Mahendra Kapoor was born in 1934 at Amritsar. He showed inclination towards singing when he was barely five. Mohammad Rafi became his idol and at 12, he met Rafi. It was here that Kapoor’s idol advised him to develop his original style rather than imitate him. Kapoor’s classical vocal mentors were literally who’s who of the music world. These included Pt. Husn Lal, Ustad Niaz Ahmed Khan, Pt. Jagannath Bua Purohit, Khan Saheb Abdur Rehman, Afzal Husain Khan and Pt. Tulsidas Sharma. Kapoor took part in several music competitions. When in college, he won the All-India Metro Murphy contest in 1957. This brought him a chance to sing in films. One of the judges of the competition was Naushad who recorded Chand chupa aur taare doobe for film, Sohni Mahiwal.
The song was appreciated and Mahendra Kapoor got many chances to sing after that. In 1970, he became famous and recorded songs for Manoj Kumar. Mahendra Kapoor worked for many films under many music composers. He is better known for his patriotic and devotional songs.
Neither old age nor the vicissitudes of a long singing career have weakened Mahendra Kapoor's zest for music. The singer who gave us the soulful "Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se" way back in 1963 is ready with a collection of Sufi songs.
The voice that took high pitch singing to unmatched levels still has a lot to offer. The affable veteran singer says that his sufiana album is something he wanted to do after he had his full in other genres of singing.
Dwelling at length on his relationship with the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi, Kapoor says: "Rafi saab had made it very clear, much before my career hit a high note, that we should not sing together, mainly because of two reasons. One because we shared a guru-chela relationship and there should be no competition between us and secondly because our voices are very similar."
Kapoor crooned some unforgettable Bollywood chartbusters like "Chalo ek baar phir se" ("Gumraah", 1963), "Aadha hai chandrama" ("Navrang", 1959), "Neele gagan ke tale" ("Humraaz", 1967) and "Laakhon hai yahan dilwale" ("Kismat", 1968).
Even today, he has a music teacher who comes to his Carter Road residence in Bandra in central Mumbai twice a week.
During the past three decades, musical expressions have changed considerably in matter of form and style. Although Kapoor has adapted himself to the change, it is the first 25 years that is more relevant and musically more satisfying for him.
Kapoor's eventful career began when he won the prestigious Metro- -Murphy All-India Singers Contest in 1957. He sang his idol Rafi's 'Shama Parwana' number 'Tune. mera yaar na milaya' which impressed the members of the jury comprising music directors Ani I Biswas, Naushad, C Ramch- andra, Vasant Desal and Madan Mohan.
Though Kapoor had sung earlier in 'Madmast', 'Heer','Lalkar' and 'Diwali Ki Raat' it was 'Aadha hal Chandrama Raat Aadhi' ('Navrang') which was his first song as a professional playback singer.
Like any other new singer, Kapoor, too, would have been tempted to imitate his favourite singer. Rafi was not his only idol; there was a marked similarity between their voices. Thanks to C Ramachandra, he tried to establish his own identity in 'Aadha hal chandrama 'which proved extremely popular.
But the song that catapulted Kapoor to fame was 'Chand chhupa aur tare doobe' (1958/'Sohni Mahlwal'/ Naushad ) wherein he was mistaken for Rafi.
The reason was that the other songs in the film were sung by Rafi who amongst male singers, had remained Naushad's first choice. By selecting Kapoor for one song, Naushad was merely fulfilling a mandatory require-. ment as a member of the jury for 'Metro-Murphy Contest'. Under the circumstances Naushad might have (inadvertently) made Kapoor sound like Rafi. But 'Chhand chhupa'- a narrative song ending on high notes, eventually became a milestone in his career.
Just as Manoj Kapoor and producers B R Chopra and V Shantaram showed their preference for Kapoor, Naushad steadfastly stuck to Rafi.
When a song picturisation in 'Admi'(1968) was held up during Rafi's sojourn abroad, Naushad was compelled to record 'Na admi ka kol bharosa'ln the voice of Kapoor. But before the picturisation Rafi suddenly returned and, as a consequence, Naushad changed the tune and recorded 'Na admika' In the voice of Rafi. This episode piqued Manoj Kapoor who in retaliation refused to accept Talat's voice in 'Kaisi haseen raat' (a duet with Rafi) in 'Admi'. As a result Naushad had to record the song with Kapoor and Rafi. But Naushad in turn insisted on issuing the record (78 rpm) only in the voice of Talat.
