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Meet the man who made Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar famous

Pavan Jha provided some interesting insight into the contribution of film composer Khemchand Prakash at the Lonavala International Film Festival of India. 

Keyur Seta

Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Naushad are considered gems of the Hindi film music world. It is not wrong to state that any essay or write-up on the music of Hindi cinema would be incomplete without the mention of the trio. However, very few people remember the person who played a major role in shaping their careers. That person was the late composer Khemchand Prakash.

At the ongoing Lonavala International Film Festival of India (LIFFI), documentary filmmaker Pavan Jha spoke about the achievements and lesser known facts of the great composer. Jha has carried out extensive research and made a documentary on the late music composer. 

Jha believes that the biggest reason for Khemchand Prakash's anonymity is that our film history generally starts from 1950 onwards. “The era from 1931 to 1950, in context to Hindi film music, is largely ignored. Khemchand ji was no lesser a legend than Naushad sahab, Shankar Jaikishen or S D Burman. Unfortunately, we are deprived of his history and contribution. We remember his songs but not his name.”

Khemchand Prakash began his career in the early 30s. He was assistant to famed composer Timir Baran on KL Saigal's classic Devdas (1935) before branching out on his own. He began his career with the musical legend of KL Saigal on the horizon, and ended it when a new star, Lata Mangeshkar started to rise. It was Prakash's composition in Kamal Amrohi's haunting Mahal (1949) that made people sit up and listen to the magic of Lata Mangeshkar's voice.

Jha proved his point by asking everyone present at the event whether they have heard the song ‘Aayega aanewala’ from Mahal. Almost all hands went up. But when he asked how many knew Khemchand Prakash, hardly any hands were raised. “Unfortunately Khemchand ji passed away in 1950, when he was just 42. If he had survived another decade or two, I am sure a lot more hands would have been raised,” he said and added that we, as an audience, haven’t followed his era as we did the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

Although he composed for several films on the trot, including the KL Saigal starrer Tansen (1943), his first film as a composer Ghazi Salahuddin (1939) deserves special mention. 

Jha revealed, “The special thing about Ghazi Salahuddin (1939) is that he (Prakash) gave another struggler a chance as his assistant. This struggling composer was Naushad. Naushad started his career by assisting Ustad Jhande Khan and Khemchand ji. Today, he is considered a legend because he could survive past 50s and deliver music in the 1950s, 60s and 70s; films which we regularly see. Although he did good work in the 40s too, but that is not remembered much. It is the same in the case of works by composer Ghulam Ahmed and lyricists, Pandit Indra Chandra, Gopal Singh Nepali, etc. They did great work in the 40s, but are forgotten today.” 

The filmmaker then went on to reveal Khemchand Prakash’s role in bringing two other legendary names of Hindi cinema to the fore. “The first was Kishore Kumar. Khemchand Prakash gave him his first break in Ziddi (1948) with the song ‘Marne Ki Duaen Kyun Maangu.’ Due to this, Kishore ji always considered Khemchand Prakash as his guru.”

He continued, “Khemchand ji also had a huge role to play in shaping Lata Mangeshkarji’s career and in helping her acquire fame. Although Lata ji started her career in 1947 with Aap Ki Seva, the film that really made audiences realise her talent was Ziddi. It has such sweet songs by Lata ji. Later, Mahal (1969) that made her a star with ‘Aayega aane wala.’ It is unparalleled. The song is a challenge for all the forthcoming generations of composers. He created the mukhda (starting line) with just three words. You won’t find such a small mukhda ever.” 

It is a sad state that the documentation of Hindi cinema's glorious past continues to be ignored. The rise of film festivals, and a growing awareness of India's rich cinematic history, might lead to some positive change towards this direction.