The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- From Suraiya to Kishore Kumar to Himesh Reshammiya, tuning in to the Bollywood saga of singers-cum-actors. For better or worse

Musician-turned-actor Himesh Reshammiya’s success as the hero of Aap Kaa Surroor has shown how blurred the lines between the different forms of performing arts can get. But for every Himesh there are so many other singers who stumbled when they tried to move from behind the mike to in front of the camera. We tune into some singers who tried to don the grease paint and sketch their fate as singers-cum-actors...

Suraiya: This charming chanteuse started in her teens as playback singer to the much-older Mehtab in Sharda. But Suraiya soon moved on to acting in films in which she sang her own songs and graduated from playing the second lead (Anmol Ghadi) to the full-fledged singing-star in hits like Pyar Ki Jeet, Dillagi and Badi Bahen. She never sang for any other heroine thereafter.

Mukesh: Mukesh began his career as an actor-singer with Nirdosh (1941) but it was as a playback singer in late ’40s films like Pahali Nazar (Dil jalta hai) and Andaz (Tu kahe agar) that he won name and fame. But the acting bug bit him again and Mukesh bravely abandoned his flourishing singing career to concentrate on acting! Mashuqa (1953) saw him star opposite Suraiya but failed to establish him as an actor and when Anuraag (1956) also could not make him a screen star, Mukesh read the writing on the wall. He reverted to playback singing and made a smashing comeback with Madhumati (Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen).

Talat Mehmood: He moved to Mumbai from Calcutta and made a splash as the playback singer with a velvety voice in songs like Duniya badal gayee and Jaayen toh jaaye kahan. At the height of his early ’50s fame, Abdul Rashid Kardar offered him the hero’s role in Dil-e-Nadaan. Talat’s acting career sputtered on for eight more films in the ‘50s — he acted alongside Suraiya (Waris) and Nutan (Sone Ki Chidiya) — but by the end of the decade Talat had reverted to playback singing with resounding finality.

Kishore Kumar: Definitely the most successful amongst all male singers who waltzed into acting, Kishore Kumar enjoyed a long, full-fledged career as an A-list actor who regularly starred opposite heroines like Madhubala (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi) and Vyjayanthimala (New Delhi). So busy was Kishore that not only did he stop playback singing for his favourite Dev Anand but he actually had to have Rafi playback for his own songs in a couple of films! When his acting fortunes dipped in the ’60s, he reverted to relying on his vocal power pipes and enjoyed unprecedented success as a playback singer for two more decades.

Geeta Dutt: The playback singer known for the sweetness of her voice acted in a film (Gauri) produced by husband Guru Dutt. Guru Dutt died and Gauri was never completed. Thereafter, Geeta did act in a Bengali film, Badhu Baran, but soon realised that singing was her forte.

Shailendra Singh: After the grand success of Bobby, he could have been Rishi Kapoor’s voice. But he wanted to be Rishi Kapoor! He acted in Do Jasoos (with Raj Kapoor) and played Rekha’s hero in Agreement but to poor effect. Since then, he has been warbling the occasional song as a playback singer.

Sulakshana Pandit: A pretty woman blessed with a honey-and-molasses voice, Sulakshana, one presumed, would be the first actress-singer in decades. But it didn’t quite happen that way. What Sulakshana did achieve was a smooth transition from playback singing (Bekarar dil arey tu gaye jaa) to stardom opposite several major heroes (Rajesh Khanna in Bandalbaaz, Jeetendra in Apnapan) in more than 25 films!

Salma Agha: Her nasal Nikaah numbers were huge hits but they could not ensure a long career for Salma either as a playback singer (she ghosted occasionally, like for Rati Agnihotri in Aap Ke Saath) or as an actress (she made no mark with films like Oonche Log, Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki).

Lucky Ali: In the age of MTV music videos, singers began to be seen as well as heard. Rapper Baba Sehgal played the hero in Miss 420. Palash Sen played Sushmita Sen’s hero in Filhaal. Lucky Ali who had tried to become an actor in the ’70s (Yehi Hai Zindagi) achieved fame with the Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai song Na tum jaano na hum. Lucky did two films in 2002 — Sur and Kaante — but did not prove lucky at the box office. Where is Mehmood’s son now'

Vasundhara Das: The Where’s the party tonight singer’s acting career hit highs (Monsoon Wedding, Hey Ram) and lows (Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamaana). Her singing career too has been quite sketchy.

Sonu Nigam: Not satisfied with his status as one of the most successful playback singers of his time, Sonu tried to become a hero. Embarrassments like Jaani Dushman and Love In Nepal meant that he spared us — and himself — the ordeal and got back to doing what comes naturally — singing for Bollywood biggies.

Himesh Reshammiya: There’s a revivalist vibe to some of his melodies and there’s a cacophonous jhankar beat to some of his songs — Himesh Reshammiya straddles both worlds as a musician. Similarly, he has managed to bridge the singer-actor divide with his debut dhamaka as a hero in Aap Ka Surroor. But the nasal singer’s screen fortunes could well nose-dive if he keeps his promise of doing three films a year.

(Who has been your favourite actor-singer in Bollywood' Tell

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