"It seemed as if two bodies had become one life"
When it comes to songs, Bollywood reigns supreme in South Asian entertainment. Over the past century, songs have been an integral part of Indian cinema and have shaped some legendary actor-singer combinations.
It is easy to forget that in most cases, a singer is behind an actor in Bollywood numbers.
On the other hand, when we listen to the songs, we forget that an actor has performed them onscreen too.
When actors match the voice of the singers, and when singers change their vocals for actors, magic is created.
Paying tribute to these evergreen associations, DESIblitz showcases the best actor-singer combinations to have come out of Bollywood.
Dilip Kumar – Mohammad Rafi
Dilip Kumar is a legend of the Indian screen. For over 75 years, he has been part of Bollywood history.
It makes sense that an acting great would be associated with a singing icon. Mohammad Rafi began his career in 1944. This was coincidentally the same year in which Dilip Sahab’s first film released.
Rafi Sahab sang for every leading male actor of his time.
When he started singing for Dilip Sahab, the songs became timeless hits.
In the 60s, Rafi Sahab lent his voice to the actor in several films. These include Gunga Junma (1961), Leader (1964) and Ram Aur Shyam (1967),
Rafi Sahab’s output decreased in the 70s. This was when Kishore Kumar took centre stage as Bollywood’s playback singer.
Dilip Sahab also took a hiatus in the mid-70s but this combination was heard again in Kranti (1981). The film may have released after Rafi Sahab’s death, but it kept this wonderful association alive.
In an interview with Faridoon Shahryar from Bollywood Hungama, Rishi Kapoor shared an anecdote involving Rafi Sahab:
“Rafi Sahab caught my eye. I went up to him very respectfully. He kissed my forehead and said:
“‘After Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor and Johnny Walker, you suit my voice very well.'”
This shows that Rafi Sahab really respected Dilip Sahab and that feeling was mutual. One can see this in the way Dilip Sahab beautifully performs Rafi Ji’s songs onscreen.
Madhubala – Lata Mangeshkar
Several of Madhubala’s hit songs were rendered by Lata Mangeshkar. The beautiful actress even regarded Lata Ji as her favourite singer.
Lata Ji gave playback for Madhubala in Mughal-E-Azam (1960). Who can forget the powerful yet lilting ‘Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya?’
In that song, Lata Ji proves that she is a force of nature. She raises her voice to the high pitches perfectly. Her intonations are strong and melodious in the right places.
Meanwhile, Madhubala adds magic to the number with her impeccable expressions of heartbreak and longing.
Recollecting this famous actor-singer association, Lata Ji remembers:
“[Madhubala] stipulated in her contracts that she wanted only me to do her playback singing.”
The ‘nightingale of India’ also adds that she and Madhubala often met socially.
Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt also sung many beautiful tracks picturised on the Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) actress.
However, there is no doubt that Madhubala’s numbers by Lata Ji are wonderfully unique.
Nargis – Lata Mangeshkar
Along with Madhubala, another yesteryear actress that Lata Mangeshkar had a successful association with is Nargis.
Lata and Nargis Ji began their careers in the early 40s. Lata Ji sang for the Mother India (1957) star in films such as Barsaat (1949) and Awaara (1951).
While interacting with the media at an event, Lata Ji was asked about her favourite actresses to which she expressed:
“I liked Meena Kumari and Nargis the most. I have the most memories with those two.”
The way Lata Ji’s voice suits Nargis Ji is a treat to the ears. The actress lip-syncs the iconic singer’s vocals to perfection in their songs.
Lata Ji also recalls:
“[Nargis] used to be present for all the song recording of Raj Kapoor’s films. I remember she would bring sandwiches to the studios and feed all of us.
“She was a woman with great poise. Her lifestyle clothes and speech were always proper. I never saw her improperly dressed.”
The close friendship reflected brightly in their actor-singer association.
Nargis Ji is one of Bollywood’s most influential figures and Lata Ji’s voice has undoubtedly played a massive part in that.
Dev Anand – Kishore Kumar
Many older Bollywood followers are massive fans of Kishore Kumar. The singer pioneered many hit songs in the 70s and 80s.
Kishore Da sang several everlasting duets with Lata Mangeshkar but not many are aware that their first duet together was for Dev Anand’s Ziddi (1948).
