A tribute on Mahendra Kapoor’s 82nd birth anniversary (9 January 1934 – 27 December 2008)
I have made a number of discoveries during my association with SoY. I mentioned some in my last anniversary post. But the most startling discovery I have not yet mentioned – we are now aware of at least two persons on this planet who are deeply fond of Mahendra Kapoor. So this post is also dedicated to the readers KS Bhatiaji and Arvinder Sharmaji who have declared their great liking for MK, so much so that they would have preferred some well-known songs of Rafi in MK’s voice. Bhatiaji takes the cake for remembering Mahendra Kapoor on the recent birth anniversary of Rafi. Now we find that Hans, too, has very courageously declared his fondness for him, though he wound not go as far as to put him at par with Rafi.
Before the aforesaid discovery, I believed, along with Subodh and other readers, that it was difficult to find a person who was passionately fond of Mahendra Kapoor. Implied in it was what may be self-evident: that every other singer – whether he sang a few songs or thousands, whether he had a limited range or was very versatile, whether he was perfectly in tune or, occasionally, said to go off-key – had a band of passionate fans. For every Anuradha Warrier, there were a hundred AKs for Mukesh; for every AK, there were a hundred Subodhs and Arvinds for Geeta Dutt, and a hundred Ravindra Kelkars for Asha Bhosle. Mahendra Kapoor had no such luck. He remained in a no-man’s land.
Which is surprising because no one has ever said there was anything lacking in his music. Born in Amritsar on 9 January 1934, he was brought up in Bombay, where his father was a cloth merchant. He studied at St Xaviers College, where he became well known for his love for music. In childhood, he was trained in music by the character-actor BM Vyas and Ustad Meharji. Later, he got training in classical music from Pt Husnlal (the well-known music director of H-B duo), Ustad Niaz Ahmed Khan, Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan and Pt.Tulsi Das Sharma. Rafi was his idol.
He got a break in Madmast (1953) in the duet Kisi ke zulm ki tasweer hai majdoor ki basti; he was also one of the voices in a qawwali Unhe dekh le to in the same film, composed by V Balsara. This was followed by singing assignments in Madhur Milan (1955), Lalkaar and Diwali Ki Raat (1956). These assignments did not bring him any notice. Around this time, he was adjudged the best singer in Metro-Murphy All India Singing Competition, the judges being the topmost music directors: Anil Biswas, Naushad, C Ramchandra, Vasant Desai and Madan Mohan. His career got a boost when Naushad used him in Sohni Mahiwal (Chand chhupa aur taarey doobe raat gazab ki ayi). C Ramchandra used him in a grand manner in Navrang.
It is said that one needs to be a part of a big banner to be successful. With BR Chopra having some issues with Rafi, Mahendra Kapoor became a fixture with his productions. That got him the support of a major composer, Ravi. He became the voice of Bharat when Manoj Kumar emerged as a top name. His Mere desh ki dharti got standing ovation in the cinema halls and earned him a National Award for the best male playback singer. He moved up to become the voice of Mahabharat (BR Chopra’s TV serial, 1988), when his clarion call brought the country to a halt every Sunday morning for 52 weeks. He won the Filmfare Award thrice and was honoured with Padma Shri by the Government of India, besides some other awards. He also won the National Award for his song Mere desh ki dharti.
Quite an impressive list of achievements for a singer. Therefore, it is one of the inexplicable ironies if he remained an ‘unloved’ singer. Yet, there are some songs of Mahendra Kapoor of such incredible beauty that he is among the singers who figure in my earliest posts. Chalo ek baar phir se is a song beyond compare, which I have celebrated with an exclusive post on it. I have also done a post on the best of OP Nayyar-Mahendra Kapoor.
It is often said that he was a poor man’s Rafi. I wouldn’t trade his best songs with Rafi or any other singer. I present my tribute to this most ‘unloved’ singer with his best songs on his 82nd birth anniversary (b. 9 January 1934; d. 27 September 2008).
1. Aapke paas jo aayega wo pighal jayega from Kaajal (1965), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi, music Ravi
Arvinder Sharma and KS Bhatia’s discussion on the sidelines mentioned this song, and that it was overshadowed by Rafi’s songs in the film. When I heard this song carefully I was completely floored. I have to admit most of us have been unfair to him. The song starts with a rectial Aap ke bheege huye jism se aanch aati hai, and the ghazal remains in slow tempo. Mahendra Kapoor hits high notes effortlessly. Such songs were Rafi speciality, but MK does a superb job and I can’t think of this song in any other voice. A drenched Padmini, Dharmendra singing in a most sensuous manner, Sahir’s poetry and Ravi’s great music – all combine to make it a masterpiece.
2. Aaj ki raat nahi shikwa shikayat ke liye from Dharmaputra (1961), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi, music N Datta
Following his idol Rafi’s mastery over the slow-tempo ghazals, Mahendra Kapoor gives another superb performance in this romantic song picturised on Rahman and Mala Sinha on the bridal night. The song though reminds you of a Roshan-Rafi song. Shashi Kapoor is somewhat awkward singing to Indrani Mukherjee, but the superb ghazal makes up for any clumsiness on the part of the actors.
