However, one composer singing for another has now emerged as an increasingly common phenomenon. Vishal – Shekhar themselves introduced Bappi Lahiri into a new career as playback singer for others with the song 'Boombai' in Taxi No. 9211 (2006). Vishal has himself now etched out – with the complete support of composing partner Shekhar – a separate career as a playback singer for other composers.
In the just-released Jai Ho, at Salman Khan's behest, Sajid-Wajid got fellow-composer, co-debutant (in Khan's Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya) and arch-rival Himesh Reshamiyya to sing the part-Gujarati 'Photocopy', and Wajid revealed that they enjoyed the interactive process, mitigating their sense of rivalry, perhaps, to a good extent.
Raju Singh recently sang the exceptional ghazal, 'Rooh mein faasle nahin hote' under youngster Pranit Gedham in Club 60, even getting a well-deserved nomination at the Screen awards! His soulfully brilliant rendition was purely a lucky opportunity. Singh just got a call from the young composer, who doubtlessly felt that this song in the Jagjit Singh mould needed a voice like Raju Singh's.
Not that this has been an entirely new phenomenon. Usha Khanna herself has sung under several composers like Roshan, Shankar-Jaikishan, Ravi, Kalyanji-Anandji and Sonik-Omi. R.D. Burman sang under his father S.D. Burman in Yeh Gulistan Hamara, while Hemant Kumar and even C. Ramachandra (as Chitalkar) made alternative careers as singers for so many composers from Naushad and Salil Chowdhury to Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Rajesh Roshan between them.
Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey, Jagjit Singh later, and Sukhwinder Singh, Roopkumar Rathod, Lucky Ali, Adnan Sami, and Kailash Kher of the Kailash-Paresh-Naresh team as well as Shankar Mahadevan of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy team have achieved fame as singers as well as composers, irrespective of which opportunity they got first.
In an extreme case, Pritam even got Vishal to write the song, 'I am coming home' in the 2007 Milan Luthria film Hattrick. Luthria's films see this phenomenon with regularity, from 'Boombai' in Taxi No. 9211 to the song that went viral, 'Ooh la la', vocalized by Bappi Lahiri (with Shreya Ghoshal) in The Dirty Picture.
But more recently, newbie Hanif Sheikh brought in a cluster of composers to sing for his debut film Paathshaala – Salim Merchant (of the Salim-Sulaiman duo) who sang the popular 'Aye Khuda mujhko bataa' as well as Vishal Dadlani, Lucky Ali and Kailash Kher.
That distinct voice
It is clear that while it nurtures the bonding between composers of the same generation, the crux of the issue is the distinctive voice that catches attention of the 'composing' composer to get the 'singing' composer into his studios. Obviously, for a song that he thinks will be best delivered by the latter.
Wajid, for example, was the 'perfect' choice for the naughty drawl of Anand Raaj Anand's 'Tu bhi mood mein' in last year's testosterone-heavy Grand Masti. The latter's rambunctious and typically Punjabi voice was, in turn, saucily harnessed by Pritam in an early example, 'Billo rani' in Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (2007). And the musical situation being what it is today, with a craze for 'novel' or unusual voices and also the way voices are 'tried out' before one is selected, it is quite likely that at least in some of these examples, the 'singing composers' must have come in after some others were 'tested' for the quality and expressiveness they could bring in to the song.
Of course, tastes as well as personal issues do come in. A leading composer, bluntly stated that while he would love to use A.R. Rahman's and Vishal Bhardwaj's voice and maybe "even try out Anu Malik," he would never use Himesh Reshammiya!
Speaking of Vishal Bhardwaj, it was he who shot namesake Vishal Dadlani to fame as singer with the 2009 Kaminey hit 'Dhan te nan', though chronologically, the rock singer-composer-lyricist had begun his innings as an 'outside' playback singer with good friends Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Rajesh Roshan and (also his frequent programmers) Salim-Sulaiman earlier. Vishal's distinctive vocal tenor of irreverence, a spirit of fun, and an element of rebellious rock, has been best captured in a bevy of songs by composers from Pritam to Vishal's and Shekhar's blue-eyed protégé Raghu Dixit (in 'Dheaon dheaon' from Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge. The Pritam repertoire has actually yielded mega-hits like 'Allah duhai hai' (Race 2), 'Balam pichhkaari' and 'Ghagra' (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani).
Bappi Lahiri, who, for the record, has also written the Bengali version of 'Toone maari entriyaan', has in fact; found a fresh career after he ran dry as a top composer almost two decades ago. Rahman even used him as the voice of Abhishek Bachchan in 'Ek lo ek muft' (Guru). The mature tenor in his voice of late (vis-à-vis his vocal timbre in his own peak times) has even earned him singing assignments under quality-conscious composers like M.M. Kreem (Dharkapad). It is interesting to note that Bappi-da's first song for others was 'Yeh jawaani din chaar' for maternal uncle Kishore Kumar as composer in Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi (1974), even before the composer sang under his own baton!
Salim Merchant has also sung under other composers, including Vishal-Shekhar in 'Ishqwala Love' (Student Of The Year) while even Shekhar has lent his vocals for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy in Delhi Safari. It is also interesting to know why composers generally make for good singers: being creators of songs themselves, they are adept at picking up (and maybe even adding a few of their own) superfine nuances to embellish and enhance a song beyond the composers' vision.
Yes, the best of playback singers always did it, and still do it, even better, but in an era driven by unique rather than taiyyar or solid playback talents that are employed more for tonal quality than singing expertise, the 'composer playback singer', to coin a term, is probably the best bet. And this is an extension of the reason why many music composers choose to sing many of their compositions themselves rather than summoning the 'happening' but vocally inadequate voices of the season.