Rajkumari by Gajendra Khanna
During the thirties the actresses used to primarily sing their own songs. Rajkumari had a big hand to play in changing this situation after the advent of playback singing.
Rajkumari’s name may not be a familiar one for the new generation but lovers of old film music take her name with as much respect today as they used to do during her career. Her voice had a unique sweetness which cannot be forgotten. She was a leading and an extremely talented singer during her time. Her voice entertained listeners for more than twenty years and she was the voice for numerous actresses in that time. She was responsible for giving career boosting successes to many composers, lyricists and actors/actresses. It is a tragedy of time that they forgot her in the future years and Rajkumari had to spend her last days in anonymity. By the blessings of the power that be, her voice however did not lose its sweetness. Her employment was stolen from her but her talent could not be stolen. Her songs feel as sweet to the ears and enter the heart today as they used to do more than half a century ago.
During the thirties the actresses used to primarily sing their own songs. Rajkumari had a big hand to play in changing this situation after the advent of playback singing. Due to the demand for her songs, many composers used her services and she became a shining star in cine skies. She sang all types of songs including thumris, mehfil songs, comic, romantic and sad songs. On one hand as per the wishes of composers she sang classical oriented songs in the thirties and on the other she sang many fun songs also.
Revolution was in the air in the forties and it did not fail to leave its effects on hindi film music also. While in the thirties slow speed songs were popular, the forties saw songs with fast speed tunes increasing in number. Rajkumari was a very intuitive singer who could grasp the tunes easily and sing according to the requirements of the composers. She had the inherent capability to learn even difficult tunes very quickly. She learned fine nuances like which word should be stressed on more, when to breathe etc during the thirties itself. An important point to be noted is that the custom of singing ghazals came into films because of her voice only. She could sing difficult songs like “Saiyaan Tu Ek Veri Aaja” with utmost ease. Composers were able to do a number of new experiments thanks to the availability of her voice at their disposal. An attempt at singing her songs immediately reveals what a great singer she was. She was perhaps the first singer to sing in many languages. In addition to Hindi/Urdu songs she had sung in Gujarati and Punjabi during first few years of her career itself. This became a trend in later years which was set by her.
Unlike most top singers who originated from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra, Rajkumari belonged to Benares in Uttar Pradesh and had brought the sweetness of its betel leaf in her voice.
In spite of her many achievements Rajkumari was a very humble human being. According to an Indian saying, the tree which is most laden with fruits is the most down to earth. The best talent will always be modest and Rajkumari was an epitome of this virtue. She had a rare dignity in her demeanour while maintaining grandeur in her expressions. Facets like these in her personality increase respect towards her immensely. I have seen many people twist one such modesty filled comment made by her in a negative vein. She had said in an interview that her range was limited in her usual manner but I am not in agreement with the tone in which it is twisted around. It is not a joke to sing with full emotions at low pitch and in this range there are few who can compete with her. In any case, the trend of high pitch songs had not come up much in her career and we have consequently not had her sing much of those. Singers used to rehearse extensively each song in her days and due to this she was able to show every kind of emotion on screen very well. In any case, film music is for the common man. The high pitch songs appear quite unnatural on most actresses’ lips and anyone can tell their characters would never have sung such songs. According to physics, voice range is capable of being spread across eight octaves. Most songs of Indian films do not make the singer span more than two to two and a half octaves. The truly high pitch songs are only found in opera which isn’t heard in Indian films and we can say with certainty that in fact, the range of all Indian singers is limited.
I would be failing in my duties if I did not start from the beginning of her career. Unlike most top singers who originated from Punjab, Bengal or Maharashtra, Rajkumari belonged to Benares in Uttar Pradesh and had brought the sweetness of its betel leaf in her voice. She was also referred as Rajkumari of Benares or Rajkumari “Benares” in later half of thirties. The reason for this was that there was another singer Rajkumari of Calcutta in those days. Both of them had even sung for the same film Gorakh Aaya in 1938. One record had both their voices on either side. The real name of that singer/actress was Pullobai and not much information is available about her.
