In classic Bollywood cinema, playback singers could make or break the career actor. Famous actor-singer pairings are legendary. The voice of the singer became the soul of the actor and once a perfect match was made, it was hard to separate them without upheaval. Who could imagine anything but the manly voice of Kishore Kumar with the face Rajesh Khanna? Or the playful sweetness of Mohammed Rafi with fun-loving Shammi Kapoor? When Mukesh passed away, Raj Kapoor (for whose career Mukesh lent his illustrious talent) famously burst into tears and announced, “I have lost my voice.”
But occasionally we find a rogue player in Hindi film music. Hemant Kumar stands out as a unique character, a difficult man to place in the rankings. For he was not merely a singer, but a legendary music director as well in both Hindi and Bengali cinema. Hemant Kumar was heavily influenced by Rabindrasangeet (like his contemporary S.D. Burman!), and first broke into the Bengali industry as a music director in 1947, the year of Indian independence. Hemant Kumar’s unmatched virtuosity led him to not only sing many of the hit songs of the 50s and 60s in Bombay himself, but he actually formed his own production company that made classics such as Bees Saal Baad (1962), Kohra (1964), and Khamoshi (1969). In the 70s he even dabbled as a film director with moderate success.
But for me, it was as a singer that Hemant Kumar always shines and also the category in which history has given him the shaft. His voice was absolutely unlike any other in the industry–a deep and soulful richness that no one could touch. Interestingly, for a man whose talents were so diverse, Hemant Kumar never took to acting and singing his own songs on screen (à la Kishore Kumar). Instead, he sang for a myriad of rising and great actors across the decades–never branding himself with a single artist. Hemant Kumar remained a maverick, and for it, is often brushed aside.
So I now pose to you the question–which actor do YOU think Hemant Kumar sang for best? His voice graced the images of many men, but did it work for all of them? Your contestants are Guru Dutt, Dharmendra, Biswajeet, Dev Anand, and Shammi Kapoor. We present five songs below that illustrate some of Hemant Kumar’s finest collaborations with these actors and the cinematic chemistry that ensued.
1. Guru Dutt: Jaane Woh Kaise
The voice of tragedy, Hemant Kumar sings for Guru Dutt in this timeless lament from Pyaasa (1957). Guru Dutt, who often played the tragic poet, seems a natural choice for the resonant tones of Hemant Kumar in this song that has become iconic for all awkward dinner party songs.
2. Dharmendra: Tum Pukar Lo
Discussed in a previous post, Khamoshi (1968) is a heart-wrenching film about love, loss, and insanity. Although you don’t see much of Dharmendra’s face in this sequence, his subtle performance matches the song’s patient yearning with a hint of a Western flair. But to me, as an actor Dharmendra is somehow too shallow to be worthy of a Hemant Kumar solo. Maybe that’s just me?
3. Biswajeet: Yeh Nayan Dare Dare
A tender sequence from the film Kohra (1964), this song embodies the sweet side to Hemant’s voice that comes in the middle of a spooky film noir. I’m not going to pretend that Biswajeet is anything but a joke, but for me this pairing works–Hemant’s sweet vocals and Biswajeet’s confident, but appeasing motions to Waheeda are a pleasing combination.
4. Dev Anand: Yeh Raat Yeh Chaandni Phir Kahaan
God, I love it. I’ll be the first to tell you that no one sang better for Dev Anand than Mohammed Rafi, but this song is something else. I’ve discussed this sequence already in our earlier translation of the song, but let me just repeat that Hemant Kumar in a seductive mood blends beautifully with that longing gaze of Dev Anand’s. It’s just so exciting and rare, not to mention compliments Dev Anand’s semi-gravely voice in this film.
5. Shammi Kapoor: Aye Dil Ab Kahin Lejaa
This is another beautiful Hemant Kumar tragedy with a touch of mystery. Shammi is clearly giving it his all in this song, but somehow, I think it just doesn’t come together. Shammi Kapoor is too much of a hot mess for me to believe anything but Mohammed Rafi coming out of his mouth–the resonant voice of Hemant seems incongruous with those histrionics, despite its unarguable beauty.
