Hard work and talent do not always work in tandem. Some who have worked arduously have no laurels on which to rest, while it has been a cakewalk for others with doubtful talent. In our new series, we look at singers who toiled for greatness and achieved it in a single career-defining moment that never repeated itself. We kick off the series with Nitin Mukesh.
He comes from excellent stock. His father, the legendary playback singer Mukesh, was the voice of actor Raj Kapoor. Nitin Mukesh, born in 1950, took after his father and sang for several leading actors. Woefully, he could not find his own voice, let alone become someone else’s golden voice. The privilege into which he was born eventually became a curse. The bar was set high by his father, and reaching it would have been an impossible feat, given Nitin Mukesh’s limited vocal range.
Nitin Mukesh’s singing career began in the 1970s, when he recited his first couplet filmed on a young Rishi Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker (1970). He sang in over 50 Hindi films, including “Aaja Re” for Noorie (1979), “Zindagi Har Kadam” for Meri Jung (1985), “Tu Mujhe Suna” for Chandni (1989) and “My Name is Lakhan” for Ram Lakhan (1989). These songs worked because of a combination of musical talents.
Nitin Mukesh was prolific in his output as a singer in the ’80s. But his falsetto wasn’t always his best ally. Music lovers were reluctant to place him alongside his father because he did not have the gravitas, but they also did not dismiss him forthright in light of his lineage.
The song that helped Nitin Mukesh redeem himself was “So Gaya Yeh Jahan” from Tezaab (1988). Written by Javed Akhtar and composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, this one-for-the-road soulful track sees Mukesh finally coming into his own. Although he is accompanied by Shabbir Kumar and Alka Yagnik who sing for lead pair Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit, he kicks off the song for a cheerful Chunky Pandey who is ferrying his friends across the desolate streets of Mumbai in a battered vehicle.
Nitin Mukesh has a breezy voice suited for light renditions unlike his father, who was anointed the king of tragedy for his distinction in singing pathos-laden solos. Nitin Mukesh sings this particular song with a fey touch that has the quality of a philosopher’s wise words recited in a child’s fawning voice. Mukesh is said to have told his son at the start of his career, “Singing is a beautiful hobby, but a painful profession.” The track from Tezaab is the only instance this advice worked in perfect harmony.