S. Mohinder: the Soulful Musician

Harjap Singh Aujla

South Asia Post: Issue 30 Vol II, December 31, 2006

IT was the year 1956, a soulful melody in the voice of Lata Mangeshkar, “Guzra Hua Zamana Ata Nahin Dobara… Hafiz Khuda Tumhara, virtually everyday on the airwaves of All India Radio, Radio Pakistan and Radio Ceylon. It was a song of the sub continent, soulful and haunting. It was a song from a Madhubala film “Shireen Farhad”. Its composer was the memorable S. Mohinder. Born and brought up in Pakistani Punjab, this budding music director Mohinder Singh Sarna or S.Mohinder or as some called him Mohinder Singh Bakhshi  was a young rising star of Hindi films. The lyrics for his music were composed by poet Tanvir Naqvi, an import from Lahore.

1956 was a great year for film music. Several musically hit films were released including “Shama Parvana” and Adl-e-Jehangir” with music score by Husna Lal Bhagat Ram, “Patrani” “Rajhath” and “Chori Chori” with music composed by Shanker Jaikishan and Uran Khatola of Naushad. But the music of “Shireen Farhad” held its own. Earlier S. Mohinder had composed music for several films including Sehra, Jeevan Saathi, Shadi Ki Raat, Neeli, Bahadur, Shahzada and Paapi. But the name and fame he got with his music in “Sheereen Farhad” was consummate.

The prime female Bollywood superstar of those days Madhubala, a leading actress in the film, was so impressed with the music of “Sheereen Farhad” that, while coming home after a hectic shooting session, she herself visited the residence of S. Mohinder, to thank him for the special music he had created. This film had nine songs, all were great hits. Big playback names like Talat Mehmood, Hemant Kumar and Mohammad Rafi gave their voices to the songs.

S. Mohinder had to wait for 14 years to get the Presidential Annual Award for the best music for his musical score for the superhit Punjabi Sikh religion based movie “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” in 1970.  Studded with great musical compositions and sung in the voices of revered Bhai Samund Singh, Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhonsale, this movie elated the cinema buffs.

Born in 1925 in a small town called Silanwala in Montgomery District of un-divided Punjab.S.Mohinder’s father Sujan Singh Bakhshi was a sub-inspector in police. Soon the family moved to a comparatively larger city Lyallpur, where young Mohinder around 1935 came in contact with an accomplished Sikh religious vocalist Sant Sujan Singh. He honed his skills for several years in classical music in the tutelage of Sant Sujan Singh. Initially he wanted to be a singer.  The family moved to Sheikhupura , close  to Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak and S. Mohinder got his further training in classical music from legendry Sikh religious musician Bhai Samund Singh. Frequent transfers of his father kept the family on the move. Since S. Mohinder’s education was suffering badly, durIng early forties, he was enrolled in Khalsa High School in village Kairon in Amritsar District.

In 1947, the rest of the family too moved to East Punjab in India. The love for classical music brought S. Mohinder to Benares. After a couple of years of grooming in classical music in Benares, the Mecca of Indian classical music, S. Mohinder, came to Bombay, the leading center of film industry ,.His first successful film was Neeli, which was musically a hit but  a mediocre . S. Mohinder took a regular job of music director in “Filmistan Studio”, which was churning out movies like a mint producing coins. S. Mohinder composed music for “Filmistan” for half a decade. It was a great experience.

S. Mohinder believes that just like the USA, which is considered a great melting pot of all the cultural groups in the World, Bombay is the melting pot of all the film making cultural groups of India. Bombay had attracted the best music composers of Bengal including Anil Biswas, Sachin Dev Burman and Hemant Kumar who influenced other music directors. There were great maestros from Maharashtra including C. Ramchandra and Shanker Jaikishan. Central India was represented by Sajjad Hussain and Ghulam Mohammad. Vasant Desai of Gujarat and Khem Chand Prakash represented the best from Rajasthan.

