Saturday, October 3, 2009



A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

In 1948 the Government of India revived production of documentaries and reels. This year also saw the triumph of Anil Biswas’s music in Anokha Pyaar starring Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Nalini Jaywant. Mehboob Khan produced Anokhi Ada with 13 songs composed by Naushad. Despite Naushad, there was not a single song of Rafi. He had given just one song to him in Mela that year. It would take him another year to give him some solo numbers. But the next decade would cement their bond in a lasting and memorable musical journey.

Chandralekha, directed by S.S. Vasan, was released after five years in the making and remains the costliest South Indian film so produced. Uday Shankar produced a ballet called Kalpana and won critical acclaims. Some other notable movies of the year were Vidya which had good music from S.D. Burman; Shikaayat which had the first-time film lyrics from Jaan Nisaar Akhtar the father of Javed Akhtar; Sehraa which had songs sung by Actor Govinda’s parents to the music of S. Mohinder; Gunjan where Nalini Jaywant sang six songs out of nine songs composed by Ashok Ghosh; (She indeed had a sweet voice that ranges somewhere between Suraiya and Lata style); Heer Ranjha where Khayyam gave music with Varmaji; and Gajre the Suraiya-Motilal starrer that had music by Anil Biswas; Ziddi where Kishore Kumar recorded his first song in his brother’s movie, Ziddi, starring Dev Anand: MARNE KEE DUAYEN KYOON MAANGOO, and a duet with Lata too in the same movie under the baton of Khemchand Prakash; (these were his only songs in 1948); and Mandir, where Shanta Apte was the star, and Nanda and Lata Mangeshkar did their acting stints.

Speaking of Lata Mangeshkar, it was Ghulam Haider who really groomed her after her father’s initial training in music. Ghulam Haider was a tough task-master and a perfectionist who brought out the best among his musicians and singers. According to an article on Ghulam Haider by Harjap Singh Aujla, (South Asia Post Issue 36 Vol II, March 31, 2007) he had even gone to the extent of slapping her when she kept on making a crucial mistake during a rehearsal in the recording room. The members of his orchestra were stunned. One of his most trusted harmonium players, Kartar Singh, asked why he had done that. Upon that Ghulam Haider replied: “Look Kartar Singh, I used to slap Noorjehan and see how high a pedestal she has reached, she is on top in her profession. This slap is going to catapult Lata Mangeshkar into a great singer, who will rule the World of music”. The prophecy proved to be true.

Of course, that slap was not out of spite but was a token from a teacher who wanted the best for his student. Those were different times. JO APNAA HOTAA HAI USEE PAR HAMM HAQ JATAATE HAIN. Wasn’t he the one who had discovered her in a running train while she was singing something in a shrill but sweet voice? Did he not call her to the recording studio for an audition? It was Ghulam Haider who told her to pay attention to the lyrics and enunciation of the words. He also told her to keep in mind the film characters who were to mime her song. So she followed those instructions to the T, besides using the nuances and variations while singing. The song, DIL MERA TODAA was recorded in 1947 for Majboor which was released in 1948. This song in fact launched her career. She also sang for Ghulam Haider in Aabshaar in 1948. Ghulam Haider even introduced her to other musicians such as Anil Biswas, Khemchand Prakash, and Sajjad Hussain. As Lata Mangeshkar stated in an interview in Mumbai Mirror of the Times of India of 28th September 2009:

“One of the earliest composers to support me was Master Ghulam Haider. When he was told that my voice wouldn’t suit the heroine in a Dilip Kumar saab starrer Shaheed, he gave me songs in Majboor. Then other composers like Anil Biswasji, Khemchand Prakashji and Naushad saab came forward to sign me. From 1947 onwards there was no looking back.” By the mid-Fifties and the Sixties Lata Mangeshkar could make or break any music director. Such would be her clout.

Surinder Kaur had replaced her in Shaheed, and her song BADNAAM NAA HO JAAYE proved very popular. It seems that a duet of Lata-Madan Mohan Kohli was recorded but ultimately dropped from the movie. It was at this time that she met Madan Mohan – "Madan Bhaiyya".

