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Kumar Sanu

One of the most prolific singers ever to work in the Indian film industry, Kumar Sanu's recorded output numbers in the thousands of songs, reaching by his estimation over 8,000 by the turn of the millennium. Sanu broke the Guinness world record for the largest number of songs recorded in a single day, with 28 -- a testament not only to his polished technique, but to his unparalleled ability to quickly and effortlessly master unfamiliar material in the studio. Sanu also holds the record (along with Lata Mangeshkar on the female side) for the longest string of consecutive Filmfare awards for Best Playback Singer (the equivalent of an Oscar and perhaps the most coveted musical award in India) with five, a streak that made him arguably the most popular male vocalist in India during the '90s. Kumar Sanu was born Kedernath Bhattacharjee and grew up in Calcutta; his father Pashupati Bhattacharjee was an accomplished classical vocalist and composer, and saw to his son's early musical training as a singer and tabla player. Getting a degree in commerce from Calcutta University, Sanu began performing publicly in 1979, singing at shows and restaurants around Calcutta in a style heavily influenced -- copied, some charged -- from film legend Kishore Kumar. Competition for singers in the Indian film industry was (and still is) extremely fierce, since it is the primary route to success in India, and it took Sanu several years to land his big break. He made his living in the early '80s partly by recording a series of Kishore Kumar covers for a pop label, but remained unable to make inroads into film. Finally, in 1987, music director Jagjit Singh -- noted for his mastery of the romantic ghazal song form -- offered Sanu the chance to sing in the Hindi film Andhiyan. Sanu relocated to Bombay, the capital of the Indian film industry, and soon landed another film, Jadoogar, helmed by the Kalyanji/Anandji team; they gave Sanu his stage name, partly to give him wider appeal outside of a strictly Bengali audience, and partly because of the heavy influence of his idol. Film fans began to take notice, poising Sanu for a major breakthrough. That breakthrough came in 1990 with the film Aashiqui, whose soundtrack was composed and directed by the Nadeem/Shravan team. Sanu sang all but one of the songs featured on the soundtrack album, which made him a star; he won the first of his record five consecutive Filmfare awards as Best Male Playback Singer, and began recording new material at a furious pace. He won Filmfares for his performances in Saajan, Deewana, Baazigar, and 1942: A Love Story (in order, up through 1994), but his work extended much farther, so much so that by the end of the decade he had recorded -- in many different languages -- for literally hundreds of films. As the '90s waned, Sanu slowed his amazing recording schedule a bit, feeling that he'd proven enough to become more selective in choosing his material (he preferred classic-style songs to newer, more Western-influenced pop). Seeking new challenges, he branched out into acting, appearing in a Bengali film and starting television serials in both Bengali and Hindi. He also became more comfortable with concert performances and embarked on frequent international tours. By the turn of the millennium, Sanu had promised to follow in fellow record-holder Lata Mangeshkar's footsteps by not accepting any further Filmfare awards (in order to make room for new talent), but the hits kept on coming through 1999 and 2000, and he continued to rival Udit Narayan as the most popular male singer in India. ~ Steve Huey

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