Rajkumari: A Memorable Voice
Rajkumari Dubey was just 10 years old when she recorded her first song for HMV in 1934. But she started her career as a stage artiste. She recounts, “Vijay and Shankar Bhatt of Prakash Pictures spotted me during one of my shows. They liked my voice and persuaded me to discontinue acting on stage, as it would spoil my voice. (In those days, there were no mikes and you had to shout to be heard!) So, I quit theatre and became an employee of Prakash Pictures, as an actress and singer.
INTO MOVIES AND MUSIC
My first film with them was a Hindi-Gujarati bilingual called ‘Sansar Leela Nayi Duniya’. In those days, I often acted opposite Zakaria Khan (late actor Amjad Khan’s father, whose screen name was Jayant). And I used to sing for popular music director, Lallubhai.
I began getting fed up with having to keep a watch on my figure and decided to stick to just singing as a career. After I quit Prakash Pictures, I started playback singing for actresses like Ratnamala, Shobhna Samarth, etc. I sang a lot of Gujarati and Punjabi songs.
A BORN PROFESSIONAL
I never really had the opportunity to learn singing. But was very good at picking up what my composers taught me. They thought I was a trained singer! My family has always supported me – when I was an actress and singer. I married very late in life. My husband was from Benares (UP), where he spent a lot of his time (because he owned a shop there), while I was settled in Mumbai. Of course, he joined me later.
NOSTALGIA- MY PEERS
I counted among my peers Shamshad Begum, Zohrabai, Juthika Roy, Zeenat Begum, etc. Our voices were very distinct – both Zohra and Shamshad had resounding voices with a high range, while mine was very soft with a smaller range. I sang quite a few songs with Mukesh, the most popular being ‘Mujhe sach sach batado kya, ke kab dil mein samaye the’. I did not get much opportunity to sing with Mohammad Rafi – mainly because Lata Mangeshkar was just getting popular at the time and, then, all of us took a backseat. In ‘Anhonee’, I sang with Lata Mangeshkar – the song was ‘Zindagi badli’. Nargis had a double role, so I sang for one, while Lata Mangeshkar sang for the other. I sang with Nurjehan in ‘Naukar’. While I never sang with KC Dey, I did sing songs composed by him, along with Manna Dey, his nephew.
AN ODE TO SAIGAL
I am a great fan of KL Saigal and Nurjehan. I had occasion to sing with the former in ‘Bhakt Surdas’ and remember him as a very charming person. I have never understood why people criticised him for his drinking, etc. So what if he felt he couldn’t sing without drinking? It was his personal choice. I remember him telling me, ‘Rajkumari’ji’, I want to take you with me when I go from this world.’
MEMORIES ARE MADE OF GEETA AND KIDAR
In ‘Bawre Nain’, while singing for Geeta Bali, she’d come up to me and say mischievously, ‘Look at me – my actions – and sing accordingly.’ She was so full of life. Kidar Sharma, the director, was one of the most talented men I’ve ever known. It was he who groomed Geeta Bali, Raj Kapoor, Mala Sinha and others. But from all his ‘shishyas’, I think only Geeta Bali managed to pick up the nuances of his teachings. Kidar Sharma had his own way of showing his appreciation. If he liked something you did, he’d give you a two ‘anna’ coin. And, in his entire life, he must have given the coin to just three people – Geeta Bali, Raj Kapoor and myself. He treated me with a lot of respect. I sang in his Raj Kapoor-Madhubala starrer ‘Neelkamal’, ‘Bawre Nain’ and several other films.