Bhupinder Singh, Mitali and Gulzar team up after three decades for a ghazal album.
Sometimes, everything jells, perfectly. As it did in the song Dil dhoondta hai from the film “Mausam”. A beautiful poem by Gulzar was given a haunting tune by Madan Mohan and it was sung by Bhupinder Singh in a way only he could; the pain in his voice is contagious. The song continues to charm us, 37 years after it was recorded.
“Yes, in every concert of mine, I still get requests to sing it,” says Bhupinder on a pleasant summer afternoon in Kozhikode, where he would be performing later in the night, along with his wife Mitali. “Of course, I would be singing Dil dhoondta hai tonight.” And when he does, by the sea, under a starless sky, time stands still. The huge, appreciative audience is captivated. A little later in the show he is joined by Mitali for the happier version of the song.
“It is because of Mitali that I began doing shows; earlier in my career, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of singing on stage,” he says.
The singing duo recently finished recording their latest album of ghazals, Aksar. “It will be released soon,” says Bhupinder. “The lyrics are written by Gulzar, with whom we had earlier worked with ‘Woh Jo Shahir Tha'. “The songs in this album are composed by both of us.”
It was Gulzar — he was also the director — who insisted that he sang Dil dhoondta hai. “Madan Mohan too was fond of me; he was the one who asked me to come to Mumbai from my home in Delhi after he heard me sing in a private function,” he reminisces. “I was in South Africa when ‘Mausam' was released and only when a group of youngsters came up to me, chanting Dil dhoondta hai did I realise that the song had become such a rage.”
He recalls Madan Mohan had composed eight tunes for the song. “One of those tunes was used for the song Tere liye in the film ‘Veer Zara' (2004),” he says and sings Dil dhoondta hai in the tune of Tere liye and you notice it still sounds nice, but not as nice as the original.
“I wish I had sung Tere liye,” says Bhupinder. “That is my only regret as far as singing in Bollywood is concerned. Otherwise I am happy with what I have got from Hindi cinema.”
He may not have been the most prolific of playback singers, but he has sung some of Hindi cinema's most melodious, unforgettable numbers like Ek akela is shaher mein (“Gharonda”), Karoge yaad to (“Bazaar”), Naam gum jayega (“Kinara”), Kabhi kisi ko mukammal (“Ahista Ahista”), Beeti na bitai raina (“Parichay”) and Kisi nazar ko tera (“Aitbaar”).
And it was no mean feat to make one's voice heard in the times of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Talat Mahmood. “Yes, it would not have been easy for any new singer to get noticed when those stalwarts were around and my case was hardly different, despite my debut song Hoke majboor (with Rafi) for the film ‘Haqeeqat' (1965) becoming a hit,” he says. “And I thought of leaving Mumbai and going back home.”
But destiny had melodious ideas in store for Bhupinder. To stay on in Mumbai, he learnt to play the guitar. He played the guitar for some Bollywood hits such as Dum maro dum (“Hare Rama Hare Krishna”), Chura Liya (“Yaadon Ki Baraat”) and Mehbooba (“Sholay”).
“Some of my best work as a guitarist was for R.D. Burman, who was also a very good friend,” he says. “I sang and played the guitar for one of his ‘Kinara' songs Ek hi khwab. I have also worked with many other composers like Madan Mohan; my work in ‘Hanste Zakhm' was well appreciated.”
He has high regard for Madan Mohan. “He was in a class of his own and I was very close to him,” says Bhupinder. “I remember once travelling with him to Ladakh; on the way, in Kashmir we heard the song Aap ki nazaron ne samjha (‘Anpadh'). He was excited and told me, ‘Look they are playing my song! We had great songs those days because we had composers like Jaidev, Khayyam and R.D. Burman. Madan Mohan and Khayyam used to admire each other's work.”
Among today's composers he rates Rahman highly. “He did superb work in ‘Roja' and ‘Taal',” he says. “As for singers, I like to listen to Hariharan; he has a distinct style of his own.”
Just as Bhupinder himself has. “I think it is his style that separates him from other singers,” says Mitali. “You may find clones of other top singers, but not Bhupinder.”
And he has few equals when it comes to getting the expression of a song right. It is as if he gives his soul to every song he sings. Maybe why we press for the repeat button when we listen to Dil dhoondta hai or Karoge yaad to.