When ace composer SD Burman composed one of his finest tunes to Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics Na tum humein jaano, na hum tumhe jaano in the murder mystery and courtroom drama Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962) starring Waheeda Rehman-Dev Anand , he wanted to express poetry in both male and female voices. When Hemant Kumar sang for Anand, many believed that Lata Mangeshkar once again wove her magic with her slender voice, smooth voice and slightly piercing high notes, which became the aesthetic barometer of Indian womanhood or India’s “justice” Heroine New India. However, the song, which remained a radio favorite for the next few years, was not sung by Mangeshka. Due to the controversy over the 1958 re-recording, Burman did not speak to Mangeshkar at the time. So he asked for a new voice—a taciturn singer named Suman Kalyanpur. “When they hear the song, even many of Lata’s followers have a hard time imagining that they are not listening to Lata when the song is playing in their homes,” veteran music critic Raju Bharatan once told this writer.
It was not surprising a few years later when the famous Doordarshan show Chhaya Geet attributed Kalyanji-Anandji’s popular song Na na karte pyar kisi se kar baithe (an Aantakshari staple) to Mangeshkar. No one, except a 20-year-old girl named Charul Hemmady, is turning a blind eye. She called Prasar Bharati’s office and asked them to approve the error. The songstress is her mother Suman Kalyanpur. “No one believed me. It sounded like Lataji,” Hemmady said. Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche (Bramhachari, 1969), one of her more famous duets with Rafi, met the same fate. Songs still echo, but somehow the face is often forgotten.
Kalyanpur seemed uncomfortable when asked about the similarity of her voice to Lata’s, but she answered cautiously. “I was deeply influenced by her. In my college days, I used to sing her songs. Meri aawaaz nazuk aur patli thi (My voice is fragile and thin). Also, when Radio Ceylon rebroadcasted these songs, the names never Published. Even records sometimes give wrong names. Maybe this caused more confusion. Shreya Ghoshal also has a thin voice, but can anything happen now? Kalyanpur, 85, in her Mumbai in 2015 In an interview at home, he said that we were living in a different era then.
Throughout her career, Kalyanpur has rarely agreed to be interviewed. Veteran radio entertainer Ameen Sayani followed her for nearly 45 years before recording an hour-long show with her in 2005. She answered as many questions as I could with monosyllabic words,” Sayani said.
After many requests, she agreed to meet with us, but with some conditions. “No photo taken. Uncomfortable questions may not be answered.” We agree.
On the third floor of her Lokhandwala apartment in Mumbai, next to her daughter’s house, where she now lives alone, Kalyanpur greets us with a nervous smile. Landscape paintings by Kalyanpur hang on the walls. “That’s what I do these days. I paint. Cooking is another favorite. Bas issi sab mein din beet jaata hai (a day goes by),” she said. What about replaying the riyaaz that the singer swears by? “Kabhi kabhi gunguna leti hoon kuch (sometimes I hum something). I haven’t sung in a long time,” says Kalyanpur, who is remembered as a “shy girl with a voice full of jaisi mithhas ( the sweetness of honey)”.
The music industry in Mumbai in the 1960s shifted to a different rhythm. The tunes produced here would go on to create a sonic revolution, what would come to be known as the golden age of Hindi film sangeet. This was also the time when the world of female replay singing was monopolized by the Mangeshkar sisters, more Lata than Asha (Bhosle). “The first five slots are taken by Lata, but Suman, somehow sounds natural. She’s also hardworking, sharp, and has a lovely, thin voice. So when Lata is abroad or unavailable, or if the producer Unable to pay her 100 rupees per song, or if the song suffers from royalties issues as she refuses to sing with Mohammad Rafi, the poor man’s Lata Suman will be called She is not only a Excellent substitute and very hard working. If Lata is Marathi Noorjehan, then Suman is Marathi Lata,” said Bharatan.
