In a 2013 interview, Anup Jalota said, “One cannot survive on ghazals only” when asked about the golden age of ghazals coming to an end with the demise of such legends as Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh.
Hassan and Singh were Jalota’s contemporaries when his career in music began and also perhaps his biggest obstacles to establishing himself in the genre.
Jalota was born in Nainital on July 23, 1953. He learnt devotional singing from the Sham Chowrasi gharana in Punjab. He began his career in a chorus for All India Radio. In the 1977 film Shirdi Ke Sai Baba, Jalota got his first singing break with two devotional solos. Chanting “Sai Baba Bolo” at a feverish high pitch, Jalota arrived bang in the middle of a song in which Mohammad Rafi sang the mellow portions with Jani Babu, Asha Bhosle and Anuradha Paudwal for company.
Instant fame followed, but Jalota got typecast as a bhajan singer. Few offers for romantic tracks came his way, notwithstanding “Solah Baras Ki Baali Umar Ko Salaam” from Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981), composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Jalota provides the bhajan-like overture to singer Lata Mangeshkar in this melodious track. Yet, Jalota decided against pursuing a career in playback and restricted his singing assignments in films.
When not singing devotional songs and the occasional movie track, Jalota expanded his versatility in the rendition of ghazals. For instance, he takes poet Fayyaz Hashmi’s “Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Karo” and gives it a twist that often sends listeners into raptures. Accompanied by a guitarist and a santoor player on stage (instruments not usually associated with the form), Jalota begins singing in the style of a bhajan, but adds a stunning vocal glide at the 2.18 minute mark. This ornamentation alone guarantees him a place in the ghazal Hall of Fame, although purists will take umbrage to his style.
Poet Qateel Shifai’s ghazal “Woh Dil Hi Kya” has been covered by several artists, including Jalota, who offers his own take.
The Padma Shri recipient also has a penchant for acting, which has landed him brief roles in films such as Sampoorna Sant Darshanam (1978) and Tere Mere Phere (2011), which he also produced.
In the upcoming Black Birthday, Jalota plays a police officer, while he is shown wearing colourful attire in Satya Sai Baba. But these films are diversions from his main act, which is to propitiate the Almighty through devotional tunes.
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