Hemantada Mukhopadhyay Introspective melodies

The compassionate colossus

He would have been 102 today. My all time favourite singer and truly multifaceted genius. Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyaya was born today in Varanasi in 1920, and moved to Calcutta soon.

He actually had his first contact with the world of music and sang on AIR Calcutta aged just 13. With music and arts all around him, he decided after getting admitted to a Degree Course in Engineering in Jadavpur University, that this wasn’t his cup of tea, dropped out and enriched our world with his sonorous, rich, unique baritone. I have been listening to his singing in multiple languages for more than 60 years now but still get goosebumps every time I hear that voice, so calming and so satiating.

Sixty years since I started on my love for his singing, his songs still resonate in my heart and recreate a kind of carefree romanticism that belongs only to lovers, while uplifting me at the same time to a much higher plane of spirituality. Hemantada’s sonorous voice is magical too and brings before me his tall, dhoti-shirt clad figure. I remember sneaking into a DD Mumbai studio in the 70s just to watch him sing from the darkness. It was a truly sublime experience that I’ll always cherish till my last breath. Tall, pleasant, dhoti, kurta and a dark shawl wrapped around his shoulders, as he played the harmonium and sang. I was transfixed as I stood, scared to even breathe, as I was afraid the sacrilegous sound of my breathing would break the spell cast on me by his magical singing.

Hemantada was among a rare species who excelled in the varied capacities as a singer, music director, composer and a film producer who straddled both the worlds of Bengali and Hindi films with elan, and admirable felicity. Bangla films and the bhadralok refer to him naturally as Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. Hemantada is a revered exponent of Rabindra Sangeet too and has left behind a rich legacy of soulful music. His contribution to the genre is truly unmatched. He has been referred to as the human with the voice of God. Truly more than a touch of divinity about his singing and persona.

Bharatratna Lata Mangeshkar had once said, “Listening to Hemanta da, I feel as though a sadhu is sitting in a temple singing bhajan”.

He had trained under Sailesh Dasgupta and also learned Rabindra Sangeet, under Anadi Ghosh Dastidar. Later, he also received classical music training under Ustad Faiyaz Khan.

Prior to his tryst with commercial music, Kumar had only recorded Bengali non-film songs. In 1937, he first recorded two songs on a disk – ‘janite jadi go tumi’ and ‘bala go balo more’.

Hemantada’s musical career got a jump-start when started playback singing in the Bengali film Nimai Sanyas in 1941. Three years later, in 1944, he recorded his first Rabindra Sangeet in the Bengali film Priya Badhabi and another non-film song from the same genre.

His debut as a playback singer in the Bollywood was in the movie Irada in 1944.

Hemantada wore the hat of a music director for the first time in 1952 for the Hindi film Anand Math. The song ‘Vande mataram’  by Latadidi, is etched in my mindspace and my most favourite version of the immortal National Song. It brings more energy to the song than any other version.

His big break in Bollywood came with Nagin produced by Filmistan thanks to Sashadhar Mukherjee

The film which features a conflict between two tribes: “My problem was…I did not want to use the ‘been’ (a winged musical instrument, also called the pungi). Kalyanji Virji Shah was my assistant. Finally, we imitated a tune similar to one produced by a been with the help of a harmonium and clavioline. Both the film’s director and producer liked it and asked me to use it in the songs of Nagin.”

The music of Nagin was a monster hit with ‘mann dole tan dole’ counted as one of the chart busters at the time. Hemantada received the Filmfare award for best music for Nagin.

Many of his memorable compositions in Hindi are remakes or improvisations of their Bengali versions. Listen to this unforgettable Bangla classic by Hemantada:

He did make a fabulous adaptation in Bollywood and made Latadidi sing it too, in a movie he produced, (like so many of his movies based on famous novels, Kohraa was an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”)

Despite the Hindi song being such a huge hit, I love the Bangla original. Latadidi sang it beautifully but for this song, I prefer Hemantada and his soothing voice that fills my heart with an indescribable longing..

My eternal respect for this great man that we are truly blessed to receive so much from. One who sadly died too young, short of his 70th birthday. Maybe the Gods were keener to hear him sing and regale them.

