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Suman Kalyanpur’s Excelling in Lataji’s Shadows



Padma  Shree awardee  Suman Kalyanpur has had a blessed and cursed career. She  had the  good fortune  of sounding  similar to Lata  Mangeshkar. But this  blessing turned out to be  a  bane  and pain for Suman Kalyanpur as she  was branded  a poor man’s Lata Mangeshkar.

A similar  career  pattern can be  seen for actress Nanda  who forever remained in the shadow of Meena Kumari.

 Suman K’s  most successful phase  eventuated when  Lataji stopped  singing with Mohammed Rafi for  four years in the  1960s.  The duets meant for Lataji went to Suman Kalyanpur. In this, her most fecund  phase, Suman Kalyanpur sang  the chartbusters Aaj kal tere mere pyar ke  charche in Brahmachari ,Tumse oh haseena kabhi mohabbat na maine  karni tthi  in Farz  and the timeless  semi-classical memorabilia Ajhu na aaye  balma  in  the film Saanjh Aur Savera.All three duets are to  this  day mistaken by listeners to be sung by Lataji.

Madan Mohan who swore  by Lataji’s vocals  had to bring in Suman Kalyanpur for the  evocative  duet Baad muddat kee yeh ghadi ayee  with Rafi  in Jahan Ara.

So a curse or a  blessing? It is not clear  how Suman Kalyanpur felt  about the  constantly constraining comparison to Lataji. But she  did manage to  forge a career of her own  and  sang tunes where she held her own. One  of her earliest successes  in Hindi cinema was Na tum humein jaano in the  Dev Anand  murder mystery Baat  Ek Raat Ki. The  number  composed in 1962  by Sachin Dev Burman  went to  Suman Kalyanpur as Burman was sulking with his favourite  ‘Lota’ at that time.

 Despite the  comparisons  with the  Nightingale  which haunted  her career, Suman Kalyanpur left her own impression in several songs where she was not asked to sing like Lataji. Mere mehboob na jaa  in Noor Mahal is entirely  Suman Kalyanpur’s song. Nobody mistakes  the  voice  to  be  anyone’s  but hers.Another  enchanting number that Suman Kalyanpur owned was Sharaabi sharaabi  in Noor Jehan. The  film featured Laraji’s  exquisite Raat ki mehfil sooni sooni and yet Suman K  held her own.

Again in  the plaintive  Dil gham se jal rahe  hai in Shama,  Suman K is her own person .Shama , composer Ghulam Mohammed, who later immortalized himself  with Pakeezah , allowed Suman K to share  vocal  honours with  the legendary Suraiya who sang all her songs herself while Suman K sang for Nimmi. It was  a major break  for the singer, as  was  Shagoon  in 1964 where under the  sonorous  stewardship of  the  mighty composer  Khayyam, Suman K sang two  beautiful solos Bujha diye hain khud apne haathon se  and Zindagi zulm sahi.

It is  true that Suman Kalyanpur was mostly asked to sing by composers when they couldn’t afford or  couldn’t get Lataji  to sing. But whenever  this dedicated singer  got an opportunity  to sing she  made the  best of it.

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