November 10, 2021 5:15:21 pm
Gaman (1978) — Muzaffar Ali’s masterpiece of a debut and an observation of a hustling city and the unkind ways in which it treats its migrant workers — came with a cathartic ditty. “Seene mein jalan, aankhon mein toofan sa kyun hai/Iss shehar me har shakhs pareshaan sa kyun hai.” As singer Suresh Wadkar sang this gentle piece of poetry written by Urdu poet Shahryar and composed by veteran composer Jaidev, with the chaos of Mumbai forming a montage on the screen, the sombreness pierced through the heart. While Jaidev won the National Award for Best Music that year, this song by Wadkar made him a household name at a time when the masses were consumed by the voices of two male singers — Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar. This was followed by some very popular songs in films such as Prem Rog (1982), Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985), Sadma (1983), Utsav (1984) and Parinda (1989), among others.
“During the recording of the Gaman song, Jaidev ji placed the microphone at a distance. He was trying to attempt a surround sound effect. But I was just not satisfied with the first take. He, however, really liked it and insisted on keeping it. I still remember that I had come home and wept, wishing I had the opportunity to record again,” says Wadkar during a conversation on Monday at the Capital’s ITC Maurya, hours before he received the Padma Shri from President Ramnath Kovind.
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Wadkar believes that the government honour is about a decade late in coming to him. “My juniors have got it much before me. Par der aaye durust aaye,” he says.
Wadkar grew up in a simple family with very little means in Mumbai’s Lower Parel at a time when it was a mill district and far from the glass facades, posh cafes and luxury malls of today. Wadkar’s father worked in one of the cloth mills and his mother cooked food for the mill workers.
Growing up in a traditional Marathi family, he learned a few devotional pieces from his father and could carry a tune. Even at a young age, he’d cock his ears to the big radio in the corner of the house and listen in awe to various songs by Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood and Mohammed Rafi.
That he was tuneful was figured by his father early on. He was sent to learn classical music under the tutelage of Acharya Jialal Vasant and some years later joined Arya Vidya Mandir as a music teacher. In 1976 his guru encouraged him to participate in a local music competition titled Sur Singar that had veteran musicians such as Ravindra Jain and Jaidev, among others, as its judges. “I was mostly learning classical music but had prepared “Ajhun na aaye baalma” and sang that,” says Wadkar, who won the award for the Best Male Singer in the competition. Jain offered him his first song next year in a Rajshri Productions film titled Paheli (1977). While “Seene mein jalan” announced Wadkar’s arrival, it were the recommendations by Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who were extremely impressed by the texture of his voice, that led to songs with significant musicians of the time such as Kalyan ji-Anand ji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Ilaiyaraja, among others. Songs such as “Megha re megha” (Pyaasa Saawan), “Aye zindagi gale laga le” (Sadma), “Husn pahaado ka” (Heena), “Saanjh dhale” (Utsav) and “Tum se milkar” (Parinda) established Wadkar as a name to reckon with. “I think Lataji was extremely kind to me. She’d say back then that ‘you should have been born 20 years ago and that’s when you’d fit perfectly’,” says Wadkar, who still gets uncomfortable with overtly perfect voices as a result of autotuners of the current times. “Where is the warmth in the voices now? That slight crackle in the end which made them real is gone. And it’s a problem,” he says.
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He was also given charge of his guru’s music academy, Ajivasan, which he now runs in Mumbai with Vasant’s daughter Prem Vasant. Musicians such as Vijay Prakash and Rahul Vaidya have trained under him at the academy.
Wadkar’s last significant outing was Do Jahan in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider (2014). He says that the scenario has changed a lot and he prefers to not run after the current crop of composers. “Arrangers are now music directors and you can easily figure that this is an arranged song. There is a lot of ego involved from them in approaching older singers. The younger composers also wonder if an older voice will even suit a young hero. Look at Lataji, how she has sung for a range of female actors,” says Wadkar who recorded about 200 of his favourite film songs in his studio and will be releasing them in the next few months. He has also started to teach online now and is just about getting comfortable with it. “The online lag is an issue and you can never replace the in-person training. But technology has helped too. It has allowed me to teach without a consideration of the borders,” says Wadkar.
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