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With the recent demise of a cornerstone in Hindi playback music, ac tuli pays tribute to Shamshad Begum
PLAYBACK singer Shamshad Begum recently passed away at the ripe old age of 94. She was one of the earliest of her genre. Film music buffs were surprised to see her name on the 2009 list of Padma Bhushan award winners because to them she was an unknown entity. However, most of her ardent admirers in the Indian subcontinent felt that the recognition of her talent came a little too late in her life. Anyhow, she indeed deserved it.
Shamshad Begum was born in 1919 and had an innate talent for singing since childhood and wanted to become a radio singer. Her conservative family, however, was against her singing on the radio. But one of her uncles influenced her father and succeeded in persuading him to permit his daughter to sing on the radio. When she was around 12 years old, her uncle took her to Xenophon Music Company in Lahore to audition for music composer Ghulam Haider. Shamshad sang a ghazal by Bahadur Shah Zafar. Haider was tremendously impressed by her voice and she henceforth sang many songs in the 1930s under a contract with the company. In 1937, when she was around 18 years old, she became a regular radio singer for the Lahore and Peshawar radio stations.
Shamshad first sang for a film under Ghulam Haider&’s music direction. It was a Punjabi film called Yamla Jatt (1940) which was produced by Pancholi Arts Production, a filmmaking company based in Lahore. It was only when she came to sing under Ghulam Haider for Pancholi&’s first Hindi film, Khazanchi (1941), that she became an overnight sensation. She sang a number of songs for this film, but the ones that became popular were her Solos ek kali naazon ki pali, Naino ke baan ki reet nirali, and the chorus, Sawan ke nazarre hain.
When Haider shifted to Bombay in 1943, he brought Shamshad Begum along as part of his team in order to promote her as a singer in Bollywood films. Her first assignment in Bombay was for the Mehboob Khan film Taqdeer (1943), in which Nargis made her debut as the heroine. Very soon Begum&’s melodious voice fascinated other music directors. Among them was Naushad, who made the most of her voice for a number of films in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1948 film Mela, for which Naushad composed the music, the heroine, Nargis, lip-synced all the songs that were voiced by Begum. The songs in Mela became chartbusters that year. The ones that are remembered even today are Mohan ki muraliya baaje, Sun thes jiya pe more laage, Pardesi balam tum jao gey, Kaho meri kasam kab aao gey’ and the duet with Mukesh, Mera dil todne wale mere dil ki dawa lena.
The late 1940s and 1950s were the most prolific periods of her life as a playback singer. She sang under Naushad&’s baton for films like Dard (1947), Anokhi Ada (1948), Andaaz (1949), Dulari (1949), Dillagi (1949), Babul (1950), Chandni Raat (1950), Jadoo (1950), Deedar (1951), Udan Khatola (1955), Mother India (1957) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960).
Her songs from Babul are remembered even today. The ones that have never lost their popularity are Chhod babul ka ghar, Mohe pee ke nagar aaj jana pada and the evergreen duet she sang with Talat Mahmood, Milte hi aankhen dil hua diwana kisi ka, afsana mera ban gaya afsana kisi ka.
In Deedar, the songs sung by Shamshad Begum were lip-synced by Nargis in the film while those that were sung by Lata Mangeshkar were lip-synced by Nimmi. Two songs in this film rendered by Shamshad Begum are unforgettable — Chaman mein reh ke veerana, mera dil hota jata hai, khushi mein aajkal kuch gham bhi shaamil hota jata hai and her duet with Lata, Ho bachpan ke din bhula na dena.
Apart from Naushad,, other music directors under whom Shamshad Begum sang memorable songs in the late 1940s and early 1950s were Khemchand Prakash, C Ramchandra, Anil Biswas, SD Burman, Ghulam Mohammad, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Hansraj Behl and Bulo C Rani. All the songs that Vyjayanthimala lip-synced in her debut Hindi film Bahar (1951) were voiced by Shamshad Begum under music director SD Burman. Two songs in this film are still fresh in the memory of film buffs — Saiyan dil mein aana re, aake phir na jana re, chhum chhuma chum chum, raja ban ke aana re and Duniya ka mazza le lo duniya tumhari hai.
At a time when Western music had perhaps the least influence on Hindi film music, C Ramchandra was the first composer who made Shamshad Begum sing the comic song Aana meri jaan meri jaan, Sunday ke Sunday in a Western style in Shehnai (1947). It became a craze among movie lovers those days.
Shamshad Begum sang duets with practically every male and female playback singer of Bollywood. There are duets she sang with Mukesh, Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mahmood, GM Durrani, C Ramchander, Kishore Kumar, Mohinder Kapoor, Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhonsle.
In the 1950s, the magic of Lata Mangeshkar&’s voice was so powerful that most music directors preferred her over other female singers for their songs . Even while facing stiff competition from Lata, Shamshad Begum remained in the field and was quite active as a playback singer. Luckily, she had found a staunch patron in music director OP Nayyar whom she knew from her Lahore days.
Nayyar, who had risen to the top as a music director without recording a single song using Lata Mangeshkar&’s voice, used Begum&’s voice for many songs. For the 1954 film Aar Paar that starred Guru Dutt and Shyama, Nayyar made Begum sing some thrilling songs. Among these, the most popular was Kabhi aar kabhi paar, laaga teer-e-nazar, saiyan ghayal kiya re tu ne mora jigar. But it was in the 1956 film CID that Nayyar composed evergreen songs. The songs Shamshad Begum rendered under Nayyar&’s baton for CID were Le ke pehla pehla pyar bhar ke aankhon mein khumaar jadoo nagri se aaya hai koee jadoogar, Bhooj mera kya naam re nadi kinare ghaam re peeple jhoome more aangna thandi thandi chhaon re and the saucy Kahin pe nighahen kahin pe nishaana.
In 1957 came Mother India and it had some of Begum&’s best songs, such as Holi aayee re kanhayi rang barse suna de zara bansuri, Pee ke ghar aaj pyari dulhaniya chali royen mata pita jin ki duniya chali, O gaadi wale gaadi dheere haank re jiya uda jaye lade aankh re.
The last song she sang with Lata Mangeshkar under the direction of Naushad was the famous qawwali, Teri mehfil kismet aazma kar hum bhi dekhen ge from Mughal-e-Azam. By 1970, Shamshad Begum&’s career as a playback singer was almost over. New singers had emerged on the film scene, she was not keen on staying in the rat race and decided to retire from the industry.
Shamshad Begum had married Ganpat Lal Batto, a lawyer, when she was a mere 15-year- old. It was a love marriage, against her parents’ approval, and she had a daughter from this marriage. Her husband died in an accident in 1955 and since then she had been living with her daughter and son-in-law, Usha Ratra and Yog Ratra respectively. Apart from singing Hindi film songs, she sang in Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali and Punjabi.
Such, indeed, is the magic of her voice that even the present generation loves jigging and swaying to the rhythm and beat of her old songs — of course, in their remixed forms, as is the fashion today.