If there’s something romantic brewing in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Arijit Singh! The 31-year-old singer shot up the ranks with such ballads as Raabta (Agent Vinod, 2012) and tearjerkers as Duaa (Shanghai, 2012). After the success of Tum Hi Ho (Aashiqui 2, 2013), Singh became the go-to playback singer for all things heart.
Arijit Singh is now the voice of choice for the most successful and best tunes in most soundtracks. But he can’t be everywhere. Here’s who else deserves notice.
Armaan Malik has dropped a hit in almost every quarter since his debut with the ballad Tumko To Aana Hi Tha (Jai Ho, 2014). A T-Series protege, like Singh, 23-year-old Malik has been the voice of numerous romantic hits, usually composed by his brother, Amaal Mallik.
Some of Malik’s popular hits are Tumhe Apna Banane Ka (Hate Story 3, 2014), Main Rahoon Ya Na Rahoon (non-film, 2015), Bol Do Na Zara (Azhar, 2015), Buddhu Sa Mann (Kapoor & Sons, 2016), and Ghar Se Nikalte Hi (non-film, 2018). Malik has also developed a healthy playback singing career in the South film industries.
It is possible for the casual listener of contemporary Hindi film music to confuse Singh for Malik. Several Hindi playback singers either organically share the same vocal timbre and texture as Singh or try to copy him. In a recent interview, composers Amaal Malik, DJ Chetas, Jasleen Royal and Tanishk Bagchi accepted that if Atif Aslam was the singer to ape a decade back, it is now Arijit Singh.
Additionally, today’s romantic ballads, with exceptions such as Binte Dil (Padmaavat, 2018), sound similar and feature a male voice evoking pain-tinged longing, unlike the honeyed crooning of Sonu Nigam in the 1990s or the full-throated singing of KK in the 2000s.
Arko Pravo Mukherjee
When Arijit Singh and Armaan Malik aren’t around, composer-singer-lyricist Arko Pravo Mukherjee is the one-man army for hit love songs. Mukherjee, again a T-Series discovery, made a splash composing for Jism 2 in 2012. But it was the heart-tugging Saathi Rey from Kapoor & Sons (2016) in which his singing and composing skills were noticed.
Since then, Mukherjee has written and composed a number of romantic hits, which include Tere Sang Yaara (Rustom, 2016) and O Saathi (Baaghi 2, 2017), both sung by Atif Aslam. As a singer for his own compositions, his highest point after Saathi Rey was Nazm Nazm from Bareilly Ki Barfi (2018). Ask unsuspecting listeners to identify the singer, and if they don’t say Arijit Singh, write to us.
Another composer-singer who has found his niche with romantic songs is Ankit Tiwari. Like Singh, Tiwari broke through with Aashiqui 2. Sun Raha Hai was as big a hit as Tum Bhi Ho. Like Mukherjee, Tiwari has also found a niche: creating agony-imbued sagas of heartache and longing. His major hits include Galliyan (Ek Villain, 2014), Tu Hai Ki Nahi (Roy, 2015) and Agar Tu Hota (Baaghi, 2016).
Perhaps, Tiwari can sound different, but unlike Singh, he never got a chance to break free of the singing (and composing) style that made him a star in the first place.
Yasser Desai is one of the better upcoming playback singers in Hindi films who, unfortunately, ends up sounding like Singh every now and then, such as in the case of Jitni Dafa (Parmanu, 2018). Among Desai’s hit romantic tracks is Naino Ne Bandhi from Gold (2018), composed by Mukherjee. Desai recently had a great song, Beh Chala (Uri: The Surgical Strike, 2019), which went relatively unnoticed.
Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
As far as unconventional voices for romantic songs are concerned, Pakistani singers Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan have been the alternatives to most of their Indian contemporaries for two decades. Aslam has been around in Bollywood since 2005’s Woh Lamhe (Zeher). Don’t forget, it was he, and not Singh, who sang 2017’s ultimate romantic number, Dil Diya Gallan (Tiger Zinda Hai).
Meanwhile, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has consistently delivered romantic hits every year since his big-bang debut with Mann Ki Lagan (Paap, 2003). These days, he makes do with soulless recreations of his uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s songs. But when he gets a good, original composition like Jag Ghoomeya (Sultan, 2016), Rahat Fateh Ali Khan shows why he was one of the most sought-after singers in the Hindi film music industry until the unofficial ban on Pakistani talent. Incidentally, Arijit Singh was going to sing the number, before Salman Khan did a number on him.
Papon has been another busy singer of romantic tracks. Easy to mistake for Mohit Chauhan because of a similar voice, Papon has aced a bunch of tunes, leading with Moh Moh Ke Dhaage (Dum Laga Ke Haisha, 2015). Having worked with a multitude of composers in a decade-long career, Papon has flexed his vocal cords across genres. Some of his best songs include Jiyein Kyun (Dum Maaro Dum, 2011), Kyon (Barfi!, 2012), Kaun Mera (Special 26, 2013), Darbaan (Bombay Velvet, 2015) and Bulleya (Sultan, 2016).
Shahid Mallya, Ash King and Nikhil D’Souza
Among the younger Hindi playback singers who delivered romantic hits during Arijit Singh’s time and have kept their respective identities intact are Shahid Mallya, Ash King and Nikhil D’Souza. The reason behind their success during a tough decade could be attributed to their collaborations with top composers (AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Pritam and Vishal-Shekhar).
It’s a given that half the Hindi film songs in the 21st century will have a Punjabi flavour. Shahid Mallya has slowly become the go-to voice for Punjabi and semi-Punjabi love songs, since romance cannot be left to the likes of Mika Singh and Daler Mehndi. A gifted singer, Mallya can switch between styles to sing something as lively as Radha (Jab Harry Met Sejal, 2017), angst-filled as Nachda (Phantom, 2015), and calm and endearing as Rabba Main Toh Mar Gaya Oye (Mausam, 2011).
Today, Mallya’s name is synonymous with is the beautiful Ikk Kudi from Udta Punjab (2016). Last year, Mallya was the voice behind one of the year’s most-loved heartbreak songs, Daryaa from Manmarziyaan.
Influenced by gospel music and rhythm and blues during his early years in London, Ash King’s style is dissimilar to his peers, as evidenced in his Bollywood debut Dafatan from Delhi-6 (2009). Over time, King has become a dependable playback singer, performing in a range of musical genres. One of King’s early romantic hits is I Love You from Bodyguard (2011). A year later, King sang the very different Aunty Ji from Ekk Main Aur Ekk Tu. King’s other romantic hits include Meherbaan (Bang Bang, 2014) and Baarish (Half Girlfriend, 2017).
Matching King in versatility is Nikhil D’Souza. The under-the-radar singer and songwriter has a healthy non-Bollywood career, like Papon, which keeps his musical output fresh. When singing for Hindi films, D’Souza is rarely heard in a bad composition. His version of the Janbaaz song, Har Kisi Ko, from Boss (2013) was the better one, compared to Arijit Singh’s much publicised take used for the promotional music video. D’Souza has, time and again, snugly fit different types of songs and not just schmaltzy ballads. Case in point: Shaam (Aisha, 2010) – his first song in a Hindi film, the Anjaana Anjaani (2011) title track, Gubbare (Ekk Main Aur Ekk Tu, 2012) and Alvida (D-Day, 2013).