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29 January 2012

The Legends: Shamshad Begum

14.04.1919 - 23.04.2013
She is the forgotten legend, even though she was considered one of the top singers amongst a constellation of stars such as Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Rajkumari, Juthika Roy, Noorjehan and Suraiyya - and close behind,  the phenomenon that was to become Lata Mangeshkar was making a grasp for the crown. Yet, she is hardly ever mentioned in the same breath as Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle or Geeta Dutt. Even Noor Jehan and Suraiyya were more popular.

Shamshad Begum, fondly called aapaji (elder sister) by her contemporaries in the industry, came to India in 1944, encouraged by Lahore-based music director Ghulam Haider who had already used her to great effect in Khazanchi (1941) and Khandaan (1942). Apart from Ghulam Haider, C Ramchandra and Naushad worked with her the most. In fact, much before the juggernaut that was Lata Mangeshkar swept everyone else out of the way, Shamshad Begum was the preferred choice of voice for Nargis - Deedar, Mela, Aag, all had Nargis lip syncing to the Begum's full-throated voice. That the rapid rise of Lata Mangeshkar dimmed her own prospects is something that Shamshad Begum has no qualms in admitting - yet, there is no rancour.

She has sung songs for most music directors, often when they  were newcomers, and at less than her usual rate because they couldn't afford her. Only to have them overlook her when they became famous in their own right. Even though some of them (C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar) admitted later on that they had been unfair to her. Too little, too late, perhaps, but Nayyar had the grace to mention in an interview on national television that Shamshad Begum had a great part to play in his success. 

She gave very few interviews, never allowed herself to be photographed (she was conscious of her looks - or so it is said). Perhaps that is also the reason many people did not know her, though they had heard her and heard of her. Until the 1970s, no one had had a chance to see her photographs; in fact, she was often mistaken for the other Shamshad Begum (Saira Banu's grandmother) and in a tragi-comedy of errors, got to read her own obituary when the latter passed away! 
In one of her rare interviews, she mentions how she had run into KL Saigal during the recording of the music of Shah Jehan. He didn't know who she was, though she had been singing for more than a few years by that time. However, he had heard her sing, and was effusive with his compliments when he learnt who she was; much to her regret, she didn't get a chance to sing with Saigal. 

However, she worked with most of her other male contemporaries, chalking up hit duets with every one of them; she has also sung in tandem with mostly every female contemporary from Amirbai Karnataki and Zohrebai Ambalewali, to Geeta Dutt and the Mangeshkar sisters. In fact, apart from the Mangeshkar family, she holds the record of singing the maximum tandems with both Lata and Asha. 

I must confess that she was not one of my favourite singers growing up. My father had a yen for the voices of Noor Jehan, Suraiyya and Shamshad Begum, even though Lata was his lodestar - that was the only time I can remember that my tastes diverged from his. However, as I grew older, and listened to her songs, I began to understand what he liked about her voice. 

Her voice had clarity of tone (OP Nayyar once referred to it as 'clear as a temple bell'*), it had kashish, it had soul, it had feeling. Here, in chronological order of films, is a compilation of her solo songs for 15 different composers, not by any means the complete list of the music directors she worked with...

1. Dil thandi hawa mein  
Shama (1946)
Music: Ghulam Haider
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi 
Having sung for Master Ghulam Haider in Khazanchi, Khandaan, and Zamindar, Shamshad Begum only moved from Lahore to Bombay because Mehboob Khan personally requested her to - it was for Taqdeer (1942). When Ghulam Haider also moved to Bombay, he signed Shamshad Begum for all the movies that he was working on. He can, possibly, claim to be her mentor, having groomed her from her initial days in the industry. Dil thandi hawa mein has two versions - this one, sung by Shamshad and another, sung by Suraiyya, who also starred in the movie.The other Ghulam Haider-Shamshad song that ran a close second was Naina bhar aaye teer a beautiful number from Humayun (1945)  picturised on Veena.

