Shamshad Begum, considered to be the first playback singer of Indian Cinema, passed away on the 27th April 2013. She was 94 years old at the time of her death and, in fact,she was almost as old as Indian cinema itself which is celebrating its centenary in 2013.
In the second half of the 50s and during the 60s not a day passed without our hearing the voice of the legendary singer Shamshad Begum on the radio. The powerful voice with a trace of the Punjabi nuance typical of the singers of the era was the unmistakable USP of Shamshad Begum’s songs. The song ‘Oh dilwale dil ka lagana’, a duet with Chitalkar from film PATANGA (Music. By C.Ramachandra known also as Chitalker ) and the song ‘Bachpan ke din rulana dena’, a duet with Lata, from film DEEDAR (Music:Naushad)were our favourite songs of the early 50s with several parodies in the local language also proving very popular. Even now when these two songs are heard once in a way, no where else but on Radio Ceylon in the morning, it gave me an opportunity to nostalgically relive those childhood days!
Like other female singers of the late 40s and early 50s, Shamshad Begum also was in the same singing mould as Noor Jahan, Raj Kumari, Suraiya, Zohra Ambala and so on. But the distinguishing feature of her songs was the power of her voice and the clarity of rendering best evidenced by her songs for music directors Naushad and O.P.Nayyar. In many of the obituary references on Shamshad Begum her song with Lata,in film Mughal-e-Azam (Music:Naushad), viz.’Teri mehfil meri kismat’ as well as the two O.P.Nayyar songs, ‘Kajra Mohabatwala’from film KISMAT and the immortal ‘Leke pahla pahla pyar’from film C.I.D. have been invariably mentioned precisely for this reason. Eventhough these were essentially duets,( the third one is with Asha and Rafi) they were normally identified with Shamshad Begum for the dominance of her voice. In fact it was O.P.Nayyar and Naushad who could draw Shamshad Begum away from the traditional nasal style mentioned earlier to the more popular and durable open throated style of singing with the songs from these films. Such was the popularity and magnetism of ‘Kajra muhabatwala’ that the film KISMAT is still remembered mainly for this song in spite of the beautifully tuned and rendered songs of Mahendra Kapur and Asha Bhosle in it.
When we recollect the film songs of Shamshad Begum there are four or five film albums, mainly of Naushad and O.Nayyar, which could well be termed Shamshad Begum’s albums! The first LP album coming to mind is that of Sunny Arts Productions’ 1950 film BABUL starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis with music by Naushad. Out of the twelve songs seven are by Shamshad Begum a few of them not solos. The two beautiful solo songs are ‘Na socha tha yeh’ and ‘Jadoo bhari nainon mein’. The pathos filled and still haunting chorus ‘Chhod babul ka ghar’ is an outstanding Shamshad effort very popular on the radio and functions in the 50s.The obvious theme and mood of the song and the poignancy of the situation were well expressed by Shamshad through her voice which will be realized better by seeing the video clipping of the song.( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJxJuWUF3uw ) But what gives this album the exclusive Shamshad Begum stamp is the three songs with Talat Mahmood. The melodious ‘Milti hi ankhen milgaya deewana kisi ka’is the best of the three. The other is ‘Duniya badal gayi’ and the third is ‘Nadi kinare’ where Rafi joins them.The silky soft, trembling voice of Talat is pitted against the precise power packed voice of Shamshad and made to gel beautifully to create outstanding duets to reveal the genius in Naushad.The chorus, ‘Dhadke mera dil’also puts shamshad at her best. The duet with Lata, ‘Kisi ke dil mein’ is marked by elaborate and melodious rendering by both singers . One is also compelled to compare this song with Shamshad’s solo number,’Chaman ke rah ke virana’in the same tune in film DEEDAR with music by Naushad. Listen to these two songs and decide which is better!Apart from the song ‘Bachpan ke din’ mentioned in the beginning, what makes the LP album of DEEDAR Shamshad’s own and a collectors’ item is her rare duet with G.M.Durrani,’Nazar phero na ham se’. I do not know whether this song is now available except on this LP album!
Another exclusive Naushad-Shamshad Begum album is that of Wadia films’ MELA(1948) starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis. Out of the eleven songs, five are by Shamshad and three are her duets with Mukesh. Among the solos, ‘Gham ka fasana’ and ‘Mohan ki muraliya bhaje’ are typical sweet songs of the 40s. The songs ‘Dharti ko aakash pukare’ and ‘Tasveer bani hanker bigdi’ are also not behind. The duets with Mukesh are representative of the duets of the 40s. The influence of K.L.Saigal ‘s style in Mukesh’s singing and the influence of Noor Jahan, Suraiya and so on on Shamshad’s singing were evident and this made the duets in this film, ‘Aai sawan rut’ and ‘Mera dil todnewale’ unique and enjoyable.
