Udit Narayan: A Rough Ride To Pinnacle Of Success

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As a continuation to the series from previous week, we will be paying an ode to another legend of Bollywood in this episode whose struggle in the music industry draws parallels to those of Alka Yagnik’s. This article makes an effort to chronicle Udit Narayan’s struggling years.

“Jugraafiya” from the recently released movie Super 30 and the rehashed version of “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast” from the movie Machine have reintroduced today’s youth to the voice that was once touted as the only original voice in Bollywood during the last decade of the 20th century.

The last time Bollywood music buffs heard the recipient of two of the highest civilian awards of India, Padma Shri and Padma Bhusan – legendary Bollywood singer Udit Narayan, was a year ago, in “Dholi Da” from the movie Love Yatri. His discography boasted of more than 25,000 songs in 34 languages by the end of the first decade of this millennium. For someone whose Bollywood music career spans more than 40 years, Udit Narayan’s current lean phase does not bother the veteran since his journey in this industry had not always been easy, especially during the initial years of his career.

Born to a farmer father and a Maithli folk singer mother, Udit Narayan had a humble beginning but always wanted to grow up to be a singer although his father wanted him to continue the traditional family occupation of farming. Following his dreams, a teenager Udit, moved to Kathmandu after matriculation where he obtained his intermediate degree while also singing Maithili and Nepali folk songs on Radio Nepal.

To make ends meet, he used to also sing in hotels and cultural gatherings. During one cultural event at the Indian Embassy in Nepal, an impressed consulate official offered him a scholarship to learn Indian classical music in Baroda or Lucknow (which was closer to Nepal) but an adamant Udit, who had grown up listening to his music idols Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, wanted to study in Mumbai so that he could land himself in Bollywood.

In 1978, at the age of 22, Udit Narayan set foot in Mumbai and started learning classical music at Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan at Girgaum under Sangeet Ratna awardee Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. Thus began his quest for fame in Bollywood as he desperately stood at the doors of various music rooms and recording studios near Girgaum in a bid to get work. These visits would lead to his introduction to many music composers including Kalyanji Anandji, RD Burman, Rajesh Roshan and Chitragupta (veteran composer and father of Anand & Milind). While fellow strugglers would opt for singing in the chorus, Udit deliberately avoided doing so and kept trying for songs for which he would be credited.

After around two years of quest, the first break finally came in 1980 through composer Rajesh Roshan for the movie Unees Bees (starring Rakesh Roshan and Mithun) with none other than his idol and iconic singer Mohd Rafi and Usha Mangeshkar in the song “Mil Gaya Mil Gaya”.  The song was a dud but it initiated Udit’s association with Rajesh Roshan. The same year, he also received an opportunity to sing in a Nepali movie Sindoor which initiated his association with Nepali movies where he was often offered roles as an actor, which he used to decline doubting his acting skills.

With the continued support of Rajesh Roshan, in 1981, Udit Narayan sang his first duet and associated with Alka Yagnik for the first time for the song “Sun Jaane Jaan” in the horror flick Sannata. While this association for the duo would create history and churn many memorable songs for the duo for more than two decades, this song and the duo remained unnoticed for a few more years. In the very same year, he received another opportunity to sing with his idols, Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle in a song “Arre chawl mein maal leke aaya hai” composed by legendary composer RD Burman in the Vinod Mehra starrer movie Gehra Zakhm. Neither the movie, nor the song made a mark in Bollywood but it initiated his association with RD Burman. On a personal front, in 1982 as per a radio autobiography, his love life too reached its culmination with his betrothal to Deepa Jha, a singer and Air India air-hostess whom he had started dating since 1979.

While study of Indian classical music continued at Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, so did the struggle to find a firm footing in the music industry. The year 1983 brought a new opportunity to work with many composers but fame still remained a distant dream. He sang his first solo for composer Ram Laxman (of Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun fame) in the title song for the movie “Sun Meri Laila” starring Raj Kiran. He also sang the Kalyanji Anandji composition “Jo Safar Pyar Se” in the Shashi Kapoor, Kunal Goswami (actor Manoj Kumar’s son), Smita Patil starrer Ghungroo with Alka Yagnik the same year. The year also provided him the opportunity to match his singing skills with his other idols and iconic singers Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar.