In fact, Kishore Ji’s first solo song for an Indian film was in Ziddi. The song was ‘Marne Ki Duayen Kyun Mangoon.’
From then, Kishore Da went on to sing countless songs picturised on Dev Sahab. The legendary music composer S.D. Burman helmed much of this actor-singer combination.
Dev Sahab’s numbers, which were sung by Kishore Ji, are immortal classics. Some of these tracks are heard in films including Teen Devian (1965), Guide (1965) and Prem Pujari (1970).
The Munimji (1955) actor talks about this enduring singer-actor combination in his book, Romancing with Life (2007):
“Whenever I needed [Kishore] to sing for me, he was ready to play Dev Anand in front of the microphones.
“I would always say: ‘Do it with all the pep you want, and I shall follow your way.'”
“There was that kind of rapport between the two of us.”
Dev Ji was heartbroken when Kishore Da died in 1987. This ended one of the most successful combinations in Indian cinema.
That relationship shone through the songs. Kishore Da’s voice, combined with Dev Sahab’s acting, made for some of the most enduring songs ever seen in Bollywood.
Raj Kapoor – Mukesh
This singer-actor combination is one that will always be celebrated. Music composers Shankar-Jaikishan struck gold when they introduced this to Bollywood.
Mukesh Ji was originally Dilip Kumar’s voice in films like Mela (1948) and Andaz (1949). However, Raj Kapoor later began using the singer for his own numbers.
The association began in the late 40s where Mukesh Ji became Raj Sahab’s exclusive playback voice henceforth.
He sang for the showman in almost all his films. Some memorable tracks are from Shree 420 (1955), Sangam (1964) and Dharam Karam (1975).
While Mukesh Sahab may have become typecast as Raj Kapoor’s voice, the results which bore from the combination are legendary.
Raj Sahab praises Mukesh Ji in this documentary:
“Mukesh was my soul, my voice. It is he who sang through the hearts of people all over the world. Not me.
“Raj Kapoor was an image. He was the soul.”
It is said that when Mukesh Ji died in 1976, Raj Sahab lamented:
“I have lost my voice.”
In 1960, Mukesh Ji won his first Filmfare Award for ‘Best Male Playback Singer’ for ‘Sab Kuch Seekha Humne.’ The song was from Anari (1959) and was picturised on Raj Sahab.
This actor-singer combination created history and will live on forever.
Shammi Kapoor – Mohammad Rafi
In the late 50s to early 60s, a younger crop of actors entered Bollywood. The triumvirate of Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar now had some competition.
One of these fresher faces belonged to Shammi Kapoor. He debuted in 1951 but achieved fame with Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957).
Mohammad Rafi had sung for Shammi Ji prior to this but their friendship and professional rapport truly picked up during the latter part of the 50s.
Reminiscing about this period, Shammi Ji reveals:
“I went into the recording studio and saw Rafi Sahab sing one of my songs. It was that ‘Bhangra’ song, ‘Sar Pe Topi Lal’ (from Tumsa Nahin Dekha).”
He emotionally added:
“He sung it just the way I wanted him to sing it.”
Popular films which showcase this actor-singer combination include Ujala (1959), Teesri Manzil (1966) and An Evening in Paris (1967).
Shammi Sahab was not present for the recording of ‘Aasmaan Se Aaya Farishta‘, a song from An Evening in Paris.
An irritated Shammi Ji heard the song and was mightily impressed.
Talking about this episode, the Brahmachari (1968) actor divulges:
“I asked Rafi Sahab how he did this, and he said: ‘I asked who is singing this song. They said Shammi Kapoor. I thought Shammi Kapoor would spread his arms and legs out with lots of energy.'”
If one sees the song, Shammi Ji performs it exactly like that with full gusto. He rocks his limbs back and forth just like Rafi Sahab imagined.
When Rafi Sahab passed away in 1980, Shammi Ji was devastated. He found out when someone told him: “Shammi Ji, you have lost your voice. Rafi Sahab has died.”
Rafi Sahab and Shammi Ji have truly made some undying melodies together for Bollywood and fans alike.
Helen – Asha Bhosle
In the 50s, Asha Bhosle was overshadowed by more sought-after female singers. They included Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and her older sister Lata Mangeshkar.
