I Compose I Sing

Did you know that in our part of the world, Aaj jaane ki zid na karo qualifies as the song rendered by the highest number of recorded artists? Originally created for the Pakistani film Baadal Aur Bijli (1973), this Fayyaz Hashmi written nazm was first recorded by Habib Wali Mohammad and set in Raag Yaman Kalyan by Sohail Rana. After that, it was sung by Farida Khanum, who eternalized it. Later yet, many established artists rendered it in their voices. These include Asha Bhosle, Anup Jalota, Arijit Singh, Shilpa Rao, AR Rehman, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Soma Ghosh, Radhika Chopra, Osman Mir, Ghulam Abbas Khan, Roop Kumar Rathod, and dozens of other accomplished people who gave it a shot, in the recording studio or on the stage.

Outside films, it is quite common for many singers to offer the same poem in their own style. For instance, Ghalib’s ghazal Ye na thi hamaari qismat ke wisaal-e-yaar hota has been sung by at least a dozen accomplished singers, including Rafi, Habib Wali Mohammad, Begum Akhtar, Amanat Ali Khan, Tina Sani, Talat Aziz, Sabri Brothers, Jagjit Singh-Chitra Singh, Abida Parveen, Ahmed Hussain-Mohammad Hussain, Iqbal Bano, and as a duet by Salim Raza with Noor Jahan. Non-film renditions apart, this poem has been featured in films also, by Suraiya in Mirza Ghalib (1954) and Usha Mangeshkar in Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959). The standard thing in such varied renderings is that the tunes are all composed differently. Aaj jaane ki zid na karo amazes not only for its unbeatably high number of people rendering it, but also in the fact that every single person who has sung it has stuck to the same original tune made in 1973. That’s an unspoken admission of the possibility that listeners may reject any poking of this holy cow, so deeply has the original tune been assimilated into our systems.

That said, you get down to asking around about the different versions of Aaj jaane ki zid na karo, and find that everyone has their personal favorite, but perhaps the least liked version from the names mentioned above is the attempt by AR Rehman. Granted that he is not a mainstream singer. In fact it is interesting that he is the only mainstream composer from that list, and only an occasional singer. But his effort prompts many to wonder why he essayed this song in the first place, and why he couldn’t stick to composing.

Rehman is not alone. Many mainstream composers have over the decades attempted to sing. When they deliver less than excellently, they are accused of grabbing the mike. Recently, there have been Anu Malik, Shankar Mahadevan, Wajid (of Sajid-Wajid), Salim (of Salim-Sulaiman), Vishal Dadlani (of Vishal-Shekhar), Aadesh Shrivastava, Amit Trivedi, Bappi Lahiri and Vishal Bhardwaj. Such people have drawn courage from new technology that allows sound engineers to correct many of the errors in the voice. All that is very well, but technology doesn’t assist in correcting our pronunciation, much less help us in our expression.

This is not to say that it’s impossible to be both a great singer and composer at the same time. We have had instances of people good at both. Think of Bhupen Hazarika and Hemant Kumar. There have been Pankaj Mullick and Kishore Kumar, and a few more. There have even been opinions on whether such people have been better singers or composers. Which is fine, because such people have excelled in both areas. But these apart, other artists who were essentially just composers took a shot at singing now and then. We look at Hindi cinema now, and identify a few instances of artists who sang for themselves:

