Shamshad Begum: An inimitable voice that enthralled legions

Shamshad Begum: An inimitable voice that enthralled legions

Between the 1930s and the 70s, tens of thousands of her fans in the Indian sub-continent knew her only by her distinct, dulcet and lilting voice. Some...

ob2Between the 1930s and the 70s, tens of thousands of her fans in the Indian sub-continent knew her only by her distinct, dulcet and lilting voice. Some were dying to see her face. Yet, for Shamshad Begum, who died on Wednesday after entertaining Bollywood music aficionados for more than six decades, it was a matter of filial respect to keep herself under wraps.

Begum was born on April 14, 1919, in Amritsar, Punjab. She started singing at the age of 14. She made her debut on Peshawar Radio in Lahore on December 16, 1947. She had rendered many songs from Peshawar and Lahore radio stations before started singing for the movies.

Without any formal lessons in music, she reached the zenith of the then radio-driven music industry and held legions in thrall with her inimitable voice. "Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon" from the 1949 film "Patanga" and "Leke Pehla Pehla Pyar" from the 1956 hit "C I D" still haunt countless admirers.

In the 1960 blockbuster "Mughal-E-Azam", she sang "Teri Mehfil Mein Qismat" along with Lata Mangeshkar and the magic of the melodious duo is often played on radio even to this day.

An avowed fan of KL Saigal, she watched Devdas 14 times. It is said that during her heyday she was earning Rs15 per song and once collected Rs 5,000 upon completion of a contract. She promised her father that she would never appear before the camera if she were allowed to just sing. He agreed and she kept her word. She chose to shield herself from public glare thereafter. This resolve also contributed to her productive career in the recording studio, where she grew as a reclusive singer. She never posed for any pictures and not many people saw her pictures anywhere thereafter.

Nobody knew her face until the end of the 1970s, though they adored the voice that great maestros like Naushad Ali and O P Nayyar used creatively. She started giving a few interviews only from the late 1980s and gave her last interview in 2012. Even today, her songs from the 1940s, 50s, 60s and early 70s are popular and many of them have been remixed.

Begum was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2009. The same year she was honoured with the prestigious O P Nayyar Award for her contribution to Hindi film music.A A trailblazing playback singer in the Hindi film industry, Begum started singing in 1933. When she sang for the film Khajanchi in 1941, she was already well established. She captivated the hearts of her listeners with the entrancing depth of her voice.

Begum sang for the All India Radio (AIR) through her musical group 'The Crown Imperial Theatrical Company of Performing Arts', set up in Delhi. The then AIR Lahore helped her gain a foothold in the world of movies. Soon music directors started using her voice for their films. She was known for her habit of standing away from the microphone while singing.

The unforgettable voice that rendered "Kajra mohabbat wala" also recorded naats and devotional music for certain gramophone recording companies. Her rich voice caught the attention of sarangi maestro Ustad Hussain Bakshwale Saheb, who took her as his disciple. A Lahore-based composer Ghulam Haider used her voice skillfully in some of his earlier films like Khazanchi (1941) and Khandaan (1942). She is credited with singing one of the first Westernised songs, Meri jaan...Sunday ke Sunday by C Ramchandra.

Some of the music legends in the country, including OP Nayyar and Naushad, relied heavily on her during their own rise in the industry.A Nayyar likened her voice to the ringing of a temple bell, going by its timbre and tonal clarity. He worked with her more in the 1950s and their association continued till the late 1960s.

Naushad acknowledged that it was Begum's solo and duet songs sung in the late 40s and early 1950s that made him famous. Naushad, who kept working with Begum in late 50s and early 1960s, chose Begum once again to sing four of Mother India's 12 songs.

Shankar-Jaikishan and lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri too initially basked in her glory. A national rage between the early 1940s and the early 1960s, her voice had no parallel. Her peers like Noorjehan, Mubarrak Begum, Suraiya, Sudha Malhotra, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Geeta Dutt and Amirbai Karnataki were in awe of her.

Her songs picturised on Nigar Sultana like "Teri Mehfil Mein" from "Mughal E Azam" and "Mere Piyan Gaye" from Patanga(1949), then "Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re" picturised on Vyjantimala and on Minoo Mumtaz like "Boojh Mera Naam Hai" are extremely popular till today. "Milte hi aankhen dil hua" from " Babul" (1950) had a romantic duet by Talat Mahmood and Begum picturised on Dilip Kumar and Munawar Sultana which became popular as well.

(With inputs from agencies)

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