hindi film music

How ‘Babul Mora’, sung by Jagjit Singh, was recorded at 4am

A writer and filmmaker remembers her first encounters with the renowned singer, whose 75th birth anniversary was on February 8.

Images of Chitra and Jagjit Singh are part of the invisible archive of my mind. It began as a solo when Chitra visited our tiny apartment on 29th Road in Bandra in Mumbai. My husband, Basu Bhattacharya, had by then become almost famous after Teesri Kasam and Anubhav. So many aspiring actors and singers – especially Bengalis – came knocking. Chitra had just been divorced and hoped to become a playback singer. She was also a Bengali, and that was her visa to Basu.

Between trips to the kitchen, I saw this sophisticated woman. She rendered snatches of songs to prove her credentials. I heard her say that she would come back with her music teacher. One evening, I opened the door to find the impeccably dressed Chitra with a rather shy man standing behind. Rounds of tea were ordered. I got a glimpse of the couple, but it is what I heard that made me stop in my tracks. The music teacher’s sensational voice made the walls of our room come alive. Jagjit Singh’s clear tonal quality and diction echoed in my ears.

The two became frequent visitors. Jagjit would lug his harmonium from his Fiat car while humming and singing. I would wait to hear his golden voice throb like a heartbeat.

The couple’s visits continued after we moved to a larger place in Khar. The residence was turned overnight into a set for Basu’s next film, Aavishkar. I was the set designer for the 1974 movie, starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore.

Chitra and Jagjit were there every day. Suddenly Basu decided to ask the couple to render a background song. Composer Kanu Roy rehearsed with them at home, and “Babul Mora”, based on Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s soulful composition and composed in the Bhairavi raga, was finally recorded at 4am.

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How I would long to hear Jagjit's voice render “Babul Mora”. KL Saigal has left an iconic version of the song in the movie Street Singer, but Basu did not want Jagjit to imitate Saigal. Jagjit’s melodious, rich and warm voice condensed pathos into a song that has gone down as one of the ultimate statements on separation and longing for one’s natal home. Written by the exiled Nawab of Lucknow for his beloved city, it is a jewel of a composition. I think this background song is Chitra-Jagjit's first disc.

In 1979, Basu was making Griha Pravesh, starring Sanjeev Khanna and Sharmila Tagore. The script required a background song to lift the moment when the husband rediscovers his wife’s hidden beauty. Jagjit’s “Baat Niklegi To Phir” seemed to convey the husband’s inner turmoil. I suggested to Basu that he use this song, and I am grateful that the sequence is one of the film's most gracious highlights.

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Jagjit's rendtion of “Babul Mora” remains his most evocative song. It is Jagjit at his purest. The ghazal emperor was a simple, unassuming man, whom I regret not knowing well enough.

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