Udit Narayan looks back at his career with affection

Udit Narayan Jha is no stranger to awards. He recently received the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Indian films and he can’t stop grinning from ear-to-ear. “I’ve been in the Indian film industry for close to 40 years now,” says Udit, who’s originally from Nepal. “This industry has been kind to me. It has given me everything and this award is an icing on the cake.” Udit grew up listening to Nepalese and Maithali folk songs. His mother Bhuvneshwari Devi was known for her folk singing and young Udit imbibed that.  Slowly, from singing for 25 paise at village fairs, he made a name in the cultural corridors of Nepal. He started singing for the Kathmandu Radio by the time he was a teenager.

He recollects how an official in the Indian consulate was instrumental in him journeying to Mumbai. “I was asked to perform at a cultural evening held at the Indian consulate where this gentleman advised me to learn Indian classical. He said a scholarship could also be arranged if I was interested.” Udit was given an option of either opting to learn in Lucknow, which was closer to Nepal or Baroda. But he had grown up listening to Indian stalwarts like Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar and expressed his desire to go to Mumbai, as these singers were based there. “They tried to talk me out of it, saying Mumbai was expensive and the scholarship wouldn’t suffice. But I was adamant. Eventually, they relented and I started learning classical music at Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan at Girgaum under Pandit Dinkar Kaikini.”

To save money, he used to walk some 10-15 kilometres each day and visit the various music rooms and recording studios near Girgaum in a bid to get work. Most singers begin their careers by singing in the chorus. But Udit says he stayed away from that. To make ends meet, he started singing at hotels. He finally got a break with the film Unees Bees (1980), in which he sang the song Mil gaya under Rajesh Roshan’s baton. His co-singers were Mohammed Rafi and Usha Mangeshkar. The singer says he didn’t even have a phone back then. “Rajesh Roshan called up all my known haunts and asked them to convey the message that I should reach his studios immediately. I got the message just in the nick of time. I couldn’t believe that I would be singing with Mohammed Rafi saab. He saw my nervousness and told me to give my best shot.”

Songs were recorded live those days with the singers and musicians using their skills in sync with each other. He misses the camaraderie and the rush equated with the creative process. “You were singing with the best musicians who prided themselves over their dexterity. It gave you a high to be among such people. Duets were fun because you latched on to your co-singer’s response right then. Today, sometimes, you don’t even get to hear the other singer’s part because that hasn’t been recorded as yet.”

 

Udit struggled in Mumbai for 10 years before landing his first big break in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). He says the birth of his son Aditya ( Narayan) in 1987 changed his fortunes. He was friends with musician Chitragupt, Anand-Milind’s father. “Anjaan saab introduced me to him. Chitraguptji liked my voice and gave me a chance to sing in Bhojpuri films. He introduced me to his sons, Anand and Milind, and recommended me to them.” They all got their moment of glory with the phenomenal hit Qaymat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT, 1988), produced by Nasir Hussain and directed by son, Mansoor Khan. Everyone associated with QSQT was new and wanted to prove themselves. “The first song
I sang was Papa kehte hain bada naam karega. I was going to become a father then so I sang it with all those feelings in mind,” recollects Udit. The song is popular even today and has become an entry point of sorts for his live shows. Nowadays, if his son is on board, then the father-son sing it together.

 

Udit Narayan

 

“I still get the maximum requests for it because it has become a cult number. And singing it with Aditya brings a lump in my throat every time as he’s all a father wants his son to be.” Aditya has made a name for himself as a TV anchor and a singer. Seemingly, his has been an easy journey. Udit disagrees with the analysis. “His struggle is different from mine. I had to start from complete anonymity. That isn’t so in his case. But he still has to strive because he will always be compared to his father. And that’s a bigger hurdle to clear, believe me.”

 

Aditya made his acting debut with Shaapit (2010) but few know that Udit himself has acted in films. In fact, his Kusume Rumal (1985) is considered amongst the all-time grossers of Nepalese cinema. The singer smiles at that and says he did the film just to earn money. “I never wanted to be an actor, though I was getting offers both from the Bhojpuri and Nepalese industry. My wife Deepa suggested that since I wasn’t getting work, I should consider this offer as it would get us some much needed money.”
Later, he branched out into producing regional films himself. He put his wife Deepa in charge of the  production house and their Bhojpuri film, Kab Hoi Gawana Hamaar (2004), shot in Mauritius won  the National Award for the Best Feature Film in Bhojpuri. He isn’t active on the production front today despite tasting success, declaring that the time isn’t right.

 The talk segues to his famous rivalry with Kumar Sanu. Apparently, Kumar Sanu threw a press conference saying that awards were rigged when he didn’t receive it for Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, 1996) while Udit won it for Mehendi laga ke rakhna for the same film. Incidentally, Sanu had won it for five consecutive years before that. The soft-spoken singer laughs and gives another version to the story. “In fact, Kumar Sanu threw a huge party after I won that award. You decide which version is correct.” He admits there was a rivalry but says it was never on the personal front. “We were professional rivals, yes. But beyond that there was no acrimony. He was getting his films and I was getting mine. We weren’t eating into each other’s songs. And we’ve sung duets together like Yeh bandhan toh (Karan Arjun 1995) and Neend churai meri (Ishq 1997). So it wasn’t as if we never got along.”

 

Both Sanu and he aren’t much heard today despite still having fabulous voices. In fact, with a song like Radha likes to party (Student Of The Year 2012), Udit made a case that he could still sing for young actors. He partially blames the lack of work on the age difference between him and the new generation of music directors and filmmakers. “For them, we have become seniors. They wrongly believe that we don’t get what this generation wants, that we are out of touch with the listeners today. But that’s not the case. Our shows wouldn’t be successful if that was so. Thanks to the Internet, youngsters are rediscovering us. Young people sing along with me in my shows both here and abroad. Guess, you can’t fight perception.”

 

 


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