Bankim Pathak Brings "Kal Ki Yaadein" in Grand Style to Atlanta


(All photos: Vinod Devlia)

By Kavita Chhibber


It was everything I had predicted it would be…. ‘Kal Ki Yaadein” brought to Atlanta by Mark Premji on October 1st, at Earthlink Live, was over four hours of non stop music, and music par excellence at that. Bankim Pathak and his troupe of five other exceptionally talented singers accompanied by an equally good orchestra regaled a deeply appreciative audience at the sold out concert (several people were turned away at the box office even after adding extra seats).

Bankim Pathak (pictured right), as I had mentioned in my preview, has taken over where Rafi left. His voice is a spitting replica of the late maestro’s and he has honed every nuance of Rafi to perfection. Add to that his charismatic stage presence that never fails to get instant audience participation and you have a hit show on your hands. But wait... that is not all there is - add Mukesh, Lata, Asha, Kishore, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan and Surinder to it. Who wouldn’t give their dollars to see songs of these stalwarts of music together on stage?

Seven of the legends are no longer amidst us but their spirit, and those of the living legends, was captured live that night, echoing through vocal chords of Bankim Pathak, Dr.. Kamlesh Awasthi, Anila and Daksha Gohil, Bhushan Awasthi and Sangeeta Lala.

Sangeeta Lala, a young singer, also doubled as emcee, and the evening began with a welcome by the charming Bhushan Awasthi, an architect who has also graduated in classical music and sings not just film songs but ghazals. Bhushan has sung for Gujarati TV serials and also released a cassette of Gujarati songs by Mukesh, but says since dad is the voice of Mukesh, he sings the songs of other singers more frequently.

Dad is Dr. Kamlesh Awasthi who has kept Mukesh alive through his voice. Dr. Awasthi says his early memories of music were hearing his mother sing Sanskrit shlokas and singing along with her, and then pursuing music and singing on stage shows as he continued finishing his education. Awasthi came from a conservative family and was not allowed to see romantic films. His first film was Barsaat, and that was the beginning of deep admiration for Raj Kapoor. He saw Raj Kapoor sing on the screen and naively was very impressed by his “melodious” voice. A few years later he saw another movie called Begunah and a song sung by musician Jaikishan on screen, and thought to himself wow this guy sings just like Raj Kapoor. It was then that his brother enlightened the naïve Kamlesh that it was play back singer Mukesh who had sung both songs and that began his love for Mukesh. After Mukesh’s death, Dr. Awasthi released an album in tribute to the legendary singer. The lyrics were penned by Raj Kapoor’s close friend and lyricist par excellence Hasrat Jaipuri. One of the songs talked of how the singer has left the world but his voice remained behind. Raj Kapoor came for the performance and on hearing Dr. Awasthi said Mukesh was reborn in him.

Bhushan in his introduction talked about the magnificent treasure trove of music the great legends that were being honored that night have left behind. It is the kind of music that remains timeless in beauty and quality. Dr. Awasthi said to me later it was interesting to see that in spite of the changing trends in music in India with technology taking over and fusion music and remixes, the fusion and remixes are of old songs. “So even to create something new they are returning to the old songs, the old traditional roots.”

Bhushan and Sangeeta gave a beautiful start to the journey down memory lane by an impeccable rendition of Kishore Kumar’s song Musafir hoon Yaron and Babuji Dheere Chalna by Geeta Dutt. Bhushan sounded a lot like Kishore Kumar and has a very pleasant stage presence.

Sangeeta was full of verve, elegantly dressed in a lovely outfit, both Bhushan and she regaled the audience with lovely Urdu couplets honoring each singer whose songs were being sung. Sangeeta danced and sang and made all the announcements confidently and with pizzazz.

The two sisters Anila and Daksha Gohil cover the voices of Lata, Asha, Shamshad Begum, and Noorjehan. Both come from families that were music lovers but they have not trained under any guru seriously. Daksha is now getting some form of training which helps her with voice control and gives her a classical base. Both sisters however are naturally gifted with strong voices and a good pitch and can raise their voices to whatever heights they need.

Daksha, dressed in a shimmering black sari began her segment with a melodious rendition of Lag ja Gale by Lata and then went on to sing some numbers by Asha with such perfection it brought the house down. She sang Zara Haule Haule chalo more sajna, dam maro dam, piya tu ab to aaa ja, aage bhi jaane na tu but her rendition of Aaiye Meherban, the sultry Asha Bhonsle number as well as her alaap in the song Aa ab laut chalen brought the house down-her pitch was perfect her voice crystal clear and the heights to which she can make it soar is unbelievable.

The older sister Anila, resplendent in a gorgeous light blue and silver sari, went even a step further. She began her segment with the rather difficult number Rasik Balma by Lata Mangeshkar. The song has tremendous variations and a pitch that is exceedingly high. A lesser artist could not have tackled it but Anila sailed through the song with ease. She then went on to sing Jawan Hai Mohabbat sung by Shamshad Begum in Shamshad Begum’s voice. Not just that she went on to sing Awaaz de Kahan hai with Bankim Pathak in Noor jehan’s voice and the icing on the cake was when she sang the Lata-Shamshad Begum duet Bachpan ke din bhula na dena - switching from one voice to the other effortlessly as every one watched dumbstruck. Anila says she didn’t realize she had the ability to sing in so many different voices. She had a very keen ability to pick up singing and vocal styles of other singers and just had a lot of fun with it, until it dawned on her that she could entertain by doing different vocals: “It requires tremendous concentration and a keen ear and hard work, but I enjoy it.”

