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Timeless Renditions of Mesmeric Mukesh

Mukesh's voice lent a Midas touch – whatever he sang immediately turned to gold – for music lovers, his mellifluous symphonies will be fondly cherished and always remembered, writes Sharad Dutt.

Born to Zoravar Chand Mathur and Chand Rani on July 22, 1923, in Delhi, Mukesh was the sixth among ten siblings of Mathurs. After his matriculation from MB High School, Reading Road (now Mandir Marg), in New Delhi, he aspired to be a singer-actor like his mentor Saigal. He recorded some private songs in Delhi, and left for Bombay, where Motilal arranged a professional trainer for him to hone his musical skills.

Mukesh commenced his career as singer-actor in film Nirdosh (1941) with Nalini Jaiwant and sang his first song for composer Ashok Ghosh. He continued to act in a few films in the years to come, signing a contract with Ranjit Movie Tone for two years. He also acted in Roomal (1949), and did a cameo role in Aah, and sang Chhoti si ye zindagani. He also acted in Mashooka (1953). Thereafter, he produced two films, Malhar (1951), under the banner of Dimple Films and Anurag for Mukesh Films. He also acted in Anurag with Usha Kiran and composed for the film, too.

Unfortunately, Mukesh failed to taste success as an actor and producer, settling for playback singing. His song, Badariya baras gai us paar, in film Moorti was composed by Bulo C Rani. But it was Anil Biswas who salvaged the career of Mukesh by making him sing in Pehli Nazar (1946), Dil jalta hai to jalne de, in typical Saigal style. The song became an instant hit but the record didn't carry Mukesh's name. It was credited to hero Motilal as Mushtaq. When actor Mazhar Khan, who was also the producer of the film, listened to Dil jalta hai, he rejected the song. With much persuasion by Anil Biswas and Mukesh he agreed to retain the song with a precondition that if the audience didn't like the number, it would be deleted from the film. Rest is history.

Mukesh sang in films Chehra, Ghulam, Raseeli, Rajpootini and Dastaan, but none gained the popularity of Dil jalta hai.

Anil Biswas refurbished Mukesh's identity. He saw a certain newness in his voice, as simplicity was Mukesh's USP. And Biswas composed many memorable numbers for Mukesh. Unfortunately, the films got lukewarm response from the audience.

Naushad was also mesmerised by Mukesh's simple delivery and he sang in his resonant voice for him: Kabhi dil dil se takrata to hoga and Bhoolne wale yaad na aa in Anokhi Ada (1948). He again asked Mukesh to give playback for Dilip Kumar in Mela (1948) and Andaaz (1949). The haunting duet, Dharti ko aakash pukare, became an unforgettable number.

When Raj Kapoor launched his own banner RK Films in 1948 with the maiden directorial debut Aag, Mukesh sang one of the pensive songs in his melodious voice, Zinda hoon is tarah ke. Raj Kapoor introduced the new music director duo Shankar-Jaikishan in film Barsaat and Mukesh sang a duet with Lata, Chhod gaye balam, and one racy number, Patli kamar hai tirchhi nazar hai.

Mukesh's childhood friend and composer Roshan was also in Bombay, who made his beginning as composer in Kidar Sharma's Neki aur Badi, which was a box-office disaster. But Sharma was made of a different mettle. He gave another chance to Roshan in his next film, Banwre Nain (1950). Mukesh sang his immortal song, Teri duniya mein dil lagta nahin, and two duets with Geeta. The Mukesh and Roshan combo gave several hits in Malhar. And he gave great hits in Shabnam (1949) too.

Mukesh was on a high after successive hits. A most sought after singer of the 50s and 60s, Mukesh worked with Khyyam, C Ramchandra, SD Burman and Madan Mohan, besides Shankar-Jaikishan. Khyyam used Mukesh's talent fully in Phir Subah Hogi (1958).

