Wishing her a very happy 77th birth anniversary
A female playback singer in the 1950s and 60s, if she did not bear the name Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle, was in a very unenviable position. She knew she had to remain consigned to the outer orbit. The world of male playback singers was a complete contrast. Here also someone sang a few hundred songs and another person ten times more, but everyone had his passionate following; the respect a singer enjoyed was not exactly correlated to the number of songs he did; and you don’t hear stories of someone doing the rehearsal and discovering that final recording was done in another voice.
In this asymmetric world of female playback singing there were singers who created a special niche for themselves and became immortal with a few songs. I have covered some niche singers such as Kamal Barot, Jagjit Kaur and Mubarak Begum. I have been intending to write on Sudha Malhotra for quite some time to complete the picture. Who can forget Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao to ye haq hai tumko, which was also composed by her. This was a duet with Mukesh, but she also sang some extremely beautiful solos, which you may not recall instantly, but once these are mentioned you are bound to exclaim, “Of course these are my all-time favourites, and how come these have gone into deep recesses of my memory!”
Sudha Malhotra was born on November 30, 1936 in New Delhi. She spent her childhood in Lahore, Bhopal and Firozpur. She has been singing on the radio from the age of five. She was discovered by Ghulam Haider at a programme at Firozpur in the aid of Red Cross. She completed her graduation in music from Agra University. Her family moved to Bombay in 1948 where she was trained in classical music by Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan and Pandit Laxman Prasad Jaipurwale. Her first break in playback singing was in 1949 in the film Last Marriage in which she sang Chal raha swaraj ka jhagda with Vinod and others. Impressed by her singing in a party, Anil Biswas had her sing Mila gaye nain in Arzoo (1950), in which she showed great promise. She sang Vande mataram with Manna Dey and Parul Ghosh in Andolan (1951). But she hit real big time with her songs in Dil-e-Nadan (1953) as we have already seen, and got to sing a number of outstanding songs in Ab Dilli Door Nahi, Babar, Barsaat Ki Raat, Dhool Ka Phool, Dekh Kabira Roya, Girl Friend, Heera Moti, Mirza Ghalib etc. (The above information is based on Anil Bhargav’s ‘Swaron Ki Yatra and Down Melody Lane.)
Beete Hue Din has carried a very interesting interview with her dated 29 May, 2013, in which she reveals a lot of unknown and surprising information. Her move to Bombay after partition was through Delhi and Bhopal. She says that because of family considerations and the controversy surrounding her relationship with Sahir Ludhiyanvi, as publicised in Blitz, her singing career ended with Didi (1959), at the age of 23(!). Many of her songs recorded earlier were used in later films. She claims that all the songs in Urankhatola were recorded by Naushad in her voice, which, she found, had disappeared from the film. I remember Mubarak Begum also had similar story with regard to Naushad. Naushad by mid-50s was firmly Lata-Rafi centric. Therefore, I find it difficult to believe that he would record ‘all’ the songs in any other voice, even if the claim is coming first-hand. I do not want to labour much on this point because it is not my intention to cast doubts on any artiste. While a good deal of stories of conspiracy may be true, some victimhood might be exaggerated.
Coming back to the purpose of my writing on these niche singers, they sang some incredibly beautiful songs which have made them immortal. Besides her solos, which may require some scratching of memory, Sudha Malhotra’s duets not only with male singers, but also female singers, and some qawwalis are now of everlasting fame. She was recalled by Raj Kapoor after a long hibernation for Prem Rog (1982), in which she sang a duet with Anwar, Ye pyar tha ya kuchh aur tha, which is the last song of her career.
It was a matter of happiness that she was awarded Padma Shree early this year. I present some of her songs, including some that are not so well known, as my felicitation on her 77th birth anniversary today.
1. Mila gaye nain from Arzoo (1950), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Anil Biswas
This is her first solo in films. It was a great chance to sing under the baton of Anil Biswas. Her voice is supremely melodious. Picturised on a very likeable Shashikala (she did play lead or second lead in some of her early films).
2. Kase kahun main dil ki baat from Dhool Ka Phool (1959), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanvi, music N Datta
A great classical composition in Raga Kafi, with Poornima on the sitar, and outstanding dance by Naaz. Sudha Malhotra’s singing is perfect, except for a little wavering at the word baat on the lower octave at 3.47-3.50
3. Kaliyon mein Ram mera from Pawanputra Hanuman (1957), lyrics Swadesh Kumar ‘Deepak’, music Chitragupta
A unique song having a lot of interesting trivia. Sudha Malhotra playbacks for Amirbai Karnataki, who was one of the mainstream singers in the Vintage Era. It is composed by Chitragupta, who was once assistant to SN Tripathi, who plays the role of Hanuman in the film.
4. Awaz de raha hai koi from Gauhar (1953), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Ghulam Mohammd
Sudha Malhotra’s voice in later years was generally closer to Asha Bhosle. But in this song she is indistinguishable from Lata Mangeshkar, barring the lower notes again, when you realise Lata is after all Lata. As an interesting aside, erudite listeners must have noticed that Asha Bhosle also in her early career sounded, consciously or otherwise, like her elder sister in many songs.
5. Bhabhi ko gudiya banaungi from Ghar Ghar Ki Baat (1959), lyrics Upendra, music Kalyanji Anandji
I have discovered this song in the internet era. It is a beautiful song picturised on kid sisters-in-law, singing to a bashful Dulhan Bhabhi, with the husband enjoying from the sidelines.
6. Main to chanda ki nagri se ayi re from Bansari Bala (1957), lyrics Saraswati Kumar ‘Deepak’
A perfectly B-grade movie, with lead actors Daljeet and Chitra, an unknown music director Kamal Mitra, picturised on a side actress (is she the one who danced to Le ke pahla pahla pyar?), yet what a melodious song, and such fluid dancing! I came across this song in the internet era, and my first reaction was, how come this song remained hidden?
7. Salaam-e-hasrat qabool kar lo from Babar (1960), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanvi, music Roshan
Of course you know this song well. Exquisite poetry of Sahir Ludhiyanvi, with signature tune in Yaman by Roshan, sung brilliantly by Sudha Malhotra. Do we care if it is picturised on a B-grade actress Shobha Khote?
Many singers on the outer orbit shone in the duets. There can be an interesting sociology behind this phenomenon. Generally the dominant voice in the duets was of the male singer. Once that was locked, the composers were quite willing to take niche female singers, if the leading singer was unavailable or becoming difficult. Let us look at some of Sudha Malhotra’s duets, both with male and female singers, which occupy an iconic place.
8. Kashti ka khamosh safar hai with Kishore Kumar from Girl Friend (1960), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanvi, music Hemant Kumar
There was a new Kishore Kumar after Aradhana. But the one before is my favourite, even though he was reckoned after his other peers. His voice was more melodious and supple. One of the best romantic duets ever, the recital style makes it more moving. Sudha Mlhotra is superb.
9. Tum mujhe bhool bhi jao with Mukesh from Didi (1959), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanvi, music Sudha Mlahotra
This is her most recognizable song. This film also had N Datta as the music director, but this duet is credited to have been composed by her. We know the special tuning between Sahir Ludhiyanvi and Sudha Malhotra, but what was it with Shobha Khote? We see her in another beautiful song.
10. Hum tumhare ho chuke hain humko tumse pyar hai with Talat Mahmood from Rangeela Raja (1960), lyrics Asad Bhoplai, music Shivram
We have seen her triad song with Talat Mahmood and Jagjit Kaur in Dil-e-Nadan (1953) – Mohabbat ki dhun beqaraaron se poochho. From the star cast, Rangeela Raja appears to be a perfectly B-grade movie, the music director is not a familiar name either. Yet this is one of the best duets of Talat Mahmood. Sudha Malhotra is as good as any other singer.
11. Aankho pe bharosa mat kar with Rafi from Detective (1958), lyrics Shailendra, music Mukul Roy
This song could be straight from a Guru Dutt film, the music is an unabashed imitation of OP Nayyar style, and it looks and sounds like a Rafi-Geeta Dutt duet. Suspend your disbelief of Daisy Irani lip synching Sudha Malhotra with Pradeep Kumar on the screen; the song is outstanding.
12. Ye ghar aapka hai chale aaiyeji with GM Durrani from Sunahare Qadam (1966), music Bulo C Rani
GM Durrani, one of the most prominent singers of the 1940s, was Rafi’s idol, whose rise meant the eclipse of the former. His singing became very sporadic. By this time he was almost moth-balled, but he sounds very fresh and likeable, and interestingly, very much like Kishore Kumar. Sudha Malhotra’s part in the duet is very prominent. A song which deserves to be brought very high up.
13. Kauni rang mungwa kawani rang motiya with Suman Kalyanpur from Heera Moti (1959), lyrics Prem Dhawan, music Roshan
This folk duet was one of my earliest obsessions in the radio era, which made me a great fan of Roshan. Nirupa Roy and Shobha Khote (again!) are not the typical Bollywood village belles, they are real women, on the grinding wheel or feeding the cattle, and singing this song while going about their chores, as the village women so typically do with their various daily routines to relieve the tedium. No one used flute better than Roshan. More than Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao, this was the song by which I recognised Sudha Malhotra (and Suman Kalyanpur) from a very young age.
14. Bansuriya kahe bajai bin sune raha na jaye with Lata Mangeshkar from Aagosh (1953), lyrics Shailendra, music Roshan
Sudha Malhotra matches Lata Mangeshkar note for note, and Roshan’s super sweet melody with flute in interludes creates a stunning song.
15. Hum tumhare hain zara ghar se nikal kar dekho with Asha Bhosle from Chalti Ka Naam Gadi (1958), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music SD Burman
From the flute-folk honey of Roshan let us move to the sarangi-tabla-mujra seduction by SD Burman – he had shown his mastery of the genre in Devdas and Kala Pani. The bonus is, it is a double mujra by two legends – Cuckoo from the old guard and Helen, the new star, in one of their rare dances together. The singing by Asha Bhosle and Sudha Malhotra makes it a truly classic song.
16. Na main dhan chaahun with Geeta Dutt from Kala Bazar (1960), lyrics Shailendra, music SD Burman
Romantic solo, duet, folk, ghazal, mujra – let us now move to this soulful bhajan, with another great singer of the Golden Era, Geeta Dutt. What a great sample we have of Sudha Malhotra from solos to duets with all the great male and female singers, composed by the greatest music directors!