2. Kahe koyal shor machaye re 
Aag (1948)
Music: Ram Ganguly
Lyrics: Behzaad Lucknawi 
Music director Ganguly was the music director of Prithvi Theatres; Shamshad Begum talks of meeting him and the young Raj Kapoor, who had come to her to ask her to sing in the young man's directorial debut. She recalls him introducing himself as 'Prithviraj Kapoor's son' - and though she was swamped with work at the time, she took on Aag  because of her respect for Prithviraj Kapoor. It is unfortunate that Raj Kapoor had a falling out with Ram Ganguly during the making of Aag and formed his own musical team with Shankar and Jaikishen. Unfortunate, because S-J preferred Lata Mangeshkar (Barsaat was the film that set them all on the path to success) to Shamshad. I do not recall a single song that Shamshad sang for RK films after this - other than the one solo she sang in Awara.  However, Raj Kapoor always acknowledged the debt he owed her. Also unfortunate, because, Aag had some unusual melodies. And while S-J went on to make their fame and fortune, Ram Ganguly languished, not in the wilderness, perhaps, but definitely in relative anonymity.

3.  Mohan ki muraliya baaje 
Mela (1948)
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Many of Shamshad's biggest hits came under music director Naushad's baton. Her first song for Naushad was for Jab usne gesu bikhraye from Shah Jehan (1946), and she managed to hold her own among a plethora of KL Saigal numbers. It was the beginning of a long and successful relationship - Naushad has often said that after Lata, Shamshad was his favourite female voice. It is interesting to note that she was already an established singer when Naushad entered films.

My other choices for a Naushad-Shamshad collaboration were the lovely Chaman mein rehke veerana  from Deedar (1951) or Aag lagi tan man mein from Aan (1952). 

4. Na tum aaye na neend aayi  
Rimjhim (1949) 
Music:Khemchand Prakash
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas
It is unfortunate that there aren't any videos available for this song. Or for any other from the film, for that matter. However, this is perhaps the best way of judging Shamshad's voice - without the added distraction of 'seeing' someone lip sync on screen. The clarity of enunciation, the depth of feeling, the effortless ease with which she 'emotes' - sublime.

5. Balam tujhe mera salaam 
Patanga (1949)
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
C Ramchandra had already worked with Shamshad Begum in Safar (1946) Shehnai (1947 - famous for the classic Rock n' Roll-based duet Meri jaan, meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday) and a few other movies before this 1949 classic. 

In fact, the most famous song from Patanga is the Chitalkar-Shamshad Begum duet Mere piya gaye Rangoon that was picturised on Nigar Sultana and Gopi. This is picturised on Nigar, as she tries to help sell gala khol davaayi. Quite apt, don't you think, considering Shamshad's bell-like tones? 

Unfortunately, after a long, and fruitful association with Shamshad (they worked together in more than twenty films), and acknowledging her contribution to his success, C Ramachandra moved on to Lata Mangeshkar and his professional relationship with Shamshad was never the same again.

6. Saiyyan dil mein aana re 
Bahaar (1951)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 
Shamshad had sung for Burmanda earlier (in Shabnam 1949), and in fact, the playful Ek baar tu ban ja mera o pardesi ran Saiyyan dil mein aana re  a close second when I was choosing a Shamshad-Burmanda collaboration. In fact, the only reason this one won was because it had Vyjayanthimala in her debut in Hindi films - a remake of her debut film Vaazhkai. She was 16. 

This song has Vyjayanthimala in the throes of first love, bursting into song. Shamshad is at her playful best, as Vyjayanthimala pirouettes, and sings prettily to the man who has stolen her heart. 

And by the way, the photo is that of Karan Dewan, the film's hero.

7. Ichak bichak churr 
Baawre Nain (1950)
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Kidar Sharma 
This was Roshan's chance to redeem himself after the devastating failure of his debut film,  Neki aur Badi (1950). Kidar Sharma, who was also Raj Kapoor's mentor, gave Roshan his second chance, and Roshan never looked back - the amazing score that he mounted for the tragedy that played out on screen propelled him onto the top rung of music directors in the Hindi film industry. 

Shamshad had only one solo in Baawre Nain. If Asha Bhonsle came to be known as Helen's voice, then Shamshad Begum was Cuckoo's. However, in this song, she is playback for Geeta Bali as Cuckoo dances.

8. Thandi hawa ke jhonke 
Bhai Bahen (1950)
Music: Shyam Sunder
Lyrics: Ishwar Chandra Kapoor 
Shyam Sunder has to his credit his 'discovery' of Mohammed Rafi. The composer was in the audience at a KL Saigal performance, when the power went off and Saigal refused to perform. Mohammed Rafi's brother requested the organisers to let his brother sing - this was Rafi's first public performance. He was 13. Shyam Sunder was so impressed that he invited the young lad to come to Bombay. Rafi's first recorded song was for Shyam Sunder - for a Punjabi film called Gul Baloch in 1944. 