Stay safe, folks, stay blessed, happy and healthy. I will be lost in Hemantada’s divine music for the day


By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

23 replies on “The compassionate colossus”

How well written Sir…!
The soulful voice of Hemanta Mukherjee and his sublime baritone is something we grew up with and will treasure all our lives…!
A Very Happy 102nd to the Legend…!❤️💐🎁
And btw, today my son is sharing his birthday with the Legend too…!😊

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Lovely share of Hemantda 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹
My very favourite song of Latadi👌👍
First heard Bangla version. Quite good..👌
I now equally appreciate Kaifi Azmi for writing so beautiful lyrics to suit the Bangla tune🙏🏾

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“Neel Akasher Neechey’”, will be remembered for its in-depth storytelling. Three years after its successful run in theatres, the film became the first to earn a ban in the post-Independent India when tensions on the Sino-Indian border escalated to a war in 1962. When the ban was lifted after two or three months, the film revived the interest of the cinegoers and had a successful rerun. There were two remarkable songs in the film, “Neel akasher neeche ei prithibi” and “O nodi re ekti kotha shudhai shudhu tomaare”, both rendered by Hemantada.
In 1971, Conrad Rooks approached Hemanta Mukhopadhyay to compose a song for his forthcoming Indo-American Production ‘Siddharth’. Hemanta Mukherjee had to travel to London to meet Conrad Rooks. When Rooks explained the situation and wanted an Indian song, Hemanta sang “O nodi re ekti kotha shudhai shudhu tomaare’” and explained to him the meaning. The song went well with the situation. After recording the song he returned in April. After two months he had to go to London again. Conrad Rooks wanted to include one more Indian song in the voice of Hemanta Kumar and his first choice was the song “Jai Jagadisha Hare”. Hemantada could convince Rooks that the song would not go with the situation and finally the song “‘Pather klanti bhule sneho bhora kole Tobo maa go, bolo kobe shitol hobo” was selected for recording. When the film released on the international circuit, Hemantada songs were generously appreciated. Born in an ancient city on the bank of River Ganga, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay spent a major part of his youth in another riverine city. Rivers always fascinated him and used it as a metaphor to convey his philosophy in life.
O nodi re ekti kotha shudhai shudhu tomaare, from the film Neel Aakasher Neeche had lyrics by Gouriprasanna Majumdar, and music by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay.
His non-film songs (NFS) were also heavenly renditions with melody perfected by fine tuning and fine singing.The non-film songs were very typical of bengali music firmament (which bengali people had enjoyed, in times, may be much more than the film music, having subtle differences in lyrics, composition and style of singing compared to the film songs as the people here had more freedom for very creative experiments with compositions). Hemanta Mukherjee was also a singer par excellence for Rabindra Sangeet which has a distinct style of rendition with a relatively difficult raag based swaralipi or notations, which, in those days had to be approved by a music board at Shantiniketan . He recorded and lent his voice to Bengali NFSs including Rabindra Sangeet for about 370 songs.
Besides, he lent his voice for 12 Geetinatya (musical drama) records, out of which 6 were Rabindra Geetinatyas.
Very few have achieved this distinction of singing Rabindra Sangeet as well as modern songs and becoming immensely popular and revered in such diverse fields. Bengali cinema was not influenced by Hindi cinema but by the huge social and political changes occurring due to the partition of Bengal. As a matter of fact, during that period Bombay films were still having some influence of New Theatres and such greats contributed immensely.

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Bhavageete, also spelt as Bhavageethe, is a form of expressionist poetry and light music. Literally meaning “emotion poetry”, Bhavageete is a significant part of Indian music, which has represented the devotional and emotional facet of the Indians whilst representing the aura of the philosophy of Hinduism in the truest sense of the term. The emotional poetry sung in this genre pertains to themes of Love, Nature, Philosophy etc. Not much different from Ghazals, the genre involves expressing the deep desire of meeting the ultimate. Experiencing the “Omnipresence of the Omnipotent” is articulated amidst light music and perfect verbiage. The philosophy of life is all united with the strings of Bhavageete, which is a lot more than just being a particular form of expressionist poetry.

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