Maestros come alive through him

Hitesh Mehta  

MOHAMMED RAFI'S exuberant songs for Shammi Kapoor come as naturally to this young singer as do the pathos-tinged numbers of Mukesh for Raj Kapoor or the resonant voice of Kishore Kumar singing for Dev Anand. For Hitesh Mehta, modulating his voice to resemble that of these famous singers on stage comes effortlessly. "I look at the lyrics, memories come back and my voice just naturally adjusts to the original," he says. Hitesh has given hundreds of public performances at private gatherings and public events. "I sing free if it is for the defence personnel or for festivals of any religious faith," he adds. Like the programme at the Town Hall for the veterans of the Kargil conflict: Ek Sham Desh Bhakton Ko.

"Recently, an association of Sikhs in Chennai invited me over for a charity programme... to raise funds for the surgery of a seven-year old child, and I obliged," he says matter-of-factly. Singing Punjabi songs or Urdu qawwalis is not a difficult task for him.

In fact, he is at home in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, and Rajasthani.

Hindi film songs of Bollywood's "golden era" form the bulk of Hitesh's wide repertoire. Asked about the songs frequently asked for, he has to do some deep thinking. They are many. "Oh Duniya Ke Rakshwale" from Rafi is a perennial favourite as is "Jeena Yahan, Marna Yahan" from Mukesh. There are too many songs of Kishore Kumar for some to be singled out, he says. It is the same case often with Rafi.

Singing comes naturally to Hitesh and, as a student of Seshadripuram College, he was regularly winning prizes in inter-collegiate events. Becoming a professional was almost the next step. Singers need some training and, for him, it was Master James in light music. "I had the good fortune of learning classical music under Pandit Seshadri Gawai who passed away recently," he says sadly.

Along with old film hits, Hitesh also sings ghazals when the occasion demands it. Songs made popular by Pankaj Udhas and Ghulam Ali are what most audiences request.

This musician has a mission now: to make veterans of the Hindi film music known to the younger generation. Bring some of the surviving old guard, whether music directors or lyricists or singers, to Bangalore and arrange musical programmes around their work. Lyrics are what give music its soul and those who wrote the words for memorable songs need to be remembered, he feels.

"I plan to conduct one such programme every three months to start with and see how music lovers respond," he adds cautiously. Hitesh has performed practically all over the world and has fond memories of elders coming to bless him and children asking for songs.

By Satyamurty K.

Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.