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Shamshad Begum: A Resounding Voice

With more than 1,600 songs to her credit, Shamshad Begum created magic from behind the curtains. Even today, she is among the most remembered singers with vast remixes of her golden songs flooding the market.

It was August 10, 1998. In a posh flat of Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, Mumbai, the phone kept ringing. These were desperate calls from music aficionados, who had read about the demise of their favourite singer, Shamshad Begum, in the newspapers. Usha Ratra, the singer's only daughter, assured the callers that her mother was hale and hearty, and currently having her breakfast.

The scene shifted now and phones were ringing in newspaper offices. The very next day they tendered an apology for the faux pas. In fact, another singer, though popularly known as Chhamian (the mother of fairy-faced Naseem Bano and grandmother of renowned actress Saira Bano), whose real name was Shamshad Begum, had passed away, and hence the confusion.

A prime playback singer of the 1940s, Shamshad Begum was senior to both Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar, and got paid one thousand rupees per song, while Lata's fee was in two figures. Born on April 23, 1919, in Lahore, Shamshad's family was least inclined towards music. But there was a gramophone at home, a marker of status symbol in those days. Baby Shamshad would sit in front of the horn of the gramophone, listen to the songs and start crooning. She was also leading the morning prayers in her school.

Incidentally, Master Ghulam Haider was well known to Shamshad's family. Once he heard her and saw huge potential in the talented singer. He was working for Jenaphone Recording Company as its chief composer. He recorded a Punjabi song, Haath joda pakhiya da, in Shamshad's voice. The Company liked the song immensely and recorded 200 songs of this legendary singer in a year's time. Shamshad was barely 12 and received a royal sum of Rs 12.50 per song. Very soon, offers were pouring in to sing on All India Radio Lahore and Peshwar.

Also known for singing religious compositions, Shamshad recorded a famous naat, Aaya hai bulawa mujhe darbar-e-nabi se, for All India Radio, Delhi.

Those days Dalsukh M Pancholi was rated among the top producers in Lahore. Having a studio of his own, he had produced films in Punjabi-Hindi, and approached Master Haider to compose for these films. Composer Shyam Sunder was assistant to Master Haider and, at his recommendation, Shyam was promoted as chief composer of Jenaphone. In one of the Punjabi films, Shamshad sang a Master Haider composition, Kanka diya faslan pakkiyan, and it took the entire Punjab by storm.

In 1941, Pancholi announced the film Khazanchi in Hindi, which proved to be the greatest musical hit of its time, as Master Haider made his favourite Shamshad sing all the nine songs, including a duet, Sawan ke nazare hain (picturised on and co-sung by Master Haider). The music of Khazanchi was a trendsetter and Shamshad became a household name with her solo numbers, Ek kali nazon ki pali, Laut gai papan andheri, Diwali phir aa gai sajani and Peene ke din aaye piye jaa. With all the songs becoming chartbusters, Khazanchi was a landmark in Shamshad's career.

Another rewarding film for Shamshad was Pancholi's Poonji. The superhits of this film were Kya mast hawayein hain and many others. After the success of Poonji, Shamshad was flooded with offers from Bombay too.

When Mehboob Khan made Taqdir, starring Motilal and Nargis, he invited Shamshad at the suggestion of Rafiq Ghaznavi, the music director of the film. Shamshad sang duets with Motilal and Ghaznavi, and O jaane wale aaja became a hit. She came from Lahore, recorded the songs, and went back. After two years of travelling to and fro, she finally decided to make Bombay her permanent abode.

In 1945, Mehboob announced his magnum opus period film, Humayun, starring Ashok Kumar-Nargis, and invited Master Haider (who had also moved to Bombay) to score the music. Shamshad sang such musical gems for this film, as once again she was under the baton of her mentor. In 1946, Mehboob directed Anmol Ghadi with a star cast of Surendra, Noor Jahan and Suraiya. All of them sang memorable hit numbers, but the duet of Shamshad and Zohrabai Ambalewali, Udan khatole pe ud jaun tere haath na aaun, became equally popular.

