A tribute on Shamshad Begum’s first death anniversary April 23

Shamshad Begum and SD BurmanAs the ethnic stereotypes go, no two people can be further apart from each other than a Bengali and a Punjabi. SD Burman and Shamshad Begum were the leading lights of the two extremes – East Bengal and the West Punjab, yet when they combined they created a unique magic. When Shamshad Begum had a revival through remixes, the song that led the pack was Saiyna dil mein ana re, composed by SD Burman. Shamshad Begum’s leading composers were Naushad, C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar and Ghulam Mohammad, and in the earlier era, Ghulam Haider. Anyone else would not have even dared to try to enter this illustrious field, but the versatile genius that he was, SD Burman created his own niche with her, adapting his music to completely suit her style.

Generally I would not have given much thought to their combination as it appears quite counter-intuitive to me. But when I closed my series on SD Burman last year, Mr Venkataraman treated it as the last of ‘that year’, and suggested that I cover his other prominent singers, namely Shamshad Begum, Suraiya, Talat Mahmood and Hemant Kumar this year.   As I looked up more closely I came across many more of her songs than we are generally aware of. Here is an overview of their combination, continuing my tribute to SD Burman, as well as a tribute to the great singer Shamshad Begum on her first death anniversary (April 23).

1. Kuchh rang badal rahi hai meri unki baatcheet from Shikari (1946), lyrics Gopal Singh ‘Nepali’

One advantage of doing a commissioned article (as this one is – at the behest of the readers) is that you get to research more seriously. And I hit upon this song of historical value – the only song of Shamshad Begum in SD Burman’s debut film as a composer; therefore, it has to be their very first song.


2. Ye duniya roop ki chor from Shabnam (1949), lyrics Gopal Singh ‘Nepali’

With four solos and three duets with Mukesh, Shamshad Begum is the lead singer in the film. We have discussed her duets with Mukesh earlier while discussing his songs by SD Burman.  Kamini Kaushal does a fantastic job of enacting this song in many languages – Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil (the lyric uses the term ‘Madrasi’) and Punjabi.  Shamshad Begum’s joyous voice is eminently suited for such fun songs.  In the same year she sang another outstanding multilingual song in the film Nishan – Jaiyo jaiyo sipaiya bazaar daal meri chulhe chadhi.


3. Qadar mori na jani/ Dekho ayi pahli mohabbat ki raat from Shabnam (1949), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi

I had mentioned earlier that SD Burman took some time to warm up to Lata Mangeshkar, even though she was creating waves and other composers were falling head over heels over her. Therefore, it is no surprise we find Shamshad Begum, the leading singer until then, to figure in SD Burman’s early films. This song has the typical verve of Shamshad Begum, picturised on Cuckoo. It is not clear why should the usurper bridegroom, Jeevan, snap in the middle to ask her to sing a song of happiness, but Shamshad Begum changes tack, and starts singing a faster, and almost a different song, Dekho ayi pahli mohabbat ki raat.


4. Mohe laga solva saal from Mashal (1950), lyrics Pradeep

You would rarely associate Pradeep with lyrics like Mohe laga solva saal. Upar gagan vishal (by Manna Dey) from the same film is more up his alley, but with Shamshad Begum, Pradeep lets down his guard, and SD Burman is the man for all occasions.  I recall another Shasmhad Begum song on the theme of naughty sixteen – Mujhko laga hai saaal solvaan haye nahi chhedanaa from the film Chandrakanta (1956), composed by N Datta . 


5. Sharmaye kahe ghabraye kahe from Baazi (1951), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanvi

With six superlative songs by Geeta Dutt, SD Burman adds some variety with this night club dance song on Geeta Bali.


6. Duniya ka maza le lo duniya tumhari hai from Bahar (1951), lyrics Rajendra Krishna

When Naushad was jettisoning Shamshad Begum as his lead singer and C Ramchandra was switching wholesale to Lata Mangeshkar, SD Burman takes her as the lead singer in this debut movie of Vyjayanthimala, a remake of a Tamil blockbuster Vazhkai (1949). Not that SD Burman was lesser than anyone with Lata – this was the year when he composed her all time great songs like Ye thandi hawayein, Jhan jhan jhan jhan payal baajey and Tum na jane kis jahan mein kho gaye. Just goes to show SD Burman was a real Dada. Bahar had five Shamshad Begum songs including Saiyan dil mein ana re and Qusoor aapka (a Twin song, with male version by Kishore Kumar). Let me present this fun song which no one could do better than Shamshad Begum.


