The doyen of Punjabi film music and composer emeritus, Hansraj Behl was the creator of enchanting classical compositions imbued with typically Punjabi rhythm. He was a force to be reckoned with in Punjabi cinema who composed a litany of splendid timeless melodies. He was a genius composer who created his own trends. With his repertoire of soulful melodies, he had carved out a special place in the realm of Indian film music. He was more popularly known as Chhote Master jee in film circles.
Hansraj Behl was born with his heart on the right side in Shaikhupura (now in Pakistan) on 19 November 1916. His father Nihal Chand Behl was a landlord. He possessed an inborn sense of music. As an adolescent, he appeared in stage shows and composed the background music for local Ram Leelas. He learned classical music from Acharay Chiranjivilal ‘Jigyasu’. Thereafter, he set up his own music school in Anarkali Lahore. He also recorded some non-film songs for H.M.V. In 1944, he along with his younger brother Gulshan and a friend Verma Malik came to Bombay.
He got his first trial at the Bombay Talkies. He then assisted Pt. Gobindram in Hamara Sansar (1945) followed by a two-week stint with Navyug Chitrapat. His first break as an independent music director came from Ardeshir B. Irani, who at the recommendation of Prithviraj Kapoor, contracted him to score the music of Pujari (1946). He then scored music for Gwalan (1946). Recognizing Behl’s talent, Sardar Chandulal Shah inducted him into his Ranjit Studios. He composed music of their four films namely Cheen Le Azaadi (1947), Phulwari (1946), Lakhon Mein Ek (1947) and Duniya Ek Sarai (1947). Meena Kumari, as the second heroine sang two numbers in Duniya Ek Sarai (1947) under the baton of Hansraj Behl.
In 1948, he scored music for Chunariya (1948), Mitti Ke Khilone (1948), Pardesi Mehmaan (1948), and Satya Narayan (1948). Chunariya (1948) was a musical hit especially Lata’s Dil-e-nashad ko jeene ki hasrat. Next year, Behl scored melodious tunes for seven Hindi films in addition to the immortal score of Punjabi movie Lachhi (1949). Hansraj Behl now ranked among the top music directors. When Master Ghulam Haider left for Pakistan leaving the music of Kaneez (1949) halfway, Hansraj stepped in. He composed the two remaining songs and also scored its background music. He scored the magical tunes of Chakori (1949) with Lata truly excelling to render Haaye chanda gaye pardes. In Raat ki Rani (1949), Mohammad Rafi rendered an immortal ghazal Jin raaton mein neend ud jaaye in a mushaira style. In Zevaraat (1949), he came up with an exuberant foot-tapping number Sajan ki oat leke haathon, which became a raging hit.
In the fifties, Hansraj consistently gave popular melodious and rhythmic numbers in many films like Beqasoor (1950), Apni Izzat (1952), Jaggu (1952), Gulnar (1950), Nakhre (1951), Moti Mahal (1952), Lanka Dahan (1952), Mamta (1952), Khaibar (1954), Shah Behram (1955), Khul Ja Sim Sim (1956), Mallika (1956), and Inquilaab (1956), etc. Behl developed his own unique style of composing - within the ambit of classical ragas seamlessly amalgamating Punjabi rhythm. However, in the sixties, he succumbed to the commercial pressures and composed run of the mill tunes mostly for stunt or fantasy films like Miss Good Night (1960), Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh (1960), Dara Singh (1964), Ek Din Ka Badshah (1964), Teen Sardar (1965), Mujhe Seene Se Laga lo (1969), Do Aankhein (1974), Alibaba (1976), and Badmasho Ka Badmash (1979), etc.
