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Singer Who Sang Only Two Songs, Charged 100 Times More Than Lata And Rafi

In the 1950s, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan broke norms by demanding Rs 25,000 per song for 'Mughal-e-Azam', 100 times more than typical rates, earning him Rs 50,000
06:15 PM Apr 04, 2024 IST | Aniket Raj
singer who sang only two songs  charged 100 times more than lata and rafi

It's difficult to fathom, but there was a time when playback singers in the Indian film industry weren't particularly well compensated. Nowadays, with prominent figures like AR Rahman commanding fees of up to Rs 5 crore per song, it's a stark contrast to an era when top singers earned only Rs 250-300 per song, just 60 years ago. Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, and Kishore Kumar played significant roles in changing this norm, but another individual also merits recognition. This individual, with his stature and boldness, demanded fees that were 100 times higher than those of the most prominent singers of his time.

In the 1950s, filmmaker K Asif embarked on his ambitious project, Mughal-e-Azam, which was set to be the grandest film ever produced in India. The film's soundtrack was equally ambitious, with composer Naushad assigned the task of creating 20 songs for a fee of Rs 3000 (roughly equivalent to Rs 3 lakh in today's currency). Among these songs were two classical pieces featuring Tansen, revered as one of India's greatest vocalists in history and for them they needed a singer.

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Recognizing the need for a singer with a golden voice and mastery of Hindustani classical music, Asif and Naushad approached the eminent classical maestro, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Despite Khan's initial reluctance, as he considered film singing beneath his stature, the filmmakers persisted. To dissuade them, Khan proposed an exorbitant fee of Rs 25,000 per song. To their astonishment, not only did Asif agree to the demand, but he also promptly paid 50% of the amount as advance payment.

This marked the unique engagement of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan for the only two film songs he would ever lend his voice to. He earned a substantial sum of Rs 50,000 for his contributions, which translates to a little over Rs 50 lakh in today's terms. Even contemporary top singers like Sunidhi Chauhan and Arijit Singh do not command such fees per song. To put it in perspective, during that era, the most popular singers such as Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar typically charged Rs 250-300 per song. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's fee was nearly 100 times higher, a truly remarkable achievement.

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