Lata Mangeshkar christened him 'The Emperor Of Ghazals'. She should know because it is in her voice that Madan Mohan created all those masterpieces that set an impossibly high standard for ghazals in films. The irony of the fact is that Madan Mohan couldn't combine class and mass appeal the way an S.D.Burman or Shanker-Jaikishan could. He composed the only way he knew to - with great respect for each of his tunes.
Madan Mohan was the son of Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, one of the big names of the 30's and 40's, and a partner in Bombay Talkies and then Filmistan. Madan Mohan was sent to Dehradun to join the army on the insistence of his father. Once he was posted at Delhi, he quit the Army and went to Lucknow to do what he wanted to do, to join All India Radio. His musical roots strengthened in Lucknow because he came across famous people like Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Roshan Ara Begum, Begum Akhtar, Siddheshwari Devi, and Talat Mehmood, all renowned names in the field of classical music and ghazal singing. He carried their influence with him always, which was clearly evident by his music compositions in his career, and one of the main reasons why he excelled in aesthetic composition inspite of having no formal training in music.
Madan Mohan came to Bombay in the late 40's, and assisted S. D. Burman and Shyam Sunder for a brief spell, for films being made by filmistan studios. Madan's first big independant break was Aankhen in 1950. After his film 'Aankhen' Madan and Lata became a great team together and Lata sang for almost all his films. Lata Mangeshkar was the last word for him. The sweetness Madan achieved here in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice is something rare in his repertory. It was never enough that there was enough of only Lata in a Madan tune. Lata used to call Madan ‘Ghazal Ka Shehzadaa’. ‘Woh chup rahen to mere dil ke daag jalte hain’ from the film Jahan Ara and ‘Maine rang li aaj chunariya’ from Dulhan Ek Raat Ki are some others of his compositions. He scored for a theme in mime like Chetan Anand's Heer Ranjha.
Madan Mohan made excellent use of voices of Talat Mahmood and Mohd. Rafi as well. His favourite lyricists were Raja Mehndi Ali Khan, Rajendra Krishan, and Kaifi Azmi. Majrooh Sultanpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi also wrote for him for a few films. Madan’s light compositions have the same individualistic quality as his serious songs. What's more none of his contemporaries had the knack of picking the right instruments for the right song. His peerless classicism while tuning a variety of songs like ‘Nainon mien badra chaye’ in Mera Saaya. This song just shows that Madan was never obsessed with the raga, the beauty of his composition lay in the fact that the raga just flowed from his tune just like his mentor C. Ramchandra. ‘Naino mein badra chaye’ is a classic, which with the film Mera Saaya was a classic for Sadhana-Sunil Dutt starter. The filming in Udaypur’s Lake Palace had the classical Rajasthani feeling, and the melody of nature feeling and lyric of the emotional feeling Sunil suffered after losing his wife. Only Madan’s great understanding of the situation in the film had helped him to come up with the great Mera Saaya tunes.
His classicism sprang spontaneously from the station in life to which he belonged. He was one of those men who had to make a thorough study of whatever he took up. Madan Mohan was not just seen merely in the music room. Close sources encountered him ever so often, at a cricket match, a badminton match, a Tennis match. And they were not allowed to discuss music when they met. To ones utter disbelief Madan could discuss the finer points of cricket. Tennis and badminton with the same precision as the finer points of Lata's vocals. Madan Mohan had a finely honed mind. And that not only on music. He was a man of taste in every sense of the word.
Madan Mohan was totally different from the Punjab school of composers dominating Hindi film Music in the late l94O and early 195O's. Even O.P. Naiyyar, for all his sheen of modernity displayed traces of his Punjabi roots but not once could you scent the 'dehati’ Punjabi at work in a Madan Mohan composition. The Punjab school produced some of the finest music in our films. But always you got the impression that it was music literally rooted in the Punjab soil. Here is where Madan Mohan was diametrically different. He was the artistic aristocrat at work. The son of Rai Bahadur Chuni Laal, the Filmistan chief, at work. Madan Mohan's best music belonged to the drawing room that is why Madan had problems consistently equating with the masses. He was essentially a composer for the classes.
Every composer had a favorite raga, Madan had none. Look at the flair and imagination with which he scored for a theme in mime like Chetan Anand's Heer Ranjha. Sachin Dev Burman paid Madan Mohan the ultimate tribute; ‘ I could not have scored Heer Ranjha with half the felicity Madan Mohan did.’ Madan Mohan was still a struggling composer when he created his masterly tunes. And it is when you are struggling that you really create. Later, at least in the l970's, one felt Madan became rather stylized. In other words, he was, composing to live up to his reputation as the ‘Ghazal King’, which cramped his style in the matter of being a freewheeler composer, - a must for films.
He died on July 14th, in the year 1975. He did not live to see the success of two of his very big hits 'Mausam' and 'Laila Majnu'. Most Popular films of Madan Mohan are 'Ashiyana, Madhosh, Baghi, Bhai Bhai, Mastane, Gateway Of India, Dekh Kabeera Roya, Adalat, Chacha Zindabad, Manmauji, Sanjog, Woh Kaun Thi, Jahan Ara, Ghazal, Sharabi, Mera Saaya, Neela Akash, Ek Kali Muskayi, Chirag, Dastak, Heer Ranjha, Haste Zakhma, Mausam, etc.