Sulakshana Pandit is often recalled in film nostalgia columns as the woman who was spurned by actor Sanjeev Kumar. Pandit was reportedly in love with her co-star during the filming of Uljhan (1975) and wanted to marry him, but Kumar’s heart throbbed for Hema Malini. It is said that when Hema Malini turned down Sanjeev Kumar, he turned against marriage entirely, and Pandit bore the brunt of his decision.
Born on July 12, 1954, in Haryana, Pandit began singing at the age of nine. She got her first break when she sang the lullaby Saat Samundar Paar Se (Taqdeer, 1967) as a child artist. Her co-singers were Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Khanna.
The popularity of the lullaby got Pandit a steady stream of songs. Her duet Beqarar Dil Tu Gaaye Jaa with Kishore Kumar in Door Ka Raahi (1971), while she was still in her teens, is one of her most accomplished performances.
In 1975, Pandit made her acting debut in Uljhan (1975). She sang the duet Aaj Pyare Pyare Se Lagte Hainwith Kishore Kumar in Uljhan, putting her in the league of singing actors such as Noor Jehan, Kishore Kumar and KL Saigal. Aaj Pyare Pyare Se Lagte Hain was written by MG Hashmat and composed by Kalyanji-Anandji.
However, Pandit’s descent had already begun with her debut film. She took up few roles, and even fewer singing opportunities came her way compared to the sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who were the first two choices for playback.
Pandit won the Filmfare Best Female Playback award for the song Tu Hi Sagar Hai(Sankalp, 1975). It was written by lyricist Kaifi Azmi and composed by Khayyam. Her rendition of the song Boliye Sureeliwith Bhupinder in the film Griha Pravesh (1979) is a fine example of Pandit experimenting with her vocal chords to produce a softer timbre than her usually sharper notes. The tune was composed by Kanu Roy in raag bihag with lyrics by Gulzar.
Pandit had a prolific period as a playback singer in the 1980s, but fame was fleeting. Her songs did not reach the popularity that new singers with pop vocals were achieving through disco hits. Even her sweet melodies such as Mausam Mausam with Anwar Hussain in Thodisi Bewafai (1980) displayed an innocence that was beginning to sound dated.
In 1981, Pandit sang the solo number Mana Teri Nazar Mein (Ahista Ahista). Written by Naqsh Lyallpuri and composed by Khayyam, the elegiac tune gave Pandit a chance to prove her versatility with the ghazal. The lilting composition and her soulful performance turned the track into one of the best ghazals produced in film music.
While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.
“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.
The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”
However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.
‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.
But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.
“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”
For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.
Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.
It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.
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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.