It was a night filled with old-fashioned charm. India’s top playback singer, Sonu Nigam, dug deep into the songbook of Hindi films from the ‘60s during a concert at the San Jose State University Events Center June 23 that not only satisfied his fans but also raised $200,000 for the Sankara Eye Foundation.
Nigam — backed by an orchestra numbering more than 30 instrumentalists — poured his heart into classic songs from the very beginning of the show, which started promptly at 8 p.m.
His voice soared an octave during his very first number, Mukesh’s “Aa Ab Laut Chalein,” and set the stage for the vocal fireworks to come over the duration of the 3-1/2-hour show. Out of the nearly 30 songs he performed that night, more than half were songs from Hindi cinema’s golden age, such as Kishore Kumar’s “Zindagi Ek Safar” and “Meri Sapnon Ki Rani Kab Ayegi Tu” (made even more poignant, since the songs’ hero, Rajesh Khanna, has been ill and was on everybody’s mind).
A few times, Nigam cleverly segued between a chestnut and a modern song that fit its pitch and tempo, such as “Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara” (“Jewel Thief”) and “Yeh Dil Deewana” (“Pardes”); or “Aaj Purani Rahon Se” (“Aadmi”) and “Masoom Chehra” (“Saathiya”).
In another segment of the show, the versatile singer-TV host-actor also paid tribute to artists that passed away during this past year, Jagjit Singh and Mehdi Hassan.
Although Nigam didn’t venture much into his recent repertoire, the newer songs he did perform came with a mighty impact — songs like the sultry “Suraj Hua Maddam,” “Soniyo” and the touching “Main Agar Kahoon” (“Om Shanti Om”) were irresistible, while “Bijuria” brought the crowd to its feet for a rave-fueled dance session.
The highlight of the entire show was easily “Agneepath’s” powerful ballad “Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin,” which Nigam invested with passion. He closed the show with “Kal Ho Naa Ho.”
But he also put everything into Madan Mohan’s moving “Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho,” one of many Mohammed Rafi songs he performed (Nigam, who got his start as a Rafi clone, pays his respects to the singer in every show).
The orchestra, led by Yogesh Pradhan, hit all the right marks, serving up trendy rhythms on later songs and setting the perfect jazzy, sparkling mood on older numbers.
As he nearly always does in his live shows, Nigam brought his father onstage to sing two numbers, and earnestly praised him as “the first musical superstar in my life.” And as a special treat, Nigam brought onstage his five-year-old son, Nevaan, who sang a pretty impressive version of “Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin” along with a few lines from his viral YouTube hit pint-sized rendition of “Kolaveri Di.”
Singer Teesha Nigam, who is Sonu’s sister, was one of two opening acts but, curiously, was not introduced as such by the emcee.
Nigam thanked promoters Balaji Entertainment for their professional handling of the show and made special mention of the Sankara Eye Foundation, which presented the show and will now use funds raised to support its 10th hospital, in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. According to a spokesperson, SEF has been working since 1998 toward its ambitious “Vision 20/20” campaign to eradicate curable blindness in India by 2020. The NGO now has nine hospitals and will perform more than 160,000 free eye surgeries in 2012.
K. Murali Krishnamurthy, founder and executive chairman of Sankara Eye Foundation-U.S.A., told India-West that seeing Nigam onstage to help raise funds was “a dream come true,” and made special mention of the small army of volunteers who helped the show run smoothly.
“We need $4 million to build this hospital. Unless we can raise at least 70 percent, they won’t start construction,” he explained. “We have to raise $1.5 million by December of this year.”
For information on the Sankara Eye Foundation, visit www.giftofvision.org.