The partition of India that led to the migration of Noor Jahan to Pakistan played a great role for securing the filmy future of the newcomer Lata Mangeshkar. Noor Jahan had introduced the trend of singing in shrill feminine voice so that the new actresses began to demand it, thus sealing the fate of Zeenat Begum, Sitaradevi Kanpuri, Lalita Dewulkar, and Zohrabai of Ambala. Additionally, at the time of Lata Mangeshkar’s entry in 1947, Amirbai Karnataki was over forty years of age, while Zohrabai Ambalewali retired at the peak of her career in order to groom her daughter, Roshan Kumari, the noted Kathak dancer. Amirbai Karnataki often praised this very young petite singer and used to advise her that whenever anyone should praise her songs, she should say: YEH ALLAH KI MEHERBANI HAI. Other older female singers saw the writing on the wall and gradually faded away. Raj Kumari of the Mahal fame (GHABRAA KE JO HAM SAR KO TAKRAAYEN TOH ACHCHAA HO) was the unluckiest and died in poverty in 2000. It was only the “Khanakti Aawaaz” or the “Punjab ka Jaadu” Shamshad Begum, whom Mehboob Khan had brought to Bombay after much persuasion for his Taqdeer where Nargis made her debut, went on singing with many music directors such as Naushad, Khemchand Prakash, Hansraj Behl, Ravi, Kalyanji-Anandji, R.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar right upto 1968 (KAJRA MOHABBAT WAALA with Asha Bhonsle in Kismat) and even beyond. She was already a sensation by the mid-forties when she lost no chance in helping out the newcomers, such as Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan. On the national television, O.P. Nayyar acknowledged her contribution to his career. Some others did not even come back to her after they had attained fame. It was in the late Sixties that she was happy to quit the film industry with grace though we occasionally find her songs even in 1971, and yet again 1981 when she sang three songs with Mubarak Begum in Ganga Maang Rahi Balidaan.

Geeta Roy (or Geeta Dutt after marriage with Guru Dutt) was another female singer who stood against the Lata Wave. We have seen that she began her singing career in 1946. In the Forties-Fifties she worked with almost all the worthy music directors including Hanumant Prasad, Pankaj Mullick, Shyam Sunder, Anil Biswas, S.D. Burman, Ghulam Haider, Bulo C.Rani, Gyan Dutt, Vasant Desai, S.N. Tripathi, Arun Mukherjee, C. Ramchandra, Avinash Vyas, Sajjad Hussain, Naushad, Husnlal-Bhagatram, O.P. Nayyar and others. Asha Bhonsle was inspired by her style in her early career. Her voice was so soothing that it could induce sleep and was best suited for Bhajans (e.g. Ghungat Ke Patt Khol Re in Jogan 1950, and Torah Manwa Kyoon Ghabraaye in Sadhna, 1958) , lullabies and the tragic songs. But she could easily swing to Rock 'N' Roll songs, the romantic songs and the pub-songs with ease if the music director demanded. The most astonishing fact about Geeta Dutt and Guru Dutt is that their songs would sum up the tragedy of their life. She sang MERA SUNDER SAPNA BEET GAYA (1947) and WAQT NE KIYA KYA HASEEN SITAM (1959 Kaaghaz ke Phool). While the very next year Guru Dutt was to lip-synch Rafi Sahaab’s song: MILI KHAAK MEIN MOHABBAT JALAA DIL KA AASHIYAANA (1960 – Chaudhvin ka Chand). It was for Meena Kapoor to pay her a tribute at the Mortal Men, Immortal Melodies concert at Bombay in 1982. In addition to her own songs and the ones she sang with other playback singers, Geeta Dutt has a total of no less than 162 hit songs with Mohammed Rafi, being the highest number of her duets with any singer.

As for Suraiya, both acting and singing were just accidental for she never aspired to be either an actor or a singer. When she was 13, she was discovered by Naushad who got her to sing for Mehtab (future Mrs. Sohrab Modi) in Sharda as we’ve noted before. She became a very popular film-star who also sang her songs, thus having an edge over Nargis and Kamini Kaushal. The flip side was that popularity of her songs was bracketed with her being the heroine of her movies and that could not go on forever. Her peak period was 1948-1949. By 1963, she appeared for the last time in Rustom Sohrab playing the role of Premnath’s mother and often collapsing during the shoot. YEH KAISEE AJAB DAASTAA.N HO GAYEE HAI under the baton of Sajjad Hussain was her swan song. But Suraiya always acknowledged that Lata had achieved greatness whereas the greatness had been thrust on her. As for Noor Jahan, Suraiya stated that she was born great. But more about her later.

After the death of Noor Jahan, Lata Mangeshkar admitted: “Maine unke suron ki ungli pakad kar gaana seekha hai.” No doubt then, that the early songs of Lata Mangeshkar were sung in the style of her idol, Noor Jahan. Had Noor Jahan chosen to make India her home, Lata Mangeshkar would not have found the kind of encouragement she received from Ghulam Haider. As she used to copy Noor Jahaan’s style, she would have remained more of a poor man’s Noor Jahan, just as Suman Kalyanpur was a poor man’s Lata Mangeshkar, for at least ten years more, before the rise of political regionalism would change the equation. However, this is idle speculation. Who can stop the march of events?

