Madan Mohan- An Unforgettable Composer

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A novel by Khalid Hosseini
Book Review

My readings in the recent past have been erratic. But I try to catch anything new and happening that might rock the literary world, caries other than keeping update of Jeffrey Archer‘s releases (which, price I admit with a heavy heart, have not been really great in the past two cases Cat O Nine Tales and False Impression). Most times I am left sorely disappointed. And I end up going back to tried and tested P G Wodehouse or Agatha Christie to satiate the reading urge.

But The Kite Runner deserves all the accolades and praises it receives. It’s been quite sometime since a novel touched, moved, stimulated and inspired me the latter is a huge criterion, since I write my own stories as well. Dan Brown was one, but that was over two years ago.

Khalid Hosseini‘s The Kite Runner is to put it in one word scintillating! With his words he weaves a riveting yarn about guilt and redemption, about growing and maturing and about life and living. The story is in first person, about Amir, his yearning to get his father’s approval, his inner fears and of course, his guilt. In the winter of 1975 (after a successful kite-flying tournament)he witnesses an act against his faithful servant-cum-friend-cum confidante Hassan, which Amir could have prevented but doesn’t do so because of his own fear and cowardice. That one cold evening will shape his entire life, leading to more wrongs, revealing other secrets in his mature years and finally taking the story to its logical conclusion.

Set against the turbulent backdrop of Afghanistan, The Kite Runner charts its course keeping in mind the unrest that unleashes on the country post-seventies.

The novel is a success because of three major reasons- a) it brings alive the characters. Amir, his father Baba, his father’s friend Rahim Khan, the guileless servant Hassan and many others are people that seem to jump up from the cold words and get a warm life in your hearts and minds; b) the details are strewn in the most unassuming manner at various places, not giving away all at once, and not unnecessarily hiding it to fool the readers; and c) the twists are beautifully brought up, just when you are not expecting them, hitting you in the plexus like a sledgehammer; and despite it not being designed as a page-turning thriller it ends up being just that. Of course, it has a few contrived scenes, but then I will grant that to writer s liberty and frankly, when the whole is so beautiful, nitpicking on a few warts and moles is being damn petty. I also wish that the ending was trifle happier, though in no way can it be called tragic or failed.

It’s after aeons that a novel managed to bring a lump to my throat and moisten my eyes – nay, the tears flowed! The section where Amir and his father re-build their ravaged lives in America is one of the finest pieces of writing ever published. I had to in-between keep the book down only to absorb the overwhelming feeling that drowned me, and I kept staring at the ceiling long after, flush with countless emotions, thinking of my own father and my relation with him. I don’t know when I snuggled into sleep, but when I woke I could still feel my wet eyes. Anyone who has had even a fleetingly close bond with his/her father shouldn’t miss this novel ever. There is also a brief but charming track about Amir’s romance with Soraya in this section.

Hassan’s unflinching devotion towards Amir is the novel’s keystone, which not only sets the foundation for the story, but also is the motivator to take it forward. The relationship between the two, through their childhood years, is captured with all the innocence that those years carry. It brought back memories of Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird. In this section, the kite is a character of its own, as one relationship disintegrates during a kite-flying tournament and another is built in the climax in yet another such tournament. Successfully, Hosseini avoids making any judgements – if Amir is weak, he is so; that’s a human folly and there is no need to make unusually moral hue and cry about it. But then, the novel actually is about how he falls and rises – more so, in his own eyes, within his own parameters and structure.

Lastly and extremely importantly I read the novel voraciously analyzing the way Hosseini has built the scenes, the manner in which he constructs the sentences, the usage of similies and metaphors and the deployment of words and grammar. It is simple, short and succinct, without using crutches of heavy words or long sentences. And I re-read some key portions to understand the machinery behind the scenes. Absolutely A-class!

Overall – Simply Don’t Miss It Ever!

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Standing on my balcony late last night, rehabilitation I looked in the darkness towards where Taj Mahal is. I wondered if it realized that millions would be watching about it’s fate in the New Seven Wonders list on their television sets (and live in Lisbon). Did it understand its own grandness? More importantly, nurse did the callous city which houses it realize it’s importance. During my stay here I have heard several derogatory comments against it (many industries had to be shifted/relocated due to the environmental pressures, leading to a lot of unrest and discomfort amongst the business community).

