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'It's difficult to be a legend's son'

By Arthur J Pais in New York
September 06, 2006 18:37 IST
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While the likes of Himesh Reshammiya and Sonu Nigam bring their magic to more than 3,000 people at each of their shows, veteran singers like Manna Dey -- who is past 85 -- and the comparatively younger Nitin Mukesh, send smaller number of listeners on nostalgic trips year after year.

Manna Dey, who visits his daughter near San Francisco year after year, gets his biggest audience in the Bay Area. The event, organised by local Bengali associations, typically draws 1,500 people, most of whom prefer to listen to his Bengali numbers. But a few Hindi classics from the films Kabuliwala (Yeh Mere Pyare Watan) and Basant Bahar (Sur Na Saje) are a must. Elsewhere, Manna Dey gets 300 to 400 listeners.

"But those who come to listen to me, truly know about the best of the songs composed by the masters. Shankar-Jaikishen, Madan Mohan, S D Burman," he says. "I get overwhelmed with the affection they have for the master composers and the respect they have for the songs I sang for them."

Nitin Mukesh, who sings mostly the songs made famous by his father Mukesh who died following a concert in Detroit in August 1976, also gets a small audience but he too is overwhelmed by its response.

Though he has about half-a-dozen hits of his own in films like Kranti and Tezaab, people come to him not only render the songs made legends by his father but also hear anecdotes about the legendary Mukesh.

At his Elizabeth, New Jersey concert Nitin Mukesh introduced his son Neel, who has signed to play the lead in a Hindi film. The singer recalled how his father wanted to be a movie star but when several of the films he acted in -- including one he produced himself -- flopped, he resigned to the idea he will always be a singer. "I hope my son will fulfill his grandfather's dream," he said.

Part of his mission, says Nitin Mukesh, is to bring to the attention of the fans some overlooked musical gems. For instance, the O Mere Sanam song in Raj Kapoor's Sangam. Mukesh sang the number, which was composed by Shankar-Jaikishen, with Lata Mangeshkar. It wasn't anywhere as popular like Dost Dost Na Raha from the same film, also sung by Mukesh.

"But what a gem O Mere Sanam is," he says. "My father considered it one of the finest tunes he had heard in his career, which ran for about six decades."

>Nitin Mukesh says he is deeply touched that there are concert promoters in America who bring shows like his to many cities, even though the audience for them is not huge.

"I don't know if Poli Arora will make any money from this show," the singer said good naturedly referring to the New Jersey organiser of the show. "But one thing is sure, he has been enormously committed to make this happen."

Arora, like many of the organisers of similar events, grew up in India enjoying the music of the legends. He does not think of hosting a Nitin Mukesh in terms of making money. He is reliving his musical days, and he wants people to remember the classics.

Mukesh, whose songs for the actor and filmmaker in films such as Awara, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker are legendary, also provided the voice for many other popular actors, including Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan.

Despite his consistent success in the industry -- he was never number one but did not lack good assignments -- the singer was not keen on his son be a singer, warning him the movie business was becoming progressively uncertain, even treacherous.

His father used to tell him that while singing can be a very beautiful hobby, as a profession it could create a lot of heartache.

At his concerts, Nitin Mukesh usually sings a few of his own songs but he knows people come to listen to him because of his father. He has known from the time he started singing for Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker that his voice is quite different from his father's. And he has often been unfairly compared to his father.

"When I sing his songs, I am aware that some people in the audience feel that my voice is different," he says. "Of course, it is different. But what I do is try to put the similar kind of passion and feelings my father used to pour into his songs. And I am sure he is looking down blessing me each time I bring alive his songs."

'It's very difficult to be a legend's son,' he told the Houston Chronicle newspaper, 'you are measured with the same yardstick and it's very difficult to live up to anyone's expectations, especially if the legend has passed on and lives in the hearts of every Indian.'

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Arthur J Pais in New York