Hansraj Behl always encouraged new talent and introduced Asha Bhonsle in Chunaria (1948), Madhubala Zaveri in Apni Izzat (1952), Mubarak Begum in Phoolon Ke Haar (1951)and Surinder Kohli in Gul Bakaoli (1939). He also gave Varma Malik and Naqsh Lyallpuri their first break as lyricists in Jagdish Sethi’s film Jaggu (1952). He used all the contemporary singers Mukesh, Talat, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor, Suraiya, Asha Bhonsle, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad, and Madhubala Zaveri, etc. but his favourites were Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi. Initially, Hansraj felt Lata’s voice a ‘Lead laden’ voice. But after recording the song Naale lammi te naale kali of Punjabi Film Lachhi (1949) in Lata’s voice, his opinion changed and he called Lata the ‘Saraswati of the era’.
Hansraj Behl was a much sought after music director in Punjabi Cinema. He gave music in approximately 30 Punjabi films. Behl’s first Punjabi film Lachhi (1949) was a nationwide raging hit with melodious tunes like Naale lammi te naale kaali, Jag wala mela yaaro, Kaali kanghi naal kaale waal, Meri lagdi kise na vekhi. The song Naale lammi te naale kaali was so popular that the writer Yashpal mentioned it in his famous literary classic Jhootha Sach. The phenomenal success of Lachhi made Hansraj Behl a household name in Punjab. His next film Chhai (1950) was another musical bonanza with gems like Ho aji o munda moh leya, Dil tutt gaye milan, Maar gandasa mar jan. The songs of Jugni (1953) like Darh vatt zamana katt, Tutti addh wichon, Mere pyar di dunia nu, Dupatta patla gandhe di became a rage on both sides of the border.
In 1959, Hansraj gave Punjabi Cinema a bouquet of rhythm and melody in Bhangra (1959). All the songs like Ambiyaan de booteyan, Rab na kare je chala, Batti baal ke banere utte, Jatt kudiyaan ton darda, made the audience sing and dance. He continued to spell his musical magic in Do Lachhian (1960) with nuggets like Teri kanak di raakhi, Asaan keeti ae tere, Haye ni mera balam. In 1961, the melodies of Guddi like Daana paani khich ke, Pyar de bhulekhe kinne, Ni tutt jaayen rail gaddiye topped the musical charts. Pind Di Kudi (1963) songs were full of life: Haal pareya haye ni, Laiyaan te tod nibhavin, Katteya karoon teri roon, Unjh vekhan nu asin do, whereas both the songs of Satluj De Kande - Os panchhi naal ki nehun, Na disse tu na disse, touched the chords of the heart.
The other important Punjabi films for which he scored the music were: Dhol Jani (1962), Khedan De Din Char, Laajo (1963), Morni (1975), Jai Mata Di, Sher Puttar, Jatt Punjabi, Jugni (1979), Sherni (1988), Kunwara Mama, Sardar-e-Azam, Jatti, Lachhi, Chaska, Chhamak Chhallo, Vohti Hath Soti, Jeeja Sali and Jatt Da Gandasa (1991), etc.
In 1954, he along with his brother Gulshan Behl set up the production house N.C. Films. The first film produced under this banner was Laal Pari (1954), which had a popular western orchestration based lilting number Keh rahi hai dhadkanein pukar ke. The next movie Darbar (1955), a stunt film, too had some delectable Hansraj melodies. In Mast Qalandar (1955), Hansraj created a timeless euphonious duet Dil-e-nadaan zamane. Rajdhani (1956) was a costume drama having the haunting duet Bhool ja sapne suhane. In Changez Khan (1957), Hansraj composed one landmark song Mohabbat zinda rahti hai in Rafi’s voice with a fabulous chord progression rising to the climatic refrain of Chali aa chali aa in a musical crescendo. The film Miss Bombay (1957) had bhangra style songs while Milan (1958) is considered to be Hansraj’s greatest score. Saawan (1959) was a fragrant basket of blooming Hanraj melodies. Hansraj Behl’s dream to produce another Changez Khan featuring Dharmendra and Hema Malini remained unfulfilled.
Hansraj Behl had scored music for more than 100 Hindi and Punjabi films in his long career. His last released film Jatt Da Gandasa (Punjabi) was released in 1991. Hansraj Behl died of liver cancer on 20 May 1984.