Unfortunately, the cable here chose to vanish and I couldn’t catch the New Seven Wonders results. Today morning as I made way to pick up the newspaper, I stopped again to look at the white marble wonder, standing dignified surrounded by rain-clouds, and I hoped that it would have made it through to the new seven wonders.

It has!

Here is the final result of the New Seven Wonders List, as announced in a glittering function in Lisbon (Portugal), attended by our very own dusky siren Bipasha Basu and Agra’s mayor.

The New Seven Wonders list has evoked several responses – from excitement to indifference to cynicism to controversies (after all it’s just a private new list, without even the official sanction on UNESCO! The Egyptians pulled out of the vote in a huff!). Then some found the ‘false patriotism’ unleashed the past few months to enable voting highly distasteful.

But in all this, my contention is simple – however stupid or silly this list be, however private it be, however useless it might turn out to be in the long run, if there is a competition that has attracted world-wide coverage, why shouldn’t our country be participating (considering we have such a rich historical and cultural lineage)? Why should we be left behind? Let there be a new found interest whipped up towards India. After all, we have all rejoiced when our women won Miss Universes and Miss World titles, so why not this time again? (And let’s not get into the utterly deplorable argument about how the cell-phone companies are actually making money out it! My one vote will only cost me Rs 6-7 or thereabout, an amount which we wouldn’t think twice in spending otherwise, especially while downloading those sickening ring-tones and dialer-tones!)

The Taj Mahal itself stirs up varied reaction. The romantics view it as an ultimate tribute of love. The skeptics see it as a monumental waste of money. Add to this the various contradictory stories and doubts floating around it’s origin – from the popular view to this one recounting that it was originally a Hindu Shiva Temple!

Our films, forever the keen reflection of society, have captured it probably the most effectively in two of its most enduring numbers. On one hand we have Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi exhorting its virtues when they claim Ek shahenshah ne banwake haseen Taj Mahal saari duniya ko mohabbat kii nishaanii dii hai (penned by Shakeel Badayuni for the movie Leader and composed by Naushad). On the other extreme, perhaps in the same year (1964) Mohd. Rafi sniggers at the monument urging his beloved that Meri mehboob kahiin aur mila kar mujhse, since (as he says in a wonderfully fiery climax of the number) Ek shahenshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar hum garibon ka udaya hai mazaak (written by Sahir Ludhianvi for the film Ghazal and tuned by the ever-dependable Madan Mohan) (Incidentally, the song is amazingly tuned and Rafisaab adds extraordinary life to it). Two sides of the same coin! Take your pick…

Earlier, I had many misgivings about Taj Mahal. I had always wondered what is it about a building of white marble, which doesn’t hold anything of importance to the common man inside it, that it could evoke so much passion for four centuries and more! But the moment I stepped into its compound and beheld it with my own eye, all other thoughts vanished and my heart literally skipped a beat. For one, it is much larger than we imagine and the various photographs don’t do full justice to it. And second, the sheer symmetry and elegance (despite it’s size) is actually to be seen to be believed. (And it’s not about the marble only; for that I would request everyone to also see Jai Gurudev Ashram en route to Agra, at Mathura, on the National Highway No. 2 to realise how plastering marble and having domes doesn’t make a Taj Mahal!!!)

Whatever be the misgivings, the doubts or the skepticism, Taj Mahal has won. And there is a surging pride in me as I again stand by my window viewing its handsome dome looking proudly up towards the darkening skies (the rains are ready to pour, probably to rejoice in the celebration).

If only now, the Mayor on her return to Agra, would clean up the city and make it living worthwhile. If nothing else, at least she can ensure a cleaner and wider approach to the monument (and certainly not have generators spewing out venomous fumes in the curio shops just outside the gates, while the entire city’s business has been penalized for this very purpose!)

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Veer Zaara
Music Review

Veer Zaara…mmm, sildenafil how does one even start writing on this one without getting stuck in quagmire of clichéd superlatives and stock praise phrases. The music is way beyond a review or a critique; it is also way above the claustrophobic confines of communication clutches.

