On his 64th birthday, Shailendra Singh, who was once the voice of Rishi Kapoor, spoke extensively with Cinestaan.com about his singing career, his colleagues, and changes in the film industry.
Most singers today don't have distinct voices: Shailendra Singh
Mumbai - 04 Oct 2016 17:59 IST
Updated : 20:18 IST
Think 1970s Hindi film music and one of the first names that springs to mind is Shailendra Singh.
Blessed with a unique voice and good looks, Singh was handpicked by Raj Kapoor to be the voice of his son, Rishi Kapoor, whom he was launching as a hero in Bobby (1973).
For the next decade and a half, Singh lent his voice to Kapoor and a few other actors as well. Songs like Hoga Tumse Pyar Kaun (Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai), Jaane Do Na (Saagar) and Main Shayar Toh Nahi (Bobby) are counted amongst the finest romantic numbers.
As the singer turned a year older today, he spoke exclusively to Cinestaan.com, sharing his journey, how Raj Kapoor pampered him, and about having no regrets with his career not lasting very long. Excerpts:
Shailendraji, you have always hailed Mohammad Rafi as your inspiration. It's your birthday today, so I wonder whether you are reminded about the popular Rafi track, Hum bhi agar bachche hote... Happy birthday to you.
Yes, absolutely. I remember this song very well. It's difficult to pinpoint one favourite, because Rafi saheb had so many great songs. The one song that I’ve admired the most is Tere Mere Sapne from Guide (1965).
I’m not sure whether birthday parties were in vogue in the retro era, but how does Shailendra Singh celebrate his birthday in the new era?
There were never any extravagant celebrations in those days. In fact, I don’t like to celebrate my birthday at all. I have a handful of 3-4 friends. They usually come over and we go out for a quiet dinner. It’s hard to find good friends today. You can count them on your fingertips.
How did a man who studied acting at FTII [the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune] end up as a singer?
I used to learn singing from childhood. However, I was never really fond of singing. I never wanted to become a playback singer. I went [to FTII] to study acting. I had got a call from Raj Kapoor saheb. There was one Mr VP Sathe... he owned Bombay Publicity. He used to write scripts with KA Abbas for Raj Kapoor saheb. He knew my father and called me from Pune, and fixed a meeting with Raj saheb. The great man heard [the voice] and immediately decided to sign me for Bobby.
You didn’t aspire to be a playback singer. So, were you nervous when Raj Kapoor made you the offer?
No, I was never nervous in life. Be it singing or films or stage, I never felt any nerves.
You were clearly Raj Kapoor’s discovery, but I read that Laxmikant-Pyarelal were initially looking at other options. Did it take time for L-P to gel with you?
They [L-P] thought that a new voice wouldn’t be ideal for a film like Bobby. They reckoned that a newcomer could get nervous. They were in favour of having an established star singer like Mohammad Rafi. However, Raj saheb explained to L-P that my hero is around age 16-17, and so he needs a fresh new voice. So, that went in my favour.
Once I was selected, everything fell into place smoothly. Pyarebhai was a bit serious character, but Laxmiji was very friendly, full of life, much like RD Burman. Once we bagan the recording, the duo was very supportive.
Before Bobby, RK Films was going through bad times, with some of its previous films failing at the box office. Did you fear that if Bobby did not click then it could have a severe impact on your career too?
Absolutely. Had the film not clicked, it would have had an adverse effect on my career. Thankfully, Bobby turned out to be a superhit. And when a film clicks, it helps the songs as well. No one thought Bobby would be such a mega success. Raj saheb had suffered a huge loss in Mera Naam Joker (1970). This film had new actors, a new singer, and Laxmikant-Pyarelal were composing music for the first time for Raj Kapoor.
How would you summarise your experience of Bobby?
It was a wonderful experience purely because Raj saheb really pampered me. The hero of the film was his son, yet he projected me very well. Who could have thought of getting a break like this? I don’t recollect anyone getting such a break. There were great singers before me, but no one would have dreamt of getting such a break. I guess my stars were well aligned then. Everything happens according to your destiny.
You were just 19 then. How was it to sing with Lata Mangeshkar?
