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Article Hindi

When Hansraj Behl gave Asha Bhosle her big break

For the music composer’s 33rd death anniversary (he died 20 May 1984), a look at how he gave a then-struggling Asha Bhosle an early break in her career for Chunaria (1948).

Hansraj Behl and Asha Bhosle

Sonal Pandya

Among the many forgotten names from Hindi cinema is music composer Hansraj Behl's who scored film music from the 1940s to the 1970s. He arrived in Mumbai in 1944, after running a music school in Lahore and releasing some private records for music label HMV.

Ardeshir Irani, the director of the Indian talkie Alam Ara (1931), gave him an opportunity to compose the music of his production Pujari (1946) starring Mumtaz Shanti. It led to a stream of steady work until the 1960s. Behl became popular with the songs from his films Lakhon Mein Ek (1947) and Chheen Le Azadi (1947).

A year later, Behl was also instrumental in giving a young singer, overshadowed by her contemporaries, a chance. Asha Bhosle, already competing with her successful older sister, Lata Mangeshkar, was given a song, ‘Saawan Aaya Re Jaage’ on the soundtrack of Chunaria (1948) starring Manorama, Pran, and Cuckoo.

In the book, Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography, Bhosle talked about the music composer and the boost the song gave her, “He was Masterji to me. I regard Hansraj Behl as my mentor. This is for his spotting the spark in me at a time when other composers were not even prepared to give me a hearing. I can never forget Hansraj Behl. In fact, Masterji was the first one to make me feel confident that I had a voice of my own in the face of rapid strides being made by Lata.”

According to the book’s author, Raju Bharatan, this was not Bhosle’s first song. She first sang for music composer Vasant Desai for Andhon Ki Duniya (1948), produced by V Shantaram, along with Geeta Roy, Zohrabai Ambalewali and the chorus in the song ‘Paa Laagu Kar Jori’. That film released in January 1948, while Chunaria released later in the year during end-November.

And eventually, the singer who was always the third or the fourth choice for a film song, rose to such heights that she became the most recorded artist in music history with up to 11,000 songs sung in the recording studio in over 20 regional Indian languages. Her achievement rests proudly in the Guinness World Records.

Sadly, for Hansraj Behl, he only composed music until the 1970s, but his days of popularity were long behind him. He composed scores for both Hindi and Punjabi features and the song, ‘Jahan Daal Daal Pe’ from Sikandar-E-Aazam (1965) became his last hit song. Sung by Mohammed Rafi, the patriotic number, picturised on Prithviraj Kapoor, is still remembered today.

Behl passed away on 20 May 1984.