A personal tribute to Bhupinder Singh (1940-2022)

The man with the unique voice Bollywood never had before or will ever have after him

Courtesy- Twitter/@indranath
Courtesy- Twitter/@indranath

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

In my school days, towards the late seventies, we were growing up on the voices of Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey as the first league and Shailender Kumar and Jaspal Singh as the second.

Towards the eighties, suddenly a very different voice, very unfamiliar and never heard from the film music horizon, started playing up on the radio stations, largely Binaacaa which later became Cibaca Geet Mala by the first ever radio jockey of India, Ameen Sayani sahib, in 1980 (though it started in 1968).

These songs included Dil dhoondhta hai phir vo hi firsat ke raat din (1975, Mausam) and Aik akela is shahar mein (1977, Gharonda). Both the songs had an ubiquitous sameness in them – loneliness, quest for a company and peace. In the ever changing scenario of India of the 70s and 80s, when the government and the public both were going through a transitional hangover, people lapped up those songs and no Chitrahaar (a film song show of half-an-hour on the television by Doordarshan) or Geetamala series were complete without repeating these songs.

I, an ardent fan of Manna Dey than anyone else, and being brought up on the praises of voices with baritone in male-sung songs, didn’t like his voice at first. It sounded like an interference in the row of singers we were so used to hearing repeatedly.

However, one song after the other, for instance aik akela, thodi si zameen, karoge yad to, kabhi kisi ko brought him such popularity that even if one didn’t exactly like his voice, his songs were always welcome. My fondness for him began after I heard the very famous song composed by Madan Mohan for the film Haqeeqat (19640)- Hoke majboor mujhe, usne bulaya hoga. He accompanied my favourite ghazal singer of the times Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey. Binaaca would play the song of this film that bagged the National and several other awards, repeatedly, and the song was on the lips of every person who loved music. The way the three singers gel in the song is believable only after hearing it.

The 70s and 80s were filled with Bhupinder Singh’s songs like Thodi si zameen thoda aasma, Beeti na bitayi Raina, Kisi nazar ko tera intezar, Huzoor is qadar bhi na, zindagi mere ghar aana, Karoge yad to, and the scene stealer was and still is Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta. He was lucky enough to have almost all his songs shooting up in the popularity charts. Every paan shop, marriage hall, rickshaw puller with transistors on, shop and home would listen to his songs.

I remember well two opinions about him that people had. One section believed that he was like a dysfunctional trumpet, called bhopu, and the other section hailed the fluidity of his voice. The softness, the pain, and the stability inherent in his voice were rare.

When Mausam was released, people appreciated Bhupinder Singh’s voice on Sanjeev Kumar for Dil Dhoondta Hai much more than Rafi sahib singing Chhari re chari for him. The actor’s demeanour and his old age as shown in the film suited Singh’s voice more and therefore, despite the fact that the Chhari Re Chhari too was a regular on Chitrahhar, the All India Radio’s constant playing of Dil Dhoondhta Hai was far more popular. Decency, in the songs, as depicted in Dil Dhoondhta Hai, obviously was the mark of that age, and comparison of khali din or an empty day with empty vessel, and a wish to stay awake till late in cold, white sheets, by Gulzar in the song, was unique too.

The tale of how Singh, a child prodigy of his music professor father Nathaa Singh was introduced to music at home since childhood, is known. He wanted to become a singer too but a company with musical instruments made him a guitarist and here too he was lucky to have played the guitar in the most popular songs of the 70s and 80s such as Dum Maro Dum, Chura liya hai tumne, Vaadiya mera daaman, Mehbooba Mehbooba, Tum jo mil gaye ho etc. He was the only singer who could play many instruments, including the Spanish guitar that he introduced to Hindi film music. I remember a few of his photographs with the guitar were printed in a film magazine of the 70s called Sushma, brought out by the famous Dehelvi Family.

However, Singh, with changing times, got fewer offers from films. After marrying Mitali Mukherjee from Bengal in the 80s, the duo started singing ghazals on television (Doordarshan) and in concerts. This pair was an instant hit with people as Mitali was always smiling while singing and Singh would be subtle, with his large dreamy eyes being a hook on for the people viewing. Among their non-filmi hit ghazals, Rahon pe nazar rakhna, was an instant hit.

Singh had cut his hair and didn’t look like a Sardar ji. Many used to think of him as one hailing from Nepal due to his puffy eyes. He had a tremendous sense of humour that only a few of his close associates knew about. Singh wasn’t seen on the singing horizon for quite a long time but appeared as a guest in a few shows here and there in the past few years. With a performing artiste, this often is the case. While his songs are still popular, our younger generation didn’t know who the singer was, until they googled. Singers like Jaspal Singh (Geet gaata Chal) and Shailender Kumar (Bobby) also met the same fate. It almost matches up to a sher he used to sing from the ghazal rahon pe nazar rakhna. It goes,

Ahsaas ki shamma ko, is tarah jala rakhna;

vo bhi na bura maney, dil ka bhi pata rakhna…

Off late, however, a television show reached out to a few of our veteran singers and lyricists, including him and freshened up the beautiful memories of the yester-years.

Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta, for sure.

Rest in peace, Sir!

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Published: 19 Jul 2022, 10:29 AM