Kapoor's voice acquired range, refinement and a strong classical base under the tutelage of Manohar Podar, Abdul Rehman Khan and Niyaz/Falyaz Ahmed Khan. But he learned the rudiments of film music from Mohammed Rafi and music director Husnalal which helped him to acquire versatility.
Even in the face of stiff competition from established singers,
Kapoor made a place for himself by creatinga style distinct from the oihers. He did not allow himself to be typecast. He sang a sad story 'Chalo ek baar phir se ainabi banjaye " in his most memorable film 'Gumraah'. He also sang a romantic 'Dhadak ne lage'dil ke taron ke duniya '(with Asha/ D hool ka phool') a qawwali 'Na moonh chhupa ke jiYo' ('Hamraaz') and even a comic number 'Ek padosan peechhe pad gai' ('Gopi'). The carefree abundance with which he sang a rustic song 'Mere des ki dharti' ('Upkar') made it one of the most memorable songs of his career.
Kapoor sang in various Indian languages, staged successful show sat home and abroad and proved his versatility by becoming the voice of the lovable simpleton Dada Kondke (in Marathi).
He is the last of the old guards and has many more years of singing to look forward to. The deaths of many of his contemporaries have not made any difference to his career. Even-when they were alive he had his share of successes. Like any other artiste he has his moments of regret too. He does not know whether it was some genuine reason or the film music politics that deprived him of the opportunities of singing some of the songs earmarked for him such as 'Yeh mera prem patra padhker' ('Sangam') and 'Taqadeer ka fasana' ('Sehra'). 'Taqader ka fasana', incidentally' was scrapped after the recording.
Looking back on his career, Kapoor has every reason to feel grateful to Manoj Kumar, V Shantaram and B R Chopra for patronising him which helped him to earn his share of public adulation.
Just as Mohammed Rafi was influenced by singers G M Durrani and Khan Mastana, Kapoor, too, was influenced by Rafi. But like Rafi he created his own distinct style of singing which enables him to enter into another glorious year of his career with justifiable pride.
THE BEST OF MAHENDRA KAPOOR
SONG FILM MUSI CDIRECTOR
Aadha Hai chandrama, raat aadhi Navrang C Ramchandra
Shyamal shyamal baran Navrang C Ramchandra
Chand chhoopa aur tare dube Sohn Mahiwal Naushad
Tere pyar ka asra chahata hoon Dhool Ka Phool N Dutta
Dhadak ne lage dil ke taron ki duniya Stree C Ramchandra
Kaun ho tum kaun ho Stree C Ramchandra
Aaj madhuvatas dole (with Lata) Dharamputra N Dutta
Aaj ki raat nahin shiqwa shiqayat Dharamputra N Dutta
Bhool sakta hai bhala kaun Gumrah Ravi
In hawaon men... Gumrah Ravi
Tujh ko mera pyar pukare (with Asha)
Yeh hawa, yeh fiza Gumrah Ravi
Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaye Gumrah Ravi
Aap aye to khayale dile nashad aya Waqt Ravi
Din hai bahar ke - Zindagi Aur Maut C Ramchandra
dil ke sahare aja pyar kare (with Asha)
Dil laga ker hum yeh samjhe . Bahareri Phir Bhi Ayengi 0 P Nayyar
Badal jaye agar mali- Baharen Phir bhi Ayengi 0 P Nayyar
Apne apna banaya-Qadradani aapki Dulhan Ek Raat Ki Madan Mohan
Mere des ki dharati Upkar Kalyanji Anandji
Meri jaan tumpe sadke Sawan Ki Ghata 0 P Nayyar
Neele gagan ke tale Hamraaz Ravi
Na moonh chhupa ke jiyo Hamraaz Ravi
Kisi patthar ki mooratse Hamraaz Ravi
Kaisi haseen raat baharon ke raat hai Hamraaz Naushad
Yaaron ki tamanna hai Kahin Din Kahin Raat 0 P Nayyar
Lakhon hal yahan dilwale Kismet 0 P Nayyar
Bharat ka rahene wala hoon Purab Aur Pachim Kalyanji Anandji
Ek tara bole tun tun Yaadgar Kalyanji Anandji
Dil ki yeh arzoo hai koi Nikaah Ravi
dilruba mile (with Salma)
Beete huve lamhon ki kasak Nikaah Ravi