When I was recording the mahurat song 'Main Shayar Toh Nahi', Lataji came to bless me. We sat and chatted for a long time. I couldn’t believe that Lataji was talking to me. When the recording began, she broke the coconut and then left. If you have the blessings of Lataji, then the song has to be a hit. Later, I started singing the duets with her. Never did I feel that I was singing with a great singer. She made me feel very comfortable. That is what makes her such a great artiste. I was truly blessed to get Bobby.
I was reading that during Bobby’s success party, Dimple Kapadia and you were made to stand on long benches. Would you like to tell us more about that?
This party happened after all the songs were recorded. We had these huge benches, where all the rhythmists used to sit and play. Raj saheb made us [Rishi, Dimple, me] stand on the big stool. There he introduced all of us – first his son Rishi, he asked all to bless him as he was making his debut as a leading hero. Then he introduced Dimple as the leading lady, one who plays the titular character. And then he introduced me as the star of the day. He showered many praises on me and all of us were garlanded. I can never forget that moment. I’ll always be grateful to Raj saheb. It is because of him that you are interviewing me today.
You worked with several top music directors, but surprisingly you had a relatively short career. What was the reason?
I don’ t know the exact reasons, but there is a lot of politics in our industry.
When you say politics, are you referring to lobbying by powerful people?
Maybe. I wish I could pinpoint a reason so I could have tackled it then. There is a lot of politics in the industry. It’s my bad luck that it happened to me. However, whatever songs I sang were hits.
Did the politics weigh you down?
Yes, it was disappointing, but then I don’t believe in sitting and brooding over anything. What is gone is gone, you can’t get it back. You need to shut it and move ahead in life. This attitude helped me a lot. One song that really touched me in these times was Rafi saheb’s song, ‘Main zindagi ka saat nibhata chala gaya, har fikr ko dhuen me udata chala gaya’. The song has a very positive effect.
Shailendra Singh is described as the voice of Rishi Kapoor. In hindsight, do you feel that when a singer gets such a tag, his/her career tends to be limited to the stardom enjoyed by that actor? It may have been irrelevant in the golden years of Indian cinema, but can a singer afford such a tag today?
It does affect, but you see Rishi has been acting for many years. I’ve sung for other heroes too. In the Kapoor family itself, I’ve sung for everyone except Ranbir Kapoor.
Can such a tag harm a current singer? I don’t think so. Such tagging will always help. The problem with our singers today is that they don’t have a distinct voice. So, you can’t distinguish between them. Save for a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who has a unique voice, most voices today are unrecognisable. In the 1990s, Udit Narayan used to sing very well.
You’ve been quoted in an interview as saying that Kalyanji Anandji didn’t like your voice. Why did you feel so?
Well, I didn’t do much work with them. I have done few songs with them, there is no reason for them to not like my voice. Look, I was too young and new to the industry, so I couldn’t go and ask them to give me a song.
I know you don’t follow much contemporary music, but I wonder what you made of Salman Khan allegedly dropping Arijit Singh from a song in Sultan? Did actors enjoy such power in your time?
Well, I wasn’t aware of such a controversy. So, I can’t comment on it. In our times, actors were told, not asked, about who is singing for them. Everyone, though, knew who was the playback singer. Mukeshji sang for Raj saheb, classical songs went to Manna Dey, I had never heard such controversy in those days. The musical strings were purely in the hands of the composer. It was they who decided whether this song suited a particular singer or not. The director could always have his suggestions, and if the composer found merit in them, he would change the voice. The final call though rested with the composer. After all, it is his baby. They know better which singer can do justice to the song.
You helped a lot of people, but they never expressed gratitude... would you like to talk about such people?
Why should I talk about them? It’s not that I can’t help people now, but I’ve decided not to help anyone. These composers never used my voice. Maybe for a song or two, but they never returned the gratitude. There are all kinds of people in this world. Some are grateful, some are ungrateful. Some of these composers were big names, but today they are struggling.
In a time, where yesteryear actors and other artistes are coming back, why don’t we get to hear the great voice of Shailendra Singh anymore?
If I get a good song, I will take it up. After all, I still love singing. The problem is that there are too many good singers now. And most of them are doing well. Probably they [music composers] feel that I’m too old to sing.
But age has nothing to do with the quality of voice.
Yeah, please tell that to the composers. I’m open to singing any song. I haven’t given up singing. I still do a lot of stage shows.