Millennium Post

Talat Mahmood: The Ghazal Samrat

Talat Mahmood was a beacon of antique, ethereal music. His velvet-husky voice continues to reverberate many fond memories, writes Sharad Dutt.

I had a long association with Anil Biswas, my favourite music composer. Given my ardent admiration for this maestro, I had produced and directed a documentary on him, and, later, I also wrote his award-winning biography, Ritu Aaye Ritu Jaye. Anil da was primarily responsible for the career of singers Mukesh and Talat Mahmood. Once I told him that I was keen to do a documentary on Talat Mahmood, but I had never met him. Anil da assured me that I would meet him and he introduced me to the Ghazal Samrat at his residence a quarter century ago.

Talat was in Delhi in April, 1992 to receive the Padma Bhushan from President R Venkataraman. Next day, he was to meet Anil da, as he would invariably visit him as and when he was in town. On being introduced, Anil da told him that I wished to make a film on him. Talat had great regard for Anil da having made his debut as playback singer in Bombay. He welcomed the idea and promised to meet me in Bombay for further discussion. In a couple of settings for filming, he narrated his life story, the low and high points of his career in Calcutta and Bombay, and arranged my interviews with Dilip Kumar Saab and Khayyam Saab. He also insisted that I must include his daughter Sabina, who had migrated to Poland with her husband after marriage. Hence, the film was delayed.

Born in Lucknow on February 24, 1924, in a conservative Muslim family, Talat's father was averse to his singing pursuits. But his peternal aunt, phoophi, encouraged her nephew's singing talent and also convinced her brother not to smother his son's passion for music.
After completing his initial studies in Aligarh he came back to Lucknow and joined the Marris College of Music in 1938, like many singers of that period.

