“Guzra Hua Zamana, Aata Nahi Dobara (Time that is lost, doesn’t come back)”, the popular soulful melody from the 1956-movie Shirin Farhad featuring Madhubala was composed by the noted music director Sardar Mohinder Singh Sarna, better known to the world of Indian music as S Mohinder. The truthful words of the evergreen song, written by lyricist Tanvir Naqvi, ring aloud as Mohinder, the last of the yesteryear titans of the Naushad-Shankar-Jaikishan-OP Nayyar era, passed away on September 6 morning at his daughter Peony Chopra’s Mumbai home.
Mohinder, who would have turned 95 years on September 8, was one of the successful music composers of the 50s and 60s. He gave music to about 50 films including Shrimati Ji (1952), Paapi (1953), Naata (1955) and Picnic (1966). Coming from a strong classical music background, he understood the demands that cinema made and delivered catchy light music with strong aesthetics. Mohinder made arresting songs with a simple melody line and meaningful lyrics.
During my visits to his Andheri home, our conversations often revolved around Raagdari Sangeet (North Indian classical music). He would often break into a song, demonstrating the expressions of his favourite singer Mohammed Rafi in the popular Shabad Gurbani Mitar Pyare Nu, which was composed by him. Another favourite artiste of his was Asha Bhosle. Once he recounted how Bhosle asked him to compose a song based on Raag Kalavati for her. That song Re Man Aiso Kar Sanyasa features in the movie Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969). One of his favourite memories was how Madhubala acknowledged her appreciation for his musical greatness by kissing his hands unexpectedly for the wonderful qawwali Ankhon Mein Tumhare Jalwe Hain in Shirin Farhad.
Born in undivided Punjab’s Silanwala (now in Pakistan), S Mohinder often spoke fondly of his early days in Lyallpur (present-day Faisalabad) and Lahore. A radio artiste at Lahore AIR, he moved to Mumbai during the partition in 1947, and signed his first movie Sehra (1948) soon after. Its producers Arun and Nirmala Ahuja (parents of actor Govinda) recognised the musical talent of the trained vocalist, a disciple of great maestros Bade Ramdasji and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali. Nirmala Ahuja, who was an accomplished classical vocalist herself, did not hesitate to promote this young music composer and his tunes in Sehra created ripples.
The reigning star of the time, singer-actor Suraiya, was another admirer of this genial music-making sardar. She recommended him to director-producer Chandulal Shah of Ranjit Movietone, a leading film studio, to sign him on for Nili (1950) and the result was delightful. Songs like Chori Chori Aana and Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Mein of this Suraiya-Dev Anand-starrer became popular. Mohinder’s music won Raj Kapoor’s appreciation too. The director-actor even made the music composer part with some of his pre-committed tunes of Paapi (1953) for RK Productions. The Raag Dhani based Tera Kaam Hai Jalna Parwane, sung by Rafi and picturised on Kapoor, from Paapi is considered to be one of his best.
With the music of Naata (1955) and Shirin Farhad (1956) becoming popular, he was considered to be one of the top music directors of the time along with Anil Biswas and Naushad. An unswerving fan of Mohinder’s music was Madhubala. On a personal front, he was close to Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan. Due to his ever helpful and friendly nature, the composer had grown close to Khan. The wary father allowed Madhubala to attend public events only if she was accompanied by Mohinder. Such was the trust accorded by a famously overprotective and strict father to the musician. During our discussions, Mohinder often talked about his association with music composer Ghulam Hyder and singers Lata Mangeshkar and Noor Jehan. Following the demise of Mohinder, Mangeshkar described him as “a good music director and a gentleman” in her tweet. During the initial days of his career, violinist Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma of Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo enjoyed the support of Mohinder. Pyarelal’s violin solo can be heard in the popular title song of the film Zameen Ke Tare (1960), whose music was composed by Mohinder.
From being a music-maker, Mohinder successfully transitioned as a producer in the 70s. His Punjabi film Nanak Naam Jahaaz hai bagged the National Film Award for Best Music Director in 1970 beating SD Burman’s Aradhana. The film’s outstanding music and the religious theme gave it a cult status. After its success, Mohinder went on to produce more Punjabi films such as Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam (1974) and Man Jeete Jag Jeet (1973). At the age of 93, he gave music to the yet-to-be-released Punjabi movie Nanak Naam Chardikala Kala. He also served the music industry as Cine Music Director’s Association’s honorary secretary. Interestingly, his relationship with music never ended.
With the loss of Khayyam last year and now Mohinder, an era of glorious music-makers has come to an end. The greatest of singers of the last century, including Amir Karnataki, Surinder Kaur, Geeta Roy-Dutt, Lata Mangeshkar, Suraiya, Shamshad Begum, Asha Bhosle, Rajkumari, Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mahmood, and Hemant Kumar lent their voice to the compositions of this undercelebrated music director. Every time I met him, I was amazed by his musicality and regaled by his nostalgic recollections. Every meeting ended with me wondering how mentally agile he was and how uncomplaining he remained.
The author is a Mumbai-based musicologist.
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