Minoo Purshottam was an acclaimed Bollywood playback singer of the 1960s and 70s. She lived in the era dominated by the famous soprano sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle, fighting for the ground they couldn’t cover—and scoring! Continuing our slant of broadcasting the unsung heroes of classic Bollywood, I now introduce you to Minoo Purshottam, yesteryear songstress and incidentally, my former vocal instructor.
I spent much of my childhood in Houston where I had the pleasure of learning music from Minoo-ji in the classical Hindustani style. Before becoming her student, I knew her work well from the soundtracks of great Bollywood films I had grown up with. You may not know her name, but you’ve probably heard her songs. From “Ni Main Yaar Manana Ni” with Lata Mangeshkar from Daag (1973), “Na Na Na Re, Haath Na Lagaana” from Taj Mahal (1963) with Suman Kalyanpur, and “Huzur-e-Wala Jo Ho Ijaazat” from Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966), Minoo-ji made an important mark among the musical legends in India.
Minoo-ji made her playback debut in Taj Mahal at the age of 16. Legendary music director Roshan took her under his wing, giving her a chance to sing a duet with Suman Kalyanpur. She recalls that she was much shorter than Suman and since in those days singers shared a single microphone during a studio recording (at Mehboob Studios, no less), she had to stand on a platform to make up for the difference!
From the daughter of a farming family in Patiala, she went on to become a singing maestro, working with composers like S.D. Burman, O.P. Nayyar, and Madan Mohan. Although she had a few occasional solos, her most famous work in films is as a partner, not a lead—always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Yet listen to how heroine-esque Minoo-ji’s voice sounds in the playful Jaidev composition “Raat Piya Ke Sang” from the lost film Prem Parbat (1973)! She toured with playback singers like Mohammed Rafi until his passing, yet when it came time to record songs for films, he was matched with Asha Bhonsle or Lata Mangeshkar. Minoo-ji waited for the female-female duets to shine.
Eventually, Minoo Purushottam turned to non-filmi ghazals where she felt the songs could have more “meaning,” something with a more serious philosophy, and eventually left India and settled in Houston where she started teaching Hindustani vocals. Her depth in the heart-stirring ghazal Zakhm Rahguzaaro.N Ke demonstrates another aspect of her talent that may otherwise have remained hidden behind the glitzy duets of old Bollywood.
I remember her classes used to take place at an auntie’s house in the community. We sat next to each other on a keyboard bench and she played the melody as I tried to keep up with what she was singing. Minoo-ji was a strict teacher, but full of laughter and great stories—a Panjabi like me. I remember she often performed at local functions where she held her audiences captivated.
I often regret that I was too young to fully appreciate the magnitude of the legend from whom I was learning. I sometimes wish I could go back and ask her the questions on her life experiences and the inspirations that made her the fascinating artist she became. Yes, she never reached the heights of the playback singers we all associate with that era—but it is precisely because of it that I respect her more, standing her ground in a world notorious for its ruthlessness. Perhaps it was because of her innocence and much younger age that she never felt any rivalry between herself and these stars. Minoo-ji enjoyed collaboration rather than competition. And in Bollywood, that was a rare and beautiful thing.
What is your favorite Minoo Purshottam song? Let us know in the comments! For more unsung heroes of early Bollywood, check out our previous posts on costume designer Mani Rabadi and music composer Anthony Gonsalves!
– Mrs. 55
Minoo ji was a wonderful person and also a personal teacher of mine. Her talent is tremendous and was sadly not utilized to the full extent it should have been. she could sing anything beautifully.
Yes, truly for few decades nobody could unwind the magic wand of Lata & Asha.So singers like Minoo, Suman K. faded from the Bollywood horizon. I wish her a lone & peaceful life.
Can she share her experiences on Bollywood Roots a classic programme on NDTV.I wish her long, peaceful life.
MinooPurshottam: 2 songs : Pital ki meri gaagri from Do Boond Pani and one PremParbat song. DBPaani also shows the lovely MadhuChhanda of ShankarHusain
I wonder how many more Minoo never got a chance to blossom under the massive shadows cast by Lata ji? How many Shreya Ghosal have been stifled in India the last few generations before the Internet and You Tube? It’s interesting to note the many great female singers that blossomed in the Western world where more freedom and empowerment of women exists. Just some food for thought. God bless Minoo and hopefully she can share as much of her talent.
vani jayram was one such talent, sadly.
MINOO JI SANG ;LIVE IN HARE KRSNA TEMPLE IN PHILADELPHI IN 86
Unse nazare mili aur hizab aa gaya – which she sang with Lata , music Madanmohan, is also a nice song.
Many thanks for this; I’ve always wanted to more about Minooji but there’s very little information about her on the web apart from the same regurgitated tidbits you find on most websites.
When her performance for the BBC was first broadcast around the late 1970s, my father recorded it and we would watch it regularly along with performances by other artistes. Her pensive, lowered gaze and humble demeanour is what always struck me and appear to divulge an inner sadness.
I digitised those videos several years ago and uploaded them to my channel on Youtube. Here’s her performance:
I’m searching earnestly for Minoo Purshottam Ji’s non filmy song “yeh kis ritu mein tum aaye hamaare aangan mein; jab phool gaye kumhlaye hamaare aangan mein” which I loved most in my college days. On contacting Minoo Ji on FB she replied that she doesn’t remember this song was ever recorded. She has asked me to contact Ploydor or HMV for this. But the fact is this song was played occasionally on AIR and or Vividh Bharati. I have searched the net but it is not available. Can any one help pass on a link to me or best provide me a copy. I shall be obliged.
I have of this song but with poor recording
We are sailing in the same boat it seems. I have heard this song on AIR in my childhood and remember it. My wage memories has its singer, perhaps not as Minoo ji but that of Radha Saluja (actress, perhaps) and I tried my best to search it in vain
Correct me if I’m wrong
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Minooji was a volunteer singer at Arya Samaj of Greater Houston and many times I had an opportunity to give her ride to various events, what a joy ride, she would sing beautiful songs, so much so, even I could catch a tune with her. I am not a singer but love music and she taught me very valuable lesson as NEVER to pitch your voice too high, go with flow.
My all time favorite song ..one in a lifetime song pls all you minu ji fabs listen to this song if you still haven’t…ek jungle hai teri ankhon mein from album ranj me rahat…most soullful song ever..
I really liked “Teri Gut Da” she sung with Mohammed rafi, that was probably the first indian song i had listened to
My favorite was lab khayal aap ka nahi hota
Do I get to listen to it again? Anywhere?
Beautiful article. Enjoyed reading. Minoo Parshotam sang beautifully indeed. Raat Piya ke Sang Jagi Re Sakhi is my favorite. Great memories.
it is 2020, and i am searching for minooji and a recording of her unique gazal, husn pe jab kabhi….please help if u can!
I am searching for kab khayal aap Ka Nahi hota