Sudesh Bhonsle takes to stage, singing in the one voice that the world recognises him for. Wife Hema and their kids make the production a family affair
At one point, I did lose my identity. I was just the ‘voice of Amitabh’. No one offered me jobs to sing for any other actor,” says the soft-spoken Sudesh Bhosle when we meet him and his family at their Goregaon home on a hot Thursday afternoon.
“But then, I realised that I was an entertainer, and the job of an entertainer is to give the audience what it wants. It wants Amitabh Bachchan songs, sung in Amitabh’s voice. So, that’s what it gets,” says the 53-year-old, who has been singing for almost 30 years now.
The Bhonsles — Sudesh, Hema, Shruti and Siddhant — at their Goregaon home. Pic/Pradep Dhivar
Sudesh has sung with the likes of Kishore Kumar anddubbed for Sanjeev Kumar but earned his fame when he sung 'Jumma Chumma De De' for Bachchan in the 1991 movie 'Hum'. Ever since, he has sung for the veteran in almost all his movies, the last one being the February release, 'Shamitabh'.
Now, he is touring India with his production Amitabh Aur Main. The next show scheduled is for October 10, a day before Bachchan’s birthday, at Sion’s Shanmukhananda Hall. Expectedly, Sudesh will deliver Bachchan hits, in varied moods, including 'Rim Jhim Ghire Sawan' and 'Khayike Paan Benaras Wala' and the more recent 'Jhoom Barabar Jhoom'. Bachchan, Sudesh says, was supposed to attend the show but is busy. “But, he has given his blessings and approved all content.”
The show is a family affair with Sudesh’s wife Hema (47), and their son Siddhant (21) and daughter Shruti (23) pitching in with individual talents, both on and back stage. Siddhant will take the stage, singing along with his father, giving old classics a modern twist, adding guitar riffs and edgy arrangements. Hema, as producer, is responsible for logistics, but also plays the piano. Hema used to play with her father Ashok Saraf’s band, Melody Makers in the 80s, and that is where she met Sudesh.
Shruti, a JJ School of Art graduate, handles the set design with the company Dot Line & Space, and is responsible for styling her father and brother. It’s because of her, Shruti quips, that her father looks well turned out on stage. “He is very laidback about his look but I keep coaxing him. The last time, he wore a red coat on my insistence. That’s new for him. It’s us women who make all the noise. These two just want to sing.”
The family laughs, but agrees. The brain and motivation behind the production — the first show kicked off in May — is Hema, who eggs everyone on. “She is the one responsible for the concept and ensuring that everything runs smoothly,” says Sudesh.
Sudesh is a competent mimicry artiste, and can do a mean Sanjeev Kumar and Ajeet, but since 1991 when he sang for Bachchan in 'Ajooba', his career has been tied-up with that of the actor. “First, I sang 'Ya Ali Ya Ali' in my own voice. Laksmikantji (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal) told Shashi Kapoor, the director, that I could imitate Amitabh’s voice and sing in it.
When Amitji heard the song, he said now that he has found someone who sounds like him, he won’t sing again. But, he has started singing again,” he laughs. “He is a good singer and he knows music. And he has the first right to his own voice!”
The show, the family admits, attracts a largely older audience. But, the Bhosles want to make it hip. This is where Siddhant comes in. The singer and guitarist of Red Seems Right, who wants to be an international popstar some day, says, “I add guitars riffs to make the songs feel modern. I also do mash-ups, and sing them my own voice. Not a lot of young people come for the show, but that will change.” Sudesh adds, “Youngsters may not know the likes of Shashi Kapoor or Rajendra Kumar, but they all know Bachchan.”
Yet, they play to a packed hall on most nights, says Hema. “I think along with the songs, people also love when Sudesh mimics Bachchan. He says the dialogue before 'My Name is Anthony Gonsalves', and then the Kabhi Kabhi dialogue. People really connect with that.”
Even though it’s Bachchan who is his muse right now, Sudesh was a Kishore Kumar when growing up. That he worked with him was a landmark event. “I did shows with him, where I used to be the host. We even used to sing together. I am his biggest fan.”
That being said, it’s Amitabh Aur Main that is the mainstay for this family now. Sudesh says shyly, “Even Lataji has said that if she had to sing Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum, she could do it either with Amitji or me. No one else will do.”
In March, the family is set to take the production to America where, they are sure, it’ll do well. “Audiences in the States
react even better than those here. It’s because it reminds them of home,” says Hema. “They laugh, they shout and they cry. It’s like we are bringing a part of India to their doorsteps.”