The biggest contingent of music directors was from Punjab.  Big names like Jhande Khan, Rafique Ghaznavi B.A., Shyam Sunder, Khurshid Anwar, Ghulam Haider, Firoze Nizami, Pandit Gobind Ram, Pandit Husna Lal Bhagatram, Hans Raj Behl, Vinod, Alla Rakha, Sardar Malik, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Ravi and O.P. Nayyar shined all over.  S. Mohinder learnt immensely from his seniors. His original style was Punjabi centric, but Benares groomed him into the classical traditions of Uttar Pradesh and Bombay gave him an all Indian grooming in music.

After a successful relationship as a music director with “Filmistan Studios”, S. Mohinder composed music for Chandu Lal Shah’s (Ranjit Movietone) film “Zamin ke Taare”. It became a hit. After that he composed the music for Wadia Brothers film “Reporter Raju”. S. Mohinder composed the music for producer Roop K. Shori’s film “Saat Ladke Saat Ladkian”. He gave music for film “Do Dost” also.

S. Mohinder says that during the sixties, when only Hans Raj Behl and Sardul Singh Kwatra were left in the field of composing music for Punjabi films, he also tried his hand at Punjab films. The response was good. His music for his first Punjabi film “Pardesi Dhola” was a hit. After that he mainly devoted his attention on composing music for Punjabi films only. His music for “Chambe Di Kali” also became a hit. Inderjit Hassanpuri, a friend of S. Mohinder, made a Punjabi film “Daaj” in which S. Mohinder composed very emotional tunes. Later on during the late seventies S. Mohinder composed music for some non-film Punjabi albums too and the singers included the best in the Punjabi music business, Surinder Kaur and Asa Singh Mastana. These private albums were also instant hits.

Shaminder Singh, a friend of S. Mohinder, was a landlord of Muktsar  in Punjab was a  gifted singer. His voice was similar to that of Talat Mahmood, a superstar singer of the nineteen fifties and sixties. Shaminder wanted to try his hand at producing Punjabi films and that desire brought him to Bombay. In partnership with music director Sardul Kwatra, he made several movies including “Vanjara”. Shaminder had a desire to sing duets with Lata Mangeshkar. His wish came true in “Vanjara” when he was given an opportunity to sing two duet songs with Lata Mangeshkar.

S. Mohinder’s last Hindi film was “Mehlon Ke Khwaab” produced by Madhubala in 1967. The film did quite well at the box office and its music became a hit. The untimely death of Madhubala, during the prime of her youth deeply saddened S. Mohinder. He came to the conclusion that the field of composing music for Hindi films was getting a lot of new players and the melody was slowly yielding place to noisy heavy metal music. So he decided to go back to his roots and switch to composing music for Punjabi movies.

A very interesting incident happened during early sixties. It was narrated to me by none other than S. Mohinder himself. In order to become an actor, Shaminder Singh shaved off his blonde beard and moustache. Lata Mangeshkar had seen him as a practicing Sikh. One day in the company of S. Mohinder, Shaminder Singh ran into Lata Mangeshkar. Lata could not recognize him. When Lata asked as to who this gentleman was? S. Mohinder said “He is Shaminder Singh”. Lata retorted “You looked so good in your blonde beard, moustache and turban, why did you do this to yourself”. Shaminder had no answer. Shaminder Singh later acted as the hero in film “Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam” and S. Mohinder composed the music for it. This film also did roaring business, so did its music.

In 1966, legendry Sikh religious musician Bhai Santa Singh visited Bombay. Mohammad Rafi attended one of his programmes. Mohammad Rafi, who was Bhai Santa Singh’s fan since their days as casual radio artists in Lahore, liked his voice quality so much that he proposed him to sing in a forthcoming Punjabi religious film, which was being planned. But Bhai Santa Singh flatly refused to sing in a film. This was the same trip at the end of which, while traveling back to Delhi in a train, Bhai Santa Singh had a massive heart attack that took his life.

