Celebrating musical hits of 20 less-heard female voices of Bollywood in 1970s & 1980s

Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle – two great pillars of Bollywood music industry who completely dominated the scene since early 1950s! Both singers fully dominated the music industry till late 1980s, until new music talents like Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurty and Anuradha Paudwal came into scene. Throughout 1970s and the weak era of Bollywood music of 1980s, though many new talents were introduced to film scene, they couldn’t overpower the magic of Lata and Asha. But a few new voices definitely managed to create a niche of their own through their distinct voices, and a few disappeared from the scene after giving just one or two hits.
This column is my tribute to those female talents of 1970s and 1980s, who made their signature through fewer number of songs, and music fans still search for their lovely voices. Definitely many of them have made a mark in the industry, though never rose to main lead of female voices. One reason is the magic of Mangeshkar sisters, and the second is diminishing era of talented music directors of Bollywood. Other reason is – a few of them were seasonal playback singers who preferred a career in classical music/pop music, and a few singers like Vani Jayaram and Janaki preferred to stay in south Indian cinema when Bollywood was going through the worst era in terms of compositions.   

1. Hemlata – Gained popularity through Chitchor and Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se 

Evergreen romantic track – Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se sung by Hemlata

Hemlata was lucky enough to get a few lovely and evergreen songs composed by Ravindra Jain. Both the movies gave her nomination at Filmfare awards, and she won it for “Tu Jo Mere Sur Me” of Chitchor. The title track of Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se is widely accepted as one of the finest romantic tracks of late 1970s and still viewed in you tube multiple times by music fans. I should add this particular song remains one of most favourite Bollywood songs, and equally loved its wonderful lyrics and music by Ravindra Jain. The movie also included the popular duet – Kahi Din Se Mujhe. She received 5 nominations at Filmfare awards and received award once.

Some of her other popular songs include – Sun Ke Teri Pukar of Fakira, Jab Deep Jale Aana of Chitchor, Tu Is Tarah Se Meri Zindagi Mein of Aap To Aise Na The, Megha O Re Megha of Sunayana etc. Ravindra Jain and Usha Khanna were two famous directors of 1970s and 1980s who regularly gave opportunity to Hemlata and K. J. Yesudas, and Tu Jo Mere Sur Me is the most popular duet belonging to this duo.

2. Vani Jayaram – The ‘Guddi’ girl 

Miyan ki Malhar Raga based Bole Re Pappi Hara

She started her music journey with Guddi in Bollywood, and worked with many leading music directors like Madan Mohan, Chitragupta, Naushad, O. P. Nayyar etc before she shifted her base to Chennai. Still now, she is best remembered for Bole Re Papihara based on Hindustani raga “Miyan ki Malhar”, though she didn’t get nominated for Filmfare awards. But she was awarded the Tansen Samman, All India Film-goers Association award and many other awards for this single song. The movie also included the popular prayer song – Hum Ko Man Ki, and Hari Bin Kaise Jeeun.

A recipient of 3 National awards and numerous state awards, she won her single Filmfare award for Mere Toh Giridhar Gopal from Meera composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar. Except one Alaap – “Hari Om Tansen” by Dinkar Kaikini, her voice was used to record 12 songs. Vani also rendered her voice for “Mora Sajan” composed by Naushad for the iconic movie, Pakeezah. Vani is known for rendering songs with strong classical base, and received National awards for the same.

3. Sushma Shrestha – Youngest nominee for Filmfare best singer award

Tera Mujhse Hai from the movie, Aa gale lag jaa

She sang the melodious – Tera Mujhse Hai from the movie, Aa gale lag jaa as a child artist. She sang this duet aside Kishore Kumar for which she was nominated at Filmfare awards for best female singer category. She also sang – Aye Mere Bete and both these songs had a solo version sung by Kishore Kumar also. She started off her career through Andaaz in 1971 singing Hai Na Bolo Bolo and also received a Filmfare nomination for Kya Hua Tera Wada for Hum Kisise Kum Naheen. Despite getting Filmfare award nominations for two out of first four songs as a child artist in 1970s, she sang only fewer songs as a child artist in the 1970s and 1980s.
With late 1980s she moved to lead female voices and went on to become a leading female voice of 1990s known for several raunchy numbers. Sona Kitna Sona Hai of Hero No: 1, Tu Tu Tu Tu Tara and Main Hoon Gaon Ki Gori of Bol Radha Bol, Barsat Mein Jab Aega of Maa, Haye Hukku Haye Hukku of Gopikishen, Chane Ke Khet Mein of Anjaam, Shaam Bhi Hain Dhuan Dhuan of Diljale etc. She also changed her name to Poornima.

