Kavita Krishnamurti is singing a series of classic Bollywood songs as tribute to her mentors and inspirations
Music lovers were in for a pleasant surprise recently when singer Kavita Krishnamurti rendered Mukesh’s popular number ‘Dost dost na raha’ (Sangam) for her YouTube Channel, with Nitin Mukesh. Having her husband, maestro L. Subramaniam, on the violin and piano made the experience special.
Kavita Krishnamurti with singer Manna Dey.
Kavita, winner of four Filmfare Awards, says this was her tribute to Mukesh, with whom she performed in many stage shows in the 1970s. “During the pandemic, I have been remembering my gurus, and the video is part of the series.” Few know that before becoming a household name with hits like ‘Tumse milkar na jaane kyun’ (Pyar Jhukta Nahin) and ‘Hawa hawai’ (Mr. India), Kavita used to share the stage with eminent composers and singers such as Hemant Kumar and Manna Dey, and went on to become an important cog in the Laxmikant-Pyarelal team.
“I have already recorded ‘O nodi re’ (Neel Akasher Neechey) and its Hindi version ‘O beqrar dil ’ (Kohraa) as a fond memory of Hemant da, who gave me my first break in films as well as on stage,” says Kavita.
“I’ve also rendered ‘Zindagi kaisi hai paheli hai’ (Anand) as my tribute to Manna Dey, with whom I performed for 18 years. And soon, I’ll record my favourite numbers of Talat Mahmood, Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, all of whom have left an indelible imprint on my life and singing.”
A South Indian with a Bengali aunt, Kavita grew up in Delhi and moved to Mumbai for higher education. Trained in Hindustani classical music, she says her comfort with different languages and idioms made her a favourite with seasoned performers when she was just out of her teenage years. As a student at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Delhi, Kavita recalls how she would write down the lyrics of Hindi film songs while listening to them on All India Radio. “I used to buy those 4-page chopdis for 20 paise that carried the lyrics of film songs. I still have a collection of them.”
Introduction to jingles
She remembers when she rendered ‘Jaaiye aap kahan jayenge” (Mere Sanam) in a college function at St. Xavier’s in Mumbai, it impressed Hemant Kumar’s daughter Ranu Mukherjee, and she introduced Kavita to her father. With Manna Dey, Kavita recalls that it was ‘Aaja sanam madhur chandni main hum’ (Chori Chori) that cut the ice. He also introduced Kavita to jingles, and one of her fondest memories is of singing the Tamil version of an Amul ad rendered in Hindi by Geeta Dutt.
She describes Kumar and Dey as father figures who introduced her to the nuances of the stage. “In those days it was simple. There was hardly any naach gana in musical shows, just singing into the mic with a diary in hand. Manna Dey was always with his harmonium. A mimicry artiste would usually introduce us. I would open the show for these veterans and later join them for duets,” she remembers.
Interestingly, most of the songs she has chosen for the series don’t have a female voice or version in the original. “At this stage of my career, I am a free bird. I simply wanted to sing songs that I love,” says Kavita.
In the case of ‘Kuchh na kaho’ (1942: A Love Story), she says she had recorded a female version but it didn’t make it into the film as Vidhu Vinod Chopra wanted to use only the Kumar Sanu version. “I asked Javed (Akhtar) sahib and he sent me the lyrics for the female version.” However, when it comes to choosing songs of Lata Mangeshkar, she is yet to decide. Her association with the veteran singer goes back a long way, beginning with her time as a dubbing artiste with the Laxmikant-Pyarelal team.
A learning experience
Starting with Chacha Bhatija (1977), Kavita cut demos of many songs composed by the duo that were eventually sung by Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle. “It was the usual practice those days. I remember the first song that I dubbed was ‘Batli tod do’, picturised on Hema Malini. These demos were cut for shooting song sequences so that the actors could easily lip sync. Eventually, they were recorded in the voice of a senior artiste. As the demos were recorded with orchestra, it provided the senior artiste an idea of what was expected of them. For me, it was a learning curve, as every time I listened to the final version, I realised what Lataji or Ashaji had added to the song.”
Kavita Krishnamurit with Lata Mangeshkar.
Eventually, her voice was retained in the child version of ‘Tumse milkar na jaane kyun’, the immensely popular number from Pyar Jhukta Nahin. “When I was dubbing for Lataji, lyricist S.H. Bihari and Laxmiji told me that if I could sing like a child, they would try to retain my voice,” she recalls. The real fame, however, came with Mr. India, when her dubbed version of ‘Hawa hawai’ matched Sridevi’s personality so well that it was retained as is.
She never looked back after that. With directors like Subhash Ghai, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Vidhu Vinod Chopra who took an active interest in the music of their films, Kavita was given a variety of songs and was never typecast. And despite her long struggle, she says she has never held a grudge against anyone.
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