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Article Assam Bengali Hindi

Tracing classical singer Begum Parveen Sultana's journey in cinema: 68th birthday special

As the renowned singer turns a year older today (she was born on 10 July 1950), we look at the gems she gave to Hindi, Bengali and Assamese cinema.

Roushni Sarkar

One of the most celebrated vocalists of Hindustani classical music, Begum Parveen Sultana, also lent her voice for a few timeless film songs. Sultana’s exceptional talent for music was first recognised by her mother who asked her father, Ikramul Mazid, to teach her music.

Sultana began her training under Mazid’s guidance at the age of 4. Mazid was a disciple of Bangladeshi musician Gul Mohammad Khan of the Patiala gharana.

In an interview with The Hindu, a tabloid, in 2017, Sultana said, “My first guru was my father who started teaching me Sa Re Ga Ma… when I was just four. He had a nice collection of gramophone records of the greats likes Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and other stalwarts. I used to get chocolates for listening to music too. Thus, I grew up listening to such music and my ears and mind got totally drenched in classical music, right from my childhood.”

Mazid faced a lot of difficulties in finding a guru for Sultana. Whomever he approached suggested him to get Sultana married in a rich family, instead of training her in music. However, Pandit Chinmoy Lahiri finally agreed to accept her as his disciple and thus, Sultana’s training commenced.

In her childhood, Sultana was only allowed to listen to Lata Mangeshkar's songs among all the playback singers. In a 2016 interview to Hindustan Times, a tabloid, Sultana went on record saying, “I do not like singing for films. I think there is nothing in those tracks that challenges your talent. There is no classical base. Singing for Hindi films is like caging a talented bird.”

However, Sultana made her debut as a playback singer with Abdul Mazid's Assamese film Morom Trishna (1965) with the song 'Sopon Rongin Polash Bonot' at the age of 15. Later, she sang for two other Assamese films - Mukti Asm (1973) and Sonma (1977).

Sultana’s first song for a Hindi film was 'Pital Ki Meri Gagari' from KA Abbas's Do Boond Pani (1971). The song was composed by Jaidev. Sultana always focused on choosing film songs that had a classical base and also preferred to work with music directors who had formal training in Hindustani classical music.

“That was a lovely song ['Pital Ki Meri Gagari'] composed by Jaidevji. All these people were classically trained musicians. Jaidev was a disciple of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. RD had learnt Sarod from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and tabla from Ustad Karamatullah Khan. Madan Mohan had learnt from Ustad Amir Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. In fact, Madan Mohan made me sing my first classical concert at the age of 15, on the death anniversary of Pt. Dinanath Mangeshkar, Lata Mangeshkar’s father, on her request.”

Sultana lent her voice for 'Kaun Gali Gayo Shyam' song for Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah (1972) when she was already an established classical vocalist. Set in Khamaj thaat and composed by Naushad, Sultana with her depth of knowledge, sang the song in raag Pahadi. The song is one of the eternal compositions from the film. Along with exhibiting her command over raagas, Sultana also added to the mellow mood that the song establishes in the film.

In 1981, she sang the only Bengali film song of her career for Uttam Kumar’s directorial Kalankini Kankabati. Composed by RD Burman, her song 'Bendhechhi Bina' was a massive hit. Burman later used the same tune for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Hindi film Bemisal (1982) in the 'Ae Ri Pawan' song, which was rendered by Lata Mangeshkar.


However, Sultana’s original rendition with her unique effortless style of classical singing is often distinguished against Mangeshkar’s version. She also lent her voice for Lekh Tandon’s Sharda in 1981 in Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s composition 'Yeh Bohot Khusi Ki Nishani Hai'.

Sultana’s another timeless rendition is 'Humein Tum Se Pyar Kitna' for Chetan Anand’s Kudrat (1981). Also sung by Kishore Kumar in another version, Sultana elevated the song to another level with her classical rendition. While both Kishore and Sultana were nominated for a Filmfare award for the song, Sultana won the Best Female Playback Singer trophy for her performance.

In her interview to The Hindu, Sultana also recollected the mehfils at her home that were attended by music stalwarts from the Hindi film industry, “Composers such as Madan Mohan, Khayyam, RD Burman etc all used to come home. They were khandani log, coming from musical families. We would have informal mehfils together for fun. They would share any beautiful tune they composed. They themselves came to me. Like RD Burman one day said, 'Bhabhi, I’ve composed this song 'Humein Tumse…' that would perfectly suit your voice and I agreed to sing for him, not for the Filmfare award that the song won.”

In 1982, she sang the 'Bichurat Mose Kanha' song, composed by Ajit Varman, for Govind Nihalni’s Vijeta. Sultana was again roped in by Kamal Amrohi for Razia Sultan (1983). She sang along with some of the stalwarts of her field for Khayyam’s composition 'Shubh Ghadi Ayee Re'. Sultana, Sulakshana Pandit, Ustad Fayyaz Ahmed Khan, Niyaz Ahmed Khan and Ustad Dilshad Khan lent their voices for the song.

The same year she sang 'Shab-E-Intezaar Mein Kyu Hai Gumsum Tamannaaye' in Biplab Roy Choudhary’s Ashraya (1984)

Sultana then lent her voice for 'Prem Ka Granth Padhau' song for Ram S Govind’s Tohfa Mohabbat Ka (1988) and 'Koi Ishq Ka Rog' in Ketan Desai’s Anmol (1993). Though the song didn't work for the masses, 'Koi Ishq Ka Rog' is an exceptionally melodious number with a haunting tune, to which, perhaps, no one else could have done justice better than Sultana.

Another commercially successful song came in 2001, when Sultana sang 'Aan Milo Sajna' for Anil Sharma’s Gadar: Ek Prem Katha with Ajoy Chakraborty. Both the maestros filled the song with soul and melody.

Sultana lent her voice for the last time for a film song in 2008 for Vikram Bhatt’s 1920.

Despite being remembered for all the songs she sang for films, Sultana continued to maintain her stand that singing for films was never her primary choice.

In the Hindustan Times interview, the singer said, “Yes, I don’t like singing for films because whatever songs I have sung in Bollywood [Hindi cinema], they are so nice that afterwards whatever offers I got, they didn’t match up to the previous ones; they didn’t reach my soul. And unless the song appeals to you, you shouldn’t sing it. If you don’t get satisfaction from your job, what’s the point of doing it? Whatever I do, I do it sincerely. I love music but somehow when I sing classical, I see God in it... I see my lover in it... So, that’s why this [classical] music is different for me.”