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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Today is Hemant Kumar’s 101st birthday!

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Hemanta Mukhopadhyay (aka Hemant Kumar) provided a distinctively sonorous playback voice to superstar Uttam Kumar (and Dev Anand, more than occasionally) for over two decades.

This is a woefully incomplete (if glamorous) description of the man’s staggering and manifold achievements in music.

It would not be wrong to place him at par with Debabrata (George) Biswas in the Rabindrasangeet pantheon.

Similarly, his musical scores for Hindi movies (Bees Saal Bad, Shart, Saheb Bibi aur Ghulam, Kohra, Anupama) go well beyond Nagin, the 1954 superhit for which he earned a Filmfare award.

In Tollywood, he was not only the composer-singer for ageless songs in films like Harano Sur, Deep Jele Jaye and Saptapadi, but also doubled up as a notable playback singer for other music directors of his time, including Salil Chowdhury and S D Burman. He kept composing non-filmi Bengali song albums consistently till the late seventies.

Hemanta-da composed the music for Conrad Rooks’ film Siddhartha, wherein he also gave playback for O Nodi Re (earlier recorded for Neel Aakasher Niche, a Bengali movie) thus becoming the first Indian music composer and playback singer in Hollywood!

The American government conferred honorary US citizenship to him, another first I guess.

In 1979, Hemanta re-recorded his earlier hits from the 1950s-60s with Salil Chowdhury in an album called Legend of Glory.

He suffered a heart attack in 1980 and was never the same again. He continued his musical pursuits sportingly, appearing frequently in TV programs, feliciations and philanthropic events.

The deep, meditative and beloved baritone voice of Indian music went silent after a second attack, in September 1989.

Here are just five of his (just too many to list) hit songs

1. Tumhe yaad hoga (a haunting duet from the early fifties, composed by Kalyanji Anandji)

2. Chandan ka palna (one of the greatest lullabies, the rare occasion where Hemanta sang for Naushad)

3. Yeh raat yeh chaandni (red hot romance with Dev Anand and Geeta Bali on screen, Dada Burman pulling off a gigantic hit)

4. Beqarar karke hamein (Sung and composed by Hemanta for Bees Saal Baad)

5. Kuchh dil ne kaha (A haunting no. from Anupama, sung crazily well by Lata. This song is an expression of Hemanta’s creative genius in full bloom)

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