Rajendra and Nina Mehta
ON April 28, ghazal aficionados were in for some sad news, with singer Nina Mehta passing away. Those who followed the ghazal wave in the late 1970s and early 1980s would have seen her and her husband Rajendra Mehta regularly on Doordarshan, or at one of the numerous concerts that took place then.
Rajendra and Nina Mehta were best known for the nazms ‘Taj Mahal mein aa jaana’, written by Prem Warbartoni, and ‘Ek pyaara sa gaon’, by Sudarshan Faakir. While old-timers still recall them with nostalgia, they had other wonderful numbers like ‘Musafir ke raaste badalte gaye’, ‘Alvida alvida’, ‘Idhar dekho ek baar pyaar kar lein’, ‘Dhal gaya chaand gayee raat’ and ‘Bewafa bawafa nahin hota’.
The Mehtas, who have been performing together since the late 1960s, were best known for their coordination, stage chemistry and choice of simple songs. Rajendra-bhai has been deeply passionate about Urdu poetry, and at shows, would often recite different shers on the same subject before beginning a song. Even musically, the orchestration was simple, with some amazing use of harmonium.
The early 1980s were an entirely different era, actually, for ghazals. Jagjit and Chitra Singh had already become popular in the latter part of the previous decade, and Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Chandan Dass, Penaz Masani and Hariharan made their mark in this genre. Anup Jalota created an impact with ‘Chaand angdaiyan le raha hai’ as much as he did with devotional numbers. Senior artistes like Vitthal Rao and Madhurani impressed cult followers.
The more serious listeners who were familiar with complex Urdu words tuned in to Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum. But the majority wanted simplicity, which singers like Jagjit-Chitra, Rajendra-Nina, Udhas and Aziz provided. By then, audiences had become by and large familiar with the technicalities of the form, and had developed a keen interest in good poetry.
In the 1980s, ghazal singers also started singing in films, thus expanding their popularity. Concerts would be packed, and companies like HMV (now Saregama) and Music India (today Universal) allocated sizeable budgets to talent discovery and promotion. Names like Bhupinder-Mitali, Roopkumar-Sonali Rathod and Ahmed Hussain-Mohammed Hussain became popular.
A joke heard often in industry circles is about how a senior manager from Music India, who wanted to crush the competition (HMV), once made enquiries about which ghazal singers were most popular among audiences. When someone mentioned Begum Akhtar, he demanded that she invited to the office for a meeting, without realising the great singer had passed away some seven or eight years ago.
Sadly, however, the ghazal wave died slowly. When ghazals were huge, the overall condition of Hindi film music was pretty disastrous. But with late 1980s and early 1990s movies like ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, ‘Aashiqui’ and ‘Saajan’ bringing back melody into cinema, the attention shifted away from ghazals.
Even among singers, repetition began creeping in, and the quality of poetry declined too. An increasing dependence on alcohol-related songs added to the woes of the genre, with some singers trying to catch the attention of bar visitors. Moreover, too many people tried to cash in on the genre. It was said that anyone with a shawl and harmonium wanted to become a ghazal singer.
Today, there are a few fairly talented singers like Ashok Khosla, Ghansham Vaswani, Radhika Chopra, Siraj Khan, Jaswinder Singh, Tauseef Akhtar, Mohammed Vakil, Anurag Sharma, Sudeep Banerjee, Somesh Mathur, Runa Rizvi, Khushboo Khanum and the young Pooja Gaitonde. But the audiences are smaller, and the avenues fewer. Only a miracle can bring back a wave that one saw 30-odd years ago.
For Nina Mehta, a prayer meeting was organised in Worli yesterday by Rajendra-bhai and other family members. Besides family and friends, those attending included singers Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota, Rajkumar Rizvi and Penaz Masani, santoor player Satish Vyas and radio personality Ameen Sayani.
Sadly, her demise has found no media coverage at all. This writer came to know only because a senior singer had posted about it on his Facebook page, after which an obituary classified was carried in the Times. The indifference to such news has been mentioned in the blog ‘Again, the media vanishes’, published on February 22 this year. This is another unfortunate example.
Fans, of course, will miss Nina-ji for her marvellous songs, her regular smile and for the brilliant coordination she and Rajendra-bhai showed on stage.