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10 immortal Hemant Kumar songs: Birth anniversary special

Winner of two National awards for Best Male Playback Singer, Hemant Kumar was steeped in music. On the 97th birth anniversary of the famed singer-composer, we rewind 10 songs that were enriched by his silken voice. 

Shriram Iyengar

Music composer Salil Chowdhury once remarked, "If god could sing, he would have a voice like Hemant Kumar's." It was a statement every musically inclined person who has heard Hemant Kumar's songs would understand.

Over a career spanning close to 50 years, Hemant Kumar set new standards both as a composer and a singer. Using influences from Rabindrasangeet and Hindustani music to classical jazz, he scored some iconic numbers that set the benchmark for melody in Hindi cinema. And he also rendered under the baton of other composers some numbers that went on to become evergreen hits.

On Hemant Kumar's 97th birth anniversary, we look at 10 songs sung by him that have stood the test of time.

1. 'Yeh Raat Yeh Chandni' (Jaal, 1952)

This beautiful piece remains the hallmark of melody in Indian cinema. Dev Anand played the seductive balladeer wooing his girl, played by Geeta Bali, on a windy, stormy night. While the picturization depicts the torrential feelings between the lovers, the music, by SD Burman, is as serene as it comes. There is also Hemant Kumar delivering the voice of the ever charming Dev Anand.

2. 'Halke Halke Chalo Sanware' (Tonga-wali, 1955) 

This is a forgotten beauty from the 1955 film Tonga-wali. Shammi Kapoor, in his pre-yahoo days, is charming as the sobre, mischievous flirt trying to hit on the gorgeous Vyjayanthimala. The music, from Salil Chowdhury, plays this theme to perfection, with Hemantda as Kapoor's voice providing the magic touch.

3. 'Jaane Woh Kaise Log The' (Pyaasa, 1957) 

If ever there was a film that married the high arts of cinema and poetry, it was Guru Dutt's Pyaasa. While Mohammed Rafi and Sahir Ludhianvi walked away with most of the accolades for the film, this wonderfully poignant number was sung by Hemant Kumar. Set to tune by SD Burman, this is a touching song about the melancholy heart of a man who has suffered at the hands of a self-centred world. 

4. 'Hai Apna Dil Toh Awara' (Solva Saal, 1958) 

Of course, the singer-composer could deliver not just melancholic or sobre songs. This composition, also by SD Burman, is a magical reminder of the joy Hemant Kumar could bring as a singer. By the way, RD Burman was the genius who played the harmonica that makes for the memorable tune.

5. 'Beqarar Karke Humein Yun Na Jaiye' (Bees Saal Baad, 1962) 

There is a strange relationship between horror films and serene music in Hindi cinema. This thrilling adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles had the singer-composer produce one of his best works. Hemant Kumar sang this song himself, and it is obvious that few could have done justice to this playful number the way he does.

6. 'Na Tum Hamein Jaano' (Baat Ek Raat Ki, 1962)

Another thriller. Another memorable song. Dev Anand played the lawyer trying to find the secret behind a grisly murder, while finding time to woo the ever mysterious Waheeda Rehman. The song was made in two versions, with Suman Kalyanpur singing for Waheeda Rehman. 

7. 'Raahi Tu Mat Ruk Jana' (Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Men, 1964) 

Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Men was a Kishore Kumar show all the way. The singer-actor wrote, produced, directed, starred in, composed and sang for the film. But for the mood-setting, laden-with-meaning title track, he approached Hemant Kumar. And when you hear the song, you know why.

8. 'Yeh Nayan Dare Dare' (Kohra, 1964) 

There must have been something about thrillers that attracted Hemant Kumar. Kohra had Biswajeet once again wooing Waheeda Rehman with this very sensuous ode to her beauty. Written by Kaifi Azmi and sung in the silken voice of the music director himself, it is the perfect song to charm a woman. 

9. 'Ya Dil Ki Suno Duniyawalon' (Anupama, 1966) 

While his voice suited romantic ballads, Hemant Kumar could deliver melancholy like none else. This song from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anupama is a tired Dharmendra's 'shut up' declaration to the world. Melodious, melancholic, and dignified.

10. 'Tum Pukar Lo' (Khamoshi, 1969)

The final song on this list is a fitting recall of Hemant Kumar's trademark low pitch. Khamoshi saw a pre-Aradhana Rajesh Khanna deliver early signs of his soon-to-be familiarity with tragedy. While there were other songs like 'Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi' that stand out for their poetry, this is a pick simply for the versatility of its composer and singer, Hemant Kumar.