Many listeners may not be able to recall that before taking up playback singing, Rajkumari had been an actress also. According to sources, she had been born in 1924 and when she came in early thirties to Bombay, she had joined a gramophone company. She had sung and also spoke in dramas on some records in those days which are not available now. When she got interested in plays, she came on the stage. She had a good singing voice; hence, she was invited to do roles that required singing. This was how she did her first acting part and became famous for both acting as well as singing. On one occasion, Vijay Bhatt of Prakash Pictures came to watch one of her plays. He liked her acting and singing skills. His studio was working on a new film at that time and invited her to act in it. In those days stages did not have mikes on them. Each dialogue would have to be literally shouted for the audience and the songs were also sung in a similar loud manner. Lovers of her singing would often give a “Once More” request and Rajkumari would sometimes have to sing a single song 8-9 times. Her well-wishers suggested that she should stop spoiling her voice and accept the invitation. She was already interested in films and agreed. Most people do not know that Rajkumari had already done a small girl’s role in Lahore in 1932 in a film called Radhe Shyam which had been made by Kamla Movietone. Rajkumari was now ready to make her debut as a heroine.
|The proposed film was a bilingual being made in Hindi and Gujarati. The year was 1942. The Gujarati version was called Sansaar Leela, while the Hindi version was titled Nai Duniya alias Sacred Scandal. Rajkumari was given the role of a heroine named Malti. Kashinath, Umakant Desai and Prakash’s heroine Gulab had also acted in the movie. The movie’s composer also acted in it and he was one of the popular personalities of the time. His name was Lallubhai Nayak and Rajkumari was to sing most of her early songs under his baton. Rajkumari sang songs like “Preet Ki Reet Sikha Ja Balam” and “Preetam Tum Ghan Ban Jaao” which were picturised on her. Lallubhai was the main composer for the studio (though later Shankar Rao Vyas and then Naushad replaced him there. Years later when he was living under anonymity, Shankar-Jaikishan had brought him as an arranger for movie Patrani). Actor Jayant was in Prakash at that time and Rajkumari mostly was cast opposite him. The composer was, of course, Lallubhai. These films were as follows: Bambai Ki Sethaani, Bombay Mail, Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter and Shamsheer-e-Arab in 1935; and Snehlata in 1936.|
Along with acting in Bambai Ki Sethaani, Rajkumari had sung the song “Humse Kyon Rooth Gaye Bansi Bajaane waale”. The songs of Bombay Mail were particularly popular in those days. Rajkumari had sung the song “Kiski Aamad Ka Yun Hai Intezaar” with Lallubhai himself and Ismail very beautifully. The orchestra is negligible in this song but the sweetness of Rajkumari’s voice is able to attract listeners. She had sung a slow paced ghazal “Baaton Baaton Mein Dil-e-Bezaar” in the film with her sweet intonations. Her song “Kaaga RE Jaiyo Piya Ki Galiyan” was extremely popular in those days. The year 1935 was quite successful for her. Some people erroneously think that she acted in that year’s super duper hit Devdas also but that actress was a different one.
She sang songs like “Kudrat Hai Rab Ki Nyaari” for the movie Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter. She sang many songs for the movie Snehlata also. This film had been made by the name “Bharat Ki Devi” in Gujarati also. The songs sung by her for this movie include, “Hey Dhanya Tu Bharat Naari”, “Sambhal Kar Rakh Kadam, Kaante Bichche Hain Prem Ke Ban Mein”, “Tum Ho Kisi Ke Ghar Ke Ujaale” and “Moorakh Man Bharmaane”. Rajkumari got more than sufficient training in singing while working at Prakash, which held her in good stead during her long career. Her song “Sharad Mayank Na Tab Mukh Sam Hai, Dekha Baar Baar Baar” in Passing Show (1936) was a melodious one which is probably lost like most songs of the period. She also sang songs including “Kali Kali Par Hai Bhramar” and “Aao Aao Pran Pyaare, Sansaar Ek Naya Basayen” for the movie Khwab Ki Duniya alias Dreamland (1937). She also started getting opportunities outside Prakash by that time. She acted and sang in movies including Parakh(1937), Chhote Sarkaar / Warisdaar (1937) (Sagar Movietone), Jungle Ka Jawan (1938) (Mohan Pictures), Toofan Express (1937)(Sundar Movietone), Vijay Marg (1938), Secretary (1938) (Ranjeet Movietone) and Gorakh Aaya (1938) (Ranjeet Movietone). It is a real pity that not a single of those movies is available now and we are unable to appreciate her acting skills.