And the winner is…?
I’m gonna have to say Guru Dutt–that song is just sublime on every level, but I’m open to discussion. Who do you think matched Hemant Kumar’s voice best? Let us know YOUR opinion in the comments!
P.S. Wondering why we didn’t mention female playback singers here? It’s because the female side of things worked very differently, ie., it was Lata and Asha or bust. Every actress had them, and with the occasional Geeta Dutt or Shamshad interlude, there was no room for a “signature” playback artist per actress (although Lata will argue she “changed” her voice depending on the actress–more on this to come!)
You forgot Premnath (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOt2Ng9CXRA)
Ah Main Gharibon Ka Dil, such a good song! We didn’t exactly forget Premnath as much as we didn’t rank him among the big guns–but you’ve got a point! Premnath was as much of a thespian as any of them, and this song is undeniably fantastic! Thanks for the share 🙂
Well, if I were to go *solely* by the 5 songs listed here, my vote is for Dev Anand. I’ve sat through that awful film; I think Dev Anand’s dialogue delivery style (and voice) was perfectly in match with this superb Hemant Kumar song.
However, I’ve always felt it’s Dharmendra he matches most. Watch this song from Anupama – do you think any other singer (even Rafi, for blasphemy!) could’ve some so close to being a perfect Dharam voice here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poXBa76JNKk
Haha a valid point! Being a die-hard Rafi fan as we know, I would say I’ll always swing in favor of a Dharmendra-Rafi pairing (Aaj Mausam Bada Beiman, anyone?)–but you’re quite right. In that song, Hemant shines and it is really hard to imagine anyone else in his place!
My favorite song out of these is Tum Pukar Lo. This was a Hemant Kumar – Dharmendra pairing that worked exceptionally well.
Have you considered whether you could give justice to all the actors instead of ranking them? After all, they’ve all had they have all had brilliant performances on being paired with Hemant Kumar!
A vote for Dharmendra! The song is definitely also one of my all-time favorites too. But I just somehow can’t buy Dharmendra evoking such deep emotions as resonate through Hemant Kumar’s vocals. Still, you’re right, all these actor-Hemant pairings are different with their own individual chemistry! Ranking them sure isn’t easy 🙂
Yeh Raat Yeh Chand – I think the youthful matches for two young persons Devanand and Hemant Kumar in thier 20’s or 30’s was the best.
Who can argue a point for Dev Anand? His films in the early days before he started wearing an oversized toupe and even bigger shirt collars were pure magic! I love the combination of Yeh Raat Yeh Chand too!
you totally forgot Pradeep Kumar
all songs of Nagin and ek jhalak and many other songs. He was a ghost voice for Pradeep kumar
Ah! The soundtrack of Nagin is easily among the top soundtracks ever written for Bollywood cinema! Pradeep Kumar did not go unheard–however, perhaps as you’re alluding to, I’m not sure the Pradeep-Hemant pairing ever quite did it for me. Especially in a film like Nagin, Hemant’s voice was just a tad too deep for me with that actor–although taken without the film, what heavenly songs!
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Let me put forward my take on this also. And apologise for the apparent racism in my comment before anyone gets offended because my opinion would have hints of regional disparities playing their role.
