Traveling towards Raichur from Bellary in Karnataka, we had a tea break at this place. The tea stall owner, a Telugu settled in Karnataka (this region was part of erstwhile Hyderabad Karnataka), was playing songs of Mukesh on his ramshackle of a tape recorder. On further enquiry, he informed that his tea stall is thronged by the nearby residents and the labourers who work in different projects and they love to hear songs of Mukesh as they identify with the kind of songs that he sung or was fortunate to sing which endeared him and continues to endear him to the proletariat of the country.
Recently, his 100th birth anniversary (22nd July) was celebrated and on this occasion even Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered the contribution of Mukesh in Hindi cinema and underlined that “his golden voice and soul stirring renditions would continue to enchant generations”… and the experience at the tea stall was a visual and an audio testimony to the vocal prowess of Mukesh.
Whenever one writes about Mukesh (Mukesh Chand Mathur) one tries to analyze or present his renditions in context of the era in which he ruled along with Mohd. Rafi, were Mukesh was predominantly the voice of Raj Kapoor- and was single handedly the contributory component of creating a proletariat image of Raj Kapoor. However the real justice to his talent becomes manifest when he has lend his voice to other stars. These songs that he sung for stars other than Raj Kapoor gained an element of immortality and among the most popular songs that underlines this premise was ‘Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen’ – MADHUMATI (1958).
His was the voice that used to stand out in a film and I can vividly recall the example of the song from MUKTI (1977), which in the era of radio when only All India Radio was broadcaster used to play out quite frequently around the time of release of MUKTI and for only song I had dragged my father to watch the movie. MUKTI otherwise was a big flop. Interesting aspect of the song is that it was Pancham who had held baton for Mukesh and it was a rarity. As a matter of fact though Mukesh and R D Burman were a rare combination, but they stuck gold most of the times, starting with ‘Jis gali mein tera ghar na ho balma’ from KATI PATANG (1971) to Kahi karti hogi wo mera intezar’ from Phir Kab MIlogi (1974) to ‘Ek din bik jaega maati ke mol’ – DHARAM KARAM (1975). These songs could be counted on fingers but they gave a different texture to the musical oeuvre of Mukesh, as all these songs still continue to enthrall generations.
Along with MUKTI, songs sung by Mukesh in Devar (1966) was the sheer reason why the film has a name, the songs being ‘Aya hai mujhe phir yaad wo zalim’ and ‘Baharon ne mera chaman lootkar khizan ko ye ilzaam kyon de diya’. In the same manner Mukesh again created timeless melody in an otherwise forgettable film Anokhi Raat (1968), where Mukesh created an element of nostalgia with his rendition of ‘Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein’ and ‘Dulhan se tumhara milan hoga’. Roshan had set the score for both the films- Devar (1966) and Anokhi Raat (1968).
In comparison with his contemporaries, Rafi and Lata, Mukesh got lesser chance to sing songs with national fervor but when he got it though – ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein kal ki baat purani’ – Hum Hindustani (1961), he created a halo around it to make it become an immortal song. In the same year he also sang the title song from Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai, but it could not acquire the same cult status. Another song which Mukesh sang, having nationalistic fervour, which also acquired cult status was- ‘Mera rang de basanti chola’ from Shaheed (1965), though he had sung it along with Mahendra Kapoor.
Mukesh literally came into his element after he started giving playback singing to Raj Kapoor, the journey started with Aah (1954), and it continued right up to DHARAM KARAM (1975) when one fine day Mukesh took the final bow from this world. Such was the sound sync between the actor and the singer that they literally became two sides of the same coin.
Mukesh, within the limitation of the boundaries of octave of a meter was able to sing one of the most beautiful songs, be it the soft romantic songs or the sad songs. Mukesh had sung one song for Dev Anand – Vidya (1948), it was the background song ‘Chal ri sajni ab kya soche’ from BAMBAI KA BABU (1960), that emerged as an evergreen song- and it is one of the haunting songs which captures the existentialist dilemma of a daughter at the cusp of a new married life and Mukesh literally infused emotive passion into the song. It is an evergreen favourite, as it is a bidaaee song, of a girl who is leaving the house of her parents, her childhood memories and is venturing on to a world of unknown.
With Raj Kapoor switching the roles and doing less number of films Mukesh emerged as the playback voice of Manoj Kumar and gave quite a large number of memorable hits, from nearly all the films that Manoj Kumar made during his career. Such was the identification of the voice of Mukesh with Manoj Kumar that in all the films that Manoj Kumar made, there never was any other voice but that of Mukesh in combination with Mahendra Kapoor. Mukesh had started the trend of doing shows outside the country along with Lata Mangeshkar, and in the times when communication still meant traveling by obscure means of transport consuming unimaginable time, it was Mukesh who extended the outreach of Indian films to a very large extent amongst the diaspora.
Whenever Mukesh sung a romantic song for the stars other than Raj Kapoor somehow they became a rage and continue to be so. Take for example the song ‘Kahin door jab din dhal jaye’ from Anand (1971) that catalysed the image of Rajesh Khanna as a lover boy who may have lost in love, but his love for life continues to be on a high and he draws inspiration from it, same was the case with ‘Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune’ from the same movie. In the same year, the song that he sung in KATI PATANG (1971), stood out amongst all the other super hits that Kishore Kumar had rendered. It does beg a question, what would have happened if Mukesh and Pancham come together for more number of songs? May be, the oeuvre of the super hit romantic songs could have been more diversified.
The image of a romantic that Amitabh Bachchan could acquire for himself through KABHIE KABHIE (1976) had a monumental contribution from the voice of Mukesh as well- ‘Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon’, and also in ADALAT (1976) where his songs for the rural Amitabh added an authenticity to the image of his character as a rural folk- ‘Behna o behna teri doli main sajaoonga’. As a matter of fact, song of Kabhie Kabhie (1976), still is the song that each generation of romantics croons as he falls in love and as he comes out of it.
Perhaps the only romantic song with which Feroz Khan is associated and which gave him an screen eternity was from the film DHARMATMA (1975), the song being- ‘kya khoob lagti ho badi sundar dikhti ho’. Or for that matter hark back to 1967 and one of the super hit songs of that year was from MILAN- ‘Sawan ka mahina pawan kare sor’, perhaps again only romantic song associated with Sunil Dutt. And who can forget, ‘Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai’ from Rajnigandha (1974).
He may have sung only 1300 odd songs, but the songs which he composed where perhaps he was not singing for an established star became cult songs and he continues to enthral the generations and would continue to do so, till music remains.