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Updated: January 3, 2013 21:01 IST

That forgotten maverick’s voice…

K. Pradeep
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A pencil sketch of singer H. Mehaboob
A pencil sketch of singer H. Mehaboob

As a long overdue tribute to an unsung singer Mehaboob, young filmmakers and music directors are reviving some of his signature numbers in their forthcoming films

Hugely unsung during his time, singer H. Mehaboob and his songs seem to be on a definite revival mode. Young film directors and music composers who have grown up listening to Mehaboob’s songs find them modern, trendy, and in tune with their ‘new-gen’ movies. Some of Mehaboob’s popular film and non-film songs have found their way into films now awaiting release.

Is it fascination for this singer who never got due recognition, nostalgia, or an attempt to carry the Mehaboob legacy to the next generation, or just shrewd business sense?

For those who knew Mehaboob, listened to him sing, there can be no replacement. He was their bhai, a natural singer, who sang effortlessly, without affectation sans tricks or exaggeration. So every ‘remixed’ or new version of bhai’s songs are scrutinised and debated upon.

“I listened to the two new versions of Mehaboob’s songs in the film Annayum Rasoolum. One of them, ‘Kandu randu kannu…’(Mehaboob’s popular hit from the 1973 film, Chuzhi ) was okay, though it lacks the power and spirit of the original, but the second one, Mehaboob’s very popular Kayal song, was a real disappointment. It lacked the angst, the life, with which Mehaboob rendered some of the lines,” felt Haneef, (name changed) a die-hard Mehaboob fan from Mattancherry.

There have been earlier occasions when Mehaboob’s songs were used in films. Like in the 1999 Mohanlal-starrer Usthaad, a part of the song ‘Theerchaayilla janam…,’ written by Kannan Pareekutty and sung in 1956, was rendered by Mohanlal.

Not a fairy tale

Mehaboob’s life and career read like a story. A story to which people who knew him kept adding new facets. Some facts remain constant, like his childhood spent in poverty, polishing shoes in the military camp, in Fort Kochi (Pattalam), close to his home where his mother did cleaning jobs. At the camp Mehaboob picked up different languages and songs from soldiers drawn from various parts of the country, some Britishers too.

Bhai could sing in so many languages and different styles. I believe for the inauguration of a factory, I think it was the Travancore Cochin Chemicals (TCC), bhai sang an English song when he spotted a few foreigners in the audience. He sang, ‘One day when we were young, that wonderful morning in May…’ amazingly well. Imitating his style is never easy. And his ‘Kayalinarike kodikal parathi…’is one of those songs that he used to sing with so much of emotion. It has a typical Kochi flavour. He always sought the soul in a song,” says ghazal singer Umbayi (P. A. Ibrahim), who played the tabla for numerous Mehaboob concerts.

Rajeev Ravi, director of Annayum Rasoolum, a professed Mehaboob fan, reasons his use of the two songs in his forthcoming film. “Yes, I agree that Shabaz Aman who has sung the two songs is very different from Mehaboob in its style and mood. But then that’s how I’ve tried using it in the film. One must view the scenes; listen to the songs, as they are used in the film. The uploaded ones on YouTube or those you see on television will not give you the whole picture.” The director also revealed that another intention of using Mehaboob was to popularise his brand of singing among a generation who may not have heard him at all. For the audio release of his film, held in Fort Kochi that forms the backdrop of his film, Rajeev Ravi organised a ‘mehfil’ of Mehaboob songs.

The music for the new version is by Krishnakumar, better known by his stage name K. Yudham Sei

Music director. Gopisundar will also be using a Mehaboob song in the film ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). Mattancherry singer Junior Mehaboob, who has sung in films like Chanchala and Dwandayudham, has recreated the magic of bhai’s ‘Nayapaisayilla…’ from the film Neelisaali (1960) for ABCD. “I have always been a Mehaboob fan. This song is a tribute to this singer. I think some of the trends we hear today, like hip-hop, were there in Mehaboob’s songs. If he were alive today I would have used him in every project of mine. I have not done a heavy remix, just tried to do justice to the original,” he says.

While most of Mehaboob’s film songs are available his non-film ones, especially his extempore renderings, were never recorded. Most of these songs were written by either Mepally Balan or Nelson Fernandez. “Bhai created the tunes for most of these songs and sang them in different styles. When I decided to bring out an album in memory of bhai I chose only those songs that I thought I could recreate, in some little way. In films, sadly, he was branded as a singer of comic songs. The real Mehaboob is in the songs he composed and his ‘live’ programmes,” remembers Umbayi.

Mehaboob was a rage at the time. It is said that people demanded that he sing even at a Mohammed Rafi concert in Kochi. bhaiMehaboob, who died in 1981, was soon forgotten by the music world. But for the people who knew him, heard him, he remains alive.

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