Anybody listening to the song, 'Dil gham se jal raha hai', a masterly composition by Ghulam Mohammed for the film Shama could mistake it for a song of Lata eventhough it is a song by that wonderful singer Suman Kalyanpur . Again the same impression will definitely be reinforced when one hears the Snehal Bhatkar melody, 'Haal-e- dil unko sunana tha' from film Faryad.The beauty of the voice, the talent, versatility, the authentic singing style and the impression she had created among listeners with a large number of hit songs under renowned music directors like Khayyam, S.D.Burman, Shankar Jaikishen, Roshan, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Madan Mohan and so on should have established her as a front line singer in Hindi film world. Unfortunately, it did not happen. The fact that she remained as one of the most underutilised and unexplored singers of our time is one of the several similar contradictions and under achievements in Hindi film music as in the cases of Bhupinder Singh, Subir Sen, Hemlata, Jesudas and to a lesser extent, Mahendra Kapur.
Though Suman Kalyanpur had sung only a limited number of solo songs there were a few outstanding numbers among them. The foremost among them is the one from film Baat ek Raat Ki, viz., ‘Na tum hamen jano, na hum to me jaane’ under the baton of S.D.Burman. Then there is this melodious, ‘Sharabi sharabi yeh saawan ka mausum’ (film Noor Jahan, Music- Roshan) again echoing Lata’s voice and style of singing. Then there is this haunting song,’Mere mehboob na jaa’ from film Noor Mahal with music by Jane Babu Qawwal. In film Shagun, Suman Kalyanpur has two beautiful romantic numbers under the baton of the great Khayyam, viz., ‘Zindagi Zulm sahi jabr sahi gham hi sahi’ and ‘Bhuja diye hain khud apna hathon’. In film Mohabat Isko Kahte hain, Khayyam has again used the voice of Suman Kalyanpur for this beautiful song, ‘Jo hum pe guzarti hai tanha’ to reveal her natural talent for singing melodies. In film Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan, music director Ravi has brought the best in Suman in the song ‘Ab to ankh lad chuki’. Music maestro Madan Mohan, known for his preference for Lata, had made Lata sing ‘Haal-e-dil yoon unhen sunaya gaya’ for film Jahan Aara, a sort of cover version of Suman’s song, ‘Haal-e-dil’, from film Faryad. To many listeners the version by Suman was the better of the two. She had also sung several solo songs for music directors Duttaram, N,Dutta and so on.
Suman Kalyanpur’s versatility and range were evident in several semi classical songs she had beautifully rendered. The first song coming to mind is ‘Mere sang ga gunguna’, a duet with Rafi, from film Janwar with music by Shankar Jaikishen.The beautiful ghazal, ‘Baad muddat ke yeh ghadi aayee’ from film Jahan Ara with music by Madan Mohan and the Sonik Omi title song with Rafi from film ‘Dil ne phir yaad kiya’ show her control over semi-clasical songs and ghazals. The song, Ajhun na aaye balamwa’ ‘ for S&J in film Sanj aur Savera is another semi-classical number of Suman. Her talent for singing fast happy numbers is amply evident in a few duets with Rafi like ‘Aajkal tere mere pyar ke charche’ (Film Brahmachari-Music S&J) and ‘Tumse oh haseena’(Film Farz-Music Laxmi Pyare) and ‘Tumne pukara aur hum chale aaye’ (Film Raj Kumar- Music S&J).
Probably the major contribution of Suman Kalyanpur to Hindi film music is the large number of melodious duets she had rendered with Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Mukesh and above all Muhammed Rafi. Her contribution will be remembered and taken forward through generations more by these duets than through her solo songs.In film Pyase Panchi with music by Kalyanji Anandji, there is this flowing duet with Hemant Kumar,viz., ‘Na jaane kahan tum the’.With Mukesh she had sung a few duets and the first coming to mind is,’Mera pyar bhi tu hai’ from Film Saathi (Music:Naushad).In film ‘Dil hi Tu Hai’ Mukesh and Suman sang this lilting ‘Chura le na tum ko mausam suhana’, the two voices complementing each other to the delight of listeners. Again under music director S.D.Burman in film Meri Surat Teri Ankhen Mukesh and Suman had sung the soft melody,’Yeh kitne geet chehda’which was very popular those days. With Manna Dey there are a few popular duets the prominent being ‘Na jaane kaha tum the’ from film Zindagi aur Khwab’ with music by Duttaram.The song ‘Tum jo aao to pyar aa jaye’ composed by Robin Banerjee for film Sakhi Robin was another popular duet of this duo. There is yet another duet ‘Yeh nasheelee hawa’ from film Neeli Aankhen (Music:Duttaram) emphasising the harmony of voices in duets which is missing in present day music in general.
Suman Kalyanpur’s duets with Muhammed Rafi are many and varied bringing out the best in the singers. It is noteworthy that Suman Kalyanpur could sing these songs at a time when the preferred voice for composers and producers for singing all types of songs was that of Lata Mangeshkar. Probably the difference of opinion between Lata and Rafi over certain trade issues resulting in their not singing together over a period of time could have also helped. For the composers if Lata was not available the next best option was Suman Kalyanpur with the similarity in voices and singing style. It was for this reason that Suman Kalyanpur was often referred to as the ‘Poor man’s Lata’! Rafi and Suman had sung duets under most of the leading com[posers of the time. Apart from the duets mentioned earlier in this post she had sung for Khayyam the song, ‘Parbeton ke pedon par sham ka basera hai’from film Shagoon; for Roshan the song, ‘Aise to na dekekho ki’ in film Bheegi Raat and ‘Rehena na rehenn hum’ for film Mamta; for Shankar Jaikishen several songs including, ‘Itna hai tumse pyar mujhe’ for film Suraj and for Kalyanji Anandji, the song ‘Na na karte pyar tumhe se kar baiten’ for film Jab Jab Phool Khile and so on.
In spite of her huge singing talent Suman kalyanpur could not reach the heights she richly deserved and she always remained as a second option mainly for the image that got rubbed on her as the poor man’s Lata. Her voice and ability to sing like Lata, instead of helping her, in fact, proved to be a handicap in her way upward. The whims,fancies and ‘polytricks’ in the music industry of the period also stood in the way. The bottom line is, regrettably, ‘loss’ to music lovers!