were unique in the classic black & white era . His creations with legendary music composers like Husnalal Bhagatram almost always resulted in magical creations.

It is just mindboggling that “Badi Behen” has no less than 7 to 8 great songs. This song is a timeless classic and was certainly one of the most iconic melodies of its time. Sung by Latadidi and Premlata, the name of the co-singer Premlata is frequently not mentioned but I feel it would not be fair to leave her out. The song’s tune is uncannily similar to a Tamizh Song “Enni enni Parka Sanam” from Vyjayanthimala’s Debut film Vazhakai made by AVM where the music was by R Sudarsanam. The Tamizh movie released a few weeks later, and one can never be quite sure as to which was the original and which was the “inspired version”. I suspect the Husnalal- Bhagatram one was the inspiration, given the typical Punjabi rhythm and drums. Incidentally AV Meiyappan made the movie in Telugu (released a few weeks later as Jeevitham) as well as in Hindi 2 years later as Sharada and had Vyjayanthimala star in all three versions. Badi Behen was also remade in Sinhala a few years later as Sujatha, which became the biggest grosser in the language till that time.

3. Do dilon ko ye duniya milne nahin from Husnalal Bhagatram’s debut movie Chaand, was the next on my playlist. This song was one of the most popular songs from the year

The most memorable song of the movie is this one sung by Manju. The song is picturised on Master Balakram who was in real life the younger brother of Manju. It is a symbolic song symbolising the difficulties faced by two lovers .

Manju (real name Manjula) was a singer-actor during the late 30s through to mid 40s who worked mostly in Prabhat films. Her last film was ‘Rattan’ , with music by Naushad. She married her co-actor from the movie, Karan Dewan and retired from films thereafter. She also had two songs in Rattan which was a huge commercial hit and was a huge boost to Naushad‘s career. Master Balakram plays the itinerant singer playing the harmonium slung around his neck which has been used in many songs by Husnalal Bhagatram. They would use the same ploy again with stunning effect in Chup chup khade ho zaroor koi baat hai, released a few years later.

4. Aise mein agar tum aa jaate is from Baalam which had
Suraiya, Wasti and Nigar Sultana which was produced and directed by the legendary Homi Wadia.
Suraiya took over the reigns of the lead singer-actress with singing and dancing talents after the departure of Noorjehan to Paapistan. Debuting as a teenager, at just 13, she ruled the roost till she was 34. She suddenly quit filmdom at the height of her career much to the sorrow of her fans and film magnates.

Husnalal Bhagatram, Naushad and Ghulam Mohammad were the music directors for most of her films. Except for some early songs for Mehtab, she sang only for herself as an actress. Amazingly for three years, she reigned as a Prima Donna, a super singing star and commanded the highest remuneration among all actors like Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Madhubala, such was her talent, stature and popularity.
Her mother groomed her singing talents with a Classical Hindustani music teacher as her guru. The legendary Mumtaz Ali (Mehmood’s father) imparted her with dancing lessons.

K L Saigal was so impressed by her singing and acting prowess and insisted on getting her signed as his heroine in 3 films and also sang duets with her. She actually saw 11 films being released in one year. A very rare feat in the history of Bollywood. Husnalal-Bhagatram composed music for four out of these films and had seven other music directors for the other seven films. In spite of some all-time great songs in that year, Baalam remained in the shadows. This is a superb Suraiya song, Aise mein agar tum aa jaate.

5. Aye meri zindagi tujhe dhoondhoon kahan : was the next song on my playlist which is a ghazal from the quasi-historical film, Adl- e- Jehangir . This was the directorial debut of G P Sippy and proved to be a hit at the box office. Noorjahan (Meena Kumari) is implicated in the hunting death (an accidental shooting) of a washerman by his widow, who asks Jehangir for justice. Jehangir is shown to be a romantic idiot (unlike what Moghuls actually were) and actually offers his life to the widow for retribution (in line with “an eye for an eye”. The lady rescinds and Jehangir is saved) The ghazal has two versions, sung by Talat Mahmood and Latadidi for Pradeep Kumar and Meena Kumari onscreen. I must say I found Pradeep Kumar incredibly handsome onscreen. The Latadidi version is a tad sadder. Amazingly this is actually an adaptation of Iosif Ivanovici‘s , “Waves of The Danube” ( Donauwellen Waltzer), arguably the most famous Romanian tune ever composed, which also used by Shankar -Jaikishan as the introduction to “Manzil Wohi hai pyar ki ” , for the film Kath Putli. The same melody was also adapted in the US as the “Anniversary Song” by Al Jolson and Scul Chaplin. The tune Shankar Jaikishan also used it in the lead out that is played at the end of the song , “Ab mera kaun sahara” , in Barsaat. It is amazing to see the tune flowing from one Hindi film to another.

