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Mahendra Kapoor boards the Sufi flight

The legendary singer, who is ready with a a collection of Sufi songs, shares some of his personal facets.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 13:55 IST

Neither old age nor the vicissitudes of a long singing career have weakened Mahendra Kapoor's zest for music. The singer who gave us the soulful Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se way back in 1963 is now ready with a collection of Sufi songs.

Even at 72, the voice that took high pitch singing to unmatched levels still has a lot to offer. The affable veteran singer says that his sufiana album is something he wanted to do after he had his full in other genres of singing.

Dwelling at length on his relationship with the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi, Kapoor says: "Rafi saab had made it very clear, much before my career hit a high note, that we should not sing together, mainly because of two reasons. One because we shared a guru-chela relationship and there should be no competition between us and secondly because our voices are very similar."    

The 72-yr-old singer is now ready with acollection of Sufi songs

Kapoor crooned some unforgettable Bollywood chartbusters like Chalo ek baar phir se (Gumraah, 1963), Aadha hai chandrama (Navrang, 1959), Neele gagan ke tale (Humraaz, 1967) and Laakhon hai yahan dilwale (Kismat, 1968).

Even today, he has a music teacher who comes to his Carter Road residence in Bandra in central Mumbai twice a week.

The Amritsar-born singer, who began his career with Madmast (1953) is genial enough to sing a couple of lines of that lilting Sahir Ludhianvi gem Aap Aye to Khayal-e-Dil-e-Nashaad Aaya without the airs of a veteran for this correspondent.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview with IANS:

How do you feel when you look back at your career?
Satisfied is what I would like to say. I have done what I always wanted to do as a child. I have sung in almost all genres - classical, qawwali, bhajans, romantic etc. I perhaps missed out on sufiana music. So this new album will fulfil that aspect.

Your voice was considered best for high pitched numbers like Na Munh Chupa Ke Jiyo and Neele Gagan Ke Tale...
It is goddess Saraswati's gift and thankfully I could make use of it well in my career.

Perhaps that also got me stereotyped as a singer of patriotic songs, making my voice an inseparable ingredient of actors like Manoj Kumar (known as 'Mr.Bharat' for his patriotic flicks) and Sunil Dutt saab.

Your reverence for Mohammed Rafi and the subsequent initiation into classical music is Bollywood legend. Something on your relationship with the late singer?
In simple terms we shared a guru-chela (teacher-student) relationship. I often used to play the tanpura for Rafi saab during his performances. I used to call him Paaji (elder brother in Punjabi) and we used to speak in Punjabi mostly.

Once when we were stepping out of the All India Radio building after a performance and I was holding the tanpura behind him a group of school kids approached him for autograph.

He did not understand and asked me what the fuss was all about. When I told him what the kids wanted he, in a matter of fact manner, asked me to oblige them! And I signed their autographs as Mohammed Rafi! (Laughs) That shows the simplicity of the man. No airs, no arrogance. Just simple human being.   

What about your spat with him in connection with the B.R. Chopra-Yash Chopra clan? Is there any truth to it?
There was indeed a spat. But the problem was not between us. It was between Rafi saab and the Chopras where the latter totally ignored Rafi saab after he refused to sing a duet with me in one of their movies.

Rafi saab  had made it very clear much before my career hit a high note that we should not sing together, mainly because of two reasons.

One because we shared a guru-chela relationship and there should be no competition between us and secondly because our voices very similar.

Can you pick out favourites in your songs and music directors?
In songs perhaps yes. One of my favourites is Chalo Ek Baar. I put in a lot of passion while singing it. It is also my favourite because perhaps this was one song that gave me a lot of recognition and a distinct identity. But it is difficult to pick out music directors. It would be an injustice to others.

So can we have a small list of favourites?
It's still difficult. All were greats. Naushad saab, C. Ramchandra, Kalyanji-Anandji, (O.P.) Nayyar saab.

You rarely mention Ravi although most of your best songs were his creations and the Ravi-Mahendra Kapoor-B.R. Films combination held sway for a long time...
See this is what happens when I start listing out. It reminds me of the old story where while inviting relatives for a wedding one tends to forget the closest mostly as their presence is considered a 'given'.

In fact I would say nobody understood and made use of my calibre as much as Ravi saab did.