This woman was Lata Mangeshkar's closest rival; get to know 'Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charche' songstress

Farhana Farook
·8-min read
This woman was Lata Mangeshkar's closest rival; get to know 'Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charche' songstress


The flirty Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charche (Brahmachari)…

The sensuous Dil jo ne keh saka (Bheegi Raat)…

The playful Na na karte pyar tumhi se (Jab Jab Phool Khile)

The dreamy Theheriye hosh mein aaloon (Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain)

The party-roller Tumse O Haseena (Farz)

The evocative Na tum hamein jaano (Baat Ek Raat Ki)…

… have not been sung by Lata Mangeshkar!

The unforgettable numbers have been rendered by the silken-voiced Suman Kalyanpur. That her voice resonated a sweetness similar to that of India’s Nightingale is no doubt an exalted compliment. However, it came with a price.

It often denied the mild-mannered and soft-spoken Suman her rightful share of recognition – partly because her vocals were mistaken for Lata Mangeshkar’s. “Hum log Saraswati (Goddess of learning) ke paas saath gaye honge. She must have given prasad to us both,” the humble Suman once summed up the similarity in a rare interview.

On the other hand, her utterly feminine timbre was also viewed as a serious threat to Lata’s formidable talent in the ‘60s. However, unassuming Suman has always viewed Lata as her idol. “Lata Tai’s birthday falls on September 28 and mine on January 28,” she beamed at this similarity as well.

Content with her share of recognition, Suman believes all art is about heart. “Hamein suron mein acting karni padhti hai,” she said. With over 800 film and non-film songs (in Hindi, Marathi, Assamese, Gujarati, Kannada, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Rajasthani, Bengali, Odia and Punjabi), hers has been no less an odyssey.

Suman Kalyanpur was born Suman Hemmady on 28 January 1937 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In 1943, her family along with her four sisters and one brother, moved to Mumbai. A student of JJ School of Art in the ’50s, Suman developed a keen interest in music when her neighbour introduced her to the sargam and the tanpura.

Soon Suman began started attending music classes. Her teacher, Yashwant Deo, who composed Marathi songs, made her do playback for a Marathi film Shukrachi Chandni (1953).

Her switch from paints to playback was seamless. In the second year of college, she developed an allergy to turpentine, which made it difficult for her to pursue the course. Suman began concentrating on music instead. Her Hindi film career began with Koi pukaare dheere se tujhe (Mangu,1954).

She also did the playback for composer Nashad for Shahid Lateef’s Darwaza (Ek dil do hai talabgar) in 1954. Her music career took off with Suresh Talwar’s composition Meri preet mera pyaar (Teerth Yatra, 1958). In the same year, Suman married Mumbai-based businessman Ramanand Kalyanpur, who remained supportive of her career. They had a daughter named Charul.

The versatile singer sang for an array of composers – Shankar Jaikishan, Roshan, Madan Mohan, S. D. Burman, N Datta, Hemant Kumar, Chitragupta, Naushad, Ghulam Mohammed, Kalyanji Anandji and Laxmikant–Pyarelal between the ’60s -’80s.

Her renditions including Na tum hamein jaano (Baat Ek Raat Ki), Yun hi dil ne chaha tha (Dil Hi To Hai), Parbaton ke pedon par and Bujha diye hain (Shagoon), Baat muddat ke yeh ghadi aayee (Jahan Ara), Ajhun na aaye balma (Sanjh Aur Savera), Sharaabi sharaabi yeh saawan ka Mausam (Noor Jehan) and Mera pyaar bhi tu hai (Saathi) won her a strong fan base.

In fact, the raag-based Gir gayee mere maathe ki bindiya sung by Suman in Pakeezah (1971), in an album dominated by Lata, was an interesting aberrant. Also, Lata and Suman sang Rahe na rahe hum for Suchitra Sen’s character, as mother and daughter respectively, in Mamta (1966).

Suman was considered ‘lucky’ by filmmakers, who’d apparently can the mahurat shot of their films with her songs - like Allah tu reham karna for Dada (1979) and Zindagi imtihan leti hai for Manmohan Desai’s Naseeb (1981).

Her duets with Rafi, Mukesh and Manna Dey quickly sped up the popularity charts. It’s said when Lata Mangeshkar was not available for recording, or if the producers could not afford her fee, the duet would go to Suman.

During the ’60s, the alleged rancour between Rafi and Lata over royalty issues, also resulted in Rafi cutting more discs with Suman. The two sang over 140 duets during that time including the title song of Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1966), Yeh parbaton ke daayare (Vaasna 1968) and Na na karte pyaar (Jab Jab Phool Khile 1969).

“Rafi saab and I were not great talkers. We kept to ourselves. But Manna Dey was a jovial and kept us in splits,” she shared about her co-singers. “Roshan saab’s wife taught me to make omelettes. Though I’m a vegetarian, she insisted I learn it for my husband,” Suman reminisced about the past.

Recent recipient of the Madhya Pradesh government’s National Lata Mangeshkar Award (2017), Suman is all praise for her ‘idol’. “When I was 13, I remember deliberately passing Lataji’s house at Nana Chowk with my friends to catch a glimpse of her.”

When Suman recorded the lorie (lullaby) Ankhon ke taare (Mangu) for Mohammed Shafi, Lata was present in the studio. “I was excited and my heart was beating fast. Lata Tai encouraged me. She’d go out of the way to drop me back home,” she said. Lata and Suman even sang the duet Kabhi aaj kabhi kal in Chand (1959).

Suman, who always steered clear of competition and controversies, sometimes found herself at the receiving end of ‘unfair’ practices.

“There have been times when my songs were dropped from films... Sometimes they were in the film but not in the records… At times, I was not credited for a song played on radio or a wrong name was given for a song sung by me,” Suman reportedly said in an interview

Suman owes her career much to the support lent by businessman husband, the late Ramanand Kalyanpur. They lived in a joint family of 17 people. He’d prepare the morning tea and even help her cook.

“My husband was my biggest fan. He’d remind me to do riyaz. When I’d rehearse, he’d point out which harkat (note) was good. I never went for any recording without him. He was my encyclopaedia. He knew all my songs, the name of the films and when they were recorded. He’d refer to my song as ‘hamara gaana’,” Suman was quoted saying

Few know that it was Suman, who initiated the trend of holding concerts abroad (1969-76). She held them across cities in the US, Canada, England and the West Indies.

She recalled the memory of the show, which coincided with the moon landing on July 19, 1969 in New York saying, “The historic moment was to be aired on TV that night. Yet, I was surprised to see the number of Indian students at the concert. They said that they could catch the repeat telecast of the moon landing but not my show. When I sang Juhi ki kali meri laadli (Dil Ek Mandir 1963), they asked for an encore.”

Sadly, she stopped doing concerts after 1976. While she was travelling for a show in Canada, her mother passed away back in India. Her husband didn’t want the organisers to suffer losses. So, the news of her death was kept away from her. Suman got to know about it on her return. Terribly upset, she gave up doing shows and even singing for a while.

Even from the 10 per cent songs I got, 70 per cent were hits. That gives me satisfaction. Saraswati Maa gave me kanth (voice)... I gave anand (joy) and that’s my punya (good deed). What I didn’t get was not in my destiny. I’ve no regrets," said a grateful Suman

While her songs playing on retro frequencies continue to regale listeners, she finds music in the comforting presence of daughter Charu and granddaughter Aaishanni Agny. Small joys mean big to her. “I didn’t touch ice-cream till the ‘80s. I enjoy it today.” Just as she discovers harmony in the warp and weft of knitting – her hobby of years!

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