She also sang two duets with Mangeshkar before her own songs became popular. Kabhi aaj kabhi kal in Chand (1959) starring Balraj Sahni is the work of Hemant Kumar “not many people can tell the difference”. “We’re so close to each other, it feels like friends. I always feel like I have a lot to say,” Kalyanpur said, before being quiet for almost a minute. Her daughter was quick to add: “That’s how you feel. What’s wrong with her?” Kalyanpur said: “I was invited to the premiere of Lekin and that was the last time I saw her,” said Kalyanpur
Kalyanpur grew up in pre-partition Mumbai, the eldest of five sisters. Girls who grow up in conservative houses sing because they can’t play outside. “It’s not considered safe for girls to venture out. Ma and pitaji used to love bazan. But we weren’t allowed to sing outside the house. I didn’t have permission. Singing can be done at home,” says Kalyanpur, who was eventually asked by some neighbors to Sing for Ganpati Mahotsav. But it was her neighbor DB Jog’s Marathi film Shauchi Chandni (1953) that got Kalyanpur into the studio. Georg, a friend of her father, had permission. However, the movie never took off.
At the age of 16, when she was a student at JJ’s Jazz Academy of Arts, iconic singer Talat Mehmood heard her sing and “give the shabaashi” at a college event. He then put her in touch with record label HMV. Although today’s A&R managers call her voice “amateur”, Kalyanpur recorded a song in Darwaaza (1954) and debuted with Mehmood on the delicate and melodious Ek dil, do hain talabgaar. The movie was produced by Ismat Chughtai and people took notice. This was followed by Chhodo chhodo mori baiyaan (Miya Bibi Raazi, 1960), Na tum humein jaano (Baat Ek Raat Ki, 1962), Mere sang ga, gunguna (January 1965), Aajhuna aaye baalma (Saanjh aur Sa km vera , 1963), Tumne pukaara aur hum chale aaye (Rajkumar, 1964).
“After independence, everyone was very eager to do something. My father also allowed me to sing, but he accompanied me every time I recorded. People were talking very fast at the time, and it was conservative,” said Kalyanpur, who, after her marriage in 1958, Each recording is accompanied by her husband. “I’m married into a joint family of 15 members. I’m glad they allowed me to continue. Also, unlike other singers, I’m not good at negotiating contracts and talking to people, so it’s all handled by my husband,” says Kalyanpur .
Marriage brings stress big and small, and Kalyanpur turns to her peers for help. First, she learned how to make a delicious omelet from composer Roshan’s wife, Ira. “I came from a vegetarian family to a non-vegetarian family. Who can I turn to for help? The film industry is like a family, and besides my joy of singing there, they have helped me become a non-vegetarian,” Kalyanpur laughs said, he was the first in the conversation. A bigger sacrifice comes from the choice of lyrics. “I don’t sing dance shows or mujras. I have to be careful if any family member sees and says negative and hurtful things in that orthodox environment,” said Kalyanpur, who never attended the premiere or spoke with Colleagues socialize.
Once in the studio, Kalyanpur had little interaction with her co-singers, though she sang popular duets, including with the Holy Trinity – Talat Mehmood, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. “Rafi sahab and Talat sahab themselves are very quiet people and they mostly interact with my husband. It’s Mukeshji who talks a lot. He likes to tell me stories. I think he’s well-read,” said Kalyanpur, who works in the industry The last popular number was Behna ne bhai ki kalai pe (Resham Ki Dori) in 1974. She has sung about 100 songs for composer Usha Khanna. She also sang for composers Anu Malik and Bappi Lahiri in the 80’s but soon after singing for almost 100 films with some of the best composers like Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Nashaad etc. quit the industry. Her last song was written for actor Govinda’s debut film Love 86, but it was never released. “Laxmikant Pyarelal didn’t use her version. They re-recorded it with Alka Yagnik’s voice,” says Charul. She did do an HMV album in 1997, re-recording her old number, but it didn’t get much attention.
“The system is too much to handle. I like to take care of my family and want to stay away from all kinds of politics and let singing take a backseat,” Kalyanpur said. During her career, she has only been nominated for Filmfare. There is also the 2010 Lata Mangeshkar Award from the Maharashtra State Government. Padma Bhushan’s announcement on Wednesday was a belated but well-deserved acknowledgment of the unsung talent.