A few other compositions of Naushad for Shamshad Begum also come to memory. One is from the film NAGHMA (1952).,viz., ‘Badi muskil se dil ki bekharari ko farar aayi’ in quawali style and the other is from the 1947 film DARD,viz.,’Hum dard ka afsaana’ both exhibiting Shamshad’s effortless style of singing.There are two songs in film DULARI and the one, ‘Chandni aayi ban ke pyar o sajna’ is as good as any of the golden oldies.Again there is this lovely song ‘O gaadiwale gaadi’ from film MOTHER INDIA and ‘Lagi more man ki’ from film SHABAB. In film JADOO Shamshad was rocking with this fast paced foot tapping number ‘Lara loo lara loo’.
While Shamshad Begum’s songs for Naushad belonged mainly to the 40s and 50s, remembered nowadays more by the old timers, it was her songs for O.P.Nayyar which captivated the hearts of the younger generation and which is more likely to carry them forward to the next generation.The film C.I.D. is still remembered more for the peppy number,’ Leke pahla pahla pyar’ of Shamshad than for her own two beautiful songs,’Boojh mera kya naam re’, and the melodious ‘Kahin pe nighahe kahin pe nishaana’. Of course, O.P.Nayyar made the film C.I.D. his own with these songs of Shamshad and the Rafi-Geeta Dutt songs.’ Yeh hai Bombay Meri jan’ and ‘Ankhon hi ankhon mein’.Among the celebrated compositions of O.P.Nayyar for film NAYA DAUR, the Shamshad-Asha number, ‘Reshmi salwar kurta jali ka’stands out and is remembered even today mainly for O.P’s rhythm and the success ofAsha and Shamshad in imparting life and pep by their voice and style. In O.P. Nayyar’s musical hit AAR PAAR, Shamshad’s song ‘Kabhi aar kabhi paar’ is able to stand on its own against Geet Dutt’s ‘Babujee dheere chalna’, ‘Ye lo mein haari piya’, ‘Muhabat kar lo jee bhar lo’ and so on only by her captivating voice.
The versatility of Shamshad Begum’s voice is again evident in the songs from film PATANGA with music composed by C.Ramachandra.Apart from the duet,’O bachpan ke din rulana dena’, there is another duet , ‘Mere piya gaye Rangoon’, with Chitalkar, with her voice capturing the mood of the song beautifully. Her two songs, ‘O gore gore’ and ‘Balam tujhe mera salam are also typically sweet.
In R.K.Films’ first film AAG (1948) producer director Raj Kapur, probably because he could not afford a Lata Mangeshkar or a Shankar Jai kishen then, used the voice of Shamshad Begum for the compositions of an unknown music director, Ram Ganguly . But this is not a reflection on the quality of the songs in the film. In fact, though the film was not a commercial success, the songs were super hits of the time and proved extremely popular over the radio. The pick of the lot is the one by Shamshad,’Kahe koyal shor machaye re’ her powerful unwavering voice lifting the song to a different plane. The grief filled ,’Dekh chaand ki aur’, ‘Na ankhon men ansoo’ and ‘Dil toot gayaji’ by Shamshad is typical of the melodies of the 40s. In spite of the huge popularity of the songs and the R.K. Banner, the music director was soon forgotten . Even in discussions in the media on Shamshad Begum, the songs from this film did not get due mention.
A few more songs of Shamshad Begum for other leading music directors also come to mind. The first is the quawali from film CHAUDWIN KA CHAAND,’Sharma ke kyun pardanashi ‘ with Asha Bhosle, a composition by Ravi.. For S.D.Burman there is this melodious,’Saiyan dil men aana re’ in film BAHAR. For Shankar Jaikishen in film AWAARA Shamshad crooned ’Ek do teen’. For Roshan in film BAWRE NAIN,Shamshad sang this comic number ‘Ichak bechhak ghurr”. For Ghulam Mohammed in film MIRZA GHALIB,Shamshad sang, ‘Chale pee ke nagar’ and for Madan Mohan ‘Nache ang ‘ with Jagjit Kaur and Noor Jahan in film HEER RANJHA.
While listening to the songs of Shamshad Begum on one of my old HMV record players after finishing the text of this post, I wanted to believe that that she is still alive and singing. But the truth that one more of our singing legends with whose songs we grew up listening to has passed away unsung is too obvious to be wished away.A few obituary words here and there and a few references about ‘'leke pahla pahla pyar’and ‘Kajra muhabat wala’ and everything will soon be foregotten . The fact remains that we have lost one of the very few last links to a golden musical era.