By Shabana H. Shaikh
Special to The Times Kuwait

This article was first published in The Times Kuwait on March 24, 2013

This indeed reads like a Bollywood-style script. A decade ago, a Kuwaiti youth was dining at Mugal Mahal, while soft karaoke of old Hindi melodies played in the background. As soon as he was seated, the young Kuwaiti began softly humming out the lyrics for each instrumental tune that was played.

And he wasn’t your-average-bathroom-singer either. He not only knew the lyrics, but also sang with the requisite sur, taal and in filmy is-style! The first server, who arrived at his table, did a double take, naturally bewildered to hear a Kuwaiti singing in Hindi. Now, that’s not something you get to see or hear everyday. Intrigued and blatantly curious, the other waiters soon followed suit and gathered around the table in question, which resulted in momentary interruption of service to other patrons.

Meet Hindi movies and songs aficionado, Mubarak Al Rashed, whose uncanny voice-resemblance to the timeless legend Kishore Kumar, has popularly won him the moniker ‘Kuwaiti Kishore Kumar’. In his own words, literally spoken in Hindi, he calls himself saccha sangeet preemi. “Although I deeply admire both Kishore and Mohammed Rafi, I relate most to Kishore Kumar,” says Mubarak, who not only sounds, but also has Kishore’s brand of playfulness.

Mubarak’s stage debut during SaReGaMa performance back in 2008 was an unexpected event. His enthusiastic cousin Abdullah secretly convinced two expatriates, Rehan and Saud of the organizing team, to give Mubarak a chance. “He just called me one evening and told me to dress up and drive to Qadsiya Stadium,” says Mubarak, as he recounts the episode that took him out of his Diwaniya and placed him in front of a live audience for the first time.

“I didn’t realize what was happening until I heard my name was being called…and then suddenly, I was on stage with the microphone in my hand. The first song I sang in public was ‘Mein Hoon Don’, but my memory of the whole experience is like a dream, very fantastic, and equally frightful.”

In this interview for The Times, in Arabic interspersed with Hindi and English, I personally got acquainted with Mubarak’s voracious passion for Hindi films and songs, and his love for long forgotten Hindi classic numbers.

TTK: Tell us Mubarak, how were you enamored by Hindi songs?

MR: It started with Hindi movies, of course. I’m a huge fan of Amitabh Bachchan and I used to watch all his movies back from the ‘70s and ‘80s. At the time, I actually thought the actors were signing themselves. So, I admired Amitabh, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmender, Jitender, Dev Anand and other stars of that era. Then, one day I was informed that the actors were only lip-syncing and someone else was singing for them! That’s when I learned about playback singing and discovered Kishore and Mohammed Rafi.

TTK: I understand you have received no formal training, whatsoever, in either singing or speaking Hindi. Yet, you seem to manage singing in a foreign language, impressively well.

MR: I believe it is God’s gift, because I picked up singing by listening. Once I hear a song a few times, I’m able sing it. I don’t need practice that much. However, my Indian friends have helped me improve my Hindi diction and pronunciation. Today, with experience, I am a better singer and I can croon about 300 Hindi film numbers. I consider it a blessing to be able to emulate a great singer like Kishoreji.

TTK: What reactions do you get, when people hear you perform?

MR: When I go on stage, the audience goes into deafening applause, lots of whistling, too. I am often told, that I look like Amitabh and sound like Kishore! That is an awesome compliment. Some come up to me and say they can’t believe their ears – that’s the funniest. But it’s when people approach me and say that they feel ashamed, because although they are Indians, they can’t sing or even know some of the songs that I know – I feel extremely proud and I would like to thank everyone who have appreciated, motivated and contributed to my singing experience.

TTK: Given the opportunity, whom would you like to sing with from present-day playback singers?

MR: Among present day singers, I love Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam. I’d consider myself lucky, if I ever got the chance to sing with Sonu Nigam.

I privately met him in Kuwait some years back, and when he heard me sing, he was shocked. He even cleared the table and drummed out the beats, while I sang ‘Dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar’ and then we sang a duet ‘Ek Rashta’ – I sang Kishore, while he sang Rafi lines. It was most wondrous for both of us.

TTK: Who are your favourite music directors – former and present? Whom would you like to work with?

MR: I admire the works of Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, but my favourite is R.D. Burman. From present day music directors, I’d be honoured to work with A.R. Rahman. During my recent trip to India, I met Vishal-Shekar, and they were also impressed with my singing. I heard Ranbir Kapoor is making a biopic on Kishore, in which I would love to get a chance to sing atleast one song. It would be my ultimate tribute to the legend.

TTK: Your taste in Hindi songs is largely classics. Tell us what kind of songs you would like to sing in the future.

MR: As mentioned, I can sing nearly 300 Hindi songs and I grasp any melody by listening. So, basically I can sing any song, but unfortunately, I have to limit myself to the numbers known by the musicians I perform with. I know some very old Hindi classics, which people don’t even recognize these days. These melodies are beautiful to me and I would like to sing more of these, besides the popular ones.

TTK: What is the most gratifying compliment you have received for your singing?

MR: There was this elderly man from India, Mohammed Bashir, who I called ‘chacha’. He was one of the instrumentalists in the qawali ‘Parda hai Parda’ from the ‘80s hit megastarer Amar, Akbar, Anthony. He was probably the first person to believe in my gift and encouraged me long before SaReGaMa happened. One day, I asked him if he really thought I had any future in Hindi singing, to which he replied: ‘Don’t ask that question again….you are universal, Mubarak’.

Performing in his trademark Disdasha with ogal and gattar, Mubarak has undoubtedly given universality a new mean. Today, he is a popular fixture in Kuwait’s Indian musical shows and has teamed on stage with several local and visiting artists, effortlessly getting along with musicians and his co-singers.

Having his own local troupe, Mubarak not only wants to be known in Kuwait or Middle East, but also internationally for his singing. “Meeting Amitabh Bachchan and singing in a Bollywood movie would be a dream come true,” concludes Mubarak, whimsically.

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