One day, Motilal, who she used to address as Chacha (paternal uncle) met her. He advised her not to waste her voice in hopes of making a career as a heroine.
The custom of playback singing had arrived in Bombay around that time. Gradually, her acting offers reduced as she had put on a bit of weight. This was due to her fondness for eating good food. One day, Motilal, who she used to address as Chacha (paternal uncle) met her. He advised her not to waste her voice in hopes of making a career as a heroine. He told her that she was a good singer and her voice had everything, which she should encourage. He also told her that with passing age, she could not be a heroine but a singing career could last till her old age also. Rajkumari took his advice and started taking up playback singing offers. She was already popular and started getting more offers. During her career, thanks to her talent, she was able to sing for almost all the popular composers and actresses.
Gyan Dutt for whom she had already sung called her to sing the song “Saajan Nikle Chor, Meethi Meethi Kar Mose Batiyaan Jiya Churaayo Mor” with himself and Indubala for the movie Nadi Kinaare (1939). Dada Chandekar invited her to sing for Hans Pictures’ famous movie Brandy Ki Bottle for the song “Koi Le Lo Le Lo Le Lo Main Meetha Doodh Laayi” which helped her in her career. During 1940, she had songs in movies like Paap Ki Duniya, Anjaan / Ishwari Nyaay, Pyaar / Next to God and Suhaag. Famous studio Bombay Talkies was making the film Punarmilan with Ram Chandra Pal as composer. Her song “Sooniy Sejariya Saiyaan Tu Ek Beri Aaja Din Nahin Chain” was quite appreciated. She also sang a duet “Aaya Re Pardesi Sajaniya Aaya Re, Jal Bin Machhari Si Gat” with R C Pal himself for the movie. The information related to most of the songs of the period is quite rare and we shall probably never be certain how many songs she sang in the period. She may have sung many songs in the film versions alone as well. Major studios like Bombay Talkies and Ranjeet Movietone were utilizing her services. During an interview, Rajkumari had told that she had started playback singing at the princely sum of Rs. 50 per song! One can imagine what that meant considering that even today that sum still has some value!! It is an indicator of how much esteem her singing was kept in. Naushad had also mentioned once that she was the first respectable playback singer in Hindi films which is an indicator of her popularity.
Her last song recorded during the fifties was for the Children’s Film Society film Jaldeep / Lighthouse which had been directed by Kidar Sharma. During her long and successful career, she sang for all the major composers in Bombay and for all the heroines. She has sung over 500 film songs. Some of her best songs can be heard in this radio interview:
A discussion on the different songs she sang can be seen separately in the main article.
In an interview when she was asked why she had stopped singing, she had said, “I did not leave anything. People stopped calling me. I am not in a position to tell why they stopped calling“
In the sixties, she was forced to sing in chorus due to financial problems. Naushad helped her a bit but it was not enough. She had no songs in the sixties and only two released songs in the seventies. Though appreciated they failed to get her more work. She last sang for Snehal Bhatkar’s film Pyaase Nain (1989) in a song “Dilbar Jaani” with Bela Sagar. She last appeared in public vision as a judge in Saregama program, where her performance was appreciated.
She passed away on 18th March 2000 with only Sonu Nigam representing the industry at her funeral. She went away but her songs shall always remain with us. The legacy she left behind for us can best be described by the opening lines of one of her songs…
Kabhi Khushiyon Ke Naghme Hain, Kabhi Gham Ka Tarana Hai….
- Songs of Rajkumari
- Hindi Film Geetkosh
- Radio/TV Interviews of Rajkumari
- Dhunon Ki Yatra by Pankaj Raag
- Numerous articles published over the years
- I got a lot of help about various songs from Rashmi ji. Girdharilal ji of Jodhpur also shared information regarding some rare songs. I’m deeply indebted to both of them.
- Thanks to all the music lovers who have shared songs of Rajkumari with me over the years (including all youtube uploaders)
- Thanks are also due to everyone associated with Geet Kosh and Dr. Surjit Singh’s website.