Singer Mohammed Aziz, who passed away after a cardiac arrest on his way back from a concert tour in hometown Kolkata, could be safely called, like his role-model Mohammed Rafi, as everyone’s voice. He sang for every star and composer, big or small.
In our only meeting way back in the mid-1990s, when I was doing radio shows, he came across in the radio interview as a simple, humble man without airs, who with a sweet smile gave candid answers to questions even pertaining to the slowdown in his career that had happened then with the onset of newer singers.
For Mohammed Aziz, after his super peak phase from 1986 to the early 1990s, this must not have been easy. The uncrowned king of playback then, his voice and range fitted, like his idol again, every genre of song.
Born July 4, 1956 as Syed Mohammed Azizunnabi into a spiritual family, near Kolkata, he began to sing Rafi’s songs since childhood and was a singer in Kolkata’s pubs. He made his recording debut in October 1983 with the Bengali film, Sapan – Jagmohan’s Jyoti. His first Hindi release was its dubbed version, Amber (which released four years before the Bengali version in 1984!), in which he sang ‘Teri Raah Mein Ek Deepak’ and ‘Kab Tak Dulhe Chadaye Jayenge Neelam Par’ (his first recorded Hindi song), very much like his idol.
In the post Mohammed Rafi – Kishore Kumar scenario, looking for clones of these singers and getting them to fill in the vacuum was a trend, as every composer was attuned to making most of their compositions with them in mind and were unsettled with their sudden absence. Word spread and two of Rafi’s biggest fans, Manmohan Desai and composer Anu Malik, searched for this struggler, then eking out an existence in Mumbai’s suburban Goregaon near the tabelas (cowsheds). The result was ‘Mard Tangewala’, the hit Amitabh Bachchan song from Mard (1985).
However, success needs that bit of a struggle, and ‘Munna’ Aziz (as he was known) had inconsequential songs in Shiva Ka Insaaf (R.D. Burman) and Geraftaar (Bappi Lahiri) released before Mard. However, it was left to Rajesh Roshan (and to Amitabh’s former arch-rival Rajesh Khanna) to let Mohammed Aziz make his first mark with the stunning solo ‘Ek Andhera Lakh Sitare’ in the same year’s ‘Aakhir Kyon?’ again before Mard. These two totally diverse songs spotlighted his versatility from the start.
But, it was with reigning composers Laxmikant – Pyarelal that Mohammed Aziz was to make his biggest mark. As Rafi devotees, they quickly got on to him, saw a versatile singer who could pitch well even in the higher octaves, and had what is known as a “hero’s voice” that a playback singer needed then.
Thus, in 1986, Aziz sang in 16 L-P films in one of their busiest and most successful years. The range spanned ‘Duniya Mein Kitna Gham Hai’ (Amrit), ‘Ae Sanam Tere Liye’ (Karma) and ‘Gori Sa Saajan’ (Aakhree Raasta) apart from youthful, semi-classical and even a Muslim devotional song in ‘Kala Dhanda Goray Log’ (‘Allah hu’) and Amrit’s qawwali (‘Sharafat Ali Ko Sharafat Ne Maara’) in which he matched the high-pitched stalwart Mahendra Kapoor in the same song.
What was equally relevant for Aziz’s career was the fact that in a single year, he proved a perfect playback fit for artistes from Dilip Kumar, Shammi Kapoor (‘Allah Hu’), Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra, Rishi Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Govinda and even supporting artistes like Shafi Inamdar and Satish Kaul! Of course, R.D. Burman, Anu Malik, Bappi Lahiri and Rajesh Roshan used him again as well, but minus the same popular results.
Says Pyarelal, “Everyone has a role-model. But if Saraswati’s blessings are there, they soon form their own paths. Do you see anything of Rafi in Munna’s later songs for us? Even ‘My name is Lakhan (Ram Lakhan) was not really in Rafi’s style but in his own.”
However, for comparison’s sake, Aziz was by leagues the most successful of the half-a-dozen Mohammed Rafi clones that came before the era of similar-to-titans-voices ended by the late 1990s. By that time, Aziz had chalked up popular to hit songs for many more actors—Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Kumar Gaurav, Nana Patekar, Farouque Sheikh, Mithun Chakraborty, Raj Babbar, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgn!
His list of composers kept growing, gradually including veterans Naushad, O.P. Nayyar, Ravi, Khayyam, Kalyanji-Anandji and Shankar (– Jaikishan), besides Usha Khanna, Ravindra Jain and emerging youngsters Anand – Milind, Nadeem-Shravan, Jatin-Lalit, Viju Shah, Dilip Sen – Sameer Sen and others.
Mohammed Aziz’s career began to flag after the onset of a new breed of singers in Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet, who collectively began making a mark in the early ‘90s. However, even the younger composers could not wish off Aziz, whose voice suited so many, and who had since delivered many more whopping hits like ‘Patjhad Sawan Basant Bahar’ (Sindoor), ‘Ungli Mein Angoothi’ (Ram Avtar), ‘One Two Ka Four’ (Ram Lakhan), ‘Tera Beemaar Mera Dil’ (Chaalbaaz), ‘Main Teri Mohabbat Mein’ (Tridev), ‘Baali Umar Ne’ (Awargee), ‘Kagaz Kalam Davaat’ (Hum), ‘Imli Ka Boota’ (Saudagar), ‘Khat Likhna Hai’ (Khel) and ‘Tu Mujhe Qubool’ (Khuda Gawah) besides holding his own in the duets he got with Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle as well as Kishore Kumar!
By that time, a lot of actors had also developed a soft corner for the young singer, including Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan kept his voice even in his later films after his home production Khuda Gawah, come home production Mrityudaata¸ Ek Rishtaa (2001) or the Bhojpuri Gangotri (2007). Yes, Aziz made his mark in Bhojpuri, Bengali, and Oriya films as well.
The man with a plethora of songs that will be hummed forever has left us at 64, which is no age to go. Perhaps, this is Destiny’s way of telling us that he was another great singer like the others who providence summoned early—his idol Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar.