In the sharply competitive, shifting sands of the world of Bollywood music, Mohit Chauhan is having a moment.
He's steadily wiggled himself into the mind space of several music composers - key to getting steady work in playback. He's delivered a few good hits. He now gets considered for A-list work, thus perpetuating more hits.
And in the middle of all this, as icing on the cake - he started off A. R. Rahman's highly acclaimed soundtrack to Delhi 6 with a tune so catchy, it stuck to the back of EVERYONE's ears. Not only was Masakali a huge hit, but it was a much beloved one. More importantly, it made people ask "Who is that singer?" and compelled them to remember the answer.
Increasingly the feeling I get is that KK's reign as the Bollywood King of Mainstream Playback might be under serious threat. And I'll tell you why.
At the outset Mohit and KK appear to be very different singers. Often because Mohit has sung a lot of ballads in his career - he is referred to as a singer with a silken voice. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Mohit's voice as a matter of fact, has more depth than that. It's a burr of a voice and carries a certain leaden weight, more like cloth woven with strands of washed denim. Its his strength - it allows Mohit to infuse his singing with a variety of emotions.
One other thing worth considering - in all the singing I've heard from Mohit, his singing leans towards more traditional Indian singing. It could be part of his training. He is most at ease when negotiating the wiggles in Indian notes. Often he'll sing straight pop numbers like a ghazal singer.
KK couldn't be a more different singer in some ways. Compared to Mohit, his voice is practically uni-dimensional. But KK has two things going for him - he possesses a breezy, stylish voice and he can hit those straight notes with an unforced ease. Both these bits combined make him an ideal singer for modern day songs. (You'll hear people say KK has tremendous range. What I think people really mean is that KK can sing a wide variety of songs available to singers in Bollywood today).
But the type of songs that will be made available to both - will be similar in the filmi music duniya. Most songs available to male singers today fall into well worn categories. There is (1) the rock song (2) the pop ballad (3) the dance dhamaka and (4) the comedy romp. Sure there are other genres of music in films today - but its a mere smattering.
Of the four types of songs, strike out (4) for this simple reason: comedies operate on a smaller budget (unless its a rare sequel like Golmaal Returns). This implies a new-ish (read: economic) music director with a smaller budget. So singers like Mohit Chauhan and KK are a little out of the financial range of this genre in most cases.
KK plays in all three genres that are left. But Mohit's full throated voice is ideal for (1) the rock song and (2) the pop ballad. He'll end up scoring over KK in both these categories. So expect more work to go his way in these areas.
This leaves (3) the dance dhamaka. KK will still do well here because his voice bears the frothiness required to carry off this genre. Sure there is Neeraj Shridhar to contend with in this space, but Neeraj's voice isn't entirely convincing when matched up with some of the Bollywood superstars (they tend to look a little puny when they sing in Neeraj's voice). KK - on the other hand - sounds great when matched up with just about anyone.
Most fortuitously for us, the soundtrack of Sikandar gives us some fascinating data to play with. Both singers have sung essentially two songs with the same lyrics - a drink-of-life reflection called 'Gulon Mein'. Mohit takes a crack at the more ruminative version composed by Justin-Uday. KK renders the breezier version composed by Sandesh Shandilya.
It's a rare chance to listen to two competing singers bring their craft in compositions that play to their respective strengths. If you'll give each one a careful listen, you'll be able to understand both singers better. I recommend you do that before placing your bets.
Regardless of the outcome of this delicious match up, singers called Atif Aslam should definitely start praying.
KK's other most recent songs:
Chand Zameen Pe (42 kms)
Aisa To Socha Na Tha (Victory)
Mere Khuda (Sorry Bhai)
Mohit's other most recent songs:
Haafiz Khuda (8x10 Tasveer)
Kuchh Khaas - with Neha Bhasin (Fashion)
Is This Love - with Shreya Ghoshal (Kismet Konnection)