He mesmerised music lovers with his melodious voice, always lived up to the opportunities that came his way and won two of his three Filmfare awards before the advent of Kishore Kumar but in the presence of Mohammad Rafi. On September 27, death took away veteran playback singer Mahendra Kapoor from his family, friends and fans.
One of the few singers who grew up listening to Rafi and then gave the singer a tough time during his lifetime, Mahendra was born in Amritsar on January 09, 1934. During the late ’50s he rose to prominence when he won the All India Youth Festival with musician Naushad as one of the judges. Film offers followed soon after due to Rafi’s busy schedule, and Mahendra got a chance to work under big banners and for renowned film-makers such as Raj Kapoor, B.R. Chopra and Manoj Kumar to name a few.
Thanks to the song by Naushad, Chand chupa aur taare doobay from the 1958 film Sohni Mahiwal, Mahendra began his journey in Bollywood that lasted five decades and saw him croon for the best composers in the Hindi film industry. He remained busy all through the ’60s, garnering the second-highest number of songs and nominations after Rafi, even challenging the might of Mukesh and Talat Mehmood through films such as Dhool ka Phool, Gumrah, Waqt, Hamraaz and Dhund.
Be it Sunil Dutt, Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Raj Kapoor or Raj Kumar, the ’60s and ’70s marked a golden period when his songs proved Mahendra’s unique talent. His songs in Manoj Kumar’s Upkaar, Purab aur Paschim and Roti, Kapra aur Makaan became classics, and when O.P. Nayyar fell out with Rafi in the late ’60s, he turned to Mahendra, claiming that he can make a Rafi out of the singer. But Mahendra maintained he was the disciple of the legendary singer and till his death felt honored on being able to sing in and sustain the Rafi era.
The advent of pop music as well as new singers kept Mahendra away from the limelight even after Rafi and Kishore passed away in the ’80s, singing occasionally for his contemporaries R.D. Burman (Shakti, Duniya) and Laxmikant-Pyarelal (Karma). He did, however, try his hand at disco, teaming up with none other than Pakistani actress-turned-singer Musarrat Nazir to come up with Chori Chori Chal Mere Sang Gori in M3 Disco Fantasy in Hindi which saw them sing Boney M numbers in Urdu!
Mahendra also played a part in Sunny Deol’s home production Dillagi in 1999, where he sang his last hit number, Dhoom dhoom luck luck. After health complications, he bid farewell to his career as a playback singer.
Be it romantic songs or melancholic ones, fast renditions or slow-paced songs, Mahendra excelled in all. His duets (Har dil jo pyar karega from the film Sangam, Aik chand aasman from Aadmi, Honi ko unhoni kardain from Amar Akbar Anthony and De daru from Karma) with his contemporaries Mukesh, Rafi and Kishore is ample proof of his individuality where he excels despite tough competition. It is said that Manoj Kumar pressurized musician Naushad to sign Mahendra instead of Talat Mahmood as his voice in Aik chand aasman pe hai opposite Rafi who playbacked the song for Dilip Kumar.
But what describes his departure best are the lines he sang beautifully for O.P. Nayyar: “Badal jayen agar maali, Chaman hota nahin khali; Baharain phir bhi aati hain, baharain phir bhi aayengi….” Mahendra will be remembered as long as music is alive in the subcontinent- Seema Faruqi (Dawn – Leading English Newspaper of Pakistan)
Mahendra Kapoor died on September 27, 2008.