A tribute to Shamshad Begum (14 April 1919 – 23 April 2013) on her 97th birth anniversary
When I did two back-to-back posts on Shamshad Begum’s songs by Naushad and C Ramchandra last year there was inevitably a reference to OP Nayyar as he is the third member of the trinity which made the greatest contribution to her. In fact the discussion on C Ramchandra-Shamshad Begum post was wholly dominated by OP Nayyar. The three-way conversation between Ravindra Kelkar, Hans and Arunji was very enlightening on statistics, some popular anecdotes about them and analysis and inferences. While there was general agreement with my observation that Naushad gave the best songs for her, our OPN-expert Ravindra Kelkar felt that OPN’s best ten would be as good if not better than Naushad’s or CR’s. With so much of OPN readily available with me courtesy these three readers, I felt it necessary to write a post on his best songs for Shamshad Begum to complete the picture. As for the comparison, it goes without saying that it is impossible to rank between three sets of outstanding songs. It is largely a matter of personal preference. But suffice it to say that OPN gave some immortal songs for Shamshad Begum. OPN also has the credit for composing her last memorable song Kajra mohbbatwala, a duet with Asha Bhosle from Kismat (1968) – a song which spawned numerous remix versions, bringing Shamshad Begum again in focus among the music lovers.
To put the statistics in perspective, while Naushad and C Ramchandra composed about 60 songs for Shamshad Begum, OPN accounts for 35 songs (including 21 duets and 14 solos). As for her relative position, OPN gave 324 songs for Asha Bhosle and 62 songs for Geeta Dutt (contrast it with Naushad’s 160+songs for Lata Mangeshkar to 60+ songs for Shamshad Begum). Thus, she has sung the second highest number of songs accounting for about 38% of the leading singer Lata Mangeshkar in case of Naushad, whereas with OPN she is in the third position accounting for 11% of the leading singer Asha Bhosle. These would have been meaningless numbers but for the fact that they help to clear some cobwebs created by some popularly accepted anecdotes.
One such is that just as Naushad and CR used Shamshad Begum as a stepping stone from vintage era singers to Lata Mangeshkar, OP Nayyar, too, used and discarded her in favour of Geeta Dutt and, later, Asha Bhosle. As Ravindra Kelkar has explained so lucidly, she was not a major singer for OPN as she was for Naushad or CR for sometime before they fell for Lata Mangeshkar big time. She was the main singer for OPN only in Mehbooba (1954), CID and Naya Andaaz (1956), but all this while both Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt were singing far more songs for him. Therefore, I would agree with Ravindra Kelkar that it is not fair to charge OPN with use and throw in case of Shamshad Begum. However, this does not prove or disprove the narrative of her standing by him when he was facing boycott by some industry bigwigs for replacing Roshan in Mehbooba (1954). At best we can say, and mind you we are all speculating based on what we have read, that he could have done more for her for her support in difficult times.
In passing, one can say that there is a stronger evidence of OPN having discarded Geeta Dutt for Asha Bhosle. Being impressed by him in his debut movie Aasmaan (1952) in which she was the main singer, Geeta Dutt introduced him to her husband Guru Dutt. Thus he got to score for Baaz (1953). Though the film flopped, it was followed by three grand successes Aar Paar (1954), Mr and Mrs 55 (1955) and CID (1956). Geeta Dutt had greater reasons for feeling discarded. In the film world, such stories generally do not have a happy ending. When Asha Bhosle, too, finally walked out on OP Nayyar from his life and music, it spelt doom for him personally and professionally. He spent the last years of his life shorn of all wealth and glamour, estranged from his family, with an unknown music-loving family as a paying guest/ adopted family member.
Before I present my selection of songs, I must clarify that it would be wrong to assume that the trinity of Naushad-CR-OPN covers most of Shamshad Begum. She had at least five clear years of successful career before any one of them first used her. Besides them, another trinity is no less important for her. We can call them 3Gs – Ghulam Haider, Govind Ram and Ghulam Mohammad. There are some more like Husnlal-Bhagatram (and Amarnath), Bulo C Rani and Gyan Dutt. Since I am not the only fan of Shamshad Begum, hopefully we will see more of her in due course.