4. Haimanti Sukla – Best known for Kahan Se Aaye Badra 

yesudas hindi hits

Kahan Se Aaye Badra duet of Haimanti Shukla and Yesudas

A trained classical singer, she occasionally sang for a few Hindi and Bengali songs in the 1980s. As a Bollywood playback singer, she is best known for the classical tunes composed by Raj Kamal and penned by Indu Jain for the classic comedy, Chashme Buddoor. She sang the popular duet – Kahan Se Aaye Badra aside the legendary singer Yesudas, who was regularly associated with several middle-class themed movies of 1970s and early 1980s. She also recorded one more duet aside Yesudas – Kali Ghori Dwar Khari, apart from rendering her voice for three more songs of the movie. Also read: My choice of 25 Golden hits of Yesudas.

5. Salma Agha – Lead heroine and female voice of Nikaah

Through her debut movie – Nikaah she established herself as a leading actress and playback singer. This Pakistani singer got noticed for her distinct voice as a singer and bagged Filmfare award for best female voice for the song – “Dil Ke Armaan”. Of the 5 nominations of the year 1983, she bagged three nominations for best female voice of the movie, Nikaah. “Dil Ki Yeh Arzoo” and “Pyaar Bhi Hai Jawaan” are the rest two songs which received Filmfare nomination. She was also nominated for best actress category. She played female lead of a few movies of 1980s and rendered her voice as well. Yet she is still remembered for her debut film directed by B. R. Chopra.

6. Usha Mangeshkar – Younger sister of Lata and Asha

She always remained in the shadow of her elder sister, and got opportunity to sing only a few Bollywood songs. She is best known for the title track Mein To Aarti Utharoongi of Jai Santoshi Maa and the dancing number, Mungda Main Gud Ki Dali and Humse Nazar To Milao from Inkaar. She received Filmfare nominations for these three songs though she couldn’t win it. She sang all the three female tracks of Jai Santoshi Maa.

7.  Nazia Hassan – who sang the trendsetter ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’

This Pakistani pop singer rose to fame through this single peppy number, Aap Jaisa Koi belonging to 1980 film, Qurbani. She still holds the record of the youngest winner of Filmfare awards in the female playback singer category. She was only 15 when she sang this chartbuster pop song which made a huge impact on Indian audience and music lovers. In fact songs such as Aap Jaisa Koi and Laila O Laila ushered in the “Disco Revolution” in India which was alive in Indian cinema throughout 1980s.

Aap Jaisa Koi started a trend of disco songs in the early 1980s

Soon after the huge impact of songs of Qurbani, Nazia became the first playback singer to release an album. Her song – Boom Boom from her second album ‘Star’ was reused for the Bollywood film with the same name and earned her a Filmfare nomination too. She also sang the title track of Disco Deewane, and a few more songs in the 1980s.


8. Kanchan – Known for ‘Laila O Laila’ and ‘Tumko mere dil ne’

Laila Mein Laila – The equally popular song of Qurbani featuring Zeenat Aman

Tumko mere dil ne – the duet from Rafoo Chakkar was not originally meant for her. She sang the cover version aside Shailender Singh, and later the song was retained in the film on the insistence of one of the Mangeshkar sisters who was to sing the original version.  She also sang the popular duet aside Mukesh – Kya Khoob Lagti Ho for the movie, Dharmatma the same year. ‘Laila O Laila’ from Qurbani is her most popular song which bagged her a Filmfare nomination too. She sang only a few songs for Bollywood, and was associated with her husband for a music band known by the name – Babla & Kanchan. The band performed for 40 long years till Kanchan’s death in 2004. Her full name is Kumari Kanchan Dinkerao Mail.   

9. Janaki – Known for “Yaar Bina Chein Kaha Re”

A contemporary of Lata and Asha, she shares the equal status of Mangeshkar sisters down South. Though she rendered her voice for a few songs in the 1980s, bad music of the era was one reason why she concentrated towards south. When she got some amazing compositions in regional cinema, she chose those songs instead of Hindi. She earned a Filmfare nomination for best female playback singer for “Yaar Bina Chein Kaha Re” of Saheb her most popular Bollywood song up-to-date. She has worked with many legendary music directors like R. D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury and Ravindra Jain. Also read: Top 25+ South Indian singers in Bollywood.