Lata Mangeshkar was no ‘Daal-Bhaat’ singer, having acquired her initial training under her own father, Dinanath Mangeshkar. She was also the student of Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi Bazaar Gharana since June 11, 1945 and after his migration to Pakistan she got the the classical training from Amanat Khan Devaswale, other Ustads, and Maulanas of Urdu language as well. The term "daal-bhaat" has an interesting story behind it. One day Dilip Kumar, Anil Biswas and Lata Mangeshkar were travelling to work by train. Those were the days sometime in 1947-48, when no one used to recognise them. Which makes me believe that it was definitely before the release of Jugnu and before filming of Andaz (1949) and Anokha Pyaar which was previously titled as Dil ki Awaz (1948) - otherwise Dilip Kumar would have surely known about her. Anyway, upon enquiry, Anil Biswas introduced Lata Mangeshkar as a singer who sings well. When Dilip Kumar learnt that she was a Maharashtrian, he was concerned that she would not be able to pronounce the Urdu words correctly. It is in this context that he used the expression: "In their singing you can smell the 'daal-bhaat.'" That was the day when she made it a point to learn the Urdu language well. With the help of Mohammed Shafi who was the Assistant to Naushad and Anil Biswas, she hired one Maulana named Mehboob who began teaching her the language. Thus Dilip Kumar's chance utterance worked wonders for Lata Mangeshkar and we find a flawless renditions of "Hindi" songs.

Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar had met during their days of struggle in the Bombay’s film industry. To use her own words, “HAMNE BHEE KAAFI PAAPA.D BELE HAI.N.” She would walk from her home in Nana Chowk to the Grant Railway Station to go to Malad and from there instead of using a Victoria, she would walk upto the recording studios to save some money which would enable her to buy vegetables at home.

There are stories of how Rafi and Lata used to be given intensive musical training by Husnlal. It appears that Husnlal used to call Rafi at his residence at 4 a.m.. Rafi was supposed to carry his ‘Tanpura’ as well. There Husnlal would give him the ‘Alaap’ of the Raga that was to be used for the song. Rafi would practice this ‘Alaap’ for several hours after which he would be given the composed tune to sing. Even Lata was given such a regimen, only, in her case she used to be called to the recording studio. However, Husnlal’s late-night arrivals at home was not liked by his wife, and this generated a continual domestic tension between him and his wife. As years passed by, Pandit Husnlal began to maintain his distance from Lata Mangeshkar. After ten years they came to the point when they could no longer work together.

The ‘Forties were the days of their camaraderie, and Rafi and Hamid would often visit her home at Nana Chowk from their nearby Bhendi Bazaar home, have meals and chat all day long. Even during the late Forties, Rafi would visit Lata during the Ganpati Festival. She remembers that once he even sang at her house, and during one such visit of Mohammed Rafi, she had gifted a gold button to Rafi. Later in life when they could hardly meet each other, Rafi remained very close to her younger brother, Hridyanath Mangeshkar.

While singing the duets with Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar took extra care, for in him she found a formidable singer who used to put his own additional inputs while rendering his songs. So she too would try to add some nuances to the songs that she sang with him. Sometimes she would face difficulties. Such instances, though rare as they were, did happen not only in the Forties but also in the Fifties which she has herself recounted. While recording the title track for S.D. Burman in Tere Ghar Ke Samne, for example, she had a problem with Rafi’s executing a particular word. In the Sixties she complained to the musical duo Shankar-Jaikishan that their range of the song made her ears turn red and whether they were testing her. That was the Arzoo song: AJEE ROOTHKAR KAR AB which Rafi Sahaab sang as the solo version, AJEE HAMSE BACHKAR KAHAAN JAAYEGAA; and in the Sixties while recording TASVEER TEREE DIL MEIN there was certain misunderstandings between her and Rafi Sahaab, when Salil Chowdhary took her side.

Lata Mangeshkar is very forthcoming when she says that Rafi Sahaab’s voice was his greatest blessing. Irrespective of the pitch, whether high or low, the voice had a certain “namrataa” (softness). And as for his “inimitable ‘harkatein’ and ‘taan,’ all this was a natural part of his talent.


To continue...


  1. This is a very good attempt to write about Mohammad Rafi

  2. Thanks Mr. Harjap, coming from you it is great compliment. I too relish your article on Rafi Sahaab.