Remembering Mahendra Kapoor: With a composer list ranging from C Ramachandra to Jatin-Lalit, he was as versatile as any of his contemporaries and rightfully earned his place as one of Hindi film industry’s all-time great singers and one of the jewels of the golden-era.
The very mention of Mahendra Kapoor brings to our mind some robust and energetic songs foremost among them being the patriotic anthem ‘Mere Desh Ki Dharti’ from Manoj Kumar’s 1967 super-hit film, Upkar. No song before or after has attained the cult status of this song and to this day this song remains a benchmark patriotic song which instils a special feeling of ‘desh-bhakti’ in the listener’s heart and makes us feel proud to be an Indian.
Born on 9th January, 1934 in Amritsar, the family soon shifted to Mumbai and destiny brought him to the doorstep of Mohammed Rafi, who not only advised the young Mahendra to train in classical music but also became one of Mahendra Kapoor’s teachers. Often he would accompany Rafi Saab to the studio for his recordings and he became very close to his idol and mentor. In fact Rafi Saab had promised him that if he won the All-India Metro-Murphy singing contest on radio, he would take Mahendra Kapoor with him on flight to Calcutta for a show. As destiny would have it, he won the contest in 1958 and also got his first flight experience as promised by Rafi Saab. He was also fortunate to have had five of the most prominent musicians of the film industry of that time as judges of the competition: C Ramachandra, Naushad, Vasant Desai, Madan Mohan and Anil Biswas. Luckily for Mahendra Kapoor, the winner of the contest was to get an opportunity to sing either a full song or at least a few lines of the compositions with these great music maestros in their forthcoming films. Mahendra Kapoor could not have asked for a better way to enter the industry.
Consequently he got his break with the duet ‘Aadha hai chandrama raat aadhi’ with Asha Bhonsle composed by C Ramachandra for the film Navrang. He also sang three more songs from the film. Naushad saab gave him the song ’Husn chala hai ishq se milne’ in Sohini Mahiwal. Soon other hits followed – ‘Tere pyaar ka aasra chahta hoon’ (Dhool Ka Phool), ‘Aaj Ki Mulaqat bas itni’ (Bharosa). In 1964, he won the Filmfare award for his song ‘Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi’ and it was a coveted trophy to win as the other songs nominated in the category had been Rafi’s ‘Mere Mehboob’ from Mere Mehboob and Lata’s ‘Jo Waada Kiya’ from Taj Mahal. This film which also had several other songs by him changed his career graph as he got to sing for a variety of music composers in various films and belted out one hit after the other.
During his career which spanned from the fifties to the eighties and reached its peak during the sixties, his repertoire boasted of bhajans, ghazals, qawwalis, soft romantic numbers, energetic dance numbers, patriotic songs and many outstanding duets with all the male and female singers of the golden era. He was the only singer who could match Kishore Kumar’s energy as can be seen from their duets- ‘Do Bechare bina sahaare’, ‘Waqt ki hera-pheri’’ ‘Zindagi hai kya bolo zindagi hai kya’, ‘Anhonee ko honee kar de’, etc. His partnership with B R Chopra, Manoj Kumar, music director Ravi and N Dutta all fetched him great songs. Though he never got to sing for showman Raj Kapoor, he did a stage-show with him abroad and on their way back, Raj Kapoor promised to have him sing in one of his films and the song was ‘Har dil jo pyaar karega’ from the Sangam and Mahendra Kapoor’s voice was picturized on Rajendra Kumar.
When there was a tiff between O P Nayyar and Mohammed Rafi in the 60’s, Mahendra Kapoor benefitted the most as the music director stopped recording with Rafi and their combination resulted in a near 100 per cent record of hits. They included songs like ‘Badal Jaaye Agar Maali’, ‘Mera Pyar woh hai ki’, ‘Andhere mein jo baithe hain’, ‘Lakhon hain yahan dilwale’, etc. He also has to his credit the best song written praising a mother; ‘Usko nahin dekha humne kabhi’ This is a duet in which Manna Dey gives him company and Bina Rai is the mother on whom the song is picturized. The only time he got to sing with his guru Mohammed Rafi was for the film Aadmi- ‘Kitni haseen aaj baharon ki raat hai’ where he was to re-record the portion already sung by Talat Mahmood as the producers felt Talat Mahmood’s voice was not suiting Manoj Kumar. For this first Mahendra Kapoor went to Talat Mahmood’s house to take his permission and then only agreed to record the song. Such was the respect and regard he had for his seniors, contemporaries and even his juniors.
In one of his interviews he mentioned that he learnt three very important lessons of life from Rafi Saab to always be humble and never pick up a fight with anyone, to always thank the Almighty for everything for without his blessings nothing can be achieved and to always give importance to one’s character and maintain dignity- lessons which Mahendra Kapoor never forgot. Music lovers all over the world continue to remember this man with the golden voice as an ever-smiling, gentle and one of the most humble human beings to have graced the film industry.