January 23, 2021 2:57:22 am
It was a Baisakhi concert in April 1973 in Mumbai where Narendra Chanchal, then a young singer from Namak Mandi in Amritsar, sang a famed 17th-century kaafi (Sufi poem) — Ni main kamli haan — by Baba Bulleshah. He had come across the poem in a newspaper that the neighbourhood halvai had used to wrap his food.
What Chanchal did not know during the performance was that filmmaker Raj Kapoor sat in the audience, enraptured by his shrill, high-pitched voice and crisp diction. After a quick backstage meeting and a tight embrace, Chanchal found himself in a recording studio three days later, crooning for composer duo Laxmikant Pyarelal.
The song ‘Beshak mandir masjid todo’, picturised on Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor in the blockbuster hit Bobby (1973), not only tugged at the heartstrings of those who watched the two lovers in misery, it also won Chanchal a Filmfare Award for Best Singer. This happened despite there being no dearth of captivating songs in Bobby.
But what made Chanchal, a jagran and wedding singer from Amritsar, a household name was a song from the film Avtaar a decade later. ‘Chalo bulawa aaya hai’ – a typical ‘maata ki bhent’ – remains one of the most popular devotional pieces to come out of the film industry.
Chanchal, the devotional singer who brought the sound of jagrans into the mainstream, died in Delhi’s Apollo Hospital on Friday. He was 80.
According to Chanchal’s colleague and playback singer Anuradha Paudwal, it was the intensity of his voice and the emotional quality that made him special. “There is no one who can compete with him in singing devotional ‘maata ki bhent’. The genre remains synonymous with him. I looked up to him if I was to record one. We also performed together in many devotional gatherings. His popularity was something else,” she told The Indian Express.
Chanchal was born in Amritsar as Narinder Kharbanda and was one among eight brothers and sisters. Since music was taboo at home, he would sing film songs and bhajans as a child among his friends and women in the neighbourhood. He would then return home – invariably to angry parents.
A school teacher gave him the name Chanchal, which went on to stick to him through life.
He dropped out of school after 10th grade and worked at a dry cleaner’s shop for a few days. Since there was no radio or gramophone at home, Chanchal, who would crave music, would go to a nearby shop and sit there for hours listening to Mohammad Rafi and Manna Dey songs. He would memorise the songs and present them at the next available opportunity.
Appreciation followed soon from friends and his father’s friends, who started giving him a little money to sing for them. Soon Chanchal was made part of a local music group, and he started performing in local weddings and jagrans to make a living. His group became famous in the city and was chosen by the I&B Ministry to entertain Army jawans at the India-Pakistan and India-China borders. It was due to his popularity in the Army circuit that the invite for the Mumbai concert landed with him. After Bobby, he sang ‘Main benaam ho gaya’ for R D Burman in Benaam (1974), followed by ‘Tune mujhe bulaaya’ — a duet with his idol Mohammad Rafi in Aasha (1980). There were also songs in Gujarati, Bengali and Marathi besides Punjabi.
But Chanchal’s career and success were much beyond films. He moved to Delhi and became one of the most famous and expensive jaagran singers in the country, travelling the world to sing at jagrans.
In his later years, Chanchal also founded many non-profit organisations, including Ekta Mission and Narendra Chanchal Institute for Non Formal Education.
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