  • Amirbai Karnataki: Taqdeer ne hasa ke humen phir rula diya and Kuchh keh na sake kuchh keh bhi gaye (both from Shahnaz, 1948)
  • Anil Biswas: Humen maar chala ye khayaal ye gham (Arzoo, 1950) and Daftar ho ya ghar ho bhaiya (with Asha/Abhimaan, 1957)
  • Bappi Lahiri: Jaana kahaan hai (with Sulakshana Pandit/Chalte Chalte, 1976) and Raat baaqi baat baaqi (with Asha Bhosle/Namak Halal, 1982)
  • Bhupen Hazarika: Dil hoom hoom kare (Rudali, 1993) and Gaja gamini tu hai man mohini (Gaja Gamini, 2000)
  • Bulo C Rani: Asha ko hasaayen (with Amirbai Karnataki/Preet, 1945) and Utth to chale avadhoot (with Geeta Roy/Jogan, 1950)
  • C Ramchandra (as Chitalkar): Mere piya gaye Rangoon (with Shamshad Begum/Patanga, 1949) and Daane-daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam (Baarish, 1957)
  • Chitragupt: Sardi ka bukhaar achha (with Kishore Kumar/Manchala, 1953) and Tere pyaar mein hue badnaam (with Shamshad Begum/Toote Khilone, 1954)
  • Hemant Kumar: Na ye chaand hoga (Shart, 1954) and Ya dil ki suno duniya waalo (Anupama, 1966)
  • Khayyam: Ye caarvaan-e-zindagi na aye Khuda ruke kabhi (Parda, 1949) and Kab yaad mein tera saath naheen (with Jagjit Kaur/Anjuman, 1986)
  • Kishore Kumar: Koi humdum na raha (Jhumroo, 1961) and Aa chal ke tujhe (Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, 1964)
  • Madan Mohan: Humse na dil ko lagaana (with Shamshad Begum/Aankhen, 1950) and Chinchpokli ho Chinchpokli (with Shamshad Begum/Shabistan, 1951)
  • Manna Dey: Meri doobti naiyya ko paar lagaane waala kaun (Shiv Kanya, 1954) and Om jai jai jai Mahadev (Jai Mahadev, 1955)
  • Mukesh: Koi dil mein hai aur koi hai nazar mein and Pal bhar hi ki pehchaan mein (both from Anurag, 1956)
  • Pankaj Mullick: Ye kaun aaj aaya savere-savere (Nartaki, 1940) and Chalen pawan ki chaal (Doctor, 1941)
  • Ravi: Log to mar kar jalte honge (Gauri, 1968) and Qismat ke khel niraale mere bhaiya (Ek Phool Do Maali, 1969)
  • Ravindra Jain; Jaate hue ye pal chhin (Akhiyon Ke Jharokon Se, 1978) and Kab tak rootthi rahogi Radha rani (Man Abhimaan, 1980)
  • RD Burman: Mehbooba mehbooba (Sholay, 1975) and Dil lena khel hai dildaar ka (Zamane Ko Dikhaana Hai, 1981)
  • SD Burman: Wahaan kaun hai tera musafir (Guide, 1965) and Safal hogi teri aradhana (Aradhana, 1969)
  • Sudha Malhotra: Tum mujhe bhool bhi jao (with Mukesh/Didi, 1959)
  • Sudhir Phadke: Naino se bahe jal ki dhaara (with Lata/Malti Madhav, 1951) and Qismat ka naheen dosh baanware (with Lata/Sajni, 1956)
  • SN Tripathi: Chaandni chaand hai kitni door (Chandan, 1941) and Tum meri jeevan naiyya ho (Panghat, 1943)
  • Usha Khanna: Jab se bani hai ye duniya (with Mahendra Kapoor/Aao Pyaar Karen, 1964) and Jaan-e-man jaan-e-man (With Manna Dey/Haaye Mera Dil, 1968)

Most of the people listed above were composers first, but a few artists mentioned were primarily singers who had odd outings as composers. Thus we can see the latter from different prisms if we like, as singers who composed for themselves. We need to remember, however, that it is the composer who chooses a singer, and not vice-versa.

Blowing their own trumpet

Some people think artists try blowing their own trumpet louder when they attempt both singing and music making. But is there any harm if someone can manage to blow his own trumpet well this way? The problem appears when people stretch out to venture into unsafe zones.

One thinks of Meena Kumari, an excellent poetess, who had an album appropriately called “I Write I Recite”. Kavi Pradeep wrote and sang exceptionally, as if announcing “I Write I Sing”. Ravindra Jain and Prem Dhawan were the “I Write I Compose” kind. Today’s story is about people who say “I Compose I Sing”. Which is great, multitasking has virtues, though sometimes we need to be careful about overstretching.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 3 June 2018, page 13, http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-06-03

Featured image on top: from Ya dil ki suno duniya waalo

18 thoughts on “I Compose I Sing

  1. Aaj jane ki zid na karo is an enduring favourite, its appeal timeless. With so many having rendered it, it now rightfully sits on it’s own pedestal. But all this I have gathered from your article Manek, so thanks for that ?
    As for composers turning singers, I didn’t know there were that many on the list, other than the obvious ones that is. I do love Madan Mohan’s rendition of Maai ri from Dastak, almost as much as Lata’s…there’s something about the way he’s sung it…springs from his soul methinks.
    A thoroughly researched piece, wonderfully articulated Manek. Kudos! ??

