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His voice echoed ‘mystical romanticism’ and deep feelings

Bhupinder Singh was an out-of-the-box singer with a gifted voice completely distanced from the famous mainstream singers like Manna De, Hemant Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Mahendra Kapoor and Kishore Kumar. There was a distinctly nasal tone in his singing voice which stood him apart and made him extremely popular among his numerous fans.  Singh passed away in a Mumbai hospital on July 19 of illness. He was 82 and leaves behind his wife Mitali and son. Shoma A. Chatterji pays a tribute

Recognition was a long distance away from the time Bhupinder Singh made his musical debut in the 1964 Chetan Anand film Haqeeqat, based on the 1962 Sino-India war, where Singh sang with Manna Dey, Rafi and Talat Mahmood in that memorable song, Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne, in which Singh appeared on screen along with Balraj Sahni and others. The film had a wartime backdrop but stood out just because of the songs and the music.

Singh again appeared on screen to sing his first solo in Akhri Khat (1966), Rut Jawan Jawan, a rare jazz composition by the master of the ghazal, Khayyam. Singh’s brooding and unusual voice was finding its ground in cinema. Later, Singh lent his voice to two similar ghazals for Khayyam the same year: Ahl-e-Dil Yun BhiNibhaLete Hain in Dard (1981), and the beautifully written Kabhi Kisiko Muqammal Jahan by Nida Fazli in Ahista Ahista (1981) which has the line that resonates today: Zuban mili hai magar hum zuban nahi milta.

Singhs’s first solo track happened with Rut Jawan Jawan Raat Mehrbaan in the Khayyam composed feature film Aakhri Khat. He spent more than 50 years as a playback singer. Few knew he was gifted in playing the guitar. He was the guitarist on several popular tracks, including Dum Maaro Dum, Chura Liya Hai, Chingari Koi Bhadke and Mehbooba O Mehbooba. And, of course, apart from his Bollywood career, Singh was known for his lovely ghazals. His first LP was released in 1968.

Singh began his career working in the All India Radio, Delhi, and in Doordarshan as a singer and musician. Spotted by composer Madan Mohan during one of the All India Radio parties, he was called to Bombay. From the classic Dil Dhoondta Hai (Mausam), to the more upbeat Hothon Pe Aisi Baat (Jewel Thief), Bhupinder displayed his vocal range in multiple hits. Born in Amritsar, Bhupinder Singh began his music training from childhood and took his first lessons in music from his father, a music teacher. While he went on to accomplish great success in his chosen field, it was said that Bhupinder was not very fond of either music or the instruments he had to learn when he was a child.

Singh’s long relationship with R.D. Burman began in the early 1970s with the duet he sang with Lata Mangeshkar in Parichay (1972), Biti Na Bitaye Raina. Singh sang his part of the song, set in Yaman Kalyan, with poise, confidence and understated finesse. The RD-Bhupinder collaboration flowered in Kinara (1977) not just with the duet with Lata, Naam Gum Jaayega (set in Yaman Kalyan again), but with the conversational solo number, written by Gulzar, Ek Hi Khwaab, where Singh also plays the guitar. 

In Gulzar’s serial Mirza Ghalib (1988) aired on Doordarshan, composer and singer Jagjit Singh made Bhupinder Singh lend his voice to poet-king Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ghazal, Ya Mujhe Afsar-e-Shahana Banaya Hota, and Ghalib’s rival and courtly poet, Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq’s Lai Hayat Aye. Both ghazals in the serial, sung on the demise of the poets, exude a special quality of pathos. Another ghazal of subtler quality is from Shyam Benegal’s film Nishant, PiyaTujhAashna Hun Main, composed by Vanraj Bhatia, with lyrics by Quli Qutub Shah.

In RD’s Huzur is Kadar Bhi from Masoom, Singh offers the playful depth, as Suresh Wadkar renders the lighter nuances. His true worth came across in his work with Gulzar as the lyricist and R.D. Burman as the music director. There was a mystical romanticism in his voice where the undulations in the rhythms and the melody still stand sharply etched.

July – September 2022