When I began April 2013 on my blog, I’d promised this month would be dedicated to celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema—not merely Hindi cinema, as I tend to do, but regional language cinema as well. Apart from a review of the first full-length Indian feature film (Raja Harischandra) and a post on 100 years of Hindi film music (and how could I not post that, in a month commemorating Indian cinema’s centenary)?—I have tried to stick to my promise.
But, the day I was posting Songs for all times, I received a sad piece of news: that Shamshad Begum had died, just a little over a week after her 94th birthday. I did fit in a small tribute to Shamshad Begum in that post, but I had to say a fonder farewell, with a longer post showcasing this singer’s wonderful, very distinctive voice.
Yet, there was the question of my promise to my readers.
The compromise? This. Ten Shamshad Begum songs that I like (most of which I have discovered in the past few days), and which are actually, in the majority of the cases, not from Hindi cinema. Unlike Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle—who have sung songs in various languages for regional cinema—Shamshad Begum seems to have restricted herself mainly to Hindi and Punjabi films (the latter not surprising, since she was from Punjab).
However, even if she didn’t sing for too many regional language films, Shamshad Begum did sing in languages other than Hindi: some of the songs I’ve discovered recently are in languages other than Hindi. I haven’t seen any of the non-Hindi films I’ve listed below (and there is a song which isn’t even from a film, as far as I can tell). Even from the Hindi films from which I’ve picked my favourite Shamshad songs, there are three films—Al Hilal, Nishaan and Bahaar—which I haven’t seen. These songs are in no particular order.
1. Saