Pankaj Udhas was greater than just ‘Chitthi Aayi…’

March 3, 2024

It is sad how ill-informed our media is! The coverage of the passing away of legendary ghazal singer, Pankaj Udhas, demonstrates this lack of information and research. The credit for Pankaj’s fame is attributed mainly to one film song, ‘Chitthi aayee hai…’ from ‘Naam’. The film was released in 1986 by which time Pankaj had become a hugely popular ghazal singer, second only to the veteran Jagjit Singh. But then, Jagjit Singh had a head start.

By 1986, Pankaj had quite a few silver, gold and platinum discs to his credit. These discs were awarded by the music companies on an album achieving a certain milestone in sales. Ghazals were initially a choice of certain discerning music lovers.

But Pankaj had a varied repertoire and his numbers such as ‘Ghungroo toot gaye’, ‘Sharab cheez hi aisi hai’, ‘Chandi jaisa rang’ and ‘Niklo na benaqab’ carried a definite appeal for the masses. That explained his all-round popularity and those platinum, gold and silver discs he earned.

For the true-blue ghazals and the ones with mass appeal, which Pankaj had included in his repertoire, he needed to cultivate a market. The film music scene was too formidable in those days for a parallel taste in music to grow.

Music India Limited probably sensed the need for music other than those from films. They signed promising singing talents such as Talat Aziz, Anup Jalota, Bhupinder and Mitali, Penaz Masani, Rajendra and Neena Mehta, and Pankaj Udhas.

The music company did something unique to promote its artistes. A two-night sit-down ghazal festival, Khazana, was organized at the Taj Mumbai. And the invitees were the elite of Mumbai.

The Khazana Fest was such a hit that the music company decided to follow it up on a more ambitious scale the following year, taking it to more metros. Starting in Mumbai, the Khazana went to Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

As I write this and think back, the applause of the audience still rings in my ears. In fact, in Kolkata, the audience consisting of men and women and families, demanded that Khazana continue till dawn by the time it would be safe to be on the road.

A new breed of ghazal singers had arrived. The best part was that, for the tour was announced well in advance, the singers were welcomed with front-page pictures and coverage in newspapers and magazines before they arrived.

All these singers created their own following but Pankaj went on to become the star, thanks to his sober nature, pleasant attitude, and the choice of numbers and velvety voice with which he rendered his numbers.

Soon, he was performing in programmes all over India and abroad.

Pankaj and his two brothers, Manhar and Nirmal, made for a unique singer-brother trio. The Udhas brothers come from the Charan community of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat; music and poetry was in their blood.

The community was honoured in the courts of the rulers in the region as they were known to conjure up songs of valour in times of war or victory or praise of a brave heart in an instant. Not surprising that all three brothers, Manhar, Nirmal and Pankaj were gifted singers and musicians.

As what usually happens after the death of such a celebrity, I am sure most of Pankaj’s fans are now surfing the Net and YouTube and playing his numbers. That is the best tribute we can pay to him.

–By Vinod Mirani

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