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"Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se" - Hemlata

23 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Well-known playback singer Hemlata was hardly 14 when she entered the film world and challenging the predominance of Lata-Asha, she successfully made a very respectful place for herself in the field of playback singing. In a career spanning 20 years she recorded more than 5 thousand songs in Hindi and other languages and with the changing scenario of the film music she distanced herself from playback singing. Recently, she came into limelight once again when she recorded a heart touching song for the Beti Bachao Project. She had a long conversation with the blog Beete Hue Din on this occasion which included many of the untouched and unheard aspects of her personal and professional life.   

So, here we present Hemlataji’s story in her own words:- 

We are from a village Shela originally, which is situated 10 kms away from Ratangarh-Rajasthan. My grandfather Pandit Jorawar Bhatt was a priest who had many royal families as his clients. My grandmother Pana Bhatt was from Bikaner. My grandfather shifted to Kolkata decades ago and started a business in purchase and underselling of lands. Though my grandmother gave birth to 6 daughters yet my grandfather considered himself childless. His desire for a son made him go on char dhamyatra and perform all kind of worships, eventually, his desire got fulfilled and my father was born. Later, my grandmother gave birth to one more girl child. 3 of the older 6 daughters died very young, thus my grandparents were eventually left with 4 daughters and a son.
 

Hemlata. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Well-known playback singer Hemlata was hardly 14 when she entered the film world and challenging the predominance of Lata-Asha, she successfully made a very respectful place for herself in the field of playback singing.

My eldest aunt Sugna Bua was married into a Raipur (now Chhattisgarh) based business family that had roots in Rajasthan. My 2nd aunt Tayi Bua’s family was based in Nagpur. Her husband Pandit Badri Prasad Ji was a renowned classical vocalist who ran a music school in Nagpur.  My 3rd aunt Baya Bua was married in Rajasthan only but the area which she lived in, merged with Pakistan after partition. It was so remote and peaceful that Baya Bua came to know about the partition months later, only when she expressed her desire to meet her siblings and was told to get a visa from the Indian government. That day she cried a lot and cursed all those who were responsible for the partition. Later on, her family shifted to Dera Ismail Khan. 

My father Pandit Jai Chand Bhatt was at no. 4. My mother Ambika was from Gondia (Maharashtra). Originally from Jodhpur, my maternal grandfather had settled in Gondia decades ago. He was a music scholar and teacher.

My youngest Kamla Bua was married to Mewati Music School’s renowned vocalist and instrumentalist Pandit Pratap Narayan Ji who was from the Mewat region in Haryana originally. SulakshanaPandit, Vijeyta Pandit, Jatin, Lalit Pandit are Kamla Bua’s children and my cousins. Well-known classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj is Kamla Bua’s brother in law and Pratap Narayan Foofa ji’s younger brother.

Being his only son, my grandfather had great expectations from my father that he would look after and expand his family business. No one in our family had even the remotest relation with music. That’s why my father’s inclination towards music came as a shock of life to my grandfather. He tried his best to keep his only son away from music but my father had devoted himself to the Indian Classical Music. One fine day he left his home for Lahore, joined Kirana Music School’s Ustad Bahre Khan Sahib as his disciple and served for Khan Sahib till the end. Even he failed to come home when my grandfather died because of his Guru Ustad Bahre Khan Sahib also being on the death bed at that time.

Within a few days of my grandfather’s death, Khan Sahib also died. After his Guru’s death, my father left Lahore for his native village in Rajasthan. He couldn’t do the cremation of his father with his own hands but under the guidance of village elders, he did perform all other rites including Pagdi and finally, he came back to Kolkata. Since my grandmother was also no more, my father was now left alone in the family as all his sisters were already married. He stayed with his 2nd sister, Tayi Bua for long. 

My maternal grandfather was distantly related to us and he had great respect for my grandfather. This respect proved to be the main reason behind my parent’s marriage as my maternal grandfather wanted to see my grandfather’s only son settled who was left alone after his parent’s death.

Hyderabad’s Nawab Ali Yawar Jung, who was my father’s friend, was very fond of hunting and music. While on hunting, he always took along my father so that the music sessions could also be held in the guest houses in jungles. After marriage, when my father received a message from the Nawab to reach Hyderabad for a hunting trip, he also took along my mother who was heavily pregnant with me at that time. I was born in Hyderabad on 16 August 1954 during that trip.

I was 15 days old when my parents returned from Hyderabad to my maternal grandparents’ home in Gondia. After staying in Gondia for a few days we went back to Kolkata. My father didn’t have a permanent job nor did he have any interest or any knowledge into his father’s business. He distributed our Kolkata’s property among his sisters and on invitation from the renowned dance master B. Sohanlal - who was a distant relative from my maternal grandfather’s side - shifted to Madras where he got a job of lecturer of music in Madras University. My father’s main job was to teach his students the similarities and dissimilarities between Indian Classical and the Carnatic music. But my mother never liked the city. Constrainedly, my father had to resign from the job after 5 years. Then we lived in Rourkela for a year where my father had got a job with the help from his friends. But we had to come back to Kolkata at last. 
 
