The voice of the 90s

grounded singer

The voice of the 90s

As he puts it, there have been only two eras in Hindi film music, the era of Rafi-Mukesh-Kishore and the era of Kumar Sanu-Udit Narayan-Abhijeet.

Abhijeet Bhattacharya, honest to the point of bluntness, enjoys a cushy lifestyle today, thanks to all the wise investments he made in his peak phase from 1991 to the mid-millennium. “I have invested in prime property and I have always made sure that this ethos of sound finance is followed by my family,” he says. “I also make it a point to never sing at weddings and events, but only at ticketed concerts.”

Sitting in his sprawling 13th floor apartment in a Mumbai suburb, he says, “And that is the reason why my good lifestyle began from the time when I was no longer in demand as a playback singer. I have always taken life seriously, with all its issues, concerns and changing circumstances. I have taken music seriously too, but
after life. I was never complacent, but after every hit, I would think, ‘Aage kya’ (What next)? I was never under the delusion that I was this great, established singer.”

All this came from the fact that the singer hailed from a middle-class family from Kanpur. “Every family in the neighbourhood there was involved with each other’s lives. In Mumbai, even in a smaller building, we don’t know who our neighbours are. When I was living as a struggler in a rented flat in a distant location, I decided that I must own a property and invested my earnings, and raised a loan to get it. Today, property is my passion.”

Taking a stand

The singer is known for his views against Pakistan. What are the factors that make him so vehement? “I was raised in a place and time when we never heard words like ‘terrorism’, ‘appeasement’ and ‘Hinduism’ in the context they are heard today,” he declares. “Then the Kashmir issue began. Later, we were hosting their artistes without any reciprocation. The industry should have stopped there, but it didn’t.

Inspired by Bal Thackeray’s concept of Hindutva, and also by these practical aspects, I began to speak against encouraging and giving work to these people.”
He adds, “I was never against Muslims or any particular caste or religion in India. But there are two aspects: one, that every song given to a Pakistani deprived an Indian artiste of it, and two, that even when they did open doors to some of us later, the fact remains that no one from India could have made careers there the way so many Pakistanis did so here. As the recent developments prove, even their exhibition sector depends on a supply of our films.

Ironically, our trade considers Pakistan a territory, like Delhi, Bengal or USA!”
But has he not gone to Pakistan too? “Yes, I did go because I am very close to an influential family that also comes here to visit us,” he replies. “Through them, I did a television show there, that’s it.”

Naturally, Abhijeet suffered professionally, thanks to his stand. “I had a successful association with Shah Rukh Khan, but after Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Yash Chopra never called me to sing, nor did Karan Johar. In other films, Javed (Akhtar)-saab and Jatin-Lalit would insist on me.”

Why has he not joined politics then? With a hearty laugh, he asks, “Why should I? Politically, I am bigger than any politician, and people listen to what I say. For me, it’s about my convictions. For them, it’s just a pesha (job) that can change.”

The singer is active on Facebook and Twitter, and adds, “I am the youngest of four sons of a mine owner father, who also used to do proof-reading. I was always reactionary. On Facebook, I post only on music, but on Twitter, it’s all about issues. I faced a lot of flak there earlier, but now that has stopped.”

On today’s music

We came to the profession that has made him what he is today: music. What does he feel about the music today? “Singers are coming and going,” he says bluntly. “Everyone sounds the same. We — Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and I — made music companies in our time. Till today, radio stations survive on our names, so much so that if they happen to play five of my songs back-to-back, enquiries begin to find out if I have passed away.”

But he thanks today’s music for making him and his contemporaries legends. “After we stopped recording at the rate we did, we would have gone down, but today, our status is elevated because of what is being heard,” he says.

His opinions on today’s composers are at par too, for the same reasons. “Today, there are no composers,” he thunders. “They give a filmmaker multiple options in different voices. That is because they have no confidence in themselves. In my time, I would turn down songs if I thought they would harm my career.

Let me tell you the story of ‘Main Laila Laila Chilaunga, Kurta Phaad Ke’ from Anari No. 1. I did not like the lyrics and walked out of the studio, suggesting that they record the song with someone else. Then Govinda and composers Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen were of the opinion that no one else could sing it, and requested me to reconsider as they would have to change the song otherwise,” he says.

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