7. Chhodoji chhodoji chhodoji Kanhaiya kalaiyan hamaar from Bahaar

This is probably the least known song from Bahaar. But Shamshad Begum is a singer who always draws attention. She is known more for full throated songs with fast rhythm and beat. But this one is extremely melodious and Vyjayanthimala complements it with her graceful dance.


8. Arey haan dildaar with Manna Dey from Bewaqoof (1960), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri

After the high point of Bahaar, Shamshad Begum is overtaken by other singers in SD Burman’s favour. However, she keeps on appearing in fits and starts in the succeeding years. Probably their last song is in Bewaqoof (1960), a duet with Manna Dey, Arey haan dildaar kamandonwaley ka har teer. IS Johar and the lady (Sabita Chatterjee?) are caught in a sticky situation hiding behind a conked-out radio. They start singing the song as if it is coming out from the radio. As the audience flip the radio station to Calcutta, they start singing in Bengali, filling with the names of film stars such as Jamuna, Kanan Devi, Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, and as the station is switched to Madras, they change the accent, garbling probably meaningless words and filling in the names of Bhanumati, Padmini, Ragini, Shivaji Ganesan etc.


1951 FilmsAfter reviewing the best songs of 1955 and 1953, which were gap years in the Filmfare Awards (Baiju Bawra, 1952 was the first film to get the Filmfare Awards for the best music, but in the later years no films of 1953 and 1955 won these awards), I come to the pre-Filmfare era with 1951. This briefly explains my odd selection of years. Henceforth, it is going to be yearwise review in reverse order until 1945, which is the task given to me by the readers.



LachhiramWho is not aware of Tu shokh kali main mast pawan, tu shamm-e-wafa main parwana or Dhalti jaye raat kah de dil ki baat? The songs are among all time greats of Rafi. But many lovers of old film music may not be aware or might have forgotten the name of Lachhiram. A very awkward and unfamiliar name, and not among the mainstream composers, he is a perfect candidate for my series on the Forgotten Composers: Unforgettable Melodies.



Raj Kapoor overturns Bollywood triangle to convey profound social messages

SangamReviewing a film is not a joke unless you are Madhu, Anu or Memsaab Greta. Then, why am I venturing into a field in which I have no expertise, and why Sangam?

Review of a Bollywood blockbuster like Sangam suffers from both the ends. At one end are the highbrow intellectuals, who have breakfast with Fellini, lunch with Kurosawa, dinner with Vittorio de Sica and tea, off and on, with Satyajit Ray. At best they would grudgingly acknowledge Bimal Roy and Do Bigha Zameen. They would trash Sangam as the usual worthless, escapist fare with songs and dances and a lot of melodrama. At the other end are the rest, people like you and me, who go to see what it offers, and come back ga-ga over its grand star cast, high drama, tense love triangle, wonderful foreign locales and great music. Both the set of reviewers miss some very profound social messages strewn in the film, which would be obvious if you watch it with a little more than casual interest.



Talat Mahmood and SD BurmanMy last post on Talat Mahmood’s songs by Anil Biswas reminded me that last year when I had ‘closed’ my series on SD Burman, Venkatarmanji and some other readers mentioned some more singers who gave memorable songs with Dada. Talat Mahmood was one of the names mentioned. They fit in very nicely. SD Burman was unarguably the greatest musical talent from Bengal after Anil Biswas to enrich the Hindi film music. Talat Mahmood had a good deal of Bengal in him, having worked under the name of Tapan Kumar in Calcutta for a number of years before he shifted to Bombay and created a sensation with his very first song with Anil Biswas, Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal. It was natural SD Burman would also take him in. However, with Dada’s natural fondness for Kishore Kumar, and the versatile Rafi, Talat Mahmood’s had only about 15 songs with him, a fraction of the other two singers. In any case Talat Mahmood was a niche singer; his total number of songs – about 450 Hindi film songs – would be a fraction of what the other mainstream singers sang. But his impact was way beyond his numbers, and SD Burman created several immortal songs with him, as he did with Mukesh with about the same number of songs.



