By Harish C. Menon, Indo-Asian News ServiceMumbai, Aug 27 (IANS) It is 30 years since he passed away, leaving a void in the music world of Bollywood. Yet, Mukesh’s mellifluous voice still casts a spell on listeners, emitting the fragrance of romance for some or drowning others in the depths of melancholy.
Mukesh Chand Mathur alias Zoravar Chand, who sang innumerable songs for legendary Bollywood showman Raj Kapoor, passed away Aug 27, 1976, following a cardiac arrest in Detroit, US, where he had gone for a concert.
Raj Kapoor is said to have remarked that “he had lost his soul” in Mukesh’s passing away – a testimony to the extremely popular combination of Raj-Mukesh-Shankar Jaikishen (music directors) that produced timeless classics for generations of Hindi film music connoisseurs.
Lata Mangeshkar, living legend of Bollywood playback singing and a close friend of Mukesh, cherishes the moments spent with her Mukesh ‘Bhaiyya’ (elder brother) even today.
“‘Jaane Kahan Gaye Woh Din’ (‘Mera Naam Joker’, 1970) remains my favourite song of Mukesh bhaiyya (brother),” Lata told IANS.
“The reason the song is my favourite is because it perfectly expresses my longing for the yesteryears where singing in films was a totally different thing from what it is today,” the 77-year-old Bharat Ratna awardee said.
“I first met him in 1947 and almost immediately struck a chord. He was much senior to me – both in age as well as profession – and yet he insisted on calling me ‘didi’ (elder sister),” Lata reminisced.
“There was no particular reason for this. Everyone one in my family used to call me didi. So he also took it up. But it’s amazing that he never addressed me as ‘Lata’ till the end,” she said.
Mukesh, who along with the versatile Mohammad Rafi and the rebellious Kishore Kumar was considered one among the finest and most popular playback singers of Bollywood, has sung some of the most melodious and evergreen duets with Lata.
The naughty “Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Munh Phere” (“Awara”, 1951), the romantic “Jaane Na Nazar” (“Aah”, 1953), the effervescent “Dil Tadap Tadap” (“Madumati”, 1958), the gloriously patriotic “Aa Ab Laut Laut Chalein” (“Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai”, 1960) are just a few of the examples one could quote.
Born on July 22, 1923, in Delhi, the “man with the golden voice” was first noticed by Motilal – a popular actor of his times and a distant relative of Mukesh – when he sang at his sister’s wedding.
In the beginning Mukesh was considered more an actor than a singer, thanks to his good looks. Soon he was seen in the 1941 flop “Nirdosh”.
He got his first break as a playback singer in “Pehli Nazar” (1945) in which he took people by surprise by almost imitating the legendary singer actor K.L. Saigal – who was in the throes of alcoholism by then – in “Dil Jalta Hai To Jalne De” – incidentally picturised on Motilal himself.
“Mukesh bhaiyya was as enamoured by Saigal-saab as we all were. But although he began his career singing in the Saigal style, he soon developed his own identity,” Lata noted.
“Mukesh bhaiyya was also proud of the fact that he had met Saigal- saab once. I know for a fact that he (Mukesh) even had for himself a harmonium used by Saigal-saab,” she said.
His voice characterised by a slight nasal tone, Mukesh was almost always considered for light and breezy songs, ranging from the happy- go-lucky “Awara Hoon” (“Awara”, 1951), the lovelorn “Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai” (“Yehudi”, 1958) or the tramp-like “Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nissar” (“Anari”, 1959) and “Mera Joota Hai Japani” (“Shri 420”, 1955).
However, when it came to more complex and classically-inclined songs like “Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo” (“Mera Naam Joker”, 1970) or a “Dil Ke Jharokhe Mein” (“Brahmachari”, 1968), Mohammed Rafi and Manna Dey were always the choice.
“The problem is that Mukesh bhaiyya was never tried for complex and classically oriented songs because of stereotyping. It is not that he did not have the capability,” Lata observed.
“Classical music-wise, the best trained was Manna-da, who was trained under his own uncle – the legendary K.C. Dey. Rafi-saab also was trained classically. But very few recognised Mukesh bhaiyya for his classical background,” she said.
“I cannot say with full authority. But I feel he (Mukesh) could have sung complex songs too if given a chance because I know he used to do regular riyaaz (practise) along with his son Nitin, under a teacher,” she noted.
Scores of singers, including son Nitin, tried their luck in the industry by adapting the Mukesh-style of singing but failed to make a mark.
“God blesses only a few with the original talent. The others will remain just that – copies. Mr. (Sudesh) Bhonsle succeed to a certain extent in carving a niche for himself, but that’s about it,” Lata said.
But for the purists and the connoisseurs today – confounded by a bewildering array of remixes of old classics – nothing less than the original refrains of Mukesh would do.
As Lata said, one can only remember Mukesh and recall his “Jane Kahan Gaye Woh Din” (Where have those days gone?).