I wasn't burdened with expectations the first time I heard the soundtrack of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak back in 1988. The film featured a neophyte star pair, a debutant director and a newish music director duo; but I was somewhat intrigued because even after 40 years of crafting fabulous lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri was seeking to reflect the voice of the youth.
Once I played the songs, however, what stayed with me was newbie singer Udit Narayan's vibrantly youthful. Udit' vocals pulsed with infectious energy while belting out ‘Papa kehte hain’ and they could also parse many nuances of emotion in mellow mood numbers such as ‘Aye mere humsafar' and ‘Akele hain'.
Here was a forthright and finespun voice for a new era. The timing seemed ripe for change. Kishore Kumar had passed away the previous year (1987) and singers such as Shabbir Kumar, Suresh Wadkar, Amit Kumar and Mohammed Aziz were struggling to replicate the legendary Rafi-Kishore aura. After a decade of struggle, Udit finally boarded the train to success but it was not on the bullet train track.
Contemporary Kumar Sanu blazed through the early 1990s like a shining supernova. Udit's stature increased incrementally through the early 1990s, aided by the fact that he was considered budding star Aamir Khan’s primary musical voice, especially after the validation afforded by Dil (1990) chartbusters such as ‘Mujhe need na aaye’.
Udit’s gossamer-soft crooning of the breathy ‘Pehla nasha’ number from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) and the passion and perfection he imbued in Darr (1993) torch songs like ‘Tu mere saamne’ and ‘Jadoo teri nazar' resulted in his career catching fire in an inflammatory way.
From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, Udit seemed unstoppable. Heretofore, Udit had been championed largely by Anand Milind and Jatin Lalit but he now also clicked with the other A-league music composers like A R Rahman (Rangeela's ‘Yaaron sun lo zara', Dil Se's ‘Ae ajnabee'), Viju Shah (Mohra), Nadeem Shravan (Raja Hindustani), Rajesh Roshan (Dastak's ‘Jadoo bhari ankhonwali suno') and Anu Malik (Diljale's ‘Ho nahin sakta’, Ishq's ‘Dekho dekho janam hum').
Romance is the mainstay of Hindi film music and soulful crooning is Udit's forte. Shah Rukh should probably share some of the credit for his three biggest romantic hits – Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), Dil To Pagal Hain (1997) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) -- with Udit because the way he caressed the notes in many amorous songs from these films helped make women swoon.
Udit continued piling up chartbusters in the new millennium, singing for new megastar Hrithik Roshan in Kaho Na Pyar Hai (the title song, ‘Pyar ki kashti mein’) as well as the older lot comprising Sunny Deol (Gadar's ‘Main nikla’), Salman (Tere Naam), Akshay Kumar (Dhadkan) besides of course Aamir (Lagaan) and Shah Rukh (Veer Zaara). Melancholic songs like ‘Kyon kisiko wafaa ke badle' or high-amperage numbers like ‘Duniya haseenon ka mela’ or ‘Bole chudiyan’ – Udit could deftly navigate through both musical genres.
The amiable artist saw his career lose steam by the end of the noughties. But listen to Udit's era-defining vocals in any 1990s song even today and you are transported back with the memory of rainbows, sunshine and song. As Lata Mangeshkar herself crooned for Udit in their Dil To Pagal Hai duet: ‘Koi ladka hai, jab woh gaata hai, sawan aata hai, ghumad ghumad ghum ghum.’