Mohd. Safi is my God father in the industry: Uttam Singh

Yogesh Mishra |

Uttam Singh is one of the most lovable and respectable name in the music industry who has graced Bollywood with many hit songs. 1997’s blockbuster Dil To Pagal Hai is one of the classic example followed by Dushman and Gadar- Ek Prem Katha etc. Rarely people know about his struggle and childhood background that was not the bed of roses. In an exclusive interview he revealed how he overcome all his challenges and became a popular violinist and a successful music director.

Tell us something about your basic education and some childhood background?
I hail from a good educated family.. I did start going to school by the age of 3 in Lucknow. But everyday after returning from school all that I used to do was sing morning prayer because it was taught in the school. I did not have much interest in studies. I was so naive that I used to feel very happy when I would get remarks in red on my school books where everybody else would get in blue. This is when my father realized that I was not born for a career in education. I could never be an engineer, doctor or lawyer but I was made for music. I was in a huge wealthy family. Though we had all luxuries somehow my grandfather had a strong dislike for music. He was not interested in me pursuing a career in music and gave my father an ultimatum that either I leave music or my father leaves the house. My father, without giving it a second thought, called my mother and told her we have to leave the house and we just left the house without taking anything with us. We settled in a house in Lucknow. In that four and half years of age, my father started teaching me Matkaa Tablaa, Vocal, Kathak dance, Sitar and Indian classical violin. My father side by side also taught me Hindi, Gurmukhi and English. Then one fine day we suddenly left Lucknow. When I grew, I asked my father why he left Lucknow ?. He said “Uttam, in those 7 to 8 months in Lucknow, the comfort, wealth and family was pulling me behind. I was not willing to be pulled by these things. I wanted to see you as a genuine musician and worthy human being to fulfill my dreams, I kept you in my arms.” Leaving behind comfort, wealth and everything we traveled in trains, lived on stations, did kirtanas for 7 to 8 years in Gurudwaras for living hood. I still remember, I used to play tabla with my parents on stage in Gurudwaras, we used to get lots of money. When we came to Mumbai in 1960, my father made me learn western classical violin. I used to stand thirteen and half hours daily, four sittings of 3 hours each and one sitting of one and half hours. That practice made me learn and excel in violin. I remember when my father sent me to school, I failed. Naturally when I din’t know anything, how could I expect to pass. In India corruption is not just nowadays, but even in those days. My father paid Rs. 25 and got me a passing certificate from the school. Traveling across India, doing Kirtanas, we finally came to Mumbai . Here we stayed at somebody’s house. The moment my father dropped me and my mother at his friend’s house, he immediately left from there. When he came back, I got to know that he had gone to find a teacher for me and literally from the next day my tuitions started . My first teacher in Mumbai was Mr. Felix Heredia. I learned from him for around one and half years. He made me learn a piece called Polca. In 1962, I played my first recording with Mohd. Safi, who was an assistant to Naushad Saab. He gave me Rs. 10/- that time and gave me Rs. 5 extra and told me to buy a shirt. Next day my father took me to Dadar bridge and bought shirts for me. He (Mohd. Safi) is my Godfather in the industry . I played my first violin solo at the age of 16 because of him. In 1964 or 1965 Naushad Saab’s background music was on in a famous lab and he called me and said “will you play solo?” I said “As you say” This is when I got a chance to play solo in front of many masters & experts at the age of 16. Then he gave me a chance to conduct 90 piece of top musicians of the film industry in film Noorjahan. That background music was written and conducted by me. So he was the man behind me and my career.
Who is going to carry your music legacy?
My daughter Preeti Uttam. She has sung many hit songs in films like Gadar, Pinjar, Koyla and also in several languages . She is now staying in Atlanta and pursuing music . My younger son Gurmeet Singh is very talented and a learned musician, He made an album named Simar Mana recorded in Mumbai, Chennai & London.
You have given five decades to the music industry. In this long journey from a violinist to a successful music director, what kind of twists and turning points you have faced in this industry?
I was very much satisfied as a musician. A chance to be an arranger came as a bonus. Shankar-Shambhu, the great kouwwal of those days, called me and gave me the first chance to arrange music. They were doing a Punjabi film. From there my career as an arranger started. I used to write music at the age of 17. By the grace of God I became a very popular arranger during that time. I never really wanted to be an arranger but whatever came my way I kept accepting, whether it was arranging, playing, mixing, conducting music or singing. There was a very interesting incident that made me a music director. You must be recollecting the film named- Shirdi Ke Sai Baba of Manoj Kumar. It was a very popular film. Two songs of that movie, Sainath tere hazaron haath and Sai baba bolo is mine and Jagdish Khanna’s song. Jagdish composed that song and I did the arrangement of that song. Manoj Kumar was so impressed by both the songs that he suggested that I pair up with Jagdish Khanna like Kalyanji-Anandji to become music directors.. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. I told him that I want time to think. Manojji waited for more than one and half months for my decision. As I was confused, I asked my father for a suggestion. I explained to him that I have got an offer from Manojji. My father said ‘If you want to be a music director, then this is the best chance . Also I want to see you as a music director.’ Then after one and half months I went to Manojji. This is when we (Uttam-Jagdish) became music directors for the film Painter Babu.
Who is your inspiration from outside family?
Outside my family many have inspired me. I have played with all top geniuses of that time. For arrangement yes I have followed Master Sonic saab. He was the arranger of Madan-Mohan, Roshan ji etc. He was a fantastic arranger . I have been inspired a lot by him. I have followed his way of arrangement. After that slowly and gradually I made my own style of arrangement.
Which singer you feel is the best fit in your music?
I have been a very lucky music director. There was a time when someone would become a music director he would dream to make Lataji (Lata Mangeskar) sing. That used to be the ambition of all the music directors, producers, directors, lyricist and actresses. They all wanted to get Lataji’s song. You would not believe, that all my songs from Painter Babu to Dil To Pagal Hai and many other films were all sung by Lata ji. She blessed me with her voice. Udit Narayan has also sang with Saraswati Lata didi with me in Dil To Pagal Hai and many others. He is a good singer and his voice is real and very own.
Which song is your most favourite and close to your heart?
It is very difficult to say any one song as a most favourite but I think the song Mere pyar ki umar ho itni sanam, tere naam se shuru tere naam pe khatam…. is my favourite.
Technological advancement has changed a lot to the music industry. How change in technology impacted you as a music director?
My group had started using new technologies for the first time in the industry. Programming was started in this industry by me. I have used almost 125 to 150 musicians in all my songs. First time I started using Click track in bollywood which Shri Ilaiya raja was using in Chennai which has now become very common around the world.
How Dil To Pagal Hai impacted your life and career?
Dil To Pagal Hai became a blockbuster. Although I have composed many songs prior to Dil To Pagal Hai , the songs of this film gave me a special recognition and that brought me an immense feeling of pride and satisfaction. It made me very confident as a composer.
How was your working experience with Rajshri Productions?
The first film I worked as an arranger for Rajshri was Agent Vinod. I worked with Ram Laxman from Agent Vinod to Hum Apke Hain Kaun. For some misunderstanding Lata did had stopped singing for Rajshree productions. I feel proud that I was instrumental in bringing Lata didi back to Rajshri in Maine Pyar Kiya after a gap of almost 17 years.. After Hum Apke Hain kaun, Ram Laxman has thrown out me and my entire group for reasons not specified. After that Raj Babu called me for Hum Saath Saath Hain but I did not go. For me if I would have left the group then I could have come back but because I was thrown out my self respect never allowed me to go back. I have a great working experience with Rajshri for almost 25 years. Raj babu and Sooraj are really fantastic human beings.