February 7, 2017 10:57:13 am
When it comes to important and grand occasions like weddings, Bollywood families who live in (gated) mutual admiration societies never fail to invoke their ancestors. Just as the Bachchans never do anything without the worshipful mention of the paterfamilias, poet Harivanshrai Bachchan, the Mukesh family’s invite for actor Neil Nitin Mukesh’s wedding to Rukmini Sahay (February 9 being the D-Day) was another reminder of Bollywood’s link to its past and fundamental values that make it a unit. The wedding card, as it ricocheted through the social media recently, had a classic Mukesh ditty inscribed on it. The song in question, the soulful Ek Pyaar Ka Naghma Hai, is from the 1972 movie Shor.
It’s both an excellent example of ancestor worship and PR exercise. It is somewhat fitting that Neil Nitin Mukesh, the star of Wazir, New York and Johnny Gaddaar among others, should pay a loving tribute to the man who gave him his famous surname and a guaranteed entry pass into Bollywood. Neil represents the third generation of the house of Mukesh, the golden-voiced singer who alongside Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey formed the Fantastic Four of Hindi playback singing. His voice was hailed by music lovers as haunting and melancholic.
A Delhi boy, Mukesh Chand Mathur came to the then Bombay as a teenager with a head full of dreams. He was the son of an engineer. By most records, it was Motilal, the great star of the 1940s –said to be a distant relative – who encouraged and helped him in his transit to Bombay. Mukesh was always musically inclined, even as a child. He originally wanted to be an actor! In 1941, he got his first break as a singer-actor in Nirdosh, starring alongside Nalini Jaywant. But the first success came four years later, in Pehli Nazar where he sang Dil Jalta Hai Toh Jalne De for Motilal. Like Kishore Kumar and many other aspirants of the time, Mukesh sang under the intoxicating spell of K.L Saigal. Reportedly, when Saigal heard Dil Jalta Hai Toh Jalne De, he famously remarked, “I don’t recall singing that song.”
Any mention of Mukesh is immediately linked with Raj Kapoor, Shankar-Jaikishan and Shailendra, and rightly so. If Rafi was the voice of Shammi Kapoor and Kishore Kumar of Dev Anand, Mukesh was the soul behind Kapoor’s classics. Yet, many music critics found his nasal tone restrictive. At times, due to his limited range, critics have been forced to rank him below Rafi and Kishore Kumar. But for his admirers, Mukesh remains an evergreen favourite. His songs, whether it is Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai, Duniya Banane Waale, Mera Joota Hai Japani or Kabhi Kabhie and Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaaye, have long passed into Bollywood myth. He gave many hits with Lata Mangeshkar who called him “Mukesh bhaiyya.”
The second generation of Mukesh was led by son Nitin Mukesh whose short-lived success was in sad contrast to his father’s legendary reign at the top. Kishore Kumar once dubbed him “poor man’s Mukesh.” This was because Nitin was a carbon copy of his father. And it seemed he made no effort to shake off the great man’s influence or distinguish himself from Mukesh senior in any way. Although he met with mixed success with songs like Aaja Re in Noorie, Zindagi Har Kadam in Meri Jung and My Name is Lakhan in Ram Lakhan he quickly moved to stage performances, concerts and devotional music – that ultimate pit hole where all has-been singers go to die. Perhaps, that’s why Neil Mukesh, though having music in his blood, decided early on to pursue acting and not singing. It was his grandfather’s “rakhi” sister who named him Neil. The story goes that when Lata Mangeshkar saw Neil, she exclaimed, “He looks like a foreigner.” She wanted to give him an English name and promptly christened him Neil, after astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Neil, whose wedding celebrations have begun in full swing in Udaipur, made a promising debut with Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar a decade ago. Unfortunately for him, what followed was a mixed-bag career with only a smattering of success. Blame it on questionable film choices. His filmography is packed with two and three-hero film projects, unfairly condemning him to the second lead. Also, the poor guy had to compete with fellow stars and film family boys like Ranbir Kapoor and Varun Dhawan. Incidentally, the downward curve of Neil’s career is coinciding with the impending entry of another youngster from the Mukesh clan. His younger brother Naman, currently an assistant director, is keen on making a film. Perhaps, he may end up casting his own brother, a la Rohit and Varun Dhawan combo. After all, for film dynasties, it’s all in the family, isn’t it?
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)
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