It was not until the late 50s and 60s when Asha Ji made her mark. Music composers such as S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar guided her towards becoming a prominent playback singer.
More and more actresses of the time desired Asha Ji as their voices. One of these was Helen. She was one of the few artists of her time who was seen in bold characters.
‘O Haseeno Zulfon Wali‘ from Teesri Manzil (1966) is picturised on Ruby (Helen). It became a rage that is still enjoyed and is sung wonderfully by Asha Ji.
The high pitches of Asha Ji’s voice suited Helen’s light voice. Apparently, Helen used to observe Asha Ji while she recorded her songs. This was so she could style her dance and acting accordingly.
Another classic showcase of this actor-singer combination is ‘Yeh Mera Dil‘ from Don (1978). It presents Helen (Kamini) attempting to seduce Don (Amitabh Bachchan).
Asha Ji nails this number with her stretchy vocals and high notes. She won the Filmfare Award for ‘Best Female Playback Singer’ for this song in 1979.
When talking about her favourite stars, Asha Ji expresses her admiration for Helen:
“She was so pretty that the moment she would enter the room, I would stop singing and look at her.
“In fact, I would request her not to come when I was recording!
“Do you know that famous story when I told Helen that I would have eloped with her if I were a man! That is true!”
This combination has given the audience some memorable and catchy numbers.
Rajesh Khanna – Kishore Kumar
When Kishore Kumar’s acting career slumped, he made a decision to become a full-time playback singer in the late 60s.
A film that is known for marking Kishore Da’s singing resurgence is Aradhana (1969). It stars Rajesh Khanna as the male lead.
One of the reasons for the massive success of Aradhana is its songs and the film marked Kishore Ji as Rajesh’s official playback voice.
The hit numbers from the movie include ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani’ and ‘Roop Tera Mastana.’ For the latter, Kishore Da won his first Filmfare Award for ‘Best Male Playback Singer’ in 1970.
This actor-singer combination appeared across the soundtracks of over 90 films. It is said that Rajesh Khanna is the actor Kishore Ji lent his voice to the most.
Rajesh discusses the genius of Kishore Da in the rendition of ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani’:
“When I heard that song, it seemed as if two bodies had become one life, or two lives have become one body.”
In 1973, the BBC made a documentary on Rajesh called Bombay Superstar. In the programme, Rajesh talks about Kishore Ji to presenter Jack Pizzey:
“There are many similarities between his voice and my voice. The only thing is – he can sing, I can’t.”
Rajesh is perhaps alluding to their successful association. Kishore Da immensely respected Rajesh too. When Rajesh became a producer with Alag Alag (1985), Kishore Ji did not charge him for the playback.
Kishore Da sang many boundless and intoxicating songs for Rajesh. This is one of the most inimitable actor-singer combinations in Indian cinema.
Amitabh Bachchan – Kishore Kumar
Apart from Rajesh Khanna, there was another leading Bollywood actor in the 70s who used Kishore Kumar’s voice. He is none other than Amitabh Bachchan.
Kishore Ji sang over 130 songs for Amitabh. In his singing career, Kishore Da won eight Filmfare Awards for ‘Best Male Playback Singer’. Three of these were accolades for songs that are picturised on Amitabh.
In a reflective mood, Amitabh speaks about Kishore Ji’s talent and personality:
“I liked the songs Kishore Da has sung for Dev Sahab and Rajesh Khanna.
“No matter what the occasion was, there was a humanity in him.”
Kishore Da was known for his ability to modulate his voice to suit actors. Similarly, he always deepened his vocals to match Amitabh’s baritone.
This paid off very well and this modulation gave birth to some classic music.
In 1981, an altercation occurred between the two artists. Amitabh declined to do a guest appearance in a film that Kishore Ji produced.
An offended Kishore Da stopped singing for Amitabh after this. Other vocalists sang for the Deewaar (1975) star in films such as Coolie (1983) and Mard (1985).
However, none of these songs were as successful as those which Kishore Da sang for Amitabh. They ultimately reconciled and Kishore Ji once again became Amitabh’s voice.
Thereby, keeping alive this tremendous singer-actor combination.
Rishi Kapoor – Shailendra Singh
Rishi Kapoor started his career as a lead actor in Bobby (1973). This is the film with which Shailendra Singh also began his playback singing journey.