6. Lehron se poochh lo, from the movie Kaafila, was my next song. This is a very soulful duet with Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar. The lyrics are by Brajendra Gaud, who was related to Yogesh Gaur (the famous lyricist who immortalised himself with Anand, Rajanigandha and Chhoti Si Baat) and was a dialogue writer for films as well. Nalini Jaywant and Ashok Kumar formed an interesting choice for the lead pair. This must be one of the first (and surely one of very few) occasions where Kishore Kumar sang for his elder brother.
The very young Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar sing this song that is based on Raag Sarang also known as Brindavani Sarang, (a pointer to its popularity in the Mathura region). Fortuitously my program was close to noon, and Sarang is typically performed in the early afternoon.

7. Seene mein aag bhadakti hai , my next song is a ghazal from Naach and is a wonderful duet sung by Suraiya and Rafisaab , with lyrics penned by Sarshar Sailani. Suraiya’s voice was ideallysuited for poignant songs as there was a wonderful “kashish” in her voice and she was supremely melodious.  Many music directors at the time would use a recital prelude before the main melody. Husnalal Bhagatram innovated it further by having slow recitals in all the antaras which is followed by the main melody as refrain. Amazingly, although it is a duet, Suraiya gets to sing the lion(ess)’s share of the song and even a singer of Rafisaab’s stature has to make do with just a few lines, such was Suraiya’s dominance.

8. Chaley Jaana nahin nain milaake from Badi Behen was the penultimate song. Husnalal Bhagatram‘s song tracks were not very long (a function of the recording techniques of the era, primarily due to limitations of length imposed by the records), so we could squeeze in 9 songs, instead of the usual 8 .This song has been sung by a fresh voiced Latadidi in Asawari, which is a raag of the mornings. It is pertinent to note that Latadidi , believe it or not, is in the movie a junior female singer, Suraiya being the lead female singer and principal actress. The song was picturised on Geeta Bali, who has a supportive role in the movie. A song that not just made waves then, but is still remembered to the present times.

9. Manwa mein pyar dole sara sansar dole, my last song of the selection, is a wonderful duet by Zohrabai Ambalewali and Mukesh from Sartaj, with lyrics by Majrooh.

It had a total of 9 excellent songs by 3 different lyricists; Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shevan Rizvi & Partau Lakhnavi . Although the film did not do well at all at the box office, it is still remembered for its melodious songs.

I must thank the program anchor Kiran Misra ji who chose Husnalal Bhagatram for this program and made me research on the pair. It was a very stimulating exercise and to me, a very welcome challenge of sorts. It enriched my own knowledge of the era. To be honest, my knowledge of the duo was limited to a handful of songs. Before she made me delve deep into the duo’s career, I knew only 5 of these songs. I was happy she made me do this, I came to know of so many gems. For that I would like to thank you, Kiranji from the bottom of my heart.

Stay safe folks, stay happy and healthy. Stay away from the Chinese scourge and take the jab. I will be back on the program on Monday the 16th of August with one more iconic music director.

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

16 replies on “The very first filial act in Bollywood”

Complete and extensive research regarding original pair of music directors in Bollywood. It was treat to listen such vintage song some still popular.

Liked by 1 person

Congratulations! This was not easy.I am thoroughly impressed with your penchant for details,all background knowledge required to build up an understanding of the Indian film industry scattered over the length and breadth of the subcontinent and the struggles and flourishes of the men and women who make us proud.
Go and aim for a meaningful compendium in future which will surely fill you with a fire in the belly.
My best wishes!

Liked by 1 person

wow…..Superb write up with lot’s of interesting information Aniruddha Sir….
Lata ji and Kishori ji actually learned from Husnalal….great….It was totally unknown to me and of great surprise….
It’s always a great experience to read your blogs….Very enriching….
Also the choice of songs is superb….
Listened to them on AIR in the programme that day ……

Thank you so much Aniruddha Sir for this wonderful share….
You should publish a book based on your blog and write up….


Liked by 1 person

Wow wow, most complete summation of the First MD duo👌👌👌👌👌👌🙏🏽
Like a Thesis you did a swell job of it SIR🙏🏽
Loved each word of it… could gather more information than even other radio programs
I heard of the duo👍👍👍👍🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 Brilliant choice of the songs👍I heard many new songs though 👌👌👍 congratulations so proud of you… A big thank you for sending all the details of the program 👌👍🙏🏽

Liked by 1 person

Sometimes I wonder, why don’t you author a book on these great musicians, singers !! So much of wonderful exploration despite being busy with a challenging medical profession… Wow!! Salute to you🙏
Many songs here are so beautiful but I am listening them for the first time. Thanks for including them.

Liked by 1 person

आज हा कार्यक्रम ऐकला. कालातीत अशी गाणी आहेत ही सगळी. हूस्नलाल भगतराम यांच्या विषयी इतकीसखोल माहिती पहिल्यांदा च वाचली.हा म्युझिकल ठेवा पुढील पिढ्या पर्यंत पोहोचेल का?

Liked by 1 person

माझ्या जन्मा आधी एक दशक निर्माण झालेले संगीत आजही मला आकर्षित करू शकते, यातच तुझ्या प्रश्नाचे उत्तर सामावले आहे, मी गौहर जान आणि पलुस्कर यांची गाणी सुद्धा ऐकली आहेत. चांगले संगीत अजरामर आहे, श्रोते मिळतात


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