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Music has of course always been integral to Hindi movies, and several great singers have lent their voices to stars on the silver screen….this is a list of my personal favorites from the period 1950-2000.  Hence singers like KL Saigal and Pankaj Mullick who had their prime before that do not make the cut – nor do newer singers, most notably Shaan, from more recent movies.

Also, for me, a solitary classic trumps a career filled with many, but mediocre, songs – hence volume of songs sung is not a determinant of how highly I rate these singers.

Finally, this is my list – so am sure there will be disagreements. The list is in order – and I have tried and picked my favorite song, whether solo or duet, sung by this singer.

1.Kishore Kumar – The greatest ever.  Kishore had the ability to transform mediocre tunes and forgettable lyrics into classics with his voice and rendition, and is the voice indelibly linked to three of the greatest superstars in Hindi filmdom ever, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan.  My personal favorite song by Kishore is however, the title song from Jhumroo.  I have seen brilliant singers struggle to pull off covers of this at live events, with the sheer effort leaving them perspiring no end.

2. Hemant Kumar – Like Kishore, Hemant was also a great music director.  His rich mellifluous voice had a soothing, lilting quality that has rendered the many songs he sang to be truly timeless ones.  However, my personal favorite of his is a duet with the late great Geeta Dutt to Mukul Roy’s music in Detective….Mujhko Tum Jo Mile

3. Talat Mahmood – I was introduced to this great singer’s songs by my mother growing up.  His songs have grown on me, his ghazals are a thing unto themselves and the many songs he sang live on.  My favorite is his great song from Taxi Driver to SD Burman’s music…Jaaye to jaaye kahaan… .

4. Manna Dey – that Manna Dey ranks 4th on this list is a tribute to the great singers who have lent their voices to Hindi movies.  It was his luck that somehow he got identified as a singer of classical/difficult songs….but the songs that he did get, he rendered them so well that he ranks high on any true fan’s list of leading male Hindi vocalists.  This song from Anubhav is so typical of Manna Dey’s singing.  Understated, lyrical and so aptly suited for the scene the song was being used in….Phir Kahin Koi Phool Khila

5. Yesudas – in a relatively brief career in Hindi movies, this great singer from Kerala left his stamp as a classically trained and versatile vocalist in the Manna Dey lineage. The song that truly stands out to me is the haunting one from Sadma, with Kamalhaasan and Sridevi living out Surmayee Ankhiyon Mein Nanha Munna Ek Sapna De Ja Re

6. SP Balasubramaniam – unlike Yesudas, this doyen of south Indian movies could not totally mask his Telugu accent.  But despite that, he was the voice behind many of the most successful songs and movies of the 1980s and 1990s.  My personal favorite song is his beautiful duet with Asha in Saagar, with Dimple looking stunning and Kamalhaasan showing his acting and dancing skills in ample measure….O Maria

7. Jagjit Singh…Talat Mahmood was the king of ghazals, but it was Jagjit Singh who made them truly accessible to the common man with the simplicity of the lyrics he picked for the songs he sang, usually scoring the lilting music as well.  A great example is his romantic classic from Saath Saath with Chitra Singh – Tumko Dekha to yeh Khayaal Aaya

8. Mohammed Rafi – I so loved Rafi’s early songs, especially in the 1950s when he sang so many beautiful duets with Geeta Dutt, and then later some of his great songs for OP Nayyar and SD Burman.  For this list, I am going back to my favorite Rafi number ever, the greatest ever romantic duet in Hindi movies which he sang with Geeta for Pyaasa…Hum aapki ankhon mein is dil ko basa de toh, Hum moond ke palkon ko is dil ko sazaa de toh….

9. Mukesh – so many great songs from this singer, the voice of Raj Kapoor.  My personal favorite however, is his duet with the one and only Sudha Malhotra.  Only Mukesh, singing for Sunil Dutt,  could have played second fiddle to such a mesmerizing talent as Sudha. joining only towards the end of the song,  and yet truly leave his unique imprint on the tune. In Didi to N Dutta’s music – Tum Mujhe Bhool Bhi Jao to Yeh Haq Hai Tumko, Meri Baat Aur Hai Maine to Mohabbat Ki Hai..

10. Amit Kumar – one of my personal favorites is this underrate singer.  He is the only one ever who could do justice to the Kishore Kumar style of music and yet he never got his due…..maybe if Kumar Gaurav had more success, Amit Kumar could have had a longer run (like Udit Narayan thanks to Aamir Khan’s success).  Still Amit’s songs stand out like this duet with Asha Bhosle from Love Story…Yeh Ladki Zarasi Diwani Lagti hai….

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

  • Abhijeet
  • Kumar Sanu
  • RD Burman
  • Chitalkar
  • Shailendra Singh
  • Mahendra Kapoor
  • Shaan