Mukesh Chand Mathur would have been 98 today. A singer who was so different from his peers, he remains alive in our hearts and souls despite having passed away way too early just a month into his 53 rd year, while on a concert tour in Detroit, nearly 46 years ago. Although his longest association in Bollywood was with Raj Kapoor, as his vocal doppelgänger, he sang a very large number of soulful songs for so many countless others. His apparently simple style of singing was deceptive, one realised the difficulty in singing effectively like him only after trying to sing like him.
His unique voice epitomised melancholia in Hindi films for over 3 decades. The deep timbre and the nasal quality of his voice was exceedingly well suited for heartbreak songs for many generations of actors, from Raj Kapoor, through Manoj (“Facepalm”) Kumar and down to Rajesh Khanna in Anand. It was also this speciality that held him back from becoming a singer for all types of songs. Even his joyous songs had that underpinning of pathos, of a loneliness that set him apart from his peers, an endearing and unique quality, much like Talat’s patented tremolo, which no one else could ever get into their voices.
A very handsome man, he actually learnt singing much as Ekalavya learnt archery from Dronacharya. A music teacher would come to their home to teach an older sister, and the young Mukesh picked up the nuances sitting in an adjacent room. He left school early and briefly was employed with the PWD. Motilal, the then leading actor in Bollywood, was related to the family and noted Mukesh’s singing in the latter’s sister’s wedding in Delhi and took him under his wings, bringing him to Mumbai and organised singing lessons under a recognised exponent of Hindustani Classical Music. Soon the handsome young man made his Bollywood debut as a singer- actor in Nirdosh. The movie pretty much flopped but his singing was noticed. Motilal saw him struggle for the next few years and told his friend, the legendary composer Anil Biswas who gave Mukesh his first unforgettable break in Bollywood, with Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De…in Pehli Nazar, much against the producer Mazhar Khan’s wishes and vehement protestations. Anilda stuck to his guns and got his young protege to give this immortal, truly timeless classic. Few know that Mukesh also turned film producer and composer later.
His rapid rise as a playback singer in the early 1950s chiefly as Raj Kapoor’s voice notwithstanding, Mukesh was visited by a resurgent acting itch (he had actually come to Mumbai to be a singing star) that would not go away without some scratching. This itch and some poor career decisions arising from it nearly finished his career. For an inexplicably strange reason, he actually signed a non-competing clause with the producers of Mashooqa – a movie in which he played the male lead – resulted in him actually having to walk out of the incomplete Shree 420 after singing just two songs for Raj Kapoor. As a result of this strange and disastrous career move, he was bound hand and foot and was able to sing barely 20 film songs over the next 2 years, two of which were for Anuraag, a film he produced, composed music for and played the lead role in. Unfortunately for Mukesh, Mashooqa (the film for which he almost scuttled his successful singing career) was a failure and Anuraag was stillborn, never seeing the light of the day. Although this career swing (and retrospectively disastrous decision) almost bankrupted him, it was to the enduring relief of all (the music loving fan base, me included) that Mukesh resumed his full-time singing career.
Listen to “Kise Yaad Rakhoon” from Anuraag, the ill fated movie. I wonder why he did not continue composing after this traumatic (but educative) experience. The stories of the period are truly painful, and I have heard some of them from his younger son, Mohnish, who sadly like the father, died much too young.
An amazing melancholic, introspective song that is vintage Mukesh, the clarity of his voice evident in every note. Classical Mukesh through and through that could be the anthem of any person who has been through similar life experiences.
Anuraag had Usha Kiran with Mukesh in the lead and I am sure the movie would have been a great success. The wonderful lyrics are by Kaif Irfani. What a mouthwatering prospect to see two very good looking people in the lead. Mridula, Protima Devi and Uma Devi had significant roles as well.
A truly soulful melody that not too many would have heard, I am sure. I wouldn’t have known too much about it had it not been for Mohnish singing for me in my clinic with the receptionists popping in not believing their ears. You guys left too soon, Mohnish and Mukeshji. Both of you could have surely given so much to all of us and those nearest to you.
I am sure I will feast on Mukesh Melodies through the day today.
Have fun, folks, stay safe and away from the Chinese products including the malicious Virus . Stay safe, stay healthy and happy.