Renowned singer, musician and composer Bhupinder Singh died on July 18. He was gifted with a fine voice, the depth and grandeur of rain clouds, and a surprising, lightning-fast agility when it mattered. His musical oeuvre is quite eclectic, drawing inspiration from Western music, Indian classical idioms, ghazal singing and so on. He has carved a niche for himself with his soulful singing.
He started his career as a musician with All India Radio in Delhi, where he was discovered by the great Madan Mohan. Madan promptly brought him to Bombay and gave him his first film break with the poignant Ho ke majboor mujhe usne bhulaya hoga, a barracks song in which Bhupinder shares his singing with the unflappable Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood and Manna Dey in Haqeeqat procured” (1964). His resonant “o… Shalu” added color to SD Burman’s “honthon mein aisi baat” in Jewel Thief (1967). He sang the moody nightclub song “Rut jawan jawan raat meherban” for Khayyam-sahab in Akhari Khat (1966). He also performed the song on screen and likely played guitar for that track as well.
He was a sought-after guitarist and played the instrument in films for over two decades. His guitar playing for RD Burman’s legendary “Dum maro dum” in Hare Krishna Hare Ram (1971) is truly memorable. He was an excellent ghazal singer and recorded a number of ghazal albums with his wife Mitali. He composed many of the melodies and, particularly in the early days, introduced the Spanish guitar to the genre by giving its ghazals a unique sound. The couple were also very charismatic live performers of these ghazals.
The mainstay of his film music production was the dreamy, romantic or sad melody. These songs gave him the space to play with words and the rhythm of poetry. This was his trademark and you never tire of the soft, caressing vocals. ‘Dil dhoondhta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din’ (‘Mausam’, 1975) (solo) for Madan Mohan is a great example of where masterful pauses – especially before ‘phir wohi’ – are used to great effect. The solo “Ek akela is shahar mein” (“Gharaonda”, 1977) for Jaidev also vies for attention in this space and in the pantheon of his greatest songs, and the variations on “aab-o-dana” are unforgettable.
Interestingly, these two songs had duet versions that were upbeat and had a different melody. The duet “Dil dhoondhta hai phir wohi” in “Mausam” is with Lata-ji, with whom Bhupinder has sung many fabulous numbers. His other duets with her such as “Beeti naa bitaayi rainaa” (“Parichay”, 1972), “Meethe bol bole bole payaliya” (“Kinara”, 1977) refer to classical music and are also excellent. The duet “Do deewane shahar mein” from “Gharaonda” is with Runa Laila. The two voices, which are unique in their own right, work very well together. Bhupinder sang the playful “Boliye surili boloyan” (“Griha Pravesh”, 1979) with Sulakshana Pandit conducted by Kanu Roy. The tranquil “Zindagi zindagi mere ghar aana” (“Dooriyan”, 1979) with Anuradha Paudwal, conducted by Jaidev, is magical.
His lovely “Kisi nazar ko tera intezaar aaj bhi hai” (“Aitbaar”, 1985) with Asha-ji, composed by Bappi Lahiri, once again demonstrated his ability to coordinate imperturbable vocals note for note. A surprising entry is an adaptation of the famous Nazm “Aaj jaane ki zid naa karo” in the voice of Bhupinder and Asha-ji for the 1988 film “Kehkashaan”. With the lines “waqt ki qaid mein…” in this song he pulls at the hearts. The male-male duet with Suresh Wadkar, “Huzoor is qadar bhi na itaraa ke chaliye” (“Masoom”, 1983), is fondly remembered to this day. It seemed like Bhupinder managed to get the best out of his co-singers.
His film music career began in 1964 and his last film song was for “Maharana Pratap” in 2012. He really came into his own in the 1970s and 1980s. Aside from Jaidev, Khayyam, RD Burman and the other mainstream musicians of the past decade, he sang beautiful songs for specialized or “art film” music directors. Raghunath Seth probably used it in all his films, most notably the duet with Anuradha Paudwal “Ye paudhe ye patte” (“Ek Baar Phir”, 1980). In Saransh (1984), Ajit Verman gave him what is probably the only explicitly death-related song in a Hindi film, Andhiyara Gehraya. The likes of Kanu Roy, Vanraj Bhatia, Bhupen Hazarika and so on used his voice to great effect.
As mentioned, his vocals have a subtle yet powerful classical base. It can be seen in Raag-based songs given to him by RD Burman in films like “Kinara” and “Parichay”. It is used in the film “Alaap” (1977), “ayi run sawan ki” to devastating effect. Obviously it’s a thumri, but it’s as if sung and becomes a lament. That powerful voice has been silenced, and these sounds of Raag Desh in this song reflect the void it left behind.
Bhupinder’s top 5
- *Dil dhoondhtha hai phir (“Mausam”, 1975)
- *Rut Jawan Jawan Raat Meherban (“Aakhri Khat”, 1967)
- *Zindagi zindagi mere ghar aanaa (“Dooriyan”, 1979)
- *Huzoor is qadar bhi na itaraa ke chaliye (‘Masoom’, 1983)
- *Ek Akela is Shahar Mein (‘Gharaonda’, 1977)