Like a well nurtured and matured wine, this album has to be sipped and savored in small spurts. Unlike beer, it does not give instant gratification. Hear the soft cadences of santoor, sitar and Lata soak your sensibilities in a musical equivalent of a softly diffused photograph. However, the sepia toned tunes are given a strong swish of contemporary brush.

With a great burden of expectations, I approached Veer Zaara with lot of doubt, apprehension and cautiousness. At the end of the first listening I tried to shake it off,but like a well trained pet, the music just stayed back with me. Ever since, I have been trying to dissect it but every time I fail, and get carried hopelessly away by the sheer sway of the tunes. Veer Zaara is a monumental dazzle of bright lights…this is the Diwali of Hindi film music!!!

The music is extracted from an unspent treasure trove of the genius Madan Mohan- probably a first in the history of films, wherein a dead composer’s music has been so thoughtfully resurrected. But to say that these are purely Madan Mohan’s compositions would be a fallacy. In Kyun Hawa, the chorus at the beginning harks back to Shiv-Hari’s prelude in Silsila’s Yeh kahan aa gaye hum; the rhythms of Mai yahan hun remind of DDLJ and Mohabbatein; a snitch of Sharara gets attached to Hum to bhai jaise hain; and lo, was that a glint of Ladki kyun in the second guitar interlude of Mai Yahan Hun?

That, however, does not mean the score is not original. Far from it- the songs are as fresh and fragrant as a freshly powdered baby! And equally tender too! But suffice to say, this is a Yash Chopra score-with a strong dash of Madan Mohan ( just the way Kahin aag lage lag jaaye and I Love My India were Subhash Ghai songs, and nothing to do with their respective credited composers).

From the opening piano bars of Tere liye to the closing saxophone/trumpet strains of Jaane kyun, the album is stacked with myriad emotions-a musical rainbow-with multifarious song genres- love, sad, patriotic, festive, qawwali, et al. The CD contains 11 fulsome tracks-no repeats, no remixes, no redundancies.

This stunning soundtrack is a gift of gratitude by Yash Chopra to his favorite muse, Lata Mangeshkar. Lata has sung all Chopra-directed (and some produced) film songs since Kabhi Kabhie. This perfectly symbiotic relationship has lasted a concrete thirty years in an industry full of nebulous negotiations.

Lata returns the gesture with full vocal support, completely belying her true age! As a critic points out “Her indescribable virtuosity carries us through a universe of romance, nostalgia, patriotism and festivity that is a feast for the ears. What a wonderful birthday gift for her fans!”

From this vast spectrum of sonority, my most favorite track is the Lata-Udit duet Yeh Hum Aa Gaye Kahan (Javed Akhtar does a naughty twist of words from his own Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum from Silsila). The simple tune is further heightened by a tickling sitar motif that comes in front of each antara. The tune of the antaras is a catchy breathtaking glide from high to low- a waterfall of emotions and melody falling into the fresh water lake of the mukhda. Lata sounds so young when she sings naughtily ‘tumhe mil gaye pyaar ke sau bahane‘ that one is naturally expected to wonder that is she really 75? Her voice conjures up the image of a winking, dimpled Preity Zinta-that is her true genius!!! The musical arrangements, slight and unassuming, are first-rate.

Only Yash Chopra could have coerced her to sound sassy and saucy in the spicy Hum to bhai jaise hai waise rahenge– a rebellious number with a strong Arabian undercurrent. The hum in the beginning sets the mood to a vivacious winner. And don’t get taken in by the delightfully simple façade; like all Madan Mohan compositions, a more complex sub-terrain simmers. Some critics point that perhaps Asha would have done a much better job at such a number? My rejoinder: this is a silly hypothetical question, which can only be countered with another more potent query- would Lata have done a far better job at Mera kuchch saamaan? Also, that the critics think of Asha for such a song (and not for the rest) just proves my point on the limited ability of the singer!

Another ditty bathed in moonlit melody is Do pal. Sonu Nigam does a wonderful job, while Lata provides him ample support. The structure looks back at Ek duuje ke vaaste from Dil To Paagal Hai. The sitar and santoor conjoin together in a heave of an enthralling fountain, only to part ways, like the ill-fated lovers. RS Mani’s musical arrangements, like the flow of a rustic beauty’s dupatta in sylvan surroundings, with just a hint of sorrow in her deep expressive eyes, is visually abundant.

