Who gets to sing this song?

Remember the Lata-Shankar-Jaikishan song “Rasik Balma” from  Chori-Chori?  I was once part of a major discussion regarding this song – did Lata “establish” the composers by rendering the song so beautifully, or did SJ make Lata big with by giving her this number dipped in rich melody?  The simple answer, I think, is both.  But … could we imagine Asha Bhosle or Geeta Dutt singing this song with the same results?

So, how did it get decided which singer should sing a given song? Sometimes a singer was chosen because the “style” of that singer suited the song.  At other times, the actor enacting the role insisted that only a certain singer’s voice suits them (e.g. Dilip Kumar/Mohd. Rafi).  But a lesser known reason is that the composer(s) often decided that their favorite singer would sing a particular song, irrespective of the style of the song or demands of the actor/actress. Case in point… Sharda singing “Title Udi, Ud Jo Chali” in Suraj for Vyajanthi Mala tuned by Shankar-Jaikishen  (Sharda was Shankar’s “protégé”).  Another example: it is a well-known fact that Lata never sang for O.P.Nayyar.  The “politically correct” story on that was that Lata’s voice did not suit Nayyar’s style. However, it is quite possible that she was not one of O.P.’s favorites. Asha grabbed the opportunity with both hands and moved into the Nayyar camp (and heart) thus establishing herself as his favorite singer and churning out hit after hit. This has been the case throughout the history of Hindi Film Music.

In the 40s and 50s, Anil Biswas chose Ameerbai Karnataki as his lead singer and gave her remarkable gems even though Shamshad Begum had taken over then. Later in time, he switched to Meena Kapoor (and married her) because of the closeness of her voice to Geeta Dutt. Did you know that Naushad never used the rich vocals of Geeta Dutt or Kishore Kumar?  Even though Naushad composed in various styles, Mohd. Rafi remained his favorite amongst the male singers. Amongst the female singers, in the 1940s, Naushad much liked the “transparent” voice of Shamshad Begum rather than the “roundness” of Ameerbai Karnataki and Zohrebai Ambalewali – who were ruling the roost at that time. However, once the Lata phenomenon happened, he, like several others, joined the bandwagon and gave us several rich compositions with his favorite singers Lata & Rafi such as “Jhoole Mein Pavan Ke Aai Bahar”, “Mohe Panghat Pe”, “Koi Sagar Dil Ko Behlata” etc.

By mid-1950s, classical music came to the forte and composers who indulged heavily in that naturally steered towards Lata and Rafi, maestros of this game. Other singers, who could not keep up because of lack of classical base, had to bow out of the scene gradually. Soon to follow was the Ghazal wave.  As Madan Mohan became the Ghazal King, he once again leaned on the ever-bankable Lata Mangeshkar for the female vocals. Talat Mahmood was his favorite male voice owing to the silkiness of his voice, needed for the soft tones of a ghazal.   As the rock n roll era began in the early 60s – spearheaded by C. Ramchandra – singers like Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar managed to maintain a foothold and keep surviving. 

Through the 60’s and 70’s, even though RD-Rafi combo produced hits such as “Tum Bin Jaoon Kahan”, “Rut Hai Milan Ki”, “Ni Sultana Re”, it was a well-known fact that Kishore was RD’s favorite. The junior Burman was a spontaneous composer – he changed tunes on the fly and Kishore could easily grasp the nuances and produce results. Rafi, however, needed time to work hard, practice and come back the next day. It is said that was the reason RD preferred Kishore to Rafi. For female singers, even though he was married to Asha Bhosle, it is said that he saved his best tunes for big sister … “Raina Beeti Jaye”, “Bada Natkhat Hai”, “Is Mod Se Jaate Hain”, “Beeti Na Bitaye Raina”, “Aapki Aankhon Mein Kuchh”and many others.  Laxmi-Pyare always gave first preference to Lata-Didi since they remained indebted to her for helping them out when they were rank newcomers. Such was their favoritism that they even made her sing her first cabaret “Aa Jaane Jaan, Aa Mera…” which was typically in the Asha Bhosle realm.  The Ravindra Jain/Hemlata combo has a similar story line. They made several hits together “Jab Deep Jale Aana”, “Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhe Se”, “Tu Jo Mere Sur Mein”, when he could have easily diversified and used several other singers.

In the 80s and 90s, as Bhappi Lahiri and T-Series ruled the music scene, it was the age of Anuradha Paudwal, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik. Not sure if music directors had much of a say in this era as melody took a back seat and the producers chose singers on the basis of who was selling more cassettes and CDs.  More recently, many new voices have been heard thanks to shows like Sa Re Ga Ma.  A.R.Rahman has used such talent frequently, including his favorites like Madhushree, Srinivas and a plethora of new singers from the South. Pritam is known for encouraging new talent like Soham, Rana Mazumdar, Anupam Amod – none of whom have sung for any other composer.

So yes, besides the “style” of the song – the composers have (or at least used to have until the 80s) a very big say in which singer would get to sing the song. Otherwise, if style was the only yardstick, we may have had “Chain Se Humko Kabhi” in Lata’s voice and “Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon” in Mohd Rafi’s voice.

Readers, do you know of any other composer-singer combo that always made magic because of their favoritism for each other? Let us know

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