A tribute to Talat Mahmood on his 90th birth anniversary

Anil Biswas and Talat MahmoodAnil Biswas was not the first composer for whom Talat Mahmood sang in films. He debuted as an actor-singer in Calcutta in Raj Laxmi (1945). While in Calcutta, he also sang (and acted) in Tum Aur Main (1947), Samapti and Swayansiddha (1949). During this period he sang some 40-50 songs (film and non-film) under the name Tapan Kumar. But well before he came to films, he had acquired great fame because of his non-film geets and ghazals. His singing debut was in 1941 with his first non-film geet Sab din ek samaan nahi. A few years later his another non-film song Tasweer teri dil mera bahlaa na sakegi became a national rage.



Songs of Atariya

February 12, 2014

With a tribute to Begum Akhtar in her Centenary Year

Romeo and Juliet on AtariyaI had thought songs of atariya are one of the things – like lori, bidaai songs, bhajan, piano songs etc. – that have been irredeemably lost from our films. Loosely translated as ‘balcony’, atariya was the place where the heroine would go stealthily from the prying eyes of her parents, to wait for her lover, who would come on tip-toe to serenade from below, or if he was more daring, climb up through the drain pipe or a rope or bed sheet, helpfully slung down by the lady. Modesty was a virtue for women not only in India, but also in the West – Romeo too met Juliet on her atariya.



A tribute to Anil Biswas in his centenary year and to Suraiya on her 10th death anniversary

Anil Biswas and SuraiyaFor many years after getting deeply attached to the vintage songs, I regarded Anil Biswas as peripheral to the music career of Suraiya. When I thought of Suraiya, the composers who came to mind most prominently were Naushad, Husnlal Bhagatram and Ghulam Mohammad. Much later, I heard Door papiha bola in a most unlikely situation. This created an impact I had not felt before. Songs of Yore was not on the anvil then, and my browsing the net was also sporadic. Therefore, locating the co-ordinates of the song by chance gave me an indescribable joy, and I started looking at Anil Biswas’s songs for Suraiya in a different light. Door papiha bola represents to me the very essence of every music lover’s relationship with music – a distant call of the papiha in the night, which you wish went on forever, but soon the night is half gone when your tryst has just begun. When I started this blog, effectively its first post was titled Door Papiha Bola.



Guest article by Subodh Agrawal

(It has now become routine for Subodh to surpass the outstanding.  He is coming back after a long gap.  But if the outcome is this superb piece, we don’t mind his prolonged preparations.  It is interesting to note that while the raga itself has gravitas, the word ‘Darbari’ meaning a ‘courtier’ lends itself to some pejorative connotation, giving rise to some interesting trivia and anecdotes.  Subodh’s explanation of its difference with ragas in close proximity, such as Adana, is scholarly.  Continuing a great beginning to 2014, I present this guest article by Subodh, his 7th in the series on the film songs based on classical ragas.  -  AK)

DarbariDarbari – along with Bhairavi, Yaman and Pahadi – is one of the most commonly used ragas for film music. Having written about Yaman and Pahadi earlier and having enjoyed the experience, I was looking forward to doing this post on Darbari, but my enthusiasm waned considerably after I compiled a list of songs in Darbari in preparation for this article. The songs are good, some of them are great, but few of them really do justice to Darbari. Let me cite just three examples: O duniya ke rakhwale from Baiju Bawra, Dil jalta hai to jalne de from Pehli Nazar and Teri duniya mein dil lagta nahin from Baawre Nain – all three are very good songs but the mood they depict is not what Darbari is meant for. As the name suggests, Darbari has a royal aura about it. There has to be a certain gravitas about it. In my humble opinion it is not meant for the kind of wailing and whining these three songs represent. Composers would be better off using a raga like Todi for such songs.



KC DeyWhen I wrote on KC Dey’s songs in Devdas (1935), it just gave a glimpse to the readers of how great a singer he was if he could be so moving in the songs which are relatively unknown. Long before that post, I had planned to present my top favourite songs of KC Dey which got delayed for one reason or the other. With the desire rekindled I had to do it sooner than later.