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A dozen timeless tracks of Shamshad Begum – Birth anniversary special

On her 98th birth anniversary, we revisit some of the tracks that made Shamshad Begum a top playback singer.

Mayur Lookhar

Lata Mangeshkar is the nightingale of India while Asha Bhosle is apt to be called the queen of versatility. But Shamshad Begum stood out for her distinctive voice, which remains unparalleled. One of the first playback singers in the Hindi film industry, the Lahore-born Shamshad sang more than 600 songs in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and other Indian languages.

Shamshad's voice had a unique, indescribable charm. She worked with the cream of music composers from the golden era of Hindi film music. Romantic melodies, qawwalis, clubhouse tracks, Shamshad Begum was comfortable with all genres. On her 98th birth anniversary (14 April), we relive the magic of Shamshad Begum with 12 of her timeless numbers.

1. 'O Jaanewale Aaja' – Taqdeer (1943)

Mehboob Khan was instrumental in bringing Shamshad Begum to Bombay. She had a distinct singing style and a raw voice that best suited a precocious talent. Khan had worked with Nargis as a child artiste, but Tadqeer was her first film as lead actress. Shamshad's voice gelled perfectly with the young Nargis, who was equally innocent and brilliant in her lip-synching. Without Nargis’s cherubic manner, this song would not have been the same.

2. 'Udan Khatole Pe Ud Jaoon' – Anmol Ghadi (1946)

The two child artistes here are perhaps lost in history. Their grown-up characters were played by the legendary Noorjehan and Surendra. It is a rarity to find a track wherein the visuals match the words to the T. The two kids are torn apart with the girl whisked away in a tonga and the poor boy chasing helplessly on foot, spinning his little spare tyre. The sound of the trotting horse always made for great music. This is perhaps one of  the most underrated tracks of Shamshad Begum and Zohrabai Ambalawali. Let’s not forget lyricist Tanvir Naqvi and the cheerful music by the peerless Naushad, who was then a rising star.

3. 'Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon' – Patanga (1949)

Vishal Bhardwaj paid tribute to this classic track in his film Rangoon. But save for the title, there was no comparison between Bhardwaj’s film and C Ramchandra’s evergreen track from Patanga (1949). Two lovers separated by distance and borders connect through a trunk call. This is perhaps Shamshad's most melodious romantic track, with lyrics by Rajinder Krishan.

4. 'Dil Ichak Bichak Churr' – Bawre Nain (1950)

Think of the word ichak and you are likely to be reminded of the 'Ichak Dana' song from Shree 420 (1955). Yet, it was five years earlier that Raj Kapoor got his first taste of ichak dana by losing his heart to Tara (Geeta Bali) in Kidar Sharma’s Bawre Nain. 'Dil Ichak Bichak Churr' was picturized as a dream sequence with Tara trying to cheer up Chand (Kapoor). Shamshad Begum’s voice served as an ichak seed for Roshan’s blossoming composition. Apparently, Roshan's early failures had led to distributors being not too keen on him. But Hrithik Roshan’s grandfather redeemed himself with Bawre Nain. He sure had Shamshad Begum to thank for this number.

5. 'Ek Do Teen' – Awara (1951)

Who said desi bar songs are a modern-day trend? Cuckoo’s sensuous dance has the men drooling for her, but Raj (Raj Kapoor) does not move. Shamshad Begum’s tangy voice was made for this Shailendra-penned track. Shamshad would certainly have struck gold today as queen of dance numbers, the so-called item songs. What makes this fabulous track stand out is the way in which music composers Shankar-Jaikishen kept the cheering and laughter by the vociferous crowd, even subduing the track briefly. It all adds to the charm of the song.

6. 'Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re' – Bahar (1951)

Shamshad Begum worked with the finest music directors and lyricists. One can only assume that it was the quality of the song that mattered to her the most. Here, she ushered in a new spring with the 'Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re' track, penned by Rajinder Krishan and composed by the master Sachin Dev Burman. Oh, why don’t such tracks get made anymore?

7. 'Door Koi Gaye Dhun Yeh' – Baiju Bawra (1952)

A young woman is missing her man, and she has a best friend crooning a great melody to cheer her up. How often did Shamshad Begum become the voice of this bright-looking friend? Out here, the friend is trying to cheer up Gauri (Meena Kumari). With lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni and classic rollicking music by Naushad, the 'Door Koi Gaye Dhun Yeh' track has to be among Shamshad's best.

8. 'Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar' – Aar-Paar (1954)

This light-hearted romantic OP Nayyar composition was a hit back in the day when Guru Dutt's film was released, though it was overshadowed by 'Babuji Dheere Chalna'. Shamshad Begum's voice was perfect for the teasing lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri that express the simultaneous affection and irritation that Shyama's character Nikki feels for Guru Dutt's Kalu. The motif of a broken down car and stranded heroine helped by a cocky young mechanic was to be reworked again a few years later with 'Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si' in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958).

9. 'Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar' – CID (1956)

A timeless composition by OP Nayyar again, where Shamshad Begum, Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle got together. The magician tries wooing his girl who snubs his initial attempt. The girl only realizes her folly when the magician disappears. This is a track that cuts across generations. No wonder we saw it being remixed a few times, but none can beat the magic and charm of the original.

10. 'Reshmi Salwar Kurta Jaali Da' – Naya Daur (1957)

A classic black-and-white Dilip Kumar film that was later coloured and re-released. While the world today may welcome the colour, there was an unmistakable old-world charm in the black and white, with the colour in the song being provided by Sahir Ludhianvi’s silken lyrics and OP Nayyar’s golden music. This song was one of Shamshad Begum and Asha Bhosle’s finest duets.

11. 'Teri Mehfil Mein Kismet' – Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

An epic, colossal production. Everything about K Asif’s magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam, often regarded as the finest Hindi film of all time, had to be just right, not to forget larger-than-life. Naushad composed his best music, Shakeel Badayuni penned his best lyrics. Shamshad Begum had crooned for lyrical duels before, but this qawwali must have reverberated even in the heavens as Shamshad and Lata Mangeshkar gave a flawless performance.

12. 'Kajra Mohabbatwala' – Kismat (1968)

With the Mangeshkar sisters increasingly ruling the roost, Shamshad Begum, unfortunately, did not have much to offer in the late 1960s and the decades that followed and she slowly faded away from the film music scene. But not without one last hurrah when OP Nayyar brought Asha Bhosle and Shamshad Begum together again for this evergreen number.