Chodo Kal Ki Baatein
Kal Ki Baat Puraani
Naye Daur Mein Likhenge
Mil Kar Nayi Kahaani
Hum Hindustani, Hum Hindustani
This simple and effortless tune of the song is remembered through ages by every Indian. The song was composed for ‘Hum Hindustani’ in 1960 by Usha Khanna. It will not be wrong to say that Usha Khanna might have been the only successful lady composer of India. She composed tracks for almost four decades and gave out memorable tunes that are remembered and cherished even today.
Usha Khanna was born in Gwalior in 1941. Her father Manohar Khanna was an Assistant Superintendent at the Water Works Department of Gwalior. In 1946, he shifted to Mumbai when he was offered a chance to write lyrics for Nargis Art Productions. He received more than double the amount of his prevailing salary for the lyrics of the song he wrote for Nargis Art Production’s ‘Romeo Juliet’.
As a child only, Usha Khanna started taking interest in music. She aspired to become a playback singer but destiny had other plans for her. She ended up becoming one of the eminent music directors in Bollywood. In a world which is predominantly ruled by men, Usha Khanna had to struggle a lot to create her own space.
Composer O. P. Nayyar made her meet Sashadhar Mukherjee for the first time. Mukherjee was impressed after hearing her tunes. A few months later he offered her to compose music for his super hit movie ‘Dil Deke Dekho’ in 1960. Directed by Nasir Hussain, ‘Dil Deke Dekho’ starring Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh (her debut movie) was a big success at the box office and so was its music. All of its tracks, ‘Yaar Chulbula Hai’, ‘Pyar Ki Kasam’, ‘Dil Deke Dekho’, ‘Bade Hai Dil Ke Kaale’, ‘Hum Aur Tum Aur Yeh Sama’, ‘Bolo Bolo Kuch To Bolo’, ‘Megha Re Megha’ became big hits at the chartbusters.
In 1961, Mukherjee again signed her to compose music for Ram Mukherjee’s ‘Hum Hindustani’. All the songs from this movie became popular especially ‘Maajhi Meri Kismat Ki’ rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Hum Jab Chale To’ by Mohammad Rafi and ‘Neeli Neeli Ghata’, ‘Raat Bikhri Hui’, ‘Chodo Kal Ki Baatein’ rendered by Mukesh.
The famous song by Mohammad Rafi ‘Maine Rakha Hai Mohabbat Apne Afsaane Ka Naam’ from ‘Shabnam’ in 1964 was also composed by Usha Khanna. The unforgettable ‘Hum Tumse Juda Hoke Mar Jaayenge Ro Ro Ke’ by Mohammad Rafi is another astounding piece by Usha Khanna for the 1965 release ‘Ek Sapera Ek Lutera’ starring Feroze Khan. The songs still remains to be a few of Mohammad Rafi’s best renditions.
‘Haye Tabassum Tera Dhoop Khil Gayi Raat Mein’ by Mohammad Rafi from ‘Nishan’ in 1965 is another stupendous composition by Usha Khanna.
‘Chand Ko Kya Malum Chahta Hai Usey Koi Chakor’ by Mukesh is a beautiful track composed by Usha Khanna for ‘Lal Bangla’ in 1966. Though, her regular singers were Mukesh and Mohammad Rafi but still she went on to work with Manna Dey in the 1966 release ‘Badal’. ‘Apne Liye Jiye To Kya Jiye’ by Manna Dey from the film was a beautiful musical piece composed by her.
During the 1970s, Mohammad Rafi’s popularity slowly started to face a downfall due to the increasing demand for Kishore Kumar. In 1974, Usha Khanna revived Mohammad Rafi’s voice in ‘Teri Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Kadam’ for ‘Hawas’. It is regarded as Mohammad Rafi’s comeback song for which he also received the Film World Magazine’s Best Singer Award.
Some of the best renditions of Yesudas also came from Usha Khanna’s kit. ‘Madhuban Khushboo Deta Hai’, a duet by Lata Mangeshkar and Yesudas from ‘Saajan Bina Sasural’ is a noteworthy track composed by her. Her composition ‘Dil Ke Tukde Tukde’ rendered by Yesudas earned him the Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer in 1979.
‘Bhor Bhai Bhairav Gun Gaao’ by Haimanti Sukla is another notable composition by Usha Khanna. The traditional tune of the song perfectly fitted the bill and Haimanti Sukla delivered her best in the song for Shabana Azmi in ‘Sweekar Kiya Maine’.
Sawan Kumar’s ‘Souten’ starring Rajesh Khanna, Padmini Kolhapuri and Tina Munim is an important film for Usha Khanna. The duet of Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar ‘Shayad Meri Shaadi Ka Khayal’ from the film was an exceptional super hit song at the chart-busters. ‘Zindagi Pyar Ka Geet Hai’ is another notable composition from the film. The tracks have two versions by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar. Both are credible enough to leave a mark on the listener’s mind.
She can also be credited for introducing several singers and for giving them their first break. She has always been a composer who had been open towards newcomers and never shied away from inventing new talents. She was the one who gave Sonu Nigam his first ever playback song in 1985. ‘Aate Aate Teri Yaad Aa Gayi, Jaate Jaate Tu Mujhe Rula Gayi’ for ‘Jaan Ki Baazi’ was Sonu Nigam’s first rendition. However, his version of the song was not included in the movie.
Usha Khanna also can be credited for discovering talents like Roop Kumar Rathod, Mohammad Aziz, Pankaj Udhas, Hemlata and many more.
She married director, producer, writer and lyricist Sawaan Kumar for a brief period of time and separated later. Her last composition has been for her ex-husband’s movie ‘Dil Pardesi Ho Gaya’ in 2003.
Usha Khanna is in her 70s today and she lives alone in Mumbai. Although she took retirement from music composition but her earlier work makes her memorable as a legend of the music industry of Bollywood.