Talat was also deeply reverent of the singing superstar Kundanlal Saigal. Though he would sing Saigal songs for hours on his harmonium, he never tried to emulate his style. Later, at a function when he sang a ghazal of Mirza Ghalib, Nuktacheen hai gham-e-dil, that had also been sung by Saigal, he got an offer to sing on AIR Lucknow. After listening to his voice, PK Sen of HMV offered him a one-year contract for 30 rupees. Talat left for Calcutta and recorded his first song in 1941, Sab din ek saman nahi tha, penned by Fayyaz Hashmi and composed by Kamal Dasgupta. During this recording, Pankaj Mullick was also present, and he invited Talat to join New Theatres. Talat couldn't have accepted the offer since he was bound by the HMV contract, and also recorded private geet and ghazals for HMV.
After his contract was over, Talat came back to Lucknow and finished his course in music and graduated from Marris College, as he stated in the documentary, "I always topped in the practical but flopped in theory." Soon after, he was in Calcutta again, and by now made up his mind to meet his hero Saigal. The encounter happened when Saigal was recording a song for the film, My Sister, Do naina matware tihare hum per zulam karein, composed by Pankaj Mullick. Talat was spellbound seeing his idol singing. In his own words, "Lag raha tha jaise noor ki barrish ho rahi hai (It felt as if there was a shower of bright light)."
Pankaj Mullick saw Talat in the recording studio and reminded him of his earlier offer asking him to join New Theatres. Talat made his debut in PC Barua's film Rajlaxmi in 1945 and sang two songs in the movie. And, one song, Jago musafir jago, was picturised on him. Thereafter, Talat also performed in two films, Samapti and Swayamsiddha, as an actor-singer. During his stay in Calcutta, he recorded several popular songs in Bangla with the pseudo name Tapan Kumar and his debut rendition in Bangla, Duti pakhi duti teere majhe naadi bohe dhire dhire, broke all the records.
In 1949, Talat moved to Bombay to try his luck in Hindi films. Now he shed his pseudonym and started singing with his original name. He had a tremolo in his voice but composers wanted to change his singing style. It was Anil da who told Talat that this tremble in his voice was his strength, his USP. He composed a ghazal for Talat in film, Aarzoo (1950), Aye dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal, penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri. This was the beginning of the Talat Mahmood era.
In the same year, Talat sang two of his best numbers for composer Vinod in Anmol Ratan: Jab kisi ke rukh pe zulfein lehrane lagi and Shikwa tera main gaoon. Naushad took Talat for Dilip Kumar in Babul and he sang hits like Khushi ke saath duniya mein, Husnwalon ko na dil do, and duets with Shamshad Begum, Duniya badal gayee meri duniya badal gayee and Milte hi nazar dil hua deewana kisi ka. He gave playback for Raj Kapoor in Jaan Pehchaan under the baton of Khemchand Prakash, Arman bhare dil ki lagan tere liye hai. And again sang for Dilip Kumar in film Jogan, Sundarta ke sabhi shikari, composed by Bulo C Rani. In all, Talat gave playback in films under the banner of several music directors. In 1951, Anil da recorded Talat's classic number, Shukriya hai pyaar tera. Madan Mohan, too, was drawn to Talat's voice and he gave him a chance in the film Ada, Jis dil mein basana chaha tha, and also sang his own favourite, Meri yaad mein tum na aansu bahana, set in Raga Jaunpuri in the film Madhosh.
Talat made his debut with SD Burman with the song, Aye zindagi ke rahi in Bahar, followed by Burman Da's Buzhdil, Ek Nazar and Sazaa. Talat also sang for composer, C Ramchandra, known for his racy numbers, and he sang with Lata in the film Sagai and many more.Talat was at his best with Anil da in Tarana singing solos for Dilip Kumar, Jali jo shakh-e-chaman, and two duets with Lata. Hemant Kumar made his debut in Hindi films with Anand Math, wherein he used Talat's voice in a complex song with Geeta Dutt, Kaise rokoge aise toofan ko. He sang his two masterpiece numbers in film, Aashiyana, for Madan Mohan: Mera qaraar le ja and Mein pagal mera manwa pagal, set in Raga Kedar. These songs were picturised on Raj Kapoor. Roshan also used Talat's voice for Raj Kapoor in film, Anhoni. Even Shankar Jaikishan, who were all for Mukesh, used Talat's voice for Dilip Kumar in chartbusters like Aye mere dil kahin aur chal (two versions) and Koi nahin mera is duniya mein in the film Daag.
By the mid-1950s, Talat became the most sought after playback singer. He was every composer's first choice, giving playback for Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor and Bharat Bhushan, as also for Guru Dutt in his debut film Baaz as an actor: Mujhe dekho hasrat ki tasveer hoon main composed by OP Nayyar. Later, he also sang his immortal number, Pyaar par bas to nahin hai for Nayyar in Sone Ki Chidiya. Due to some misunderstanding with Naushad, Talat was replaced by Mohammad Rafi for Dilip Kumar. Burman da also preferred Kishore Kumar for Dev Anand but some of his great compositions were sung by Talat: Jayein to jayein kahan in Taxi Driver; in Devdas, he sang heart-rendring numbers, Kis ko khabar thi kisko yakeein tha and Mitwa lagi re ye kaisi anbujh aag. Even in Sujata, he was reluctant to take Talat to sing his evergreen number, Jalate hain jiske liye in Sujata.
Shankar Jaikishan took to Mukesh for Raj Kapoor. Nevertheless, Talat sang soft numbers for Shammi Kapoor in Laila Majnu, Chal diya carvaan and Aye gham-e-dil kaya karoon in film Thokar. Later, Rafi became Shammi Kapoor's voice in the films to come.
Sajjad Hussain was the most difficult composer of his times and Talat sang his immortal number, Ye hawa ye raat ye chandni in Sangdil. Chitragupt had recorded Chal ud jaa re panchi in Talat's voice but on the producer's demand he was forced to take Rafi and had to re-record the song. Similarly, in 1968, Naushad recorded a duet with Rafi and Talat in Aadmi,
When Talat's career graph was taking a downturn, he even sang in C-grade films, but whatsoever he sang was noticed. His Chand mera badlon mein kho gaya and Aaja ke bulatein hain in the film Pathan and Ashqon mein jo paya hai geeton ne diya hai in Chandi Ki Deewar became very popular.
Talat sang for Khayyam Saab his masterpiece ghazal in film Footpath, Shaam-e-gham ki kasam, and a beautiful romantic number in film, Lala Rukh. He had a huge fan following all over the world and gave packed shows in America, Europe, Asia and Africa. But, his health was deteriorating by the day.
I finished the documentary during his lifetime; he was agonised about not getting his kind of songs and that music was becoming noisy, and he didn't want to be a part of this cacophony. Hence, he was happy with his shows overseas. This velvety voice was silenced as Talat had a cardiac arrest on May 9, 1998 and he passed away in Bombay. The telecast of this documentary Ek Makhmali Awaz for a news channel was commended by Talat's diehard fans, but the most heart-warming reaction came from his children that "Justice has been done to our father."

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