At an age when playback singers and musicians drop out of public consciousness at the drop of a scale, it appears quite strange when the social media and FM stations begin to trend yesteryear singers like Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi or a musician like RD Burman on their birth anniversaries.
“Time is kind to a genius,” remarked Javed Akhtar once. So, we still freak out on the evergreen compositions of R D Burman, S D Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan and Shankar-Jaikishen whenever they are played on radio or television. Young listeners may not recollect a singer called KK anymore and the current sensation Arijit Singh may fade away few years down the line, just as Abhijeet and Kumar Sanu have been obliterated from our radar, but the youth – born since liberalisation was unleashed in the early 90s – pick up their ears at the golden and youthful voice of Kishore Kumar or the romantic lament of a Mukesh song every time they play on radio or YouTube.
To be fair, it is not that the singers and musicians who came up since the 90s were not talented. Since Nadeem-Shravan brought back melody in Aashiqui in 1990, there have been others like Jatin-Lalit, Anand-Milind, Anu Malik and Anand Raj Anand, amongst others, who carried on the trend and delivered Hindi film music from the rut that the likes of Disco King Bappi Lahiri had subjected it to in the 80s.
It is best left to social scientists to analyse why time is selective in its remembrance and appreciation of musical talents; maybe it is the media explosion and the sheer volume of films being made for the last 20 years that is responsible
for this partial amnesia. But the fact remains that even during the golden and laidback years of radio there were talents who had carved a name for themselves within the dominant groups that ruled the roost in Hindi film music, but time has not been kind to them.
Who remembers a singer called Suman Kalyanpur today? She held her own against the monopoly of Lata Mangeshkar and sang for most of the leading music directors in the 50s and the 60s. Today she has to be dug out from Wikipedia, just like Sharda, another singer who made her mark in the 60s and 70s and got the Filmfare Award for the best female playback singer in 1970 for the cabaret number Baat Zara Hai Aapas Ki from the film Jahan Pyar Miley, thought her most popular song was Titli Udi from Suraj in 1966.
Of course, one reason for their sporadic output is the alleged jealousy and manipulation of the leading songstress of the times who could never brook any fair competition or peaceful professional co-existence.
Aarti Mukherjee, along with Jaspal Singh made her mark in the superhit Geet Gata Chal (1975) and went on to win the Filmfare Award for the best female playback singer in 1983 for the song Do Naina Aur Ek Kahani from Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom put to tune by R D Burman, but her output was severely restricted. Anup Ghoshal who, despite his hugely popular rendition of Tujhse Naraz Nahin Zindagi from the same film was never heard again. Both Mukherjee and Ghoshal though, were highly popular playback singers in the Bengali film industry.
Preeti Sagar crooned My Heart is Beating for Julie (1975) – the first ‘English’ song in a Hindi film and shot to instant fame; she even got the Filmfare Award for it. Shyam Benegal made her sing a folksy number in Manthan (1978), but that was the last one ever heard her. Similarly, Narendra Chanchal’s rendition of the high-pitched Beshak Mandir Masjid for Raj Kapoor’s Bobby (1972) didn’t help his career despite its immense popularity.
For a generation that grew up in the 80s, perhaps the biggest short-lived sensation was Nazia Hassan who shook the Indian music scene with her Aap Jaisa Koi from Feroz Khan’s Qurbani (1980) and heralded in the culture of non-film pop music albums with brother Zohaib Hassan and mentor Biddu. The first Pakistani and the youngest singer to win the Filmfare Award at 16, she succumbed to cancer at the age of 35 in 2000.
(The author is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)