3. Bhool sakta hai bhala wo kaun from Dharmaputra
This song from the same film has been my eternal favourite. Another slow tempo ghazal, but now it is entirely Mahendra Kapoor’s, and I don’t think anyone would like to swap him for Rafi.
4. Tum agar saath dene ka wada karo from Hamraaz (1967), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi, music Ravi
All the five songs in the film had Mahendra Kapoor’s voice, and all the songs were superhits. He won his second Filmfare Award for Neele gagan ke taley in this film (the first being for Chalo ek baar phir se, Gumraah; 1963). But my favourite is Tum agar saath dene ka wada karo, which Sunil Dutt is singing to a stone-faced Vimmi who is tormented by her past. The song starts with a beautiful instrumental prelude.
5. Ari O shokh kaliyo muskura dena wo jab aayein from Jab Yaad Kisi Ki Aati Hai (1967), Raja Mehadi Ali Khan, music Madan Mohan
The romantic lover Dharmendra and eye-candy Mala Sinha in beautiful mountains is a perfect setting for a great romantic song. Now we have the combination of Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and Madan Mohan who have given some of the everlasting songs for Lata Mangeshkar. Madan Mohan has given some superb songs for Rafi, too. He gives an equally likeable song for Mahnedra Kapoor, who by no stretch can be called a poor man’s Rafi.
6. Ye hawa ye fizan, hai udaas jaise mera dil, aa bhi ja from Gumrah (1963), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi, music Ravi
Gumrah was an important landmark in Mahendra Kapoor’s career, earning him his first Filmfare Award for Chalo ek baar phir se. That song has an iconic place in Hindi film songs, and is my great favourite. I have written an exclusive post on this song. But there were two more beautiful solos in his voice – Ye hawa ye fizan and Aap aye to khayaal-e-dil-e-naadan aya – besides an equally outstanding duet with Asha Bhosle, In hawaaon mein in fizaaon mein. Ye hawa ye fizan is more charming as I find its composition very unconventional.
7. Husn aur ishq ke takraae ki raat ayi hai from Sagaai (1966), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Ravi
Ravi seemed to have specialised in Mahendra Kapoor. We have often compared SD Burman’s songs for Rafi and Kishore Kumar. An equally interesting comparison would be Ravi’s songs for Rafi and Mahendra Kapoor. The songs I have featured here put Mahendra Kapoor shoulder to shoulder with his idol Rafi. This one is another outstanding offering from the combo.
8. Badal jaye agar mali from Bahaarein Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966), lyrics Kaifi Azmi, music OP Nayyar
Guru Dutt Films’ Bahaarein Phir Bhi Ayengi was completed posthumously. It is difficult to know how he would have visualized it. This film had a typical Rafi solo Aapke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai. Mahendra Kapoor sings the title song in his own distinct style. A nice train song with philosophical undertones, but OPN being OPN if you just listen to the song your first impression would be that it is another ghodagadi song.
9. Duniya bananewale ne jab chaand banaya from Tasveer (1966), lyrics DN Madhok, music C Ramchandra
Mahendra Kpooor had some very famous songs with C Ramchandra. Navrang (1959) was an important Shantaram film which had his outstanding duet with Asha Bhosle, Adha hai chandrama raat aadhi, and an equally well-known solo, Shyamal shyamal baran. Zindagi Aur Maut (1965) had an outstanding twin song in his voice as well as that of Asha Bholse, Dil lagakar hum ye samjhe, which has come in for discussion a number of times on SoY. I am choosing a somewhat unknown recital song composed by C Ramchandra. Recital songs are most difficult to sing, with Rafi setting the Gold Standrad in Pyasa (1957). Probably Mahendra Kapoor took it as a challenge, and has sung many such songs, some of which we have already seen are of incredible beauty. Here is another nice song, set as a recital by Sajjan in a party.
10. Beete huye lamhon ki kasak yaad to hogi from Nikaah (1982), lyrics Hasan Kamal, music Ravi
This bold Muslim social, dealing with the troublesome issue of triple talaq, was an out and out Salma Agha film who created a sensation not only with her acting but also her singing with ghazals like Fizan bhi hai jawan jawan and Dil ke armaan aasuon mein bah gaye. Mahendra Kapoor gets a chance to sing another college recital song lip-synched by Raj Babbar, watched by the lovely Salma Agha, who would be trapped in a hapless marriage with Deepak Parashar.
11. Mere desh ki dharti sona ugale from Upkar (1967), lyrics Gulshan Bawra, music Kalyanji-Anandji
No discussion on Mahendra Kapoor can be complete without this cult song, which rightly fetched him the National Award for the best singer. Upkar was made in the backdrop of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, which made the diminutive Lal Bahadur Shastri a national hero, enhanced by his mysterious death at Tashkent where he had gone for a Kosygin-mediated agreement. Manoj Kumar lives the Shastri slogan of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan, starting as a kisan in the film, becoming a jawan at the call of the nation, which made him synonymous with Bharat. The high point of the song is the charming instrumental prelude and Kalyanji-Anandji’s, orchestration capturing the natural sounds of chirping of birds at dawn, bells and whistles in the neck of oxen etc.
Note: This interview in Beete Hue Din contains some interesting information about the Metro-Murphy Competition and Mahendra Kapoor’s career.