Dr. Kamlesh Awasthi (pictured left) brings back memories of Mukesh in a way that is unbelievable. You also realize that Mukesh has sung some incredibly beautiful numbers that were overshadowed by the inimitable Rafi’s golden voice, the two being contemporaries.

Dr. Awasthi recalls how devastated Raj Kapoor was at Mukesh’s untimely demise during a concert tour that ended his life in Detroit. He said his soul had left him, because Mukesh sang what he wanted to convey so beautifully. He then heard Dr. Awasthi sing and was blown away. Consequently he made Dr. Awasthi sing all the songs of a film Gopichand Jasoos that he was acting in. ”It was God’s greatest gift to me, that I was able to sing for Raj Kapoor,” said Awasthi almost losing his composure. Tears filled his eyes when he recalled Raj Kapoor’s grief as he and Awasthi talked about the sudden loss of his close friends and colleagues, Mukesh, Jaikishan and poet Shailendra, all in a short span of time and how lonely Raj ji felt. Awasthi talked about how Raj Kapoor would look after him during shoots and lip sync to his voice as he sang close to his ear since Kapoor had started having problems with his left ear. Dr. Awasthi also said that Raj Kapoor was very gracious and never interfered in a director’s work or production of a film if it was not his film. He followed directions as an actor. However every music director had to sing the songs to be picturised on Raj Kapoor in his presence and only the songs approved by Raj Kapoor got the final okay. Dr. Awasthi then went on to revive memories of Mukesh by rendering some wonderful numbers like Jaane Kahan Gaye who Din, Dil Tadap Tadap ke keh Raha Hai, Aja re ab Mera Dil Pukara, Sawan ka Mahina, Dost Dost na Raha, Duniya Banana Wale Kya Tere Man Mein Samayi, Kya Khoob Lagti Ho from Dharmatama, Sajan re Jhoot Mat Bolo, Duniya Banana Wale, Taro Mein Sajke and Yeh Mera Deewana Pan Hai, a personal favorite of his. The National Commemorative Memorial award in honor of Mukesh’s memory was given to Dr. Awasthi, as he was honored as the singer of the millennium keeping Mukesh’s memory alive. The judges were legendary musician Khayyam, stalwart singers Anup Jalota and Anuradha Paudwal.

Bankim Pathak comes from a business family with no musical background except for a father who loved music and encouraged Bankim who had lost his legs to polio as a child, to sing. When Rafi died suddenly in 1981 Bankim, who had begun to sound very much like him, chose to do shows in Rafi’s memory and hasn’t looked back.

Today he has incorporated every nuance, every jhatka, the sweetness, soul and melody of Rafi’s velvety voice and he has added a lot of mauj masti on stage. Pathak recalled how film star Shammi Kapoor was at the holy shrine Vaishno Devi when he was told of Rafi’s death in the words” Your voice has left you”. Pathak said he is convinced that had it not been for Rafi, Shammi Kapoor would not have reached the heights he did. Pathak also recalled how a rookie music director was first vetoed by Shammi Kapoor who always wanted Shankar Jaikishan to give music for his films. The directors Nasir Hussain persisted and insisted Shammi at least hear the guy out. Reluctantly he did and was blown away. The rookie musician was RD Burman, the song O Hasina Zulfon Wali, which Bankim Pathak went on to sing, along with other vintage Rafi numbers - solos and duets - Sau sal Pehle Mujhe tum se Pyaar Tha, Jo Wada Kiya, Aaja Aaja and a medley - Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil, Chaudvin ka Chand Ho, Badan Pe Sitaare, Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache o Door ke Musafir, Chal Udh Ja Re Panchi. Anila and Daksha sang the beautiful duet Hasta Hua Noorani Chehra. The musicians were outstanding, especially the drummer Surinder Kumar, the tabla player Prakash Wadekar and Sharad Khandekar on key board.

Khandekar was the only musician from Bankim Pathak’s original band having been with him for 35 years. The rest were musicians from Bombay and Bankim Pathak said they had a mere 3 days of rehearsals before they left for the tour. It seemed as if these guys have been playing forever. It was almost close to 2 a.m. when they wound up even though the audience didn’t want the night to end. Every song was welcomed with a roar. The artists said in spite touring all over the world, they find the audiences in America to be the most appreciative and sentimental. “A lady in Connecticut came up to me after the show and held my hand and said you sang very well but you also brought memories of India back and she broke down,” said Bhushan. Bankim Pathak, Anila and Daksha Gohil added that it was just because of such a response that they have never felt the need to get into playback singing. Dr. Awasthi added that people in USA seem to have retained their cultural roots even more intensely than people in India.

“The love and instant response we received in all cities, especially in places like Los Angeles where we are returning for the third time in this tour, and Atlanta where the audience was so receptive, is all that we really need.” Bankim teased Mark Premji whom he had invited on stage, and asked what he thought of the show as compared to the big Shahrukh Khan show he did. Premji, who loves good music, was clearly deeply moved and said just four words: “You are the best.”

The troupe has been invited back in several cities and I have received a massive number of phone calls and emails for an encore performance. Bankim Pathak says they may come back and Mark has promised to invite them back once I forwarded the requests to him.

So watch out - if Atlanta is lucky we may have an encore performance here soon!

                                                                                                                                                           All Material © Copyright Kavita Chhibber


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