By Abhay (Music Lover and RJ on Radio Dil)
Thanks a lot to Abhay ji and Radio Dil Team for sharing this interview with us.
Legendary singer, Shamshad Begum ji was the dominating singer in the 1940s and is one of the few artists today who were singing even in the 1930s. Her style of singing was unique and was loved by millions all over the world. Her major output was in the forties with the mid fifties seeing a gradual decline in output. She was undoubtedly the biggest playback singer during her active period at a time when actress-singers like Noor Jehan, Khursheed and Suraiyya were extremely popular. Her singing career started tapering off in mid fifties with her singing her last song probably around 1971 although some songs continued to release as late as 1981. She has been away from the media/public arena since seventies. She has stayed abroad and all over India accompanying her son-in-law who was in army during his various postings.
Even though I did not grow up in forties listening to her songs, I got my exposure to her songs of the fifties and some really popular ones from forties. At the time, Radio was the only means of enjoying songs. We could not afford records, therefore, listening pleasure was confined to radio broadcasts.
Having arrived in USA in seventies, songs started becoming available on cassettes, LPs, CDs and so on and the world of music suddenly was more readily available. I started listening to songs of era before me specially forties. On the male side, there was only one – unparalleled Saigal. On the female side, there were many voices – Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Kanan Devi, Suraiyya, Amirbai Karnataki, Khursheed, Rajkumari and Zohrabai Ambalewali. For some reason, Noor Jehan’s singing (except for a few songs) did not make a significant impact on me. I did like Suraiyya’s songs but appreciated them more in the movies watching her sing rather over just listening to the audios alone. Two voices which struck me most were those of Shamshad Begum and Kanan Devi. Shamshad Begum’s voice was relatively heavy but It had an inherent extreme sweetness about it. Her style of singing was unique and no one has ever been able to clone her. During the interview with her, she clarified that she stuck to her principle of following the music director’s instructions rather than attempting to develop her own “style”.
In recent years, I have interviewed many other surviving music related personalities of the Golden era but I had never imagined in my wildest dreams, that I would one day get an opportunity to meet Shamshad Begum ji, leave alone my interviewing her considering her advanced age. Her magnetic charm which remains as strong as ever was one day to bring me all the way from America to her house in Mumbai by the grace of God.
I had done a one hour special on April 14, 2011 on her 92nd birthday on my weekly radio show on Radio Dil. My ardent listener, Rupa Dore suggested that I send a CD of this heartfelt tribute show to Shamshad Begum. Through journalist Raju Bharatan, It was arranged for the CD to be sent to her. Raju Bharatan mentioned that she has tremendous memory, is very alert and enjoyed my program. I requested if an interview was possible and he mentioned only if I did it in person and not by phone from USA. I happened to visit India in Nov, 2011 and Usha Ji, her daughter agreed for me to come over. Nov, 18th 2011 was the day, I visited Shamshad Begum who lives in Mumbai with her daughter and son-in-law.
Few salient things from the interview
1. Her uncle used to sneak her out for music trials.
2. How Shamshad begum saved Talat Mehmood’s career which could have been over even before it began.
3. A rare song sung by Shamshad Begum on Mahatma Gandhi’s death.
4. Mohammad Rafi’s father bringing Rafi to Shamshad Begum for a referral
5. Why she avoided social parties
6. Her reaction when watching films while heroines singing her songs.
7. how she almost became an actress
8. she originally sang famous Pakeezah song, Inhi Logon Ne in 1941.
You can listen to the interview here:-
The interview clarifies many incorrect facts found on the internet including Wikipedia, specifically about her birthplace, childhood, her having a business in Delhi (no such thing) and about lack of her pictures from her singing days.
One interesting thing came out after the recorded was stopped was regarding the famous song, “More Jobana Ka Dekho Ubhar” from Man Ki Jeet 1944. Shamshad Begum was asked to sing the song. She objected to the vulgar lyrics and refused to sing. Music Director, S. K. Pal mentioned her objection to famous song writer, Josh Malihabadi. Josh ji pointed out to Shamshad ji that, it is a Mujra song and if there will be any criticism, he will be blamed for it. Shamshad begum agreed and sang the song for the film. The record was however issued in the voice of singer Zohrabai Ambalewali.
I found Shamshad Begum to be an extremely simple and folksy woman. Having met when she is over 92 years old, I did not expect her to go back and extrapolate her early life. She jokingly told me in reply for a question, that the point under discussion was about a century ago! Indeed many incidents happened long back but I must say that her memory is surprisingly good and she retains a great sense of humor. At times she would be short of breadth but her enthusiasm to talk about the golden era was infectious. I had limited my scope of questions as I was not sure how much she would remember. In hindsight, I think I could have easily asked some more questions. On a number of occasions, her daughter, Usha Ji provided many valuable details. Shamshad Ji did touch upon not harboring any ill feelings even though people have wronged her. For us music lovers, the main thing is to enjoy treasure of her songs. At this age she is extremely content with her life, which is perhaps the reason for her good health and longevity.
It was such a joy to meet the legendary singer. May She continue to enjoy good health and spirits forever.
Abhay ji’s weekly radio show on Radiodil of old theme/artist based songs can be listened on internet at the following location:-
Thursday: 8-10 PM EST USA (live)
Sundays, 12:30-2:30 afternoon IST (rebroadcast)