Voice that rankles



As the Sangeet Natak Akademi celebrates Bhupinder Singh’s contribution to music, ANUJ KUMAR speaks to the legendary singer and guitarist

In times when most playback singers sound satisfied, the contemplative and funereal voice of Bhupinder Singh’s continues to make a statement. This generation is almost bereft of songs that capture the weariness of soul, the incompleteness of life — voices that convey the pain within. Singh’s voice falls like the proverbial axe on the frozen ice. Do we have an equivalent of “Dil Dhoondta Hai Phir Wahi Fursat Ke Raat Din”? Perhaps, this generation doesn’t aspire to have that fursat, and that’s why such situations and songs do not figure in films any more, says Singh, who has been conferred the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award recently in sugam sangeet (light music) category.

Calling it his biggest award, Singh says, “At last the SNA has taken light music seriously and our efforts have been recognised. Experts should realise how we put everything in 4-5 minutes. Most of the film song compositions that I have sung are classical raga based and have poetry of high quality. How can somebody say ‘Kabhi Kisi Ko Muqammal Jahan Nahin Milta’ is light?” he wonders. Or the guitar pieces he played for Ustad Vilayat Khan in Kadambari. Or for that matter the beguiling “Rasiya Man Behkaye” that he rendered for M.B. Srinivasan for Manju.

Singh, who grew up in Delhi’s West Patel Nagar, was introduced to music by his father who was a musician. Interested in playing different instruments from a young age, there was never a doubt that he would take music as a career. After learning guitar, he started working as a casual artiste with All India Radio under the guidance of Satish Bhatia. “He found my voice had a different tonal base and started giving me opportunities to sing.” It was Bhatia who introduced him to Madan Mohan when the composer was on a visit to the city. “I sang Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ‘Lagta Nahin Hai Dil Mera Ujade Dayar Main’ for him. Impressed, he called me to Mumbai. I thought it is like the promises that film people make.” But Madan Mohan did call him and offered “Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bhulaya Hoga” in Haqeeqat. While practising, he realised that it is not a complete song but could not muster courage to ask the composer. “Later, when he introduced me to Rafi sahib, Manna da and Talat sahib that I realised that he didn’t want me feel the pressure of singing my first song with such stalwarts.”

I have no regrets because each of my song has withstood the test of time

Soon the news of his skills with Hawaiian guitar also spread and he became part of the R.D. Burman team. Reflecting on his immensely popular “Dum Maro Dum” riff, Singh says, Dev (Anand) sahib narrated the situation in his inimitable style. “He said imagine smoke and clouds of heroin. Moved by his descriptions, I started playing a tune on my electric guitar, and R.D. said, this is it.”

He followed it with equally impactful “Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho” (Hanste Zakhm) for his mentor Madan Mohan and “Chura Liya Hai Tumne” (Yaadon Ki Baarat) for R.D. again. It was the time when Hindi was going through a churn where his youthful guitar was more in demand than his sombre voice. So even as he was getting to sing classics like “Beeti Na Bitai Raina”, he was noticed more as a guitarist. He used the time to good effect by cutting private albums where he introduced guitar to ghazals.

He emerged at a time when having different voice texture was not a fad in playback singing and perhaps that’s why it took him to find acceptance as the voice of the hero. “I could survive because my voice texture was different from the reigning trinity of the time: Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh. Had I copied them like many did, I would also not have survived.” Singh stresses that he didn’t feel rivalry. “Both Rafi sahib and Kishore Kumar encouraged me to do well.”

And when Madan Mohan called him again to sing for Sanjeev Kumar in Mausam, Singh was again ready to deliver the same song Dil Dhoondta Hai in two flavours and two speeds. “A perfectionist that Madanji was he composed the sad and happy versions in two different taals.”

This was the time when every man was giving the angry young man a good fight at the box office and Singh could convey the pain of the common man struggling to find a niche in the big city well. "Feeling the emotions and understanding the context of the song is crucial. The computerisation of music has taken away some of its lilt and depth. Most of my songs live on because they generate the same emotions as they did in the late 70s. Being a migrant myself, I could identify with the emotional dilemma of ‘Ek Akela Is Shehar Main’ or ‘Kabhi Kisi Ko Muqammal Jahan Nahin Milata’. One must also give credit to Gulzar and Nida Fazli for capturing the thought so well.”

Outside the sublime world of Khayyam and Jaidev, Singh also struck a chord with Bhappi Lahiri when he sang the irresistible ghazal, “Kisi Nazar Ko Tera Intezar Aaj Bhi Hai” (Aetbaar) for him.

“Contrary to the popular compositions, Bappi Lahiri composed many classical songs and ghazals but at the same time he loved to go with his disco image and I don’t see anything wrong in it.”

Similarly, on him not getting many happy songs, Singh says lot of things depends on the stars, image and marketing as well. “I have no regrets because each of my song has withstood the test of time.”

In the 80s, he once again focussed on private albums and with his wife Mitali emerged as a force in ghazal singing.

“She helped me in adapting to the requirements of stage shows,” he relates.

At 76, Singh is still busy with stage shows but he says, “I still get dreams of recording with a live orchestra.”

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 4:03:53 PM |

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