Remembering the Legendary Singer, Shamshad Begum

Shamshad Begum was an Indian singer who was one of the first playback singers in the Hindi film industry. She had a distinctive voice and was a versatile artist, singing over 6,000 songs in various languages. Let us remember her on the occasion of her birthday.

Shamshad Begum was born in Lahore, British India (present-day Pakistan) on 14 April 1919. Her family was a traditional Muslim family. Shamshad’s talent was first spotted by her principal when she was in primary school in 1924. Impressed by the quality of her voice, she was made head singer of classroom prayer. At 10, she started singing folk-based songs at religious functions and family marriages. She received no formal musical training. Her singing ambitions, which she held from 1929, met with opposition from her family.

In 1931, when she was twelve, her uncle, who enjoyed qawwalis and ghazals, secretly took her to Jenophone (or Xenophone) Music Company for an audition with Lahore-based musician and composer, Ghulam Haider. Impressed with her voice, Haider gave her 12 songs. Her family was then convinced to let her sing. When she won a contract with a recording company, her father agreed to let her sing on the condition that she would record in a burka and not allow herself to be photographed

In 1934, despite strong opposition from her family, 15-year-old Shamshad married a Hindu gentleman Ganpat Lal Batto. Her popular breakthrough came when she began singing on All India Radio (AIR) in Peshawar and Lahore in 1937.

Director Mehboob Khan brought Shamshad Begum to Mumbai and she sang in many movies. But she was still not allowed to appear before the camera, and few people saw her picture between 1933 and the 1970s. But Shamshad Begum became a national star between the early 1940s and the early 1960s, having a voice different from her peers.

Shamshad was at the peak of her career right from 1941 to 1955 and was the most in-demand female singer and highest-paid female playback singer from 1940 to 1955. She was the lead singer for many films. But after her husband’s accidental death in 1955, Begum became a recluse and stopped accepting singing assignments for a while. But later she returned with a song in the movie ‘Mother India’.

The famous playback singer Lata Mangeshkar started her singing career when Shamshad Begum was at the peak of her career. Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum have sung many duets together.

Beginning in 1965, songs for her in films started getting reduced but the songs she sang instantly became hits through 1968. She then declared a self-imposed retirement in 1965. Her song “Kajra Mohabbat Wala” from the 1968 film ‘Kismat’ and “Nathaniya Hale To Bada Maza” from the 1971 film ‘Johar Mehmood’ in Hong Kong remains popular.

In 2009 she was honoured with Padma Bhushan. Also, in 2009, she was conferred with the prestigious O. P. Nayyar Award for her contribution to Hindi film music. Shamshad Begum died at her Mumbai residence on the night of 23 April 2013 after a prolonged illness. She was 94.

-Staff Reporter

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