Mohammad Rafi’s dream got fulfilled in 1969. Ram Maheshwari and Panna Lal Maheshwari, originally from Amritsar, decided to make a movie in Punjabi based on Sikh religious sentiments. The film was titled “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai”. S. Mohinder got the contract to compose the music. The story of the film required some scenes to be picturized in the Golden Temple. S. Mohinder thought that the music for those scenes was a very sensitive subject and must be performed by the finest exponent of Sikh Religious classical music. So he requested Bhai Samund Singh to sing the Shabads. Bhai Samund Singh was also the mentor of S. Mohinder during his early training in classical music. Initially Bhai Samund Singh also hesitated, but eventually he agreed to sing for the movie. S. Mohinder believes that what Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s singings were to the great movie “Mughal -e- Azam”, the Shabads sung by Bhai Samund Singh are to Punjabi film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai”. As we all know film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” has been an all time hit Punjabi movie. Its music was also as big a success.

The runaway success of film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” ushered in an era of for making well meaning movies based on Sikh religious stories.

S. Mohinder composed the music for most of these Sikh religious movies. “Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam” featuring Shaminder Singh as the hero was the next film, it was also quite successful. Then came two more namely “Man Jeete Jug Jeet” and “Paapi Tare Anek”. Both were successful at the box office. All these movies were made during the decade of seventies. S. Mohinder also composed some of his most memorable music for these movies.

During the decade of nineteen seventies, S. Mohinder composed music for some private albums also including some featuring Sikh devotional music and some featuring the folk music of Punjab. Legendry Punjabi singer Surinder Kaur was prominently featured on some of these albums.

S. Mohinder left India for the USA in 1982, when he was at the peak of his career as a music composer. The last film featuring his music was named “Maula Jatt”, with Dara Singh in the male lead role.

While in America, S. Mohinder composed music for some private devotional and romantic albums, including one featuring Ghazals of Roshan Pukhraj on behalf of Iqbal Mahal of Canada, another in the voice of Mrs Kavelle Bajaj of Northern Virginia. One album of Shabads in the voice of Asha Bhonsle is a musical masterpiece. S. Mohinder is also interested in producing a CD or more of Shabads in the ethereal voice of Bibi Amarjit Kaur of Northern Virginia. But travel by air to Bombay is becoming difficult for him. Every year he keeps postponing this highly creative project. Hopefully some day he may pick up enough courage to complete this recording in Bombay.

S. Mohinder considers himself is married to a charming woman Davinder Kaur Sarna, of Gujarat District in Pakistan’s Punjab. He has two daughters and two sons, all are married. His eldest daughter is Nareen Kaur Chopra, his second child is Kanwarpal Singh Sarna based in Bombay but he keeps travelling throughout the World. His third child is Risham Kaur Sethi who lives in California. The fourth child is a son Satinder Pal Singh Sarna, who lives close to S. Mohinder in Northern Virginia.

Iqbal Singh Mahal of Toronto (Ontario) in his critically acclaimed Punjabi book “Suran De Saudagar” describes S. Mohinder as the tall handsome doyen whom once the famed actresses Madhubala had proposed though she knew it well that he was a happily married man. But she also knew that strange things do happen in Bollywood and since the proposal had come from a stunning beauty and the leading most actress, no one including S. Mohinder could reject it. S. Mohinder kept pondering over this for several days. Madhubala also proposed to provide a hefty amount of financial aid every month to S. Mohinder’s wife for her own subsistence and the education of her kids. In the most crucial decision in his life, S. Mohinder finally picked up the courage to say no. To this day S. Mohinder has been living happily with his wife for a period that exceeds half a century. Bombay  where, at least in the business of acting and music a lot of fairy tale marriages do take place to break up eventually, but S. Mohinder’s marriage has withstood all such temptations and tribulations.

[Harjap Singh Aujla, 16 Junction Pond Lane, Monmouth Junction N.J. 08852 USA   732 329 0981harjapaujla@gmail.com]

Sign in or sign up to post comments.
  • Vinod Kapoor

    Most of these luminaries were associated with AIR those days. Could any one linked to them throw some insight to functioning of Radio then and their contributions making them strong. Love to hear those personalized incidents or even anecdotes. Good...Bad or even Bitter..they are all part of history now !! My email is : vinodkapoor555@gmail.com , vinodkapoor555@yahoo.co

Related Articles

Latest Articles

Most Popular