I agree fully that HK does have a very difficult to place voice. It is arguably the only voice known more for its singer than the actor who portrayed it onscreen. But I find it a little obvious (perhaps others don’t) that his is a very typically bengali voice…mellow, sweet with just a little twisted hindi diction…whenever I’ve heard his songs I’ve always imagined some sort of slow, round faced person who seems to have all the time in the world to ponder…Given my stereotyping of the Bengali voice..I could always imagine only very Bengali face with this voice. To me it is Biswajit as most compatible and though he was a Kannadiga, a few songs of Guru Dutt
I watched & heard Tum Pukar Lo for the first time when I was about 7 or 8. And somehow, I never seem to place Dharmendra either in that song or that movie…I expressly remember Waheeda Rehman…I even tend to forget the Rajesh Khanna parts..and even today that song for me is “faceless”
I have actually spent months together trying to guess who was onscreen in Yeh Raat Yeh Chandni but for the life of me I could never have guessed it to be a Dev Anand song…Heck for a long time I even believed ‘Hai Apna Dil To Awara’ must’ve been sung by Kishore Kumar because in those days Kishore sang almost exclusively for Dev Anand even though Rafi-Dev Anand waas also an almost perfect match..but then Rafi-Any actor seemed to be apart from of course the Legendary Mukesh-Raj Kapoor combo
I also find that his voice is PERFECT for the melancholic mood…I would also risk blasphemy here by saying that even Rafi and Talat Mehmood would have had difficulty singing the songs as softly as Hemant da…
The only person I can imagine being that soft and on whom I have never found any other voice apart from Rafi suitable, and who I believe also has a very typically Bengali appearance and voice…I would go for Biswajit
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Hemant Kumar for Pradeep Kumar… remembering “Aa neel gagan tale”, “Zindagi pyar ke do char din”, “Tere dwar khaDa ek jogi”, “Mujhko tum jo mil gaye”…
Devanand Hemant da aur Sachin da se bhdiya kya Ho skta hai
Anonymous is right and I totally agree with him/her
I vote for dev anand. Except mukesh all other play back singers like rafi, Kishore.hemantkumar even talatmahmood voices suit dev perfectly well.
If you look at some old songs like Yeh duniya hai… and few others were sung by Mukesh as playback for DEV ANAND but I don’t know why it was not continued. Mukesh and Talat were singing more than Rafi for Dilip and Rafi was singing for Raj Kapoor but then trend change and Mukesh became voice of Raj Kapoor and Dilip has mostly Rafi Like Shammi Kapoor. Dev is the only actor who has variety of hits from different singers like Dwijen Mukherji, Mahend Kapoor, Chitalkar (C. Ramchandra) and youn genrations of singers in latest movies since most of them old ones like RAFI, Kishore, Hemant, Talat and Manna Dey were dead or retired.
Hemant Kumar has an unique voice but now few latest singers like Prashant and few more sang very well like Hemant and hard to tell without reading their name. One must not forget that Pradeep Kumar have lots of hit numbers from Hemant Kumar and Kalyanji Anandji have also created lots of hits music with Hemant’s songs. To me the most creative song with Hemant numbers is by another Bengali music director Sachin Dev Burman and he did tremendous job of Hemant’s songs play back for DEV ANAND. Lots of old movies of Dev also have Hemant’s songs like FERRY, MILAP, JAAL, BAADBAAN, etc. Perhaps DEV ANAND as popular actor has created hit nubers with the real cream of Hemant’s songs such as Yeh raat yeh chandni…JAAL, Hai apna dil (Happy and also sad number in SOLVA SAAL), Teri duniya me jine se…. and Chup hai dharti…HOUSE No. 44 and Na tum hum mein jaano…BAAT EK RAAT KI. So will say late DEV ANAND was most suitable for Hemant’s voice beside Kishore, Rafi, and Manna Dey.
I think Dev Anand and Hemant Kumar as the best combination, songs like Yaad Kiya Dil Ne, Yeh Raat Yeh Chandni, Hai Apna Dil Toh Aawara are so mesmerizing. I disagree with what you said about Dharmendra, just listen to Ya Dil Ki Suno, Dharmendra emotes very well and his expressions match the pain in Hemant Kumar’s voice. Beqarar Karke Hamein is a wonderful song, and Biswajeet is quite good in it. I really liked Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nisaar, I wish he had sung more songs for Raj Kapoor.
Very surprised to read the comments. None, except one, has mentioned Pradip Kumar who befitted Hemant da’s voice the best. I couldn’t agree with him more.
And on the Tollygunge scene, Uttam kumar was the best and did full justice to Hemant da. Mind you, Uttam kumar himself was not a bad singer himself.