Apart from this, I have an abysmal lack of knowledge about this composer. From the research I did for this post, he seems to have composed for about 15 films - from those, I have heard of two - Char Din and Alif Laila. 

I can't even find videos for the songs from any of these films, so I'm left floundering. However, having listened to the audios of many of these (the ones that are available), most are at least familiar. Which leads me to wonder how much of our past history, both visual and aural, has been destroyed because there is no attempt to keep a record for future generations. 

9. Husnwalon ki galiyon mein aana nahin 
Sheesh Mahal (1950)
Music: Vasant Desai
Lyrics: Shumz Lucknawi 
Sohrab Modi was well-known for social activism through his movies, and Sheesh Mahal  is no exception. From historicals, he moved easily across to social themes, as the winds of change blew over the country. 

It's a piquant situation, as  Ranjana (Naseem Banu), the daughter of the aristocratic owner of the titular Sheesh Mahal, ends up working as the maid-companion of Roopa (Nigar Sultana), the daughter  of the new owner of the mansion. And now, she has the unpleasant task of persuading her new mistress to not fall in love with Sunder (Pran) - without letting it be known that Sunder used to be her (Ranjana's) fiancĂ© until he threw her over for Roopa once her father lost his property.

10. Jin aankhon mein neend haraam hui 
Jogan (1950)
Music: Bulo C Rani
Lyrics: Buta Ram Sharma
A landmark film in the annals of Hindi Cinema, Kidar Sharma's Jogan explored a reasonably bold theme for those days - the attraction of a man Vijay (Dilip Kumar) for a woman Surabhi (Nargis), whose very vocation meant that she couldn't reciprocate.

This song, however, is picturised on Poornima (Anjani), with Dilip Kumar and Rajendra Kumar (Raj) as the rivetted audience. This was Rajendra Kumar's debut. He played Dilip Kumar's friend.

I find this song interesting for the variations in its tempo, which almost doubles in the middle, and then, as quickly reduces to slightly less than half of where it originally began. And Shamshad Begum moves from the half-beat to the double and back without missing a note. Her voice control is fantastic!
Awaara (1951)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishen
Lyrics: Shailendra 
Shamshad Begum first met Shankar when he came along with Ram Ganguly and Raj Kapoor to her house to rehearse the songs for Aag. He played the tabla then. When Raj Kapoor fell out with Ganguly, he picked Shankar and his friend Jaikishen as the music directors for his next film, Barsaat.

Raj Kapoor had never worked with Shamshad Begum after Aag. Shankar and Jaikishen had both started their careers with Lata Mangeshkar, and preferred her to any other female singer. In fact, Raj Kapoor (apparently) acknowledged that Jaikishen did not like Shamshad, which is why S-J never used her if they could help it. She sang a sum total of three songs for S-J. Despite the supposed dislike, they were forced to ask her to sing in Awaara - she was well known as Cuckoo's voice, and the song was to be picturised on the legendary dancer. It is interesting that in a score that is even today, regarded as a classic, it was Ek do teen that broke all records when the music was released.

12. Le chal wahan piya jahan 
Sangdil (1952)
Music: Sajjad Hussein
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen 
A collaboration between two legends - a singer with a unique voice, and a temperamental composer who had the reputation of walking out of films half way if he didn't like something. Perhaps it was unfortunate that while he completed Sangdil, he had a falling out with its hero, Dilip Kumar, and thereafter never worked with Yousefsaab again.

Sajjad's compositions for Sangdil included Talat's silken Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chaandni and the beautiful duet Dil mein samaa gaye sajan. Le chal wahan piya jahan  was one of the few songs that Shamshad recorded for Sajjad - and it is unfortunate indeed, that it was not used in the film. 

13. Kabhi aar kabhi paar 
Aar Paar (1954)
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri 
This was the first song that Shamshad Begum sang for OP Nayyar. (IMDB puts Mangu as an earlier OP Nayyar film and also lists Shamshad Begum as singer. She, however, said in an interview that OP Nayyar was a non-entity when he came to her for Aar Paar.) It is true that it was Aar Paar that was OP Nayyar's first big hit, and the title song (Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar) was one of the year's biggest successes.

