Interview Hindi

Kavita Krishnamurthy: ‘Hawa Hawaii’ was a big feather in my cap

On the 30th anniversary of Mr India (1987), the singer shares her experience of recording the much-loved song in one take, mentions how a tiny mispronunciation became legendary, and relives the joy of singing with the inimitable Kishore Kumar.

Kavita Krishnamurthy and Sridevi

Sonal Pandya

Mr India (1987), which celebrated 30 years of its release today (29 May), had all the elements of a cult classic – a stellar cast of veterans and children, legendary dialogues and characters, and, of course, excellent music which makes the film timeless.

For singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, the soundtrack was a turning point. It made the newcomer a household name and she never looked back. In an exclusive interview with, Kavita shared amusing and memorable moments from the recording of the film’s songs.

She revealed that before Mr India (1987), she had sung a few songs for composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal which never got released. Essentially, early in her career, Kavita was more a stand-by artist. "I would sing the song for shooting purposes, but the song would ultimately be dubbed by Lataji," she explained. "In the album, it would be her voice. But my voice would be used for shooting so that it helps the actress to emote."

Asked to sing ‘Hawa Hawaii’, Kavita assumed, naturally, that her voice would eventually be dubbed over. She recalled that the song was probably recorded around the end of 1985 and everybody was present at the recording, including lyricist Javed Akhtar.

"There were probably 100 musicians, 30-40 chorus singers, and everybody reported around 12:30 pm to Mehboob Studios. It was such a big song that we knew it would take the whole day to record this. I rehearsed with Laxmiji inside the singer’s cabin and got my words straightened out [while] the musicians were practising with Pyarebhai. The music sheets had been given out in the morning. By 3 or 4 o’clock, they were ready for a kind of rehearsal with me in the hall. And once the rehearsal was done a couple of times, I would go to the mike and there would be a couple of mike rehearsals, and then the take would start."

That was standard procedure for most recordings. However, in between the rehearsals, Javed Akhtar came in and a few more words like 'hassi tosi, lassi pissi' were added, that too because a couple of musicians told Laxmiji that some Punjabi words should be included. When prompted, they said something like lassi and that’s how the words were fitted into the opening.

“[Javed saheb] would say, ‘Kavitaji, sab note kar dijiye [do remember all of this]’. And then he came in much later and said, “Laxmiji, last night, this fantastic word came to my mind. It is a fitting end to my opening line, which is ‘Mombasa’. Laxmiji said, “It’s a very nice word, let’s add it.’ And the opening line was reconstructed, I remember learning it [again]. Rehearsing in the music hall with 100 musicians around me, it was nerve-wracking. And every time I would begin, they would start laughing and I would start laughing. It was kind of embarrassing, Pyarebhai came in and scolded us, “All of you be serious! Don’t waste the producer’s money’,” she recounted.

Being a new singer, Kavita was apprehensive about making a mistake in front of all the experienced musicians and having them play the song again. So, while singing, though she mispronunced ‘jaanu’ as ‘jeenu’ at one point, "I continued the song [thinking], ‘Okay, it’s a dubbing and it can be corrected later.’ With full focus, I sang the song. When it was finished, everyone said, ‘Okay’. The recordist’s voice [from inside] said, ‘Take okay’. Within seconds, the musicians packed their stuff and left, before I could even tell Laxmiji [about my error].”

Kavita had thought that some other singer — probably Asha Bhosle, as it would have suited her style — would get to sing the final version of ‘Hawa Hawaii’. So she was pleasantly surprised when some time later she got a call from Laxmikant who told her they were retaining the song in her voice.

In her happiness, Kavita told the music director about her error and suggested they re-record the song. "Koi farak nahi padta," Laxmikant responded, "kisiko pata nahi chalega ki apne jeenu kaha hai. Unhe lagega yeh funny line hai. Aur aapne jaise gaya hai, dobara aap waise gaa nahin sakengi Kavitaji. [It doesn’t matter. No one will notice you said ‘jeenu’. And those who do will think it’s deliberate. The way you have sung it, you won't be able to sing it again.]

Laughing about the incident, the veteran singer said, "I was extremely apprehensive, but it just hit the charts and no one ever questioned me. Only when I tell people do they say, ‘Oh!’, otherwise, they don’t know I’ve made that mistake."

Kavita had worked extremely hard memorizing the difficult line. "I forced myself to stay awake at night and kept saying 'Lakee chikee chu, aka chikee lakee chikee chikee, lakee chikee chu'. I had to sing it and it was a bit of a tongue-twister. My mother thought I was a bit mad. She said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Ma, I have to sing this song tomorrow and learn the words.’ She was very amused!”

For Kavita, the song was a game changer and challenged her greatly as a singer. "The opening lines, if you see, are not very traditional singing, because you had to have a slightly comic operatic voice. I was very straight-laced and [felt] shy of laughing in a song. Doing comedy was not part of my nature. I was a little inhibited. So this song helped me open up. After this, I sang a lot of naughty songs without having to worry,” she laughed again.

Working with Laxmikant-Pyarelal was indeed a highlight, but Kavita Krishnamurthy was also excited to have an opportunity to sing with Kishore Kumar. The day they sang ‘Karte Hain Hum Pyaar Mr India Se’ with him was, as she recalls, "an extremely funny day".

She remembers how Kishore Kumar charmed her, Laxmikant and the rest of the team with his stories. Kavita had already attended the previous rehearsals at Laxmiji’s house while Kishore Kumar came in later in the afternoon to learn the song.

"While the musicians were preparing for the song, which took at least another couple of hours, he started telling us funny stories of his life, how he came from Khandwa to Bombay where his brother Ashok Kumar was shooting and how he met BR Chopra for the first time. So, for two hours, Laxmiji was amused and I laughed my guts out.

"Suddenly they were ready for a take, [and] I couldn’t for the life of me sing, because I had been laughing for two hours. I had to clear my throat and drink oodles of water to clear my voice to sing with Kishoreda. Because in those days, you had to sing the song with him. And [suddenly] Kishoreda is standing next to me! My hands went cold because I couldn't imagine how I would sing a note. So before my final mike rehearsal, Kishoreda turns, looks at me, and says with a mischievous smile, "Haan, bahut hasi ho na, chalo ab gao [Okay, so you laughed a lot, now sing]”.

Kavita Krishnamurthy believes the Mr India songs have remained timeless because they were great on their own but worked well within the context of the film. The film opened doors for her and got her many more films. She continues to sing the song at concerts she performs in around the world.

"Even a few days ago, in Houston [Texas, United States], I had the audience tapping their feet to the song. It’s a great song that Laxmikant-Pyarelal have [composed] and Javed saheb’s lyrics have fit beautifully into the whole thing. It’s a very clean, fun song, without any elements of cheapness. In fact, for a singer, though it’s a fun song, you can see that it requires prowess. It’s a feather in my cap. I would say it’s one of the biggest feathers in my cap. Of all the songs, people still say we remember ‘Hawa Hawaii’. It has bridged so many generations and I will continue singing it till I’m very old and everybody tells me to shut up and not sing!"