He sang the RD Burman composition “Jeevan Ke Din” with Lata Mangeshkar for the movie Bade Dilwala and the Bappi Lahiri composition “Bindiya Tum Humse Kehdo Pyar Hai” with Kishore Kumar and Suresh Wadkar for the movie Kehdo Pyar Hai with palpable confidence. While the latter did not register in the audience memory at all, owing to the movie’s failure, the former had a Kishore Kumar version, which was picturised on the male protagonist (Rishi Kapoor) as against the Udit Narayan version, which was picturised on Pran. The Kishore Kumar version outshone the Udit Narayan version, which eventually faded from everyone’s memory.


With the support of veteran composer Chitragupta, Udit also sang for a few Bhojpuri movies. While the veteran composer did not have Hindi movies to offer, he recommended Udit to his sons Anand & Milind who were about to start their career.

The year 1984 did not bring much joy on the career front for Udit although Anand Milind debuted as composers with the Farooq Sheikh starrer Ab Aayega Maza and offered a fairly forgettable “440 volt ki ladki” to Udit. This was also the year when Udit associated for the first time with someone who would become his contemporary and professional competitor in later years – Kumar Sanu.

RD Burman brought together the ensemble of Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Shailendra Singh and Shakti Thakur for the song “Dekhna Dekhna Dekhte Dekhte” in the Jeetendra, Vinod Mehra, Sachin starrer Yeh Desh. Neither the movie nor the song were popular and both the voices were lost in the ensemble and the song faded into oblivion – so much so, that even though Kumar Sanu is formally credited in the song, most chroniclers credit Hero Hiralal, which released in 1989 as his debut Bollywood movie as a singer (his story in another upcoming episode). The same year, he also sang a few other forgettable songs –  Bappi Lahiri composition “Chehra Chupa Liya” for the movie Chakma with Chandrani Mukherjee, Shailendra Singh and Sulakshana Pandit and “Hip Hip Hurray Ho” with Shailendra Singh and Asha Bhosle for the  Prakash Jha movie Hip Hip Hurray.

Meanwhile, a few of his Nepali friends coaxed him into acting in a Nepali film, Kusume Rumal, which released in 1985. He also sang in most of the songs of the movie notably the title song “Kusume Rumal” and “Suna Bhana Na” with his wife, Deepa Jha. To his own surprise, this movie became the first Nepali movie to spend 25 weeks in the Nepali box office top ten list and the first actual Nepali blockbuster, which maintained the status of the highest-grossing Nepali movie until Darpan Chaya broke its record 16 years later in 2001. Both the songs became so popular that many versions are remade and remixed till date in Nepal.

In 1986, through his continued friendship with Anand & Milind, he received another opportunity to sing for them in Govinda’s movie Tan Badan. Many chroniclers credit the song “Meri Nayi Bansi Khi Dhun” from that movie as Udit Narayan’s first solo song although his solo debut “Sun Lo Meri Laila” had been released much earlier in 1983.  This year, he also sang the forgettable Anup Jalota composition “Mora saiyan pakde bainya” with Asha Bhosle in Patton Ki Baazi.

While study in Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan had been completed, work and popularity had not yet knocked his door and a desperate Udit continued to sing in hotels to make ends meet. That year, two songs composed by Anand Milind for an experimental video film by Mansoor Khan (legendary director Nasir Hussain’s son and Aamir Khan’s cousin) led to his rendezvous with the budding director who was to bring a major turning point in his life.

When Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT) with Aamir Khan was planned by Mansoor’s father, Nasir Hussain, RD Burman was Nasir’s first choice but Mansoor’s previous experience with Anand Milind and Udit Narayan in the video film led to his decision to use Udit as the singing voice for Aamir and Anand Milind as the composer. The music of the movie was released in later part of 1987 but not until the release of the movie in 1988 did it change the fortunes of all involved in the project.