Interesting bit of trivia: This was Kumkum's first appearance on screen and her first song. She went on to become a successful supporting actress, and a regular in Guru Dutt's movies.

14. Na jaan re na jaan re 
Biraj Bahu (1954)
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
Salil Choudhary was another composer who didn't use Shamshad very often. From what I can gather, she sang a sum-total of three songs for the maestro. However, when he did use her, she delivered, and how! This is a rare gem, both for the rarity of the collaboration, and for the music and delivery.

Interestingly, he also used Mohammed Rafi (though their ways of working differed) for Biraj Bahu, along with Hemant Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar,Shyamal Mitra and Nirmalendu Choudhary. 

15. Tere bangle ki 
Bhaktaraj (1960) 
Music: Avinash Vyas
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas 
I do not know much about Avinash Vyas as a music director. However, this song is really beautiful. A lilting dance song, and sung in inimitable Shamshad style. I'd like to know who the dancer is, but then, the cast is not very well-known - I only recognised Lalita Pawar and David.

What I did gather from the film was it seemed to be a family venture - the director is a VS Vyas, the music director is Avinash Vyas, the lyricist is Bharat Vyas.

Avinash Vyas seems to have composed for over twenty films, and with the rather decent score that this film had (Mohammed Rafi, Shamshad Begum, and Geeta Dutt frontlined the playback), I'm surprised he is not very well-known. 

I promise you this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is hard to do justice to her oeuvre as an artiste in only one post and I had a hard time cutting songs from the list, even though I'm sure I have missed out on many other composers with whom she worked. 

The list grew so large, and the weaning process so onerous (I was spending more time listening than writing) that I decided to:
a) Stick to one song per composer
b) Compile her duets with her many contemporaries in a supplementary post. So watch out for part 2.

Related Posts:
The Legends: Shamshad Begum - Part 2


  1. Hurrah!
    A post!
    A Shamshad Post!
    So now I'll go and read it!

  2. A great post, dear Anu!
    Simply lovely!
    Well, some good songs sung by her for men are already on my post
    thus I won't post them here.
    I loved the fact, that most of the songs in the lists werre unknown to me. I didn't know at all that she sang forr Salil Chowdhury. He was a total Lata loyalist.

    A nice song sung by her under Rashid Atre is armanon ki bast me from Shirin Farhad (1945). I think you will like it.

    Aar-Paar and Mangu were both released in 1954. It is quite possible that Mangu's music was composed after Aar-Paar. Thus, Shamshad's claim that when Nayyar approached her for Aar-Paar, he was totally new for her might be right. I have also seen that the song sung by her in Mangu is at times referred to one Mohammad Shafi, that might also explain that Aar-Paar being her first film with Nayyar.
    Here is the duet with Talat from Mangu

    Her last recorded song for a Hindi film from
    Ganga Maang Rahi Balidaan [1981] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8b5ienmG5nw
    Will visit quite often to listen to these songs!

  3. A comment before, and a comment after, Harvey? :)

  4. Shyamchirravoori29 January 2012 at 22:15

    Naushad once referred to it as 'clear as a temple bell' Not really. It is OP Nayyarsab who said that.

  5. Aargh! That's what I meant to write. Thanks for catching that. I'll change it at once.

  6. So harvey was right when he guessed a Shamshad list was coming up! :-)

    Wonderful list, Anu - and I must admit there were some songs there that I'd never heard of (so I have lots of good stuff to listen to while I'm going about some housework!). Though, of the songs you've mentioned, two which I really like a lot are Saiyaan dil mein aana re and Naina bhar aaye neer.

    Another one (though it's from a composer you've already listed - O P Nayyar) that I like is Kahin pe nigaahein kahin pe nishaana, from CID:


  7. Wonderful post and I don't know which is better - the fact that you are obviously better, or the fact that this post is about Shamshad Begum, whose voice has such a wonderful lilt to it, and there are so many songs here that I have to find the time to listen to all of them, somehow!  Anyway, welcome back!

    My personal favorites (and the ones I know) are the ones from Aag, Awaara, Bahaar and Aar Paar, as well as the one from CID.  I also love some of her duets, such as the one from Babul:


    and the one from Mother India:


    as well as this one:


    I know there is a part 2 to this post, so I guess that many of these duets will be there.  There are also a couple of songs that I love from Babul, such as Chhod Babul ka ghar ... and Na socha tha yeh ..., but I see that you already had a song by Naushad in your list. 

