Legendary Hindi film composer Usha Khanna shares her life's journey through music

Usha Khanna was in Bengaluru two days ahead of a music concert organised in her honour by the Rotary Indiranagar called “Ek Sunehari Shaam”. Though she looked frail and walked slowly due due to a hairline fracture in one of her knees, her face lit up when she spoke about music, the glory days and working with Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. Usha started her career at the age of 17 as a music composer. Her first film was Dil Deke Dekho, which starred Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh. The 1959 film not only marked Usha’s debut as composer, but also Asha’s as actor.

Usha has not only composed songs for Hindi films but also for Malayalam films, which include the song ‘Nee Madhu Pakaru’, sung by Yesudas and one song by S Janaki.

Usha gives credit to her father for instilling a love for music in her. “He was a classical singer. While my twin brother spent most his time with my mother, I would cling to my father. In fact, he would make me sleep in his arms and do his riyaz. Every time I cried he would sing a raag,” says the composer. Edited excerpts of an exclusive interview

Tell us about your journey as a composer.

Neither my entry into the film industry nor my journey was difficult. I have seen and heard about the struggles of people in this industry, but luckily I don’t have one. I wanted to enter the film industry as a singer but they made me a composer.

When I first visited a music studio, a famous composer asked me if I could sing better than Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle, I said no. So he said I should go back home. Then Indeever saab (lyricist), who was also present, said I compose songs. They heard two of my songs and I got my first break.

Any regrets of not becoming a singer?

Not at all. I even fulfilled my dream of singing. Anytime Lataji or Asha were busy and could not make it to the recording, I would pitch in as a singer. (She has sung for the popular ‘Pal Bhar Ke Liye Koi Hame Pyar Karle’, picturised on Hema Malini and Dev Anand in Johnny Mera Naam).

Could you share your experience of working with Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar?

They were poles apart in their style, personality, singing and even talking. But great fun to work with. While Rafi saab would come and rehearse with me at the studio before every recording, Kishore da was just the opposite. He would call, tease me and then ask me to send a recording of the tune to him.

We differentiate between films for the classes and the masses. Is there a similar distinction in songs too?

Yes. Definitely. If you look at my compositions, the song ‘Madhuban Khushboo Deta hai’ was created for the classes. And, the song ‘Shayad Meri Shaadi ka Khayal’ for the masses. I composed the latter keeping even the rickshaw driver in my mind. I wanted every one to hum it.

What changes have you seen in the world of film music?

There are plenty. Every generation has had its own set of lyricists, singers and composers. It has changed slowly according to the choice and the talent of the people.

Are you open to composing music for today’s films?

Why not? An artiste never dies. And I can make music to suit today’s style and choice.

A trip down memory lane

Legendary Hindi film composer Usha Khanna shares her life's journey through music

The songs were presented by Shrikant Narayan, Ram Tirath, Samanvitha Sharma, Govind Kurnool, Shruthi Bhide, Narssimhan Kannan and Kumaran Muthuraman. The orchestra was led by Pioneer Suresh from Chennai.

“Maine Rakha Hai Mohabbat”, filmed on Mehmood had Arabic influences in its tunes.

When the song “Madhuban khushboo deta hain” was sung, Usha became emotional and with the bright stage lights shining on her face, her tears looked like tiny stars shining on her flawless face. The event was interspersed with interesting anecdotes about her life, making it a trip down memory lane. She shared a story of how Yesudas made sure to reach the studio to sing the song “Madhuban Khushboo...”. “It was pouring in Bombay. We were waiting at the studio and Yesudas could not reach. We thought of canceling the recording. There were no mobiles then. But he did reach two hours later, dripping wet and his dhoti tucked up to his knees! When he saw us, all he said was ‘had I not made it didi, you have given the song to Kishore da.” She is also credited with introducing Sony Nigam to the industry.

When she was told that she is a true legend for building so many careers, she humbly responded with, “Arre, some one else also made mine. So I am just giving it all back.”

The event was held on Saturday at Chowdiah Memorial Hall

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 6:16:10 PM |

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