After Anmol Ghadi, Naushad repeated Shamshad in his later films. Her hit solos in Shahjahan (1946), starring the legendry KL Saigal were, Jab usne gesu bikhraye, Jawani ke daman ko rangeen bana le. In Dard (1947), Hum dard ka afsana and Ye afsana nahin zalim mere dil ki haqeeqat hai were popular. In Anokhi Ada (1948), Shamshad sang these solos: Nazar mil gayi, Aaj kahan ja ke nazar takrayi, and two memorable duets with Mukesh. In Mela, Shamshad's best numbers were, Pardes balam tum jaoge, Mohan ki muraliya baaje, Taqdir bani ban kar bigdi and Garibon par jo hoti. So were her timeless duets with Mukesh, Dharti ko akash pukare, Mein bhanwra tu hai phool and Aayi sawan ritu aayi.

In Babul (1950), Shamshad sang the best bidai song for Naushad, Chhod babul ka ghar, and two other solos, Jaadoo bhare naino mein dole and Na socha tha ye dil lagane se pahle. She had three duets, one with Lata, Huey majboor hum, and two with Talat Mehmood, Duniya badal gayi and Milte hi aankhe dil hua diwana.

Naushad gave western style music in Jadoo, and Shamshad's solo, Ae jee thandee sadak hai, Roop ki dushman and Jab nain mile naino se, became quite popular.

Shamshad, after a long gap in the industry, made her comeback with Naushad in Mother India (1957), as he composed another bidai song for her, Pi ke ghar aaj payari dulhaniya chali, she also shared two duets with Lata, Holi aayi re kanhai rang chhalke, besides another number with Rafi-Manna Dey-Asha Bhosle and chorus, Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya.

Mughal-e-Azam in the 1960s was dominated completely by Lata, but Shamshad sang an immortal Qawwali, Teri mehfil mein kismat with her.

Raj Kapoor started his own banner RK Films with Aag in 1948. Shamshad sang one of her finest numbers, Kaahe koel shor machaye re in it. Ramchandra used Shamshad's voice in Shehnai (1947), in Nadiya ke Paar (1948) and Namoona (1949). Who can forget her all-time great duet with Chitalkar (C Ramchandra) in Patanga, Mere piya gaye Rangoon.

SD Burman composed special numbers for Shamshad in Bahar. Duniya ke mazey le lo, Chhodo ji chhodo ji kalai hamar, O pardesiya pyaar ki bahar le le, which became extremely popular. But the chartbuster of the film was Saiyan dil mein aana re. Shamshad was remembered once again when remix of this song hit the music market. It is worth mentioning that maximum remixes are of Shamshad's songs: Kabhi aar kabhi paar, Leke pehla pehla pyaar and Kajra mohabbatwala.

Shamshad's most popular numbers of SD Burman were Ye duniya roop ki chor in Shabnam (1949) and Jaam thaam le in Shahenshah. But, soon enough, Burman forgot Shamshad.

Madan Mohan made his debut with Aankhein and composed an evocative number in Shamshad's voice, Mohabbat karne walon ka. The classic hits of Nayyar and Shamshad are, Kabhi aar kabhi paar in Aar Paar; in CID, Boojh mera kya naam re, Kahin pe nigahein kahni pe nishana, and a song with Asha and Rafi, Le ke pehla pehla pyaar; in Mr & Mrs 55, Ab to hone laga kissi ki surat se samna; in Mangoo, Zara pyaar kar le babu; in Chhoo Mantar, Humne jab dil tha diya, and in Naya Andaz with Kishore kumar,

Shamshad was never ambitious like other playback singers, for her music was 'ibaadat' (devotion). She had more than 1600 songs to her credit, as she was multilingual, singing in Punjabi, Pashto, Urdu, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri and Tamil. Her talent was best showcased in this song, Ye duniya roop ki chor, that she sang in Bangla, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and Punjabi. Shamshad was never seen at film functions or award ceremonies. She abhorred publicity. That made her the least photographed singer. It is unbelievable that she didn't have a single record of her own songs and always maintained a low profile. When she came to Delhi to receive the Padma Bhushan at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, she went unnoticed sitting in a wheel chair. When her citation was read out, there was a thunderous applause, and Shamshad became emotional telling her admirers after the ceremony, "Mujhe duaon mein yaad rakhiye; main aap logon ke dil mein rehna chahti hoon (Remember me in your prayers; I want to reside in your hearts). She passed away at 94, on April 19, 2013, fifteen years after the fake news of her death.

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