Mutrib se kaho iss andaaz se gaaye
Har dil ko lage chot-si, har aankh bhar aaye
(Please ask the singer to sing in a manner that can bring tears to eyes and impact every heart)
THE legendary Urdu poet Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri must have penned the couplet after listening to Mukesh’s soulful voice that emanated from the recesses of his heart. It was a voice that had pathos, profundity and piety. There’s no gainsaying the fact that Mukesh didn’t have the trained voice of Mohd Rafi or the range and gamut of Kishore Kumar, or a hold over his notes like Manna Dey. Yet, the intrinsic soulfulness of his unique voice will remain unparalleled. He was the uncrowned king of pensive numbers and a master of plaintive notes.
In his birth centenary year — he was born on July 22, 1923 — let’s remember Mukesh as a humane singer who poured his heart out whenever he sang.
Melancholy was Mukesh’s hallmark. Though he had an inimitable voice, when he started singing in the 1940s, it was an era of KL Saigal and Ghulam Mustafa Durrani. Almost all the new singers idolised the two maestros. Saigal was more popular. Rafi imitated Durrani in his initial days but soon found his own voice. Mukesh also tried to sing like Saigal. Though Mukesh’s first song was lyricist Neelkanth Tiwari’s ‘Dil hi bujha hua ho toh’ for ‘Nirdosh’ (1941), his first hit song as a playback singer was ‘Dil jalta hai toh jalne de’ in ‘Pehli Nazar’ (1945). He sang it for Motilal, who was Mukesh’s distant relative. It’s said that when Saigal first heard the song, he had said, “That’s strange, I don’t recall singing that song.” Fortunately, under the tutelage of composer Naushad Ali, Mukesh soon developed his own style.
The way Mukesh conveyed pathos of a broken heart through his innumerable sad songs, no other singer could. Listen to ‘Woh tere pyaar ka gham’ (‘My Love’, 1970). You’ll empathise with the sadness of Shashi Kapoor on the silver screen. It’s matchless in its pensive evocation of pain, angst and helplessness. ‘Humne tujh se pyar kiya hai jitna, kaun karega itna’ (‘Dulha Dulhan’, 1964) is a cathartic song tailormade for jilted lovers, or ‘Dost dost na raha, pyar pyar na raha’ (‘Sangam’, 1964). No other song can convey the pain caused by one’s dear friend usurping his sweetheart. The wistfulness of a failed lover finds its echo in Mukesh’s rather rare number: ‘Main dhoondhta hoon jinko raaton ko khyalon mein’ (‘Thokar’, 1974). Picturised on Bharat Bhushan, in ‘Aa laut ke aa jaa mere meet’ (‘Rani Roopmati’, 1957), Mukesh’s voice suffused the song with a sad hue.
Quite a handsome man, Mukesh came to Bombay to become a hero and also acted in a couple of movies before realising that acting wasn’t his forte. For Mukesh, singing wasn’t a natural option, but Raj Kapoor found an uncanny similarity in Mukesh’s voice and the latter became the former’s voice in songs. You just cannot separate the two. Their association was immortalised in ‘Jaane kahan gaye woh din’, ‘Jeena yahan marna yahan’ (both from the movie ‘Mera Naam Joker’, 1970) and ‘Awara hoon’ ( ‘Awara’, 1951).
Like Rafi, Mukesh was a very fine human being. It’s in Bollywood folklore how he’d religiously go to a hospital in Bombay to sing for a small girl whose body would move only when she’d listen to his songs. Mukesh never charged a penny and wept like a child when the girl died.
He was so magnanimous that when he was unwell and couldn’t come for the recording of the duet ‘Aapse humko bichhde hue, ek zamana beet gaya...’ (‘Vishwas’, 1969), he requested Kalyan ji-Anand ji to give a break to young Manhar Udhas, the elder brother of ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas, and get the duet recorded in his (Manhar’s) voice. Manhar had a voice similar to that of Mukesh. When the song was recorded, Mukesh said, ‘Manhar ki aawaaz mein ye gaana kaanon ko zyada suhata hai. Aap isse hi rakhiye’ (The song sounds better in Manhar’s voice; please retain it).
“By this gesture, Mukesh generously deleted himself from this song,” to quote film and music critic Iqbal Masood (Star & Style, 1979). Mukesh amply proved a famous Urdu adage that ‘Ek fankaar ke liye achchha insaan hona shart-e-awwal hai’ (To be a good human is the sine qua non for a creative person). He never held back when it came to praising his coevals like Rafi, Kishore and Talat, among others.
A completely apolitical person, Mukesh never indulged in any politics. He always preferred quality over quantity. That’s the reason he didn’t sing too many songs. A total of 1,300 songs were sung by him. Connoisseurs of film music will concede that Mukesh hardly sang a substandard number. ‘Sangeet mere liye aradhana se kum nahin hai’ (Music is no less than worship for me), he once said to a scribe. Ergo, his songs are still verdant in the collective memory of the cognoscenti and aficionados. Some of his iconic songs — ‘Kahin door jab din dhal jaye’ (‘Anand’, 1971), ‘Deewanon se ye mat poochho’ (‘Upkar’, 1967), ‘Sab kuchh seekha humne’ (‘Anari’, 1959), ‘Jo tum ko ho pasand’ (‘Safar’, 1970), ‘Ek hasrat thi ki aanchal ka mujhe pyaar mile’ (‘Zindagi aur Toofaan’, 1975) — compel you to ponder over the nugatory nature of life. The last one is considered to be his shahkaar (masterpiece).
One aspect of Mukesh’s musical persona that has not got its due is his soulful rendition of romantic songs as most listeners associate his voice with sad songs. ‘Raat nikhri hui, zulf bikhri hui’ (‘Hum Hindustani’, 1960), ‘Chaand aahein bharega, phool dil thaam lenge’ (‘Phool Bane Angare’, 1963) and ‘Kuchh sher sunata hoon main’ (‘Ek Dil Sau Afsane’, 1963) were uber-romantic songs that amply show Mukesh’s mastery over all kind of singing and songs.
The legendary singer died of a heart attack aged 53 before a concert in Detroit, US, on August 27, 1976. His last song, ‘Ik din bik jayega maati ki mol, jag mein rah jayenge pyare tere bol’ (‘Dharam Karam’, 1975), was chillingly prophetic. Though he left 47 years ago, his ‘bol’ are still with crores of his fans and will forever be with them.
An instance of his huge popularity needs a mention. Mukesh was a favourite of renowned spin bowler BS Chandrasekhar. When the sound of a Mukesh song drifted to the pitch, Chandrasekhar’s acknowledgement of the song would bring a roar from the crowd. Sunil Gavaskar wrote that sometimes he (Gavaskar) deliberately hummed a Mukesh song on the field just to inspire Chandra. Chandra’s passion was rubbed off on Kirmani and Gundappa Viswanath, and even journalists. Listening to Mukesh’s numbers was the late cricket scribe Rajan Bala’s way to relax.
PB Shelley’s immortal line, ‘Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory,’ applies to Mukesh in toto.
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