    All I can say, once again, is - thanks for this wonderful post, full of nostalgia for me!

  8. Thanks, Madhu. I have been working on this post for more than two weeks now! I think this is the longest I've ever taken for a post. I've been toying with this idea for a long time, and I decided to start with Shamshad simply because she seems neglected. :) Which is a crying shame because she had such lovely, lovely numbers.

    I love Kahin pe nigaahein too, but I already had an OP Nayyar tune; it's like the Naushad-Shamshad combination - the problem isn't what to choose; it's what to leave out.

  9. Thanks Lalitha, I'm alive. :) I hope things are getting better for you too.

    As I was saying to dustedoff, it was very difficult to decide what to leave out - especially for the Naushad-Shamshad collaboration. Mela, Deedar and Babul (among a host of others) had such lovely songs, it was difficult to choose.

    Yes, the duets will be in part 2. :) Again, she seems to have sung duets with everyone under the sun. I was amazed at what the research threw up, because there are all these preconceptions. Some website killed her off in 2007 (they even stated the place - a hospital in Lahore) when there is a nice youtube clip of her receiving the Padma Bhushan in 2009.

  10. Beautiful... love her voice!!

  11. Great post, goes a long way towards solidifying your status as someone to learn from.
    I did not know many of these songs, just the ones from CID & Aar Paar, so have plenty of catching up to do.

  12. And I thought, making lists was temporarily off your radar! Claim total ignorance here, so nothing to add:)

  13. That's a compliment I never expected. :) Thank you.

    One of the reasons why I started this catergory with Shamshad was because very little is known about her songs. Even our local music group will stick to Leke pehla pehla pyar, Kahin pe nigahein, kahin pe nishaana and when it comes to singing her songs. I must admit that even I, who grew up listening to her songs (and I didn't like them, then) was amazed at both her output and her versatility when I was researching them for this post.

  14. It should have been off my radar, but I haven't seen any movies for the past month and a half. : )

  15. I was so happy to see you back (which means you are keeping well again) that I just had to express it! :-)

  16. Thank you, Harvey. You're sweet. :)

  17. There is so much history I don't know, and I can imagine how much effort has gone into putting all this together. Anu, that's really informative and well-written.

  18. Thanks, Banno. I'm glad you liked the post.

  19. Amrapali Sharma26 April 2012 at 06:13

    Hi all fans of Shamshad ji , I am Amrapali Sharma ,Film journalist .I would like to take the credit for rediscovering Shamshad Begum from the anonymity . I was working in star news in 2004 , all remix songs were hitting the charts were origianly sung by Shamshad ji  like Kabhi aar kabhi paar , Leke pehla pehla pyaar , mere piya gaye Rangoon .etc moreover there were 2 remix of the same song of Aar Paa one on Deepal Shaw ( Title Bay Doll)  and other one was Shefali Zariwala’ .Music composers were asking singers to sing in nasalize voice to imitate her but ironically the original singer was living anonymous life in Powai .
    On net her obits were published mistaken as  Saira bano’s nani with similar name who had expired .
    I found out her contact and convinced her very difficultly for an interview. I also did intvs with all remix singers and composers who hardly knew even her name and youngsters who thought these are new songs and their parents told them it’s their time’s music . While the interview remix composer of Aar paar song Hery Anand (brother of Anand raj anand) asked me ''Is she alive ? ok please do the intv again or I would look ignorant ‘’ .But after all this hard work more tough was to convince my editor s to telecast the show . they held it for almost 2 months as she was old so they thought show wont sell but finally when it went on air they were so proud of it and got tremendous response . I got call from every publication for her contact . Later she was honored with Padmbhushan and other awards her daughter Usha called me to thank for creating awearness about the legend & bringing her in to limelight again .
    Sadly she sang thousands of song and most of them were superhit but she never recieve any award in her career ,O.P Nayar award was the first after OP's death . She is like a saint .I am still in touch with them . Will upload the show if possible . there are many interesting facts about her ...  

  20. Thanks for dropping in, Amrapali. Good to know there are people out there doing their bit to bring these legends out of the shadows.


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