Tere liye hum hai jeeyeis definitely the most perfect tune; hence, also the opening number and the theme song. Once again, Madan Mohan’s favorite instrument sitar finds a pride of place. The laid back languish pace is steeped in nostalgia; the structure of the antara conjoins the mukhda at the end in a seamless amalgamation. Madan Mohan’s strength lay in creating the antara with lot of care, without the effort showing; I would take this song as its prime example, though the rest follow the same pattern. This is undiluted Madan Mohan- impeccable in architecture of tune. Writing verse to already composed tunes is not an easy task; yet, Javed Akhtar pens some sober heart felt lyrics, especially in this one.

The contemporary sounds have irritated most purists; I found the combination quaint- except in Jaane kyun lagta hai, where the jazz like saxophone does not merge well with the overall tune.In fact the opening guitar riffs sound stolen from some English song. Yet, this is a song where Madan Mohan’s basic tune tears out of its arrangements, searing the heart with a passion of warmth. Do I have to add that Lata sounds blissful? My only grouse that Chopra refrained from keeping a typical Madan Mohan-Lata combine song is partially fulfilled with this number.

My last pick from the melody basket is Lata-Jagjit Singh’s Tum Paas Aa Rahe Ho; together, the singers recreate the magic of Sajda and Nargis (the last is a ill-fated film that never got released but had some sumptous numbers like Dono ke dil hai majboor pyaar se, Arre too pawan basanti, Mai kaise kahoon janeman, Kaahe ab ki ae bahar).

From the three choral songs, Lo aagayi lodi ve is a topper; with a tune more infectious than flu, the short staccato antara is filled with a remarkable joi-de-vivre; also, in parts it resembles Raamlaxman’s Didi tera devar deewana. Gurdas Maan’s rough rustic voice is a neat foil to Lata’s honeyed one, this time in a cute and perky mould. Udit Narayan comes in for a wrap up line at the end of each antara (as in Mohabbatein’s Soni soni ankhiyon waali). Yash Chopra transcends trends by creating probably the first song based on this little known North Indian festival.

The other, Aisa des hai mera, is a brilliant patriotic number where Javed Akhtar takes the front seat with some first class imagery of the bucolic life. Largely dominated by Udit Narayan’s expressive and restrained singing, the song has snatches of popular Punjabi folk songs. Pritha Majumdar (who sang most of the songs in Mohabbatein, alongwith a hoarde of others), gets to do a couple of lines. She is the only other female playback singer in the album.

The third, a situational qawwali, is the only let down; it is not of the class as in Henna’s Der Na Ho Jaaye or Parampara’s Mujhe Ishq Ho Gaya! Or perhaps, qawwalis do not motivate me enough.

Although Lata is the sole female playback singer (barring a small two line by Pritha), there is an array of male vocals ranging from the expressive Jagjit Singh to the throaty Gurdaa Maan. In this, a special note for Udit Narayan’s immense control of voice and music is definitely warranted. In both his duets with Lata, he holds fort with an amazing grace, only to shine out on his own in his sole solo track, Mai yahan hoon, a song that has all ingredients of being a super hit. Sonu Nigam’s shining glory is Kyun Hawa; unfortunately for him, Lata’s alaaps and hums, overshadow. ( Remember how she took the entire song with her by just a couple of alaaps and a word ‘aaye haaye’ at the end in Bholi si surat aankhon mein masti). As a song, the overtly western semi-rock-and-roll kind of rhythm did not really appeal me.

This year, if Tumsa Nahi Dekha steered Hindi film music to its original course, Veer Zaara lands it up at its rightful destination. The difference is that where TND is good, VZ is great. Actually, it is blasphemy to even think of Veer Zaara with anything that our contemporary musicians create. Let us not even waste time in futile comparisons; like Taj Mahal, Veer Zaara is exclusive; you cannot compare a Taj to a Petronas ever!!

Yash Chopra has maintained an unique clique of exclusivity in the past three decades by signing on non-commercial music directors- Shiv-Hari, Uttam Singh, Khayyam. Largely, this has ensured that the style he has so lovingly cultivated has remained confined to his films only. This time around, he has simple wiped out any means of self-plagiarism.