1. Kabhi aar kabhi paar laga teer-e-nazar from Aar Paar (1954), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
This song is fresh even after 62 years. This shows the timeless appeal of Shamshad Begum. OPN’s music was rightly considered far ahead of his times. The eye-candy Kumkum in her first screen appearance would make you think construction sites abound in such gorgeous beauties.
2. Ab to ji hone laga kisi ki soorat ka saamna from Mr & Mrs 55 (1955), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Guru Dutt followed up Aar Paar with another blockbuster next year. This too was a breezy comedy for which OPN’s music was eminently suited. Geeta Dutt was the lead singer, but even with this one solo Shamshad Begum leaves a lasting imprint. Guru Dutt had some fascination for making songs on minor characters who are watched by the lead actors.
3. Boojh mera kya naanv (naam) re from CID (1956), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Shamshad Begum-OPN now light up the screen with a village belle song picturised on Minoo Mumtaz. Dev Anand and Shakeela, passing by in a car, are watching the scene.
4. Kahin pe nigahein kahin pe nishana from CID (1956), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Here is another all-time great song from the same movie, now picturised on the debutant Waheeda Rahman in a vamp’s role. She is trying to distract the attention of the sleuth with her singing and dancing, and giving a warning to the hiding hero to flee.
5. Bach ke balam kahan jaaoge from Naya Andaaz (1956), lyrics Jan Nisar Akhtar
We have so far seen songs picturised on side actors. Now we come to a less heard song, but picturised on the leading lady Meena Kumari as a stage-dance song, being watched in wide-eyed admiration by Kishore Kumar and Johnny Walker among the audience. There is another nice song on her in the film, Raat rangili gaye re, in which she dances by herself in her bedroom. This was the period when Kishore Kumar acted with almost all the major heroines in several films.
6. Mohabbat se tujhe inkaar… Tu laage mora baalma from Shrimati 420 (1956), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Only audio of this song is available. But the slow recital followed by dancing steps indicate that it is a mujra song.
We have seen Shamshad Begum’s duets far outnumber her solos with OP Nayyar. With her powerful, clear and distinct voice, often her voice lingers in the memory in the duets. Let me now present her four evergreen duets.
7. Meri neendon mein tum (with Kishore Kumar) from Naya Andaaz (1956), lyrics Jan Nisar Akhtar
OPN-Kishore Kumar-Shamshad Begum, all the three are known more fun peppy fun songs. Here you have a soulful, romantic duet with Kishore Kumar on the piano. They seem to be rehearsing for some show.
8. Chanazor babu garram main laya (with Kishore Kumar) from Naya Zamana (1956), lyrics Jan Nisar Akhtar
Kishore Kumar did not earn his name for sitting sedately at the piano. I just can’t resist posting this wild duet from the same movie. Now Kishore Kumar is in full flow as a peanut seller with Meena Kumari a perfect foil as chanazor (spicy roasted black gram) seller in this stage song. They switch to selling hot jalebis and gaderiyan. The song ends with Meena Kumari lip-synching Shamshad Begum asking KK, Sainya raja la de gale ka mohe haar re. A superb example of Punjab school of song and dance full of life. In parts the video is of poor quality, but that does not take away from the charm of the song.
9. Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka (with Asha Bhosle) from Naya Daur (1957), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi
This BR film with socialistic message of man versus machine is known for OP Nayyar’s path-breaking music. This film fetched him the coveted Filmfare Award for best music. It unleashed Asha Bhosle as a major force in competition with her older sibling. OPN creates this cult bhangra style song-dance which came to be imitated by many music directors.
10. Kajra mohabbatwala (with Asha Bhosle) from Kismet (1968), lyrics SH Bihari
I end with what else but their swan song which has earned everlasting fame. In the film, the lead actors Biswajit and Babita perform this stage dance-song cross-dressed to conceal themselves from the villains in hot pursuit.
This song has innumerable remixes. Here is Kangna Ranaut’s uninhibited dancing to this song at the Sangeet function in Tanu Weds Manu.