Shailendra became Rishi’s voice in the movie. He sang several hit numbers such as the soft ‘Main Shayar Toh Nahin’ and the upbeat ‘Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kaate’.
The voice of Shailendra matches Rishi’s young tone. After Bobby, Rishi wanted Shailendra to become his official playback voice. Shailendra also desired an association with the Bobby actor.
After the superb tracks of Bobby, Shailendra sung songs for Rishi in Zehreela Insaan (1974) and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).
However, he could not become Rishi’s permanent singing voice. After Rishi passed away in 2020, Shailendra looks back on the fading of this actor-singer combination, stating:
“Chintu (Rishi) of course believed in my voice. He would always recommend me. I sang two songs for him in his second film Zehreela Insaan.
“I was supposed to sing a third song ‘O Hansini’, which became the biggest hit of the film.
“Before I knew it, the song was taken away from me and given to Kishore Kumar Sahab.”
Shailendra also reveals that he was supposed to sing the numbers for Rishi in Saagar (1985). Unfortunately, he lost that opportunity to senior singers too.
In the mid-70s, Shailendra also lost Rishi to Mohammad Rafi. However, the songs that Shailendra sang for Rishi are classics and should always be embraced.
Rishi was known for the way he performed songs onscreen. Paying tribute to Rishi after his death, Amitabh Bachchan praised this particular talent:
“And there has never been any other, that could lip-sync a song as perfectly as [Rishi] did… never.”
This was evident in the songs Rishi and Shailendra worked on together.
Aamir Khan – Udit Narayan
Udit Narayan came to prominence in the late 80s with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). All the songs of that film are hits.
The actor who was launched in that film became Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan.
Udit sung tracks for Aamir which included the rhythmic ‘Papa Kehte Hai‘ and the romantic ‘Ae Mere Humsafar.’ For the former song, Udit won the Filmfare Award for ‘Best Male Playback Singer’ in 1989.
This began a magical actor-singer combination of nearly 20 years. In the 90s, music directors mainly signed Udit for songs that were picturised on Aamir.
Although Kumar Sanu sang for the Lagaan (2001) star, it was Udit who was known as his voice.
Udit has sung memorable numbers for Aamir in films like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) and Dil Chahta Hai (2001).
This association came to a halt after Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005). Aamir and Udit were both present at a 30-year celebration event for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 2018.
“Nowadays, Aamir Sahab does not have me sing in his films.”
Aamir and Udit laughed and embraced. After this, Udit began singing ‘Ae Mere Humsafar’ at the event with Aamir lip-synching.
This was much to the audience’s delight, as the onlookers were sent into waves of nostalgia.
Aamir and Udit have given birth to some beautiful melodies. After the mania of Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar ended, they set the tone for newer actor-singer combinations.
Shah Rukh Khan – Udit Narayan
Other than Aamir Khan, another actor Udit Narayan struck gold with is Shah Rukh Khan (SRK).
Shah Rukh began his acting career in 1992 but it was Darr (1993) that cemented this actor-singer combination in the hearts of the audience.
Within Darr, the track, ‘Jaadu Teri Nazar’ remains ageless. It is picturised on Rahul Mehra (Shah Rukh Khan) wooing Kiran Awasthi (Juhi Chawla).
While performing a tribute to SRK at the Radio Mirchi awards in 2013, Udit sang this song. The smile which appears on the star’s face conveys spades of mutual respect.
In 1995, Udit sung ‘Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna‘ for SRK in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. For this song, Udit won the Filmfare Award for ‘Best Male Playback Singer’ in 1996.
This association stopped in the early 2000s where Sonu Nigam began to sing most of Shah Rukh’s numbers.
However, Udit returned with a bang. He sang for SRK in classics including Swades (2004) and Veer-Zaara (2004).
If Udit helped shape Aamir’s ‘chocolate boy’ image, he also played an instrumental part in carving SRK’s romantic persona.
The way singers and actors work together in Bollywood is very important for the longevity of songs.
If done rightly, the songs can transform into magical performances which should leave the audience gasping for more.
The modulation of singers and the performance of actors should correlate well. Otherwise, it could be argued that there is little point in having music in Indian films.
These actor-singer combinations have all proved that a good rapport will always lead to success.
For that, they should be recognised and appreciated.