QSQT went on to become the best-selling Bollywood soundtrack of the 1980s selling more than 8 million albums, and Udit’s “Papa Kehte Hain” became the most popular song of the movie consolidating his relationship with Anand-Milind and the record label T-Series both of whose careers had a breakthrough with QSQT. The release of the audio coincided with the birth of Udit’s son Aditya Narayan whom he considers lucky for this change of fortune.

Ten years after he landed in Mumbai and 8 years after his debut in Unees Bees, Udit Narayan finally found well-deserved fame with his first Filmfare award for “Papa Kehte Hain” in 1989. The movie also made him the voice of Aamir Khan for many years till Nadeem Shravan changed the course in 1993 with “Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke” where all songs for Aamir Khan were sung by his professional competitor Kumar Sanu whose claim to fame in 1990 with Nadeem Shravan’s Aashqui extended Udit Narayan’s struggle. He also sang the Laxmikant Pyarelal compositions “Log jahan par rehte hain” in Pyar Ka Mandir and “Dil De Diya” in Ram Avtar with Anuradha Paudwal in 1988.

In 1989, a T-series video film “Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka” created waves with the songs “Kya karte the saajna” and “Na jaane kyon dil bekarar” which were composed by Anand Milind and sung by Udit Narayan and Anuradha Paudwal. The duo and the record label went on to associate for many more Hindi and regional hits from thereon. The same year, Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik collaborated again for the Bappi Lairi composition “Aye kaash tum keh do” from Ghar ka Chiraag. Kalyanji Anandji’s composition “Oye Oye” from Tridev also became extremely popular furthering the singer’s fame.

Work and fame had been achieved after QSQT but there was no continuity of the same. 1990 saw the rise of Kumar Sanu and his association with Nadeem Shravan but Udit continued to be a constant competitor with hits in movies like Dil, Beta, Hum, Aashiqui, Yaara Dildara and Chamatkar.

The popularity of the cult song composed by Jatin Lalit “Pehla Nasha” in the 1992 movie Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was another turning point in Udit’s career catapulting his fame and fanhood to greater levels. He became a constant presence in all Jatin Lalit albums after this association.

Also Read: Alka Yagnik: Struggles & Success Of A Bollywood Music Legend

Such was the admiration for him among composers that the maestro AR Rahman coaxed him into singing in the Tamil movie Kadhalan in 1994 and after its success ensured that he was a part of all his Hindi albums and many regional albums from thereon. Between 1989 and 2005, Udit Narayan was nominated for 20 Hindi songs, five of which won him Filmfare awards and between 2001 and 2005, he won four National awards (a feat, second only to SP Balasubramaniam, who maintains a record of six national awards). He also holds the record of having sung the maximum number of title songs for Bollywood movies.

Songs from Udit Narayan’s struggling years (1980-90) that you might have missed and are worth revisiting:

  1. Sun Jaan-e-Jaan from Sannata (1981)
  2. Sun Le Meri Laila from Sun Meri Laila (1983)
  3. Jo Safar Pyar Se Kat Jaye from Ghungroo (1983)
  4. Jeevan Ke Din from Bade Dilwale (1983)
  5. O Bindiya Tum Humso Kehdo Pyar Hai from Kehdo Pyar Hai (1983)
  6. Kusume Rumal & Suna Bhana Na from Kusume Rumal (1985) – Non hindi songs but worth listening for it’s melody.
  7. Log Jahan Pe Rehte Hain from Pyar Ka Mandir (1988)
  8. Dil De Diya from Ram Avtar (1988)
  9. Na Jane Kyon Dil Bekarar from Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka (1989)
  10. Aye Kaash Tum Kehdo Kabhi from Ghar Ka Chiraag (1989)


(The writer is a doctor and public health specialist by profession but a passionate music enthusiast with special liking for bollywood music from 80s and 90s)

All picture Courtesy: Udit Narayan Official/Facebook



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