Although SD Burman took Mukesh reluctantly for Bombay Ka Babu to sing Chal re sajni ab kya soche, it became more popular than dada's own favourite Rafi number, Saathi na koi manzil. This is when Burman opted for Mukesh for the background solo in Bandhini. Salil Choudhary gave Mukesh a solo, Suhana safar, and a duet with Lata, Dil tadap tadap ke keh raha hai in Madhumati. Mukesh also sang a light number for C Ramchandra, Jap jap jap re.

While Mukesh coveted his first Filmfare Award for Sab kuchh seekha humne, the other songs of Anari, too, became very popular. In 1960, Raj Kapoor called for a meeting to discuss the story of Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. After listening to the narrative, Shankar told Raj Kapoor that in this story about the dacoits there was not much scope for any song. Raj Kapoor met Shankar JaiKishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra to narrate the story again and amplify situations for some songs. Mukesh sang Mera naam Raju, Pyaar karle nahin to phanshi chad jaayega, Honto pe sachai rehti hai; duets with Lata, and a number with Mahendra Kapoor, Geeta, Manna Dey and Lata, Hain. But the chartbuster number was Lata's O Basanti pawan pagal… Mukesh and Shankar Jaikishan had a strong bonding as he sang several songs for them. Shankar Jaikishan insisted on having Mukesh for Ye mera deewanapan in film Yahudi. He gave playback for Dharmendra's debut film, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere, for the new music duo Kalyanj Anandji. In fact, Mukesh did several live shows with this duo singing songs from their films. Mukesh sang for Kalyanji Anandji for a decade.

Laxmikant Pyarelal were assistants to Kalyanji Anandji when they commenced their career with the film Parasmani, and they composed a duet for Mukesh and Lata, Chori chori jo tumse mili. Mukesh sang several songs for them.

Mukesh was singing for various composers but he always remained an integral part of RK Camp. When Raj Kapoor made his first colour film Sangam, Mukesh sang Mere man ki ganga, Har dil jo pyaar karega with Mahendra Kapoor, and O mere sanam with Lata. Needless to say, he was at his best in Dost dost na raha.

Even though Raj Kapoor's dream project Mera Naam Joker flopped, Mukesh's numbers Kehta hai joker saara zamana and Jaane kahan gaye wo din are remembered till date. He recorded his last song for RK Films, Chanchal sheetal nirmal with Lakshmikant Pyarelal for Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

As music was undergoing a radical change in the 70s, Mukesh lost his demand. He was getting lesser number of films but he sang few of his best songs for Roshan: O re taal mile nadi ke jal mein in Anokhi Raat; Dekhti hi raho aaj darpan na tum in Nayee Umar Ki Nayee Fasal; Aaya hai mujhe phir yaad in Devar; and Bhule se mohabbat kar baitha in Dil Hi To Hai.

When Kishore Kumar was reigning supreme, Salil Choudhary gave two numbers to Mukesh for Anand: Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune and Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye. And Salil da composed his rarest gem in Rajnigandha, Ye jo man ki seema rekha hai, that fetched Mukesh a National Award.

Mukesh did a few films with Khayyam Saab and he was at his best with Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein with Lata and Mein pal do pal ka shayar hoon in the film Kabhi Kabhi.

Discerning the choice of his songs, for Mukesh it was quality over quantity. He sang lesser number of songs as compared to Mohammed Rafi. His total film numbers were 900 and private songs 92. When the low tide came, he started doing live shows. I had this great opportunity to record him for Doordarshan, singing Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein with Lata at Geeton Bhari Shaam in Delhi, just a month before he passed away.

At 53, Mukesh died with his boots on during a tour to USA with Lata and others. He died in Detroit in the midst of a live show on August 27, 1976. Known to be very humble, gentle, and a deeply religious person, he was quite fond of Tulsi Das' Ramcharitmanas. He started his day with renditions from this scripture. Much to the joy of millions of believers, he recorded Ramcharitmanas in a set of eight long playing records. Whatsoever he sang in films or private albums of geet and ghazals left an indelible mark and he continues to be cherished by countless fans the world over.

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