A little over a month ago, when I reviewed Humraaz, one thing (among the many) that I liked about the film was the music, one of the few soundtracks dominated by Mahendra Kapoor. Praise for Mahendra Kapoor drew mixed reactions: he’s underrated, he shouts, he’s good only for Punjabi songs, he’s versatile… therefore, this post, on Mr Kapoor’s birthday, to celebrate one of Hindi cinema’s uncelebrated singers. Born on January 9th, 1934, Mahendra Kapoor recorded (supposedly) more than 25,000 songs and is believed to be the first Indian singer to have recorded a song in English.
Anyway, without further ado, my top ten list of Mahendra Kapoor’s songs. All from 50’s and 60’s films that I’ve seen, and (to make it a little more interesting for myself) no two songs from the same film. These are in no particular order.
1. Tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo (Humraaz, 1967): One reason why I’d never attempted a Mahendra Kapoor ‘top ten’ was the soundtrack of this film: any Mahendra Kapoor list would invariably feature most of the songs from Humraaz. Neele gagan ke tale, Na moonh chhupaake jiyo, Kisi patthar ki moorat se, and Tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo. All are superb, but this one is a particular favourite of mine, because there’s a gentle charm about it that’s just so romantic.
2. Laakhon hain yahaan dilwaale (Kismat, 1968): Like Humraaz, so is Kismat: a Mahendra Kapoor showcase. This song, in particular, is a favourite of mine, because it’s a good example of why Mahendra Kapoor deserves to be better regarded. Laakhon hain yahaan dilwaale could have been a loud song, shouted out without restraint—but it isn’t; even though the picturisation has Biswajeet leaping about like a rooster, Mahendra Kapoor tones it down. He sings in a beautifully melodic way, gently and romantically though with a flamboyance that makes this obviously a club song, crooned for the dance floor.
3. Sikandar ne Porus se ki thhi ladaai (Anpadh, 1962): This wicked little ballad deriding education owes much of its sass to Raja Mehdi Ali Khan’s lyrics, but you have to hand it to Mahendra Kapoor: he sings it perfectly. Whenever I watch this song, I end up forgetting someone’s singing playback for Mohan Choti; Mr Kapoor’s voice has all the impudence that Mohan Choti brings to the role. Brilliantly cheeky.
4. Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Upkaar, 1967): If there’s one genre for which Mahendra Kapoor is particularly known, it’s the patriotic song (remember Hai preet jahaan ki reet sada? Remember Mera rang de basanti chola?) Of the patriotic songs that Mahendra Kapoor sang, this one’s my favourite, mainly because he sings it with such full-throated vigour, but without going offkey. And, somehow, I always think of this being Mahendra Kapoor’s song: there’s something very Punjabi, very deeply-rooted-in-the-country about Mere desh ki dharti. Mahendra Kapoor’s is the perfect voice for it.
5. Chhodkar tere pyaar ka daaman (Woh Kaun Thi?, 1964, with Lata Mangeshkar): Woh Kaun Thi? was Lata Mangeshkar’s soundtrack – and to some extent Asha Bhonsle’s. This (besides Tiki riki tiki riki tako ri) is the only song to feature a male voice. And how! Mahendra Kapoor is fabulously melodious, warm and romantic and just right for Manoj Kumar. One of the all-time classic love songs.
6. Muddat se tamannaaon ka sila (Kaajal, 1965): This is seduction at its ultimate: the gorgeous Dharmendra, and that too with Mahendra Kapoor’s voice, velvety and soft and so very enticing. Impossible to resist! What especially impresses me about Muddat se tamannaon ka sila is the fact that there’s actually very little music in the song; Mahendra Kapoor’s voice provides most of the melody.
7. Badal jaaye agar maali (Bahaarein phir bhi aayengi, 1966): This is almost turning into a ‘Mahendra Kapoor in Ten Moods’ post. Patriotic, romantic, irreverent, fun—and now inspirational. Here he sings one of Aziz Kashmiri’s compositions, set to O P Nayyar’s music: a heartening song of how important it is to keep going, no matter what.
8. Hum jab simatke aapki baahon (Waqt, 1965, with Asha Bhonsle): One of the best soundtracks from the 60’s, and one of the best songs from that soundtrack. Hum jab simatke aapki is dominated by Asha—both verses are sung by her, with Mahendra Kapoor only joining in later in the song—but if it hadn’t been for the softly gentle refrain he provides, this song would have not been as gloriously beautiful as it is.
9. Mera rang de basanti chola (Shaheed, 1965): Mera rang de basanti chola is sung repeatedly in Shaheed; the best known version is the one that’s sung (by Mahendra Kapoor, Mukesh and Rajinder Mehta’s voices) when Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev are walking to their deaths. This one, an earlier, softer, less bombastic version crooned softly by Mahendra Kapoor, has much more depth of feeling. There’s something about the combination of humming and singing, the fact that there’s no musical accompaniment, and the picturisation—on a lonely roof—that makes this, to me, more of a ‘a man and his country, alone at night’ song. More patriotically poignant than a lot of other patriotic songs.
10. Yeh hawa yeh fizaa (Gumraah, 1963): Yet another ‘Mahendra Kapoor sings for Sunil Dutt’ song—and this, in my opinion, is the best of the lot. A hauntingly beautiful song, throbbing with desire and sung perfectly: I don’t think I’ve ever come across another ‘echo’ song that manages it quite so well. If I’d arranged these songs in order, Yeh hawa yeh fizaa would probably have been top of the list. Gumraah, incidentally, has some other fantastic Mahendra Kapoor songs: another winner is Chalo ek baar phir se.
Finally, a bonus song: Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai. This is hard to find, and I haven’t been able to find a video for you to watch, but you can click the link and listen to the song. If I’d seen the film (which is Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani), this song would certainly have been in my top ten for Mahendra Kapoor. A gorgeously passionate duet sung with Asha Bhonsle, about all things romantic: the moon, the waves of a lake, and the two lovers to whom they are likened. Stunningly beautiful music by N Dutta, lovely picturisation (Mumtaz and Sudhir boating on a moonlit lake), and lovely singing.
So, for all the Mahendra Kapoor detractors: have I managed to convert you, even if only a little teeny-weeny bit? And for those who do have some Mahendra Kapoor favourites: which ones? Please share!