By Andrew Buncombe
‘Playback singer’ who provided vocals for many of the biggest names in Hindi musicals
A movie singer who dominated the industry during what is considered the Golden Age of Hindi musical cinema, Mahendra Kapoor enjoyed a career that spanned five decades. Kapoor sang and recorded the songs that actors would later mime to, and at the height of his popularity his fame matched that of the big-name movie stars whom he made sound so good.
Kapoor got his break as what is still widely known in South Asia as a “playback singer”, after moving to Mumbai and winning a national youth singing contest. Inspired by the talents of industry legends such as Mohammed Rafi, his victory in the contest won him work in the director Raja Nawathe’s 1958 film Sohni Mahiwal. The following year, he secured his major breakthrough when he came to the attention of the composer and musical director Ramchandra Chitalkar, who hired him to perform in the movie Navrang.
It is said that Kapoor had a repertoire of more than 25,000 songs. Moreover, he was not restricted only to Hindi and could perform in a number of regional Indian languages. Indeed, within the world of Marathi language movies, he was known as the man who always sang for Dada Kondke, one of that industry’s biggest names.
Despite his versatility, however, it will be within the world of Bollywood that Kapoor will be best remembered. He was famous in particular for his singing in the films of the legendary director B.R. Chopra, including the movies Dhool Ka Phool (1959), Gumrah (1963), Waqt (1965) and Dhund (1973). Many of his best-known and most popular performances were on patriotic numbers.
Though he received a number of awards, including the Padma Shri which he was given by the Government of India in recognition of his contribution to the arts, some of his fans and relatives believed that he was not sufficiently recognised or appreciated by a newer generation of Bollywood directors and composers. After 1980, Kapoor had been singing largely in regional movies, mainly in the Punjabi, Bhojpuri and Marathi languages.
One of the singer’s children was Rohan Kapoor, an actor who appeared in several movies during the 1980s. He told mourners at the cremation that his father had always retained an interest in the industry, even after he left the big time. “He had always kept in touch with the latest happenings in the film industry and appreciated the improvement of the music quality of Bollywood movies of late,” he said.
Even after settling into partial retirement, Kapoor went on recording music, and he and his son continued to perform live shows both in India and overseas. Kapoor had wished to open a music school to help budding singers and musicians, such as he once had been, but was prevented by ill health. Recently he had undergone kidney dialysis, and he died from a heart attack in his sleep.
Mahendra Kapoor, musician: born Amritsar, India 9 January 1934; married (one son, three daughters); died Mumbai, India 27 September 2008.
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