10. Chandrani Mukherjee – Three Filmfare nominations without a win

She started her Bollywood journey in 1975 with the film – Aag Aur Toofan. She was active in the first half of 1980s, and earned three Filmfare nominations during this period for the songs – “Pehchan To Thi” (Griha Pravesh), “Mohabbat Rang Layegi” (Poonam) and “Aaja Ki Teri Raahon Mein” (Lal Chunariya). She recorded her last two songs – Ek Din Aayegi Subah and Pehle Tum Phir Aap for the movie, Aaj Kie Aurat in 1993.

11. Parveen Sultana – The voice behind the evergreen “Humen Tum Se Pyaar Kitna” 

Female Version of Humein Tumse Pyar sung by Parveen Sultana

A trained Hindustani vocalist, she belongs to the list of skilled artists who gave less importance to Bollywood songs. Though she has rendered her voice for a few Bollywood songs belonging to the movies – Pakeezah, Vijeta, Razia Sultan, Parwana etc, her fans love to listen to her singing “Humein Tum Se Pyaar Kitna” of Khudrat – A movie based on the theme of incarnation. Read more about movies inspired from Madhumati. The song also had a male version sung by Kishore Kumar, and both the versions are extremely popular.

12. Aarti Mukherji – late recognition through “Do Naina Ek Kahani”

Late 1970s and 1980s have witnessed many melodious voices, though they were not heard many often, and voice of Aarti Mukherji is one such. Though she has sung for Bollywood songs since 1958, she came to limelight only through Do Naina Ek Kahani in 1982. She won Filmfare award for Do Naina Ek Kahani composed by R. D. Burman for Masoom. Do Panchhi Do Tinke of Tapasya, Kar Gaya Kanha and Main Wohi Darpan Wohi for Geet Gaata Chal etc are a few songs she sung for Ravindra Jain. She also worked with Kalyanji Anandji, Usha Khanna etc. Her song – Aaj Ki Raat Charagon was also included in 1969 classic Khamoshi.

13. Chhaya Ganguly – National Film Award through “Aap ki Yaad Aati Rahi”

One of the less-used voices of Bollywood, she earned National Film Award for best female playback singer through the song “Aap ki Yaad Aati Rahi” (Gaman – 1978). Jaidev also received National award for best composer for the movie. “Chaandni Raat Bhar” from the 1994 film Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jaaye is another popular rendition. Basically a ghazal singer and performer, she has been associated with All India Radio and Doordarshan for more than 36 years before she retired in 2012.

14. Preeti Sagar – Who rendered first popular English song for a Bollywood film

Though an English song has been included in Raj Kapoor’s movie Sangham in 1965, the first popular song definitely goes to Julie (1975) which includes My Heart is Beating. The song sung by Preeti Sagar also featured Sri Devi as a teenager who went on to become a leading actress of Bollywood.My Heart is Beating earned her First Filmfare nomination, and earned it for the first time for the popular song – Mero Gaam Katha Parey of Manthan.

English song – My Heart is Beating featuring Sri Devi as Lakshmi’s younger sister

Tumhare bin jee naa lage of Bhoomika, Shamsher Bhare Na Maang Ghazab of Mandi and What’s your problem of Kalyug are a few more Bollywood songs. She mainly focused on children’s education and entertainment, and released many nursery rhymes’ albums in her voice. 

15. Sulakshana Pandit – Member of a great musical family

Niece of accomplished classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj, her brothers Jatin-Lalit established as leading music directors of Bollywood in the 1990s. Her sister Vijeta Pandit is an actress who was married to famous music composer Aadesh Shrivastava. Sulakshana tried luck in acting as well as singer, and has contributed a handful of good songs to Bollywood. “Tu Hi Saagar Hai Tu Hi Kinara” in Sankalp earned her Filmfare Best Female Playback Award and Miyan Tansen Award in 1975. She received her second Filmfare nomination for rendering the classical “Bandhi Re Kahe Preet” in Sankoch the following year.

16. Usha Uthup – Who started a new genre of pop and jazz music

She has sung a few Bollywood songs, and has also been featured in a few. A nominee of three Filmfare awards, she finally won it finally in 2012 for 7 Khoon Maaf. After doing a couple of songs in south Indian films, she was introduced to Bollywood by R. D. Burman through Shalimar. She sang “Ek Do Cha Cha Cha” – the song which gave her first Filmfare nomination. Since then she regularly associated with R. D. Burman and Bappi Lahiri who composed some peppy and disco numbers for her.
Shaan Se… of Shaan, Hari Om Hari of Pyaara Dushman, Koi Yahan Aha Nache Nache of Disco Dancer, Title track of Daud and Ramba of Armaan are some of her songs. She sang only a few songs in her unique voice, but those stood against odd.

17. Anupama Deshpande – popular for ‘Humko Aaj Kal Hai 

Humko Aaj Kal Hai – One of the early hits which established Maduri Dixit as a talented dancer

Sohni Chinab Di for the film Sohni Mahiwal was originally meant to Asha Bhosle. Anupama sang the cover version and later Anu Malik retained the song as insisted by Asha Bhosle, who loved Anupama’s voice. Anupama received Filmfare award for the rendition of this song. She sang the popular dance number pictured on Maduri Dixit – Humko Aaj Kal Hai for the movie Sailaab. Title track of Tum Mere Ho and Main Teri Rani of Lootere are other popular songs.

18. Shobha Gurtu – Versatile Hindustani vocalist nicknamed ‘Thumri Queen’

Though known as a classical singer, she is a seasoned playback singer too, who has worked in a few Hindi and Marathi films in the 1970s. Her voice was used for the first time in a Bollywood film by Ghulam Mohammed who recorded her voice for the song – Bandhan Bandho for the classic Pakeezah. She also rendered her voice for Bedardi Ban Gaye Koi Jaao of Phagunand Saiyyan Rooth Gaye for Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki, which earned her a Filmfare nomination.

19. Minu Purushottam – Versatile in Bhajans and Ghazals

She has been associated with Bhajans and Ghazals most and occasionally sang for films. She has recorded many LPs with HMV, Music India etc. In Bollywood she is best known to give her voice for the song “Raat Piya Ke Sang” from Prem Parvat composed by Jaidev. The song also earned her single nomination at Filmfare awards in best female playback singer category. The rest three songs of the movie were sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

20. Alisha Chinai – The female voice of the iconic ‘Kaante Nahi Kat Te

And last but not the least – Alisha Chinai, ‘Queen of Indian Pop’ who still works occasionally in Bollywood. She started her film career in the 1980s, and got opportunity to sing with Kishore Kumar for the iconic sizzling song, ‘Kaante Nahi Kat Te for Mr. India. The song was one among the last recorded hit songs of the legendary singer – Kishore da. Though she has admirers across the country, she preferred to work on pop albums and has contributed some of the popular music albums such as Made in India, Alisha, Shutup N Kiss Me etc.

kishore kumar anil kapoor songs

Iconic Kaante Nahi Kat Te – One among the last hits of Kishore Kumar

She earned success at a very young age and “Raat Bhar Jaam Se” from the film Tridev and “Zooby Zooby” from the film Dance Dance are some of her early hits. Bebo Mein Bebo of Kambaqt Ishq, Kajra Re of Bunti Aur Babli, Ruk Ruk Ruk of Vijaypath, Sexy Sexy of Khuddar, Tera Hone Laga Hoon of Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Dil Tu Hi Bataa of Krrish 3, It’s Rocking of Kya Love Story Hai, and De Diya Dil Piya of Keemat are some of her chartbuster hits.

Through this article, I have mentioned extremely talented 20 female artists, who worked in less number of movies in the 1970s and 1980s.  I would like to mention Sharon Prabhakar who started off her career as a playback singer and currently produces and organizes music events. She received a Filmfare nomination for ‘Mere Jaise Haseena’ song from Armaan.

There are many female artists who have started their career in the 1980s, and went on become successful in the 1990s. Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurty and Anuradha Paudwal are among those leading names and also artists like Sapna Mukherjee (known for the songs of Tridev) to name a few.

If I have missed any name in the list, let me know please.

Also read: Top Solo Rain Songs of Bollywood in Female voices

Read a few Miscellaneous posts on Bollywood music. Here is the page link. Click on the images to read.  
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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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