Hemant Kumar was a prolific music composer and singer, who sang and composed music in both Hindi and Bengali films. Though his ancestral roots lay in Bengal, he was born in Varanasi as Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay. It wasn't long before his family migrated to Calcutta where he completed school and enrolled into Jadhavpur University to study engineering.
By the early 1930s, however, he had decided that music was what he wanted to do in life and he dropped out of college despite parental objection. His first performance was a song recording for All India Radio in 1933. He was mentored by Sailesh Duttagupta and learnt classical music under Ustad Faiyaz Khan, a famous exponent of the Agra Gharana. After a number of similar recordings with both AIR and Gramophone Company of India, his first film song was featured in the Bengali film called "Nimai Sanyas" (1941). Also the 1944 film "Irada" saw him lending his voice to Hindi soundtracks for the first time, under the music directorship of Pt Amarnath. His first assignment as a music composer came only in 1947, with "Abhiyatri" and many of the songs composed by him were both critically appreciated and popularly sung.
During this time, he enrolled as a member of the Indian People´s Theatre Association (IPTA), teaming up with composer Salil Chowdhury. Hemant Kumar recorded a song penned and composed by him in Bengali, called "Ganyer Badhu" which describes how a caring wife and mother´s family is torn apart by famine and poverty. Placed in the context of the Bengal famine of 1943, this song became a raging hit, which brought him to the notice of director Hemen Gupta, who was in the process of making "Anandmath" (1952) in Hindi. Enjoying moderate success with the overall music and the unexpected popularity of "Vande Mataram" sung along with Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar permanently shifted base to Mumbai and joined Filmistan studios. He also became popular as a playback singer, especially when he sang for Dev Anand in films like "Jaal" (1952) and "Solva Saal" (1958), where the songs "Yeh Raat Ye Chandni Phir Kahaan" and "Hai Apna Dil Toh Awara" respectively, were easily noticed for their sheer simplicity.
The film "Nagin" (1954) is still regarded as one of his greatest and most popular films as a music composer, and the song "Man Doley Mera Tan Doley" is still as unforgettable as ever. The song is as fresh as it always was and quickly became a snake-charmer´s anthem and remains even till date. Guru Dutt´s "Pyaasa" (1957), though it bombed at the box office, brought with it the famous "Jaaney Woh Kaise Log The Jinke". Similarly, all through the later part of 1950s, he established himself as one the most sought after music directors as well as singers. He bagged a Filmfare award for Best Music Director in 1955 for "Nagin", as also the President´s Gold Medal in 1960 for "Neel Akasher Neechay" (1959). But his best was yet to come – come 1962, and he composed music for Guru Dutt´s "Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam" and sang two songs for the films "Bees Saal Baad" and "Baat Ek Raat Ki", which became instant hits - "Beqaraar Karke Humein" for the former and "Na Tum Humein Jaano" for the latter. All through the 1960s, he had his hands full, with films like "Anupama" (1966) and "Khamoshi" (1969), as also songs like "Ya Dil Ki Suno Duniyawalo" and "Tum Pukar Lo".
By the 1970s, his hold over the film industry decreased, owing also to financial losses and failing health. In the two decades upto the late 1980s, most of the songs he sung went unnoticed, with the film "Mera Karam Mera Dharam" (1987) housing his last film song. In 1989, he travelled to Dhaka, where he won the Michael Madhusudan Award. He passed away on September 26, 1989, owing to a severe heart attack.