When Mehmood joined Hemant Kumar’s chorus

The actor-comedian, who would have turned 84 today (29 September) had to struggle hard in his early days in the Hindi film industry and took up every job he could find.

Sonal Pandya

Mehmood, son of character actor Mumtaz Ali, had a tough time when starting out in the Hindi film industry. He had already left home after his marriage to Madhu (sister of Meena Kumari) and had a young son to support as well.

His sister, Meenu Mumtaz, became de facto head of the family and took care of all expenses. Mehmood, however, was deep in debt and hung around the Bombay Talkies studio at Malad looking for work. He took on any kind of job opportunity, from being a spot boy to becoming a junior artiste and joining the dance troupes for the hit songs of Anarkali (1953) and Nagin (1954).

In the book Mehmood: A Man of Many Moods, author Hanif Zaveri noted that Mehmood was “a driver for director PL Santoshi, and sometimes assisted him on the sets. If Santoshi sent him out to buy cigarettes or other small things, he would invariably keep the change. He worked off and on as assistant cameraman with Arjun Desai, as an assistant set designer with Kamleshwar Sehgal, as an assistant editor with DN Desai and the famous music director and playback singer Hemant Kumar even let him sing in the chorus so that he could make some money.”

In the early 1950s, Hemant Kumar was also branching out as a music composer. He was putting together the soundtrack for Nagin (1954) with a song recording at Filmistan Studio. Kumar was singing the song ‘O Zindagi Ke Denewale’ himself. Here, Mehmood was in the chorus, but he was singing so badly that Hemant Kumar’s assistant Ravi asked him to leave. Mehmood begged Ravi to let him stay, but Ravi was adamant. However, Hemant Kumar knew of Mehmood’s dire straits, so he asked to remain and merely lip-sync the song without any sound.

Mehmood’s non-singing didn’t affect the outcome of Nagin’s soundtrack. The film’s music was a resounding success. Many years later, Hemant Kumar’s assistant Ravi went on to become a music composer himself. He worked with Mehmood once more and made him sing for Ankhen (1968), directed by Ramanand Sagar, on the hit song, ‘Tujhko rakkhe Ram, Tujhko Allah rakkhe’.