Of all the male singers who ruled the 50’s and 60’s, the one I’ve usually tended to ignore is Mukesh—and for what I must admit is a somewhat prejudiced reason: the most recognisable Mukesh songs, at least for me, are the ones he sang for Raj Kapoor, and nearly all of them just don’t appeal to me. Is it the fact that they’re picturised on RK (whom I, being the iconoclast I am, don’t much like)? Who knows?
But for Mukesh’s birth anniversary (he was born on July 23, 1923), I decided to explore Mukesh’s songs in greater detail—and realised that a lot of songs I really, really like are in his voice.
So here they are: my ten favourite Mukesh songs, all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films that I’ve seen. Beginning with my favourite.
1. Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958; with Asha Bhonsle): Having started off by saying that I don’t like most of what Mukesh sang for Raj Kapoor, I’ll name this song as one of the exceptions. It’s hard to describe the power of this song: Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics are a bitter comment on the misery of the present, but also a hopeful dream for the future; Khayyam’s music is beautiful, almost caressingly gentle—and Mukesh’s voice, low, languid yet superbly controlled, never fails to give me gooseflesh. One of the most moving songs ever, as far as I’m concerned.
2. Saaranga teri yaad mein (Saranga, 1960): I first heard this song when I was about 10 years old. A colleague of my father’s sang it at a party, and to this day, I can recall how beautifully he sang. No wonder, hearing the original is such an experience for me. Mukesh’s voice, filled with anguish and heartbreak, is perfectly suited to Sardar Malik’s music in this song that speaks of a beloved who’s gone far, far away.
3. Zindagi khwaab hai (Jaagte Raho, 1956): Undoubtedly one of the best ‘under the influence of alcohol’ songs in Hindi cinema. Mukesh doesn’t hiccup or slur his words, but the deceptively light-hearted lilt of his voice, combined with what is actually deep philosophy—life is a dream, and everything in a dream is real—is a very potent mix.
Interestingly, Mukesh here sings for the man who introduced him to the world of Hindi cinema. Motilal was a distant relative of Mukesh, and having heard Mukesh sing at a wedding in Delhi, persuaded him to accompany Motilal to Bombay. The rest, as they say, is history.
4. Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye (Anand, 1971): I know I said this list would be from the 50’s and 60’s, but I tend to think of Anand as a late 60’s film made in 1971. The quiet charm of the story, the fact that Amitabh Bachchan is still not the angry young man, and that Rajesh Khanna is at his peak: so 60’s. And Mukesh, singing Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne, or even better, this wonderfully philosophical song. Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye is for me a fine example of a song that manages to be very touching without descending into a dirge. Salil Choudhary’s music is divine, the lyrics (by Yogesh) are poignant, and Mukesh’s rendition is perfect.
5. Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein (Anokhi Raat, 1968): Unlike most of my other favourite Mukesh songs, this one isn’t sorrowful and/or depressing. Instead, it’s a lyrical bit of philosophy that goes from a seemingly superficial comment on the inevitability of confluence in nature—the meeting of pond and river, river and sea—and builds it into the sweetness of a love story come true. Mukesh’s earthy voice is perfect for this, the romance of a naive villager and the girl he’s married: very gentle and touching.
6. Zinda hoon is tarah (Aag, 1948): Yes, another Mukesh-sings-for-Raj Kapoor song. And though I said I don’t usually care for the combination, this one has a mesmerising beauty to it that I can’t help but admire (is it the fact that RK looks a lot like kid brother Shammi?!). A tragic film, and the song, brimming over with despair and loneliness, is equally tragic—but Mukesh imparts to it a depth of feeling that makes Zinda hoon is tarah unforgettable.
7. Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen (Madhumati, 1958): Salil Choudhary created one of Hindi cinema’s greatest scores with Madhumati. This song, the first in the film, is almost a hymn in praise of the natural beauty of the countryside—as seen through the eyes of a newly-arrived traveller. Mukesh’s voice exudes joy and a sort of fascinated delight, a celebration of the beauty all around. And the ‘echo’ effect is fabulous!
8. Yeh mera deewaanapan hai (Yahudi, 1958): Once again, Mukesh singing for Dilip Kumar. This one is much more complex than Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen, because there are so many nuances to this song: the deep love of a man for his beloved; his pride in his love, which almost borders on hubris—and the slowly emerging despair as he realises that his beloved may not come to meet him. Superbly sung, and the start of the song is a fine showcase of the perfect control Mukesh had over his voice. Not a single musical instrument there, but Mukesh’s voice is music in itself.
9. Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai (Boond jo ban gayi moti, 1967): Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai reminds me of Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen: both songs are in praise of nature. But Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai is a less exuberant, more ‘hushed with reverence’ song: you can almost hear the awe and wonder in Mukesh’s voice as he sings the title words: Who is this artist, to have created such beauty?
10. Jaaoon kahaan bata ae dil (Chhoti Bahen, 1959): This is the sort of song I usually tended to associate (I admit now, wrongly) with Mukesh’s voice: despairing, desperate and angst-ridden. Just one line: “Chaandni aayi ghar jalaane” (“the moonlight shines to burn my house”) is sufficient to explain the gist of Jaaoon kahaan bata ae dil. And yet, the mellifluous way Mukesh sings this rather depressing song makes it worthwhile to listen to. Heartbreaking but beautiful.
After days of careful listening to Mukesh’s songs to do this post, I have to admit: I was wrong. He does have a wonderful voice, and I do like him a lot. And I’ve not even begun to list Mukesh songs from films I’ve not yet seen (Dekho mausam kya bahaar hai, Woh tere pyaar ka gham…), Mukesh songs from the later 70’s (Ek pyaar ka naghma hai, Kai baar yoon bhi dekha hai…) or Mukesh songs that are picturised on Raj Kapoor, but which I like nevertheless (Aasmaan pe hai khuda aur zameen pe hum, Kisi ki muskurahaton pe ho nisaar…). I could probably create another Mukesh post within a couple of months.
Happy birthday, Mukesh. And for all those years I failed to recognise your genius.