Sun bairi baalam sach bol re in Bawre Nain (1950), Ghabaraa ke jo hum sar ko takraayan in Mahal (1949) and Najariya ki maari in Pakeezah (1972)—these are some of the popular songs rendered by singer-actress of the 1930s and 40s, Rajkumari Dubey. In comparison to leading singers of the time such as Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki and Shamshad Begum, Rajkumari’s voice was more pleasant and soft, albeit with a limited range. Having featured in several films as an actress, she later chose to concentrate only on playback singing. Over the two decades of the 30s and 40s, she sang in approximately 100 films.
Born in Benaras (Varanasi) in 1924, Rajkumari Dubey started as a child artiste, acting in Radhe Shyam Aur Zulmi Hans (1932). She was just 10 when she recorded her first song for HMV in 1934. Working in theatre for a few years, she left Prakash Pictures’ Vijay Bhatt and Shankar Bhatt impressed by her singing. The duo persuaded her to discontinue acting on stage, as the absence of microphones meant that actors had to shout in order to be audible, which ended up damaging their vocal cords. Joining Prakash Pictures as actress and singer, she acted in Sansar Leela (1934) and Nayi Duniya (1934), which was a Hindi-Gujarati bilingual. Garnering key roles in Aankh Ka Tara (1933) and Turki Sher (1933), within a few years, Rajkumari starred in several successful films like Laal Chitthi (1935), Bombay Mail (1935), Bambai Ki Sethaani (1935) and Shamsheer-e-Arab (1935). She was the heroine of Bhakt Ke Bhagwan and Insaaf Ki Topi (1934). She played significant roles in many films produced by Prakash Pictures such as Bombay Mail (1935). Bombay Ke Sethani (1935), Azad Veer (1936), and Snehlata (1936). In these films, she was paired opposite Jayant—father of famous villain Amjad Khan. She sang regularly for popular music director Lallubhai, who scored music for Rajkumari-starrers such as Nai Duniya alias Sansaar Leela, Laal Chitthi alias Red Letter (1935), Bombay Mail (1935), Bambai Ki Sethaani and Shamsheer-e-Arab.
Tired of having to keep a watch on her weight, which was necessary for an actress facing the cameras, she decided to opt for singing as a career. Quitting Prakash Pictures, she started rendering playback singing for actresses like Ratnamala, Shobhana Samarth, and more. While she sang several songs with Mukesh, she also sang with Noor Jehan in Naukar (1943), and with K L Saigal in Bhakt Surdas (1942). She rendered songs for the Raj Kapoor and Madhubala starrer Neel Kamal (1947), as well as Hulchul (1951). Her two most famous films are Bawre Nain (1950), wherein she sang Sun bairi baalam sach bol re for Geeta Bali, and Mahal (1949), in which she rendered Ghabrekar ke jo hum sir ko takraayan and Chun chun gunguruva baje jhumba, a duet with Zohrabai Ambalawali. She sang for many leading composers including Anil Biswas, O P Nayyar, Gyan Dutt, Shyam Sunder, S D Burman, Naushad and Roshan. She was a favourite with Roshan, who assigned her songs in Bawre Nain (1950), Anhonee (1952), Raag Rang (1952) and Naubahar (1952). Among her famous songs are Ghabra ke and Ek teer chala from Mahal (1949), Nazroun mein samane sai from Hyderabad Ki Nazneen (1952), Kajrari matwali from Nau Bahar (1952), and Mere roothe huwe chanda from Bawre Nain (1950).
Though not formally trained in singing, Rajkumari Dubey was gifted at grasping nuances from the music directors she worked with; to the extent that many presumed she was a trained singer. Besides playback singing, she also established herself in the realm of the thumri and dadra forms of classical singing. She also sang many Gujarati and Punjabi songs.
Eventually, phased out by newer voices, Rajkumari was reduced to singing in the chorus for the background score of Pakeezah (1972). On realising this, music director Naushad who had been an admirer of Rajkumari Dubey’s, assigned a solo song to her in the film, Najariya ki mari. One of her last public performances was in 1996, when she received the Aashirwad Navratna Award. While she appeared in the popular music-based programme Sa Re Ga Ma, she also featured in a programme titled Mahfil on British TV’s Channel 4, wherein she sang some of her famous film songs and ghazals, which was aired in 1991.
On the personal front, she married late in life. Her husband, V K Dubey hailed from Benares.
Rajkumari Dubey passed away in 2000.