To sum up, I will quote a review that I read on the net : “The sumptuous score accommodates 11 tracks and as many moods, all culled together to pre-empt all out tomorrows in a clasp of beauty and harmony which is as precious for its fragility as it is for its strength… an album of tremendous melodic value”

The advertisements state ‘listen it to believe it’. For once, I agree. A small fear also creeps up, will today’s generation fed on a staple diet of techno-induced metal sounds and heave-hop of remixes appreciate this evocative, intimate album? This is revival of melody- enjoy it for you will not hear such a monumental score in a long time to come!

For the skeptics, please do listen to it again- a challenge given to a fellow blogger stands for all: I guarantee, if listened to with your heart, Veer Zaara will stay in your soul forever. Like Silsila and Kabhi Kabhie, Yash Chopra gives one more eternal album!

Though I tried to, I just could not find enough effusiveness as this reviewer has done. Please do read this link

Overall: A collector’s album.

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Madan Mohan is not an unknown name to any music lover. He is truly one legend whose work has (to use an awfully overused cliche) survived onslaught of time, unhealthy and that too when originally they weren’t on the most popular stars. Yet, the power of his melodies were such that someone like me, who was barely two years old when he left for the heavenly abode, it has given me an immense satisfaction. In the past years, I have made a conscious effort to seek and unearth many of his unknown and rare gems, and they are exactly that – gems!

On the occasion of his death anniversary, which falls on 14th July 2007, a musical show has been organized by Keep Alive (Manohar Iyer) at Borivali, Mumbai.

And on this day, a book would be released titled ‘MADAN MOHAN – AN UNFORGETTABLE COMPOSER’ (they really couldn’t have thought of any better way to describe him!). I am right now a bit constrained to speak on the book, or its authors/contributors, but it has a number of celebraties who have written their own views on his music. It would be priced less than Rs 500, and it will be an ‘easy-read’ book, giving insight to a man who did wonders when he entered the recording room.

I will definitely let you know about the book once it is released – and will leave with just one tiny information that it has an article by yours truly as well. I just cannot describe the kind of pride I feel right now, having my piece in a book dedicated to my favorite composer!!!

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11 Responses to “Madan Mohan- An Unforgettable Composer”

  1. Manish says:

    It will be great to read this book and your own piece in it. I know Manohar Iyer is great fan of his.

  2. Manish says:

    And so are you(and me)!

  3. priyangini says:

    I was wondering when I would hear about this on the blog. So when are you coming to Mumbai?

  4. Zoya says:

    Heyyyy ! Congrats ! You get to write about your favourite composer and it gets published too 🙂 Madan Mohan is one of my favourite composers too. His melodies are haunting, they hit me in the gut, literally. Also, it is my observation that his songs are quite complicated to sing, but when Lataji sings them, they sound so easy ! Way to go…hope to see more of your writing in print 🙂

  5. Manish – Thanks 🙂

    Pri – You know the details now 🙂

    Zoya – Thanks 🙂 Amen to your last line!

  6. Harshad Jangla says:


    We all are proud of you for having achieved this milestone. You deserve this.
    May God bless you to make more and more achievements like this.
    Atlanta, USA
    July 12 2007

  7. kaush says:

    Holy Schmoly! Wow! Congrats Deej! Already famous! Haha good for you yaar. You are a celebrity now.

    I don’t understand music much but I do know that I love the tunes of Madan Mohan. Or atleast the ones I have heard so far. and I still regret the fact that the song Yeh hum aa gaye hain kahan did not receive as much attention as it should have love it!

    Good luck DJ with all future ventures!

  8. Dhoop says:

    Congrats ! Hum sabki duva qubool ho gayi. Mai re main kaase kahoon.. per bahot khushi huvee.

  9. Navjot says:

    Congrats Sirji!
    & I am back in the blog world after a long hibernation…

  10. Kaushi/ Dhoop/Navjot – Thanks a bunch [:)]

  11. Sani Thakur says:

    Hey “Dimpak” — congrats (officially) 😀

    I tell U dude — you put your head to it…and you can so come up with a series like Harry Potter (but on a totally different story/genre of course) — you know, something that is so amazing to read, like everything else you write. Really — take meeeee seriouslyyyyy…write a novelllllllllllll – lol

    Once again, me happy for ya 🙂

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