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Review

Master of melancholy


Mukesh, the Soulful Voice
Legends
HMV
Rs 250 (5 cassettes)

Sudhir Kakar, the well-known psychoanalyst, has an interesting explanation for Mukesh's popularity. In conservative India, failed romances outnumber successful ones. And Mukesh gives voice to the unarticulated despair of a nation unable to love openly.

HMV's classy Legends series features this master of melancholy in a five-cassette collection. It gives you a grand view of the oeuvre of a shy Delhi boy who began his career as Mukesh Chand Mathur.

A young Mukesh
Thirty years ago the Hindi film industry could boast of a trinity of excellent playback singers -- Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh. They had distinctive voices. If Rafi could sing both light-hearted and sad songs, Kishore could personify any hero and convey any emotion. But it was Mukesh who lent depth to intensely painful songs like Aansoo bhari hai from Parvarish, Tu kahe agar from Andaz and Saranga teri yaad mein from Saranga. He was, undoubtedly, the voice of pain.

Mukesh came into the industry when heroes were expected to sing. He imitated the reigning star of those days, K L Saigal, in his early Dil jalta hai. It made Saigal exclaim, "But I don't remember singing this song!" Later Naushad and Anil Biswas sternly weaned him away from this mimetic mode and his voice came into its own.

By the time Mukesh died on 27 August 1976, he had recorded 1,500 songs. HMV has chosen 95 for this collection. An illustrated booklet gives you a glimpse into the rich life of Mukesh. The packaging, in silver and olive, is superb.

The collection features some rarely heard songs. Satayege kisi from Shishham, composed by Mukesh's friend Roshan, is one such. It highlights Mukesh's subtle expression of sorrow, sentimental but not melodramatic. Aye pyase dil bezubaan from Begunah (1956) is another rarely heard piece. A non-film song, a bhajan, and a ghazal come as a bonus.

The Legends booklet gives us interesting details. Mukesh's father wanted him to be a surveyor, and put him in charge of his firm. The young boy, of course, wanted to be in Bombay, singing. His talent was spotted in 1940 by Motilal, the character actor, who engaged a tutor for him. Even after Mukesh became a busy playback singer, he regularly did his morning riyaz.

Raj Kapoor with his voice
Naushad, Anil Biswas, Lata Mangeshkar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Manna Dey and Mukesh himself take you through this collection, talking fondly about their warm friendships. Each tape begins with a short talk. Mukesh was as popular a man as he was a singer.

Some of Mukesh's most popular songs were filmed on Raj Kapoor, who was, by contrast, given to overexpression: Chod gaye baalam (Barsaat) and Awaara hoon (Awaara)to mention just a couple. "He was my soul," Raj Kapoor said when Mukesh died.

Mukesh's voice was not capable of the gymastic range of Kishore Kumar. He couldn't express the exuberance of heroes like Shammi Kapoor. He was modest enough to realise his shortcomings -- especially his tendency to go off-key -- and requested music directors to keep them in mind while composing for him.


Mukesh with Roshan
The volumes are organised in chronological order, and together feature almost eight hours of Mukesh. You can hear the anguished (Aansoo bhari hai), the breezy (Dum dum diga diga), the philosophical (Oh re taal mile), and the raga Sohini-based (Jhoomti chali hawa). Buy this collection if you love this gentle man's voice.


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