Still, whatever I learnt, was only by listening like Eklavya. I listened to Vividh Bharti and Radio Ceylon and without bringing into my father’s notice I used to sing in Pooja Pandals.

I started my schooling in Rourkela and after we came back to Kolkata, I was admitted to the Lee Collins Girls School of Kolkata’s Creek Row – Maula Ali area. But my studies faced so many hindrances due to my frequent visits to Gondia. Since the environment of my maternal grandfather’s home as well as of my own home was musical, I had an obvious inclination towards music since my childhood. But in those days, daughters in our Rajasthani families were confined only to the household work. I feared my father so much that I didn’t even raise my head in front of him. He never knew about my inclination towards music. But my maternal grandparents always encouraged me. Still, whatever I learnt, was only by listening like Eklavya. I listened to Vividh Bharti and Radio Ceylon and without bringing into my father’s notice I used to sing in Pooja Pandals. Whenever he taught his students, despite being busy with household work be that in the kitchen or somewhere else, I always kept my ears focussed on their singing. I repeated the Ragas or Swaras being sung by them. My father’s favourite student Gopal Lal Mallick, who was from a royal family, knew about my passion for music. Renowned composer Ravindra Jain was also one of my father’s students.

In early 1960’s, a grand musical program was organised in Kolkata in which big singing stars viz. Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Usha Mangeshkar, Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Subir Sen were to come on stage together for the first time. Gopal Lal Mallick, who was among the organisers, took my father along to the program respectfully and as per the plan brought me on stage during the interval with the name Baby Lata.  I sang Lata’s famous song Jaago mohan pyaare… and then on audience’s demand had to sing 12 songs at one go. Initially, my father was shocked to see me on the stage but as soon as I came down, he hugged me. And on the insistence of his students, he agreed to teach me, but on condition that I’ll never sing film songs. West Bengal’s that time Chief Minister Bidhan Chandra Roy, who was present in that program was so happy with me that he announced a special Gold Medal for me. I was 7 at that time.
Hemlata with her famly and sister-in-law Yogita Bali. Image Courtesy: Hemlata via. Beete Hue Din

In the year 1966, my parents came to Mumbai along with us siblings i.e. me and my 3 younger brothers Vinod, Gopal and Rishabh, to meet his youngest sister Kamla bua and brother in law Pratap Narayan foofaji. We reached Mumbai on 16 May. My father had planned to take us children along to go jaunting through Mumbai, to meet with his friends Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Alla Rakkha Khan, Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and finally return to Kolkata after 15 days, leaving behind Vinod, the eldest of my brothers under the discipleship of Tabla maestro Ustad Alla Rakkha Khan sahib. He was also confident that during this 15 days time my madness towards the films and film songs will vanish and after reaching Kolkata he would marry me off. But the outcome was totally different.

All my father’s musician friends appreciated my singing. Alla Rakkha Khan Sahib sent us to Ustad Rais Khan who had good relations with all big composers of that time. We also met Aziz Nazan Qawwal at Rais Khan Sahib’s home at Churchgate. After Aziz Nazan Qawwal heard me sing, he asked my father to take me to Naushad sahib.
‘Naushad Sahib introduces a new voice’ kind of publicity made all the big composers of that period curious for me. I started getting offers to sing in films which I had to reject due to the condition in my contract with Naushad Sahib.
In presence of K. Asif, composer Naushad Sahib promised me that he would give me a break but on condition that I’ll not sing for any other composer in the next 5 years. ‘Naushad Sahib introduces a new voice’ kind of publicity made all the big composers of that period curious for me. I started getting offers to sing in films which I had to reject due to the condition in my contract with Naushad Sahib. People tried to persuade me that my denial in all these 5 years will annoy everybody. On the other hand, I was eager to sing for Naushad Sahib but there was no end to my wait. Constrainedly, I had to lay aside my contract with him. The very first day I recorded 2 songs, Usha Khanna’s Dus paise me raam le lo for the film Ek Phool Ek Bhool(1968) in the morning and Kalyanji-Anandji’s Le chal mere jeewan sathi for Vishwas (1969) in the evening. Thus I debuted in the year 1967.
 
Ek Phool Ek Bhool. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Later on, I recorded many songs viz. Chanda ko dhoondh ne taarenikal pade -Jeene Ki Raah (1969), Dil karne laga hai pyaar Nateeja (1969) , Soi ja taraMastana (1970), Chali kahan hansti gaatiJawab (1970), Mehboob ki mehndi haathon me - Mehboob Ki Mehndi (1971), Raj kapoor ki neeli ankhein- Maa Aur Mamta (1970), Baat karte hain jab mashooq se – Kuchche Dhaage (1973). But during my audition for composers & producer-directors I always sang my father’s disciple Ravindra Jain’s non-film compositions. This way, I highly publicized his name, even before he entered the film world and I did get a reward of this after he became a successful composer.
 
