by David Courtney working tools


Mukesh was a Bollywood playback singer who was active from the late 1940's to the early 1970's.  He, along with Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi, are considered to be the three major male playback singers of this period.  Although he was known as a playback singer, on occasion he worked in other capacities such as actor, music director, and producer.

Mukesh Chandra Mathur was born on the 22nd of July 1923, near Delhi.  His father was named Lala Zorawar Chand Mathur, he was an engineer by profession.  His mother was named Chand Rani.  He was the sixth child in a family of 10.

Mukesh's interest in the arts was seen very early.  As a child he used to surreptitiously listen in on his sister when the music teacher would come to teach her.  As he grew older, he became completely mesmerised by the songs of K.L. Saigal.  He used to spend a lot of time imitating him.

After he finished his 10th standard, Mukesh got a job working for the Delhi Dept. of Public Works.  But even while working, his interest was in the arts.  During his time here, he used to experiment with recordings and worked hard to improve his singing.

Once when Mukesh was singing at his sister's wedding, a distant relative of his named Motilal, heard him and was very impressed.  Motilal was a successful actor in Bombay in those days.  Mukesh went to Bombay and stayed with Motilal.  He stayed with him and took singing lessons under Pandit Jagannath Prasad, because in those days, being a competent singer was a requisite for being an actor.  He was determined to make it in the film business.

He managed to secure a role in the film Nirdosh (1941).  In this role, he acted and sang for himself.  We must remember that the custom of having separate playback singers was not yet the norm, so actors commonly sang their own songs in those days.  The first song to make an impact with the public was Anil Biswas' Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De from the movie "Pehli Nazar" (1945).

Like so many of his generation, Mukesh imitated Saigal; however in Mukesh's case, it went beyond simply imitating his style.  It would be more correct to consider it mimicry.  It is said that when Saigal heard the song, Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De, he declared that he did not remember singing the song.  He was then told that he did not sing it, but that it was sung by a new singer Mukesh.  However by the time that Naushad released "Mela" in 1948, Mukesh's own distinctive style was evident.

Mukesh acted in a number of films, especially in his early years.  Some of his films were, "Aadab Arz" (1943), "Aah" (1953), "Mashuqa" (1953), "Anurag" (1956).

Film Poster from Anuraag

Film Poster from Anuraag

In the mid 1940's his personal life was interesting.  Mukesh developed an amorous relationship with an 18 year old girl named Saral Trivedi Raichand.  This was an illicit affair, for the girl's family was very much against the match.  She was the daughter of a wealthy Gujarathi Brahman, while he was "unsettled".  He did not own his own home.  He was engaged in the "disreputable" film business, and had an irregular and unreliable source of income.  But in 1946 they eloped.  Naturally there was much gossip about this, and there were rampant predictions that this marriage would fail.  However the marriage lasted until Mukesh's death in 1976.  In the 30 years of their marriage, they had 5 children.

Mukesh and Saral after marriage

Mukesh and Saral after marriage

The 1950s was an interesting decade for Mukesh.  The decade began with the birth of his son Nitin on June 27th, 1950.  This added to their daughter Rita who was born 2 years earlier.  Their second daughter Nalini was born June 25th 1953.  The decade ended on a high note when in 1960 he wins his first Filmfare award; this is for his work in the film "Anari" (1959).

Mukesh became associated in the public mind with Raj Kapoor.  This was from all from all of the songs for Raj Kapoor that he did the playback for.  When Mukesh died, Raj Kapoor said "I have lost my voice."  It is said that at times Mukesh was almost jealous of the attention on Raj Kapoor.  For instance when he was in Mauritius, he remarked that when he met with people there would be a couple of questions about himself, then an endless amount of questioning about Raj Kapoor.

The 1960's was also an interesting decade for Mukesh.  In November 4th 1961, his second son Mohnish was born.  In 1962 he goes on a concert tour of the UK.  In 1966 his third daughter Namrata is born.  In 1967 he goes on a concert tour of Surinam.

The 1970's was especially full for him.  In 1970 wins his third Filmfare award for "Be-Iman".  In 1974, he received the National Award for the Kai Baar Yun Bhi Dekha Hai from "Rajnigandha" (1974).  He goes on numerous foreign tours to places like London (1972), Africa (1972), Canada (1976), USA (1976).

His last song recorded was Chanchal Sheetal Nirmal Komal from "Satyam Shivam Sundaram" in June 1976.  Soon after recording this song he left for a musical tour of the US.

The concert tour of the USA in 1976 with Lata Mangeshkar would be his last.  This was just shortly after he celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary.  Although no one knew it at the time, Mukesh's 8th performance of the tour in Philadelphia would be his last performance.  After they arrived in Detroit for what would be his 9th program, he died of a sudden heart attack on 27th August, 1976.  He was 53 years old.  His body was flown back to India and he was cremated at the Banganga Crematorium in South Bombay on August 30, 1976.

Mukesh's Funeral

Mukesh's Funeral

After his death, his reputation remains unabated. There have been numerous remixes, and repackaging of his earlier material.  He even won his fourth Filmfare award posthumously for his work in the film "Kabhi Kabhi" (1976).


Selected Video







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