Usha Khanna, a female musician who challenged male dominance

A female musician had entered the male-dominated world of musicians and gained recognition for her ability. Famous film writer Vinod Kumar is talking about musician Usha Khanna...

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Usha Khanna, a female musician who challenged male dominance
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 A female musician had entered the male-dominated world of musicians and gained recognition for her ability. Famous film writer Vinod Kumar is talking about musician Usha Khanna, whose name emerged as a musician who composed tunes like a breath of fresh air.   

Today's new generation may not be aware of the name of musician Usha Khanna, but this generation also hums her tunes. Usha Khanna became an integral part of the world of film music based on her talent. However, this female musician gave competition to the big names in the male-dominated industry. But after giving very melodious music, she remained in the industry, but she did not get the status she deserved.


Usha Khanna was born on 7 October 1941 in Gwalior district of Madhya Pradesh. Her father Manohar Khanna was a classical singer and worked in the water department of Gwalior state. Usha's love for music arose because of her father. Lyricist Indivar was a friend of Usha Khanna's father. In this way, Usha Khanna was brought up in an environment of music. She used to write and sing mukhdas from a young age. Impressed by her talent, Indeevar introduced Usha Khanna to Sashadhar Mukherjee, but after listening to Usha's song, Sashadhar Mukherjee said that she did not sing as well as Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle.


Later, when Indeevar told Sashadhar Mukherjee that the song sung by Usha was composed by him himself. So Sashadhar Mukherjee gave a mask to Usha and asked her to make a song. Usha immediately composed a song and sang it, after which Sashadhar asked her to compose two songs every day. A few months later, he signed Usha as a music producer for his film 'Dil Deke Dekho'. It so happened that Mukherjee sahib was having a rift with OP Nayyar in those days and when he heard Usha Khanna's music in the style of OP Nayyar sahab, he happily gave the job to Usha. By composing nine very popular songs in his very first film 'Dil Deke Dekho', he had declared that the magic of his tunes in film music would last far and long. 




Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh acted in this film. This film, released in the year 1959, was the debut film of not only Usha Khanna but also Asha Parekh and comedian Rajendra Nath. Some songs in this film became very popular. But despite this, he did not get work for a few years and had to sit at home. Many years later, Usha got a job composing music for the 1960 film 'Aao Pyar Karein'. 


The film 'Shabnam' released in 1964 proved to be the second important turning point in his career. Usha Khanna composed an excellent tune based on Arabic music for the film Shabnam - 'Maine Rakhta Hai Mohabbat'. Mohammad Rafi Saheb starts singing this song in Arabic style with 'Ya Habibi'. His Arabic pronunciation is such that he is of Saudi Arabian origin. Mehmood has done amazing acting on this song.


Another notable composition of Usha Khanna is - based on the Raag Darbari sung by Rafi Sahab in the film Ek Sapera Ek Lootera, this song 'Hum Tumse Juda Hokar' was filmed on Firoz Khan.


Rafi Sahab's duet with Suman Kalyanpur under the musical direction of Usha Khanna - 'Tum Akele To Kabhi Bagh Mein' - is still memorable. Another memorable song sung by Rafi Sahab to the tune of Usha Khanna is 'Haseen Vaadiyon' for the film Lal Bangla. Under his music direction, another song sung by Mohammed Rafi Sahab for the film Nishan has become very good - 'Hay Tabassum Tera'. Rafi Saheb has sung this ghazal with a lot of ups and downs and twists in tone. 

Under the music direction of Usha Khanna, Mohammed Rafi sang another song in the year 1974 for the film Havas - 'Teri Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Kadam'.

Rafi Sahab has sung a painful song for Usha Khanna - 'Dost Banke Aaye Ho'. The song sung by him in the film Aap To Aise Na The is worth listening to - 'Tu Is Aishe Se Meri Zindagi Mein'. This song has also been sung by Manhar Udhas and Hemlata. In the same film, Mohammed Rafi sang another great song with Kishore Kumar - 'Khuda hi juda kare to kare'.

Dost ban ke aaye ho


Rafi Sahab sang two duets for Usha Khanna with Shailendra Singh in the film Dada, but the most memorable song among them is the song based on the Punjabi folk song - 'Gaddi Jandi E Chhalanga Maradi'.


For nearly three decades, Usha Khanna sang many memorable songs from singers ranging from Mohammed Rafi to Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Manna Dey, and Yesudas to Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur, Hemlata and Anuradha Paudwal. But he did not get a chance to work with any other big banner except Saavan Kumar Productions in his entire career. Shankar-Jaikishan, O. P. Nayyar, Ravi, Madan Mohan, and later R. Due to tough competition from veteran music composers like D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and Rajesh Roshan, Usha Khanna was neither nominated for Filmfare in any year nor did she receive any award but for the film Dada, 'Dil Ke Tukde Tukde Karke Muskura' Singer Yeshudas received the Filmfare Award for the song 'Ke Chal Diye'. Kishore Kumar was nominated for the Filmfare Award for the song 'Shayad Meri Shaadi Ka Khayal Dil Mein Aaya Hai' from the film Sautan.







Despite all the challenges and competition, Usha Khanna created an important place for herself in the male-dominated music world and paved the way for women musicians. She is considered to be the most successful female composer of Hindi film music. Although before her, Nargis's mother Jaddan Bai and Saraswati Devi were active as musicians, Usha Khanna was the only female musician who played the longest innings.

There is such spontaneity with variety in his tunes that when you listen to 'Hum Tumse Juda Hoke' from the film Ek Lootera, 'Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein Kal Ki Baat Purani' from Hum Hindustani, 'Apne Liye Jiye To Kya Jiye' from Badal, 'Apne Liye Jiye To Kya Jiye' from Shabnam 'I have kept love as the name of my story', Lal Bangla's 'Chand Ko Kya Maloom', accepted Maine's 'Ajnabi Kaun Ho Tum', Laila's 'Tu Jo Kahe To Radha Banu Main' or Sautan's 'Zindagi Pyar Ka' When we hear 'Geet Hai', we start humming along. 

Ham tumase juda hoke

Apane lie jie to kya jie

Chaand ko kya maaloom

 Ajanabee kaun ho tum

Jindagee pyaar ka geet hai

Usha Khanna was at her peak during the period from 1960 to 1970. She was keeping pace with the likes of Kalyan ji, Anand ji, Jaidev, Laxmikant Pyarelal and Robin Banerjee. Usha Khanna had learned singing from Robin Banerjee and now she was competing with him. On the other hand, his music arrangers Laxmikant-Pyarelal went ahead of him. 


Usha, who wanted to become a singer, also sang some songs as a singer after getting into music direction. For composers Kalyanji-Anandji, he hummed a few lines with Kishore Kumar in the song 'Pal Bhar Liye Koi Hume Pyar Kar Le' from the film Johnny Mera Naam. 'Shaam Dekho Dhal Rahi Hai' from the film Anjaan Hai Koi with Mohammed Rafi Sahab in his voice was very popular.

Pal bhar ke lie koee hamen pyaar kar le

She was quite active as a musician until the mid-1990s. His last film as a music composer was 'Dil Pardesi Ho Gaya' released in 2003. 


Then people's preferences started changing. There was no depth left in the words, the melody had almost vanished from the music. In this era, Usha Khanna was lagging behind. He tried his best to make a comeback but was not successful. There were no big banners, small-budget films were often less popular and their music was even less so. Gradually Usha Khanna disappeared completely. 

Talking about Usha Khanna's personal life, she was married to producer-director Saavan Kumar. She was directing the music for a film in which Saavan Kumar had appeared. He was writing its songs. Both of them formed a good bond very quickly. Then he signed Usha for his next film 'Havas'. Their friendship turned into love and they decided to get married. However, his family members did not attend his wedding.


But this marriage broke up after just 7 years around 1980. Everyone in the industry was wondering whether they had really parted ways. Actually, Sawan Kumar was friends with many girls which became the reason for the breakup of his marriage. Sawan Kumar passed away some time ago.

Usha Khanna composed music for most of the films of her filmmaker husband Saavan Kumar. This jugalbandhi later broke with divorce. But ironically or out of compulsion, Saawan Kumar composed the music for the film 'Sautan'. He also gave good music. Almost all the songs of that film were hits. The song 'Teri Gali Mein Na Rakhenge Kadam Aaj Ke Baad' from Saawan Kumar's very first film 'Havas' suits him perfectly. 


Usha Khanna, who gave innumerable melodious tunes to the world, has been away from films for many years, but hundreds of her songs are near the hearts of music lovers.


Author – Vinod Kumar   

Vinod Kumar is a famous film writer and journalist who has written many books on many personalities of the cinema world. These books include 'Meri Awaaz Suno', '150 Stars of Cinema', 'Rafi Ki Duniya', apart from biographies of Devanand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor etc.


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