Kucche Dhaage (1973). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

In the next 7-8 years after entering films in the year 1967, I sang more than 500 songs. These included Hindi dubbed south Indian languages movie songs as well, which were originally sung by S. Janaki & P. Sushila. This helped my voice get matured and I came to know the nuances & needs of the recording of film songs. This matureness of my voice reflected for the first time in the song  Fakira chal chala chal from the 1976 release Fakira, with Ravindra Jain as a composer. This very big hit of that time gave new heights to my career. Hearing this song my father said, “Naushad sahib was not wrong on his ‘5 years’ condition. This is the song which proves your proper dealing and strong relation with the microphone.”
 
Hemalata won a Filmfare Award for Chitchor in 1976. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Later on, I sang many hit songs under the baton of Ravindra Jain. I received Filmfare Award for his 1976 release Chitchor song Tujo mere sur me surmila le. This was a unique example of only one singer winning the award for a duet song, in the history of Hindi Film Music.

Eldest of my 3 brothers Vinod Bhatt is an ace Tabla player whereas the youngest, Rishabh Bhatt is a composer and they both are associated with films. Middle one Gopal Bhatt didn’t have any interest in music and he is running his own business. Vinod’s wife Sangeeta is the daughter of composer Jamal Sen’s son Shambhu Sen.  Composer Sameer Sen of Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen duo is Sangeeta’s brother. I got married in 1973, at the age of 19. My husband Yogesh Bali was actress Geeta Bali’s sister Hardarshan Kaur’s son. My mother-in-law Hardarshan Kaur produced the movies Raag Rang (1952) and Baaz (1953). My father-in-law Jaswant was an actor who first met my mother-in-law on the sets Baaz in which he was playing an important role. Actress Yogita Bali is Hardarshan Kaur and Jaswant’s daughter and my sister-in-law. 
I got married in 1973, at the age of 19. My husband Yogesh Bali was actress Geeta Bali’s sister Hardarshan Kaur’s son.
 
 
Wedding photo of Hemlata and Yogesh Bali. Image Courtesy: Hemlata via. Beete Hue Din

My father passed away on 13 August 1981. He couldn’t meet with his Pakistan based sister Baya Bua till his death. He took a word from me that I’ll anyhow meet up my Bua and convey to her my father’s last message that her brother left this world remembering her. I’m happy that I fulfilled my promise to my father. In the year 1994, during my visit to Pakistan for a stage show, singer Reshma, who was from a Hindu nomad Rajput family, especially called Bua from Dera Ismail Khan to her home at Lahore to meet up with me. Bua’s son Ramesh Bhai, who is married to Reshma’s younger sister, also accompanied her to Lahore. When I conveyed my father’s message to her, she embraced me crying.

I might have made a remarkable place in the field of playback singing for myself with all determination and hard work, but I was also a victim of the film world’s internal politics and manipulations.  Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (1978) music records were deliberately stopped from reaching the market for very long. Thousands of records of this film were destroyed initially. In the presence of distributors, Raj Kapoor had announced that I was going to sing all the songs in his next movie Henna.  But with his passing away before the commencement of the shoot I was also thrown out from the movie. I used to be an integral part of R.D. Burman’s stage shows. He tried to contact me for good 11 months for his film 1942 – A Love Story but he failed, thanks to my so-called well-wishers who always made different excuses like “I’m seriously unwell” or “I don’t want to sing anymore” resulting into my failure to grab the opportunity. Still, I’m happy that the monopoly in the field of playback singing started crumbling with my entry into films which resulted in paving the way for so many new talented voices.

(It is said that the records of Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se were destroyed on behest of a famous female singer. It is also said that the relation between  Hemlata and Ravindra Jain soured in the mid-1980s which resulted in Hemlata’s ouster from the films Henna & 1942 - A Love Story.)
 
I received Filmfare Award for his 1976 release Chitchor song Tujo mere sur me surmila le. This was a unique example of only one singer winning the award for a duet song, in the history of Hindi Film Music.


I gave birth to a son Aditya in the year 1983. He was 5 when my husband passed away due to a prolonged illness at the age of 34. Thus, all the responsibility of Aditya and my old in-laws came upon me. I devoted myself to my in-laws and my son. Though I kept on singing occasionally, yet it was obvious for my career to get affected due to my family obligations. On the other hand, the face of film music was changing very fast which made me feel uncomfortable to be in the field.

My mother in law passed away in 2001 and within a year, in 2002, my father in law also died. I was almost away from the films so I shifted to the U.S. on invitation from Sikh Sangat-U.S... I stayed in the U.S. for a couple of years and taught Indian Classical Music to Ragee’s in the Gurudwaras. Now I’m back in Mumbai for last few years. I recorded my last playback song for Bappi Lahiri 7 years back. Recently I recorded a song for the Beti Bachao Project which is composed by Hemant Mehta. Presently I’m busy with the recording of my private album for Hare Krishna Movement which is composed by Dilip Dutta and is based on the Geeta Saar which I’m singing.

My son Aditya got married recently. Every mother’s biggest desire is to see her children settle and obviously, I’m no exception.

(Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series)

 

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