Mukesh@100—The Unique Voice

July 22 marks the birth centenary of Mukesh. Photo: Publicity Photo

A singer who was a giant, Mukesh Chand Mathur, known globally as Mukesh, would have been 100 July 22, 2023. He had a special connection with USA besides his many concerts there: he passed away, literally with his boots on, after feeling unwell while performing on stage in Detroit. He was only 53.

The greatest USP of Mukesh was his sonorous voice, modeled initially on K.L. Saigal. His scale was not as extensive as that of Mohammed Rafi or Manna Dey, but because the common man could easily sing his songs (precisely for that reason!), he ranked alongside Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar among the all-time Top Three male singers of Hindi cinema, though those singers had an output that was in multiples of Mukesh’s lifetime score of a little over 1,000 songs.

After he started out (as actor-cum-singer) with Dil hi bujha hua ho to in Nirdosh (1941), three big names soon came to rule the roost—Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, and by the end of that decade, Mukesh came to be identified as the voice of Raj after Ram Ganguly’s Aag (1948) followed by Naushad’s Andaz and Shankar-Jaikishan’s Barsaat, both in 1949.

The last two were his tickets to big time, though he had been recognized earlier after he sang Dil jalta hai to jalne do in Saigal-esque mode in Pehli Nazar (1945). It was Shankar-Jaikishan who made him forget his idol and make his own distinctive vocal tenor with the fresh compositions of Barsaat.

The connection between Raj and Mukesh seemed indeed to be ordained: his last recording was for Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram under Laxmikant-Pyarelal—the hit Chanchal sheetal nirmal komal. The recording completed, Mukesh left for the airport, never to return alive to India. And he also paved the way here for his son, Nitin Mukesh, to get his first major break as a singer when an emotional Raj Kapoor and L-P gave him the other song for hero Shashi Kapoor, Main kaise usse pasand karoon, with Lata Mangeshkar.

Today, Mukesh’s grandson, Neil Nitin Mukesh, has carved a niche as an actor like his grandfather was too. Interestingly, Mukesh has also been a composer and producer, of the 1956 film Anurag, in which he also played the lead. He has also composed non-film songs.

Mukesh (left), C. Ramachandra, composer Kalyanji, Prithviraj Kapoor and composer Anandji at the music award function for Himalay Ki God Mein. Photo: Anandji Shah

Several misconceptions abound about Mukesh. It is true that Raj Kapoor termed him his soul – Awara, Shree 420, Aah, Jagte Raho, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker, Kal Aaj Aur Kal and Dharam Karam also among his productions and multiple outside movies such as Bawre Nain, Phir Subha Hogi, Anari, Aashiq, Chhalia, Dulha Dulhan, Teesri Kasam, Around The World, Diwana and more added to that list.

However, Mukesh went beyond being just the ‘voice of Raj Kapoor’.

From Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar and even Dev Anand to Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Navin Nischol, Vinod Mehra, Anil Dhawan and even names like Mehmood, Jagdeep and Premnath, Mukesh sang for every hero and was the first voice of Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Rishi Kapoor and Sanjay Khan.

The other label on him was the ‘Prince of Pathos’. True, and his first song itself cemented his identity with the sad song, along with his breakthrough song (Pehli Nazar). But Mukesh could excel in light as well as comic songs, as proved by his association with Raj Kapoor alone, besides his duets with Lata Mangeshkar that were mostly romantic and frothy, as in Patli kamar hai (Barsaat) and Sawan ka mahina (Milan) apart from many others.

With Mera joota hai Japani (Shree 420), Taash ke baawan patte (Tamanna) and Yeh kaisa aaya zamana (Humjoli), in which he matched Kishore Kumar and Mehmood, we also saw the comic side of the versatile singer.

Versatile is what Mukesh eminently was, as much as soulful. Skeptics of his classical skills and vocal flexibility were silenced by his effortless delivery of songs like Jhoomti chali hawa (Sangeet Samrat Tansen), Yeh kaun chitrakar hai (Boond Jo Ban Gaye Moti), Chanchal sheetal (his swan song) itself or one of his six Binaca Geet Mala toppers, Jis dil mein basaa tha pyar tera (Saheli).

The last song is also a shimmering example of more than 50 songs of Mukesh that are so evergreen that they are all that we know or remember about those films! Here are a few more mentions of such caliber: Main to har mod par tujhko doonga sadaa (Chetna), Hum dono milke (Tumhari Kasam), Ek hasrat thi (Zindagi Aur Toofan) and Kahin karti hogi (Phir Kab Milogi). Who knows or recalls anything about those films other than these beautiful melodies that have been sung so wonderfully?

Having sung the most for Shankar-Jaikishan, Mukesh also had a wide array of songs for Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, followed by Roshan and Salil Chowdhury. and once again, was a common point in the first films of L-P, Sonik-Omi, Madan Mohan, Khayyam’s first solo film (Phir Subah Hogi) as well as his comeback (Kabhi Kabhie).

And now, let us look at Hollywood films that featured Mukesh beauties: Side Streets, Deadpool, Missisippi Masala and After Love. Even back home, he was the only male voice of Shankar-Jaikishan’s Around The World (1967), India’s first 70 mm film, as well as Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Jal Bin Machhli Nritya Bin Bijli (1971), India’s first film soundtrack in Stereophonic Sound.

Mukesh will live on as long as film music is loved. Forever.



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