Pankaj Udhas, who took ghazal to the masses, dies at 72 | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Pankaj Udhas, who took ghazal to the masses, dies at 72

Feb 27, 2024 08:10 AM IST

Pankaj Udhas ‘Chhithi Aayee Hai’ from Mahesh Bhatt’s 1986 film Naam, routinely reduces many an NRI to blubbering tears while yet others swear by the emotional sway of Chandi Jaisa Rang Hai Tera or Ghungroo Toot Gaye

Narendra Kusnur

Mumbai, India - July 18, 2018: Profile picture of Pankaj Udhas poses for picture during announcement of 17th Khazana Festival which raise funds for Parents Association Thalassemic Unit Trust & Cancer Patients Aid Association in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times) (Kunal Patil/HT Photo)
Mumbai, India - July 18, 2018: Profile picture of Pankaj Udhas poses for picture during announcement of 17th Khazana Festival which raise funds for Parents Association Thalassemic Unit Trust & Cancer Patients Aid Association in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times) (Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

Every ghazal aficionado has a Pankaj Udhas favourite. His ‘Chhithi Aayee Hai’ from Mahesh Bhatt’s 1986 film Naam, routinely reduces many an NRI to blubbering tears while yet others swear by the emotional sway of Chandi Jaisa Rang Hai Tera or Ghungroo Toot Gaye.

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Udhas’s death in Mumbai after a prolonged illness brings the curtain down on the troika of ghazal maestros who ruled the sound waves in the 80s and the 90s in India: Jagjit Sigh, Bhupinder Singh and Udhas.

Udhas was also known for promoting a younger generation of ghazal singers. Along with his friends Talat Aziz and Anup Jalota he launched the annual Khazana festival in 2002, providing a platform for both experienced artistes and upcoming talent. The event, which Udhas helmed, raised funds for cancer and thalassaemia patients through the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) and Parents Association Thalassaemic Unit Trust (Patut). Udhas’s last performance was at the festival in September last year.

Born on May 17, 1951, at Jetpur in Rajkot district of Gujarat, Udhas was the youngest brother of singers Manhar and Nirmal Udhas. His father, Keshubhai was a government employee who played the stringed instrument, dilruba. The young Pankaj started his musical journey by learning the tabla, but later took to singing, first under Ghulam Qadir Khan and later, after he moved to Mumbai, under Navrang Nagpurkar. In interactions with this writer, he often talked of his love for classical vocalist Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, playback singer Talat Mahmood, ghazal queen Begum Akhtar but also for Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.

Simultaneously, he began appreciating the Urdu poetry of Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, besides the philosophy of Omar Khayyam. When the ghazal wave stormed India in the late 1970s with singers like Jagjit and Chitra Singh, and Rajendra and Nina Mehta, it was only natural for Udhas to step into the genre. His debut album Aahat was released in 1980, and there has been no looking back after that.

The 1981 album Mu-Ka-Rar had the hits, ‘Deewaron Se Milkar Rona’ written by Qaisal-ul-Jafri, and ‘Jheel Mein Chand’ by Mumtaz Rashid, a poet who he worked with regularly. Concert favourites would include ‘Chandi Jaisa Rang’ and ‘Ghungroo Toot Gaye’.

His other private albums Tarannum, Nayaab and Aafreen were also hugely successful, but ‘Chhithi Aayee Hai’, in which he appeared on screen along with Sanjay Dutt took his popularity up several notches. The success of Naam propelled him to sing for other films. His film hits included ‘Jeeye To Jeeye Kaise’ (one of the two versions in the film Saajan), ‘Chhupana Bhi Nahin Aata’ (Baazigar) and ‘Na Kajre Ki Dhaar’ (with Sadhana Sargam in Mohra).

As a ghazal singer, Udhas would cater to different audiences. Songs like ‘Thodi Thodi Piya Karo’, ‘Sabko Maloom Hai’, ‘Main Nashe Mein Hoon’ and ‘Ek Taraf Uska Ghar’ were aimed at party-goers and tipplers. On the other hand, he released the album Rubayee in 1998, based on the concept of ‘rubayee’ or four-line verses started by Omar Khayyam, whose poetry used intoxication as a metaphor for happiness and joy.

The singer’s love for poetry led to tributes to Mirza Ghalib on the album Forever Ghalib, Meer Taqi Meer on In Search Of Meer and Faiz Ahmed Faiz on Dastakhat. He also worked with contemporary poet Zafar Gorakhpuri on the 1998 album Stolen Moments and with Gulzar on the 2018 release Nayaab Lamhe. In August 2023, he did the concert Ghalib Se Gulzar Tak at the Tata Theatre in Mumbai, highlighting the contribution of these poets. “There has been a rich tradition of poetry, both in Urdu and Hindi. As singers, it is our duty to keep the art alive,” he would say.

Friends and fans remember Udhas for his friendliness and ready smile, besides the passion he showed for the ghazal genre. To quote a line by Noor Narvi that he once sang, “Aap jinke kareeb hote hain, woh bade khushnaseeb hote hain”. That warmth Pankaj Udhas radiated, will be missed.

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