    1. Madhur thank you! Madan Mohan has come across as so soulful in that rendering. In fact that is why he must have influenced his singers na? The enthusiasm travels when someone is so committed! Thanks again _()_

  2. There was no other supreme composer-cum-singer than good ol’ Burman-da. He chose the songs that he wanted to sing himself, very carefully, almost all of ‘em being background songs (so that the hero who is made to look younger on screen, never gets to sound more than his age).
    Burmanda generally boomed at either the beginning of the film, or at the climax and the effect he produced was mind-blowing. No other singer could have given ‘wahan kaun hai tera’ or ‘ mere sajan hai us paar’ the kind of goose-bump effect, that SDB gave thro’ his paan-chewing mouth.
    Same holds good for Hemant Kumar. I think he hardly used any other male singer for the songs he composed, and he rightly did so.
    Wouldn’t comment in Pankaj Mallick, as not too familiar with his songs.
    As for CR, a great composer but in my personal opinion, when it came to singing, he was like poor man’s Talat Mehmood. I wish he had spent a little money on the singers’ fees and given all his songs to Talat for singing, except ‘Albela’ which should have completely gone to Rafi.
    You made a passing mention of singers who strayed into composing. Sharadaji comes to mind. I think she composed for few films, but all that comes to mind is ‘Achha hi hua dil toot gaya’. Achha hi kiya, jo Sharadaji ne compose kiya, but it is debateable whether she should have stuck to singing or composing.

    1. Nathan, nice observations, esp the point about Dada Burman’s songs being in the background, so there would be no age mismatch with the hero. Never thought of it that way. I also think in background songs the director often wants to convey a kind of larger than life wisdom. As if wisdom herself is singing. And poor man’s Talat Mahmood was nice 🙂

  3. manekbhai writes in such a way that – the write does not cry for an addition or deletion but leaves a lot of room for discussion and join him in ” celebrating the thought “.

    IMHO – Dada Burman and Chitalkar Ramchandra, applied themselves in a divine way as they hugely respected their craft as holy. 🙂

    Pankaj Mullick belonged to an era wherein, one could do both with ease as there was enough space in such an exercise due to simplicity of times and expression. 🙂

    i just could not understand Anand Bakshi singing in a drooling voice picturised on Danny Denzongpa and the song went on to become quite popular. 🙂

    thanks for this feast from you Bhau. 🙂

  4. Two people stand out as composers / Singers -simply because of their body of work and quality of singing 1 ] Hemant Kumar 2 ] C Ramchandra.
    Though out of the purview of this blog ,I would like to mention here 2 names from the Marathi industry for the same quality of work 1 ] Sudhir Phadke 2 ] Hridaynath Mangeshkar. Put on a weighing scale it will be difficult to decide whether they were better composers or singers

    1. Hemant Kumar I agree Dilip, but in my book, C Ramchandra was a composing genius…and a fair singer, but finally not a great singer…just my views…

  5. Super spadework…I guess not everyone can be da Vinci! The celebrity trap is the one that gets people to over extend… The audience praises every flaw of a successful person n the celeb falls for the fake adulation n takes the baitn much to his own discredit. In fact in the case of Kishore kumar n Hemant kumar its difficult toa happy bonus for us since they were gifted in both areas.

    1. Hmm…so well said Lata. The successful person falls for the fake adulation and that makes him think he can do it, overreach 🙂

  6. Hmm…another way to look at these luminaries. You mostly presented composers who also sang. I was quite sure I had heard that Asha Bhosle had composed music for, either a film or non-film composition(s). I don’t quite remember the details. Maybe you would know. It was a one-off attempt that didn’t do well.
    As for “blowing their own trumpet”. you remind me of a quote I read in childhood 🙂 “One *should* blow their own trumpet – after all, you’re the only one that knows the tune!”
    Filhaal, suffice it to say that the kind of repertoire you have created with your writings, and, more often than not, unique ways of positioning your mind’s camera at the same subject – HFM – certainly deserves a little trumpet blowing!

    1. Don’t know about Asha making music Monica, but you may be right. You mostly are 🙂 Your remark about blowing one’s own trumpet reminds me of the legendary Ameen Sayani, whose programmes used to begin with a nice herald by a trumpet…what an entry then!

    2. Monica, not aware about Asha but Lata Mangeshkar has composed for Marathi movies, under the pseudonym ‘Anandghan’

  7. Nice topic to muse upon;and no judgemental comments.Open ended,as they say,in Psychotherapy.If one is a good singer,I feel there’s no harm in singing one’s song.In fact ‘Mukesh’s ‘Kise yaad rakhoon’ from Anurag,I feel is his best sung song alongwith the Choti Choti Baatein ‘Zindagi Khwaab hai’,by Anil Biswas.
    Of course Rahman is no singer,and I’ve reservations on his composing too.Another who sings with a feeble voice,most unmusical,is Ilayaraja.
    In fact ,most of the Composer/singers are pretty good. Of course ,I restrict my comments to those of a past era,and not the new crop.

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