Madan Mohan Kohli (Hindi: मदन मोहन) (25 June 1924 – 14 July 1975), better known as Madan Mohan, was a famed Bollywood film music director of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He is particularly remembered for the ghazals he composed for the film industry, mainly using the voice of Lata Mangeshkar and Talat Mahmood and his favourite singer, Mohammed Rafi.
Born on June 25, 1924, at Baghdad, Iraq, where his father Rai Bahadur Chunilal was working as an Accountant General with the Iraqi Police, Madan Mohan spent the first five years of his life in the Middle East. As a boy of two, Madan Mohan used to spend hours listening to gramophone records and cultivated the uncanny ability to recognize and pick up any record from a pile of hundreds. When his father had guests at home, he would ask Madan Mohan to pick a particular record from a pile and he could do so with unerring precision, leaving the visitors wonder struck as to how a tiny tot, unable to read or write, could accomplish this near impossible feat.
After Iraq won independence from Britain, Rai Bahadur Chunnilal migrated back to India. He took his family to his home town, Chakwal in Jhelum district of Punjab, now in Pakistan, and left them in the care of Madan Mohan’s grandfather, Hakim Yograj- a famous doctor. Rai Bahadur Chunilal left for Mumbai for business opportunities and subsequently became a partner in the Bombay Talkies studio and then in the Filmistan studio.
Madan Mohan attended school there for the next six years. It is said that he inherited his talent for music from his mother, who was a poet and great admirer of music. His father was not very musically inclined, but grandfather Hakim Yograj and his younger brother, Prakash were staunch connoisseurs. They used to discuss the subtleties of music in Madan’s presence.
Later, Madan’s father shifted the whole family to Mumbai and Madan became acquinted with some children of film personalities. These ‘children’ were Raj Kapoor, Nargis & Suraiya.
At the behest of his father, he joined the army and received his first commission (emergency) in 1943. Personal traits like courtesy, endurance, discipline, physical fitness and punctuality were all fostered in him during those years. Though as history would have it, he quit the armed forces and turned to his first love—music. He joined All India Radio in Lucknow, where he brushed shoulders with such ghazal and classical luminaries as Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Begum Akhtar, and Talat Mahmood. He picked up their influences and carried them with him to Mumbai when he entered Bollywood. Not many know that he aspired to becoming an actor but ended up directing music.
After assisting S.D. Burman and Shyam Sunder for a short time, Madan scored his first big break with the film Aankhen in 1950. His next film was “Adaa”. This film saw the beginning of a long partnership with Lata Mangeshkar; she would sing for him in majority of his future films. Wo Chup Rahen To from the film Jahan Ara (1964) and Maine Rang Li Aaj Chunariya from Dulhan Ek Raat Ki (1966) are just two such examples. Madan was also able to write songs for male singers such as Talat Mahmood (Phir Wohi Saam, Main Teri Nazar Ka Suroor Hoon and Teri Aankh Ke Aansoo from Jahan Ara, and Meri Yaad Mein Tum Na from Madhosh) and Mohammad Rafi (Ek Haseen Shaam Ko from Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, Kisi Ki Yaad Mein from Jahan Ara, Main Nigahen Tere Chehere Se from Aap Ki Parchaiyian, Aap Ke Pehlun Mein Aakar Ro Diye from Mera Saaya, the all-time haunting Meri Awaaz Suno and Tumhare Zulf Ke Sayen from Naunihal, Teri Aankhon Ke Siva Duniya Mein from Chiraag as well. Madan did not usually employ Kishore Kumar, as his tunes were complex classical-based compositions and “Kishoreda” had a singing style that was more pop-oriented. Nonetheless their partnership created songs as well; in this category fall songs such as Simti Si, Sharmai Si from Parwana, Zaroorat Hai, Zaroorat Hai from Manmauji, the title song from Ek Muthi Aasman, Mera Naam Abdul Rehman from Bhai Bhai, and Aai Hasino, Naazanino from Chacha Zindabad.
During his early career Madan Mohan had been mildly criticized for creating songs that suited female voices, especially that of Lata Mangeshkar (who called him Madan Bhaiya or “Brother Madan”). But this is not true all the way; in 1957 he came out with a film named Dekh Kabira Roya in which singer Manna Dey gave his voice to the melodious Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dwaare. In addition to that, he had Lata sing Tu Pyaar Kare Ya Thukraaye and Meri Veena Tum Bin Roye numbers, and he used Talat Mahmood for the song Hum Se Aaya Na Gaya in the same movie. Once in an interview Manna Dey recalled that Madan Mohan “sahab” asked him to take special care when singing Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dwaare.
Madan Mohan’s association with Lataji was so close and Madan Mohan respected Lataji so much, that Madan Mohan had once remarked about Lataji “Kambakth Lataji kabhi besoor hi natin hoti”.
A film scored by Madan was Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964), starring Balraj Sahni and Dharmendra and based on the Sino-Indian War of 1962. In it, he used Rafi, who sang numbers like Kar Chale Hum Fida, Main Yeh Soch Kar. Lata was used for the song Zara Si Aahat Hoti Hai and the unscreened ” Khelo na mere dilse”. And the same film saw Rafi, Talat, Manna Dey, and Bhupendra singing Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bulaya Hoga. Bhupendra appeared on the screen as well for the first time, much before he established himself as a playback singer. This song is also the only song in which four top-rated male playback singers have put voices together in a song.
Madan Mohan’s most successful venture was Raj Khosla’s Desi version of “Woman in White”, titled “Woh Kaun Thi?”. This film has three Lata solos (‘Naina barse rim jhim rim jhim’, ‘Lag ja gale’ and ‘Jo humne daastaan apni sunaye’) and a Lata duet.
In 1970, during the changing times of western music he gave music based on ragas for Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak and won his only 1971 National Film Award for Best Music Direction. Its songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar are still considered her finest. The late fifties, sixties and the early seventies were the most productive period in Madan Mohan’s career. His songs from those decades include compositions for films like Adalat, Anpadh, Dulhan ek raat ki, Mera Saya, Dastak, Hanste Zakhm, Heer Raanjha, Maharaja, and Mausam, among many others. His second last bow was for a film released five years after his death, Chalbaaz. The last bow this great composer took posthumously was for Veer Zara – that almost made all of us travel down the memory lane when all untouched tunes composed by Madan Mohan were conducted by his son Sanjeev Kohli.
Madan Mohan’s son, Sanjeev Kohli had about 30 unused tunes and the producer/director Yash Chopra selected only 8 of them for Veer Zara. Later on, Sanjeev Kohli brought out an album “Tere Baghair” which contains some of Madan Mohan’s songs.
Madan’s favourite lyricists were Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Kaifi Azmi, and Rajinder Krishan, but Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri also collaborated with him on a few movies. The Madan-Raja pairing in particular produced the song Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha from the movie Anpadh (1962). Among the admirers of the song was the Naushad who reportedly said, “Let me have this ghazal and take all my compositions in return”[cite this quote] upon hearing it. Madan and Raja also came up with the tunes for Mera Saaya in 1966, a film starring Sunil Dutt as the male lead.
meri duniya me na purab hai na paschim koi,
sari duniya simti hai khuli bahon mein,
kal bhatakta tha jin raho me tanha tanha,
kafile kitne mile aaz uni raho me
Lata Mangeshkar christened him “Ghazal ka Shehzadaa”, or the Prince of Ghazals. Even Lata herself stated in a live concert in the late 1990s that she found Madan Mohan’s compositions difficult to master. Most of the top film actors of the day (who were also studio heads) had fallen into a groove with their preferred composers (e.g., Raj Kapoor had Shankar Jaikishan, Dev Anand had the Burmans, Dilip Kumar had Naushad, etc.) Hence, he often had difficulty finding assignments. His 1964 Filmfare Award nomination for Best Music Director for Woh Kaun Thi. In a tightly-contested race, both Madan and Shankar Jaikishan (Sangam) lost to relative newcomers Laxmikant Pyarelal, who scored Dosti.
Madan’s constant struggles took a toll on his life, and he began drinking heavily. He died of liver cirrhosis on 14 July 1975.
In 2004, Madan’s unused tunes were recreated by his son, Sanjeev Kohli, for the Yash Chopra film Veer-Zaara, starring Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta, and Rani Mukerji. The lyrics were written by Javed Akhtar, and Lata Mangeshkar was invited to once again sing the majority of the melodies composed by her dear friend
‘Madan Mohan: An Unforgettable Composer – Edited by V M Joshi & Suresh Rao, presents an analytical look at the composer’s work. It includes articles by Sanjeev Kohli, Akshay Kohli, O P Dutta, Uttam Singh, B R Ishara, Dr. Ashok Ranade, Alka Deo Marulkar, Mridula Joshi, Dr. Kirti Shrivastava, Deepak Jeswal and many more; interviews with Lata Mangeshkar, Shreya Ghoshal, Mahalaxmi Iyer & Rehana Sultan, and Madan Mohan’s filmography.
Madan’s music was characterized by his immense ability to meld elements of Indian classical music into a new style of Hindi filmi song. He had a keen and sensitive ear for the nuances of Indian classical tunes, and combined them with elements of Western music such as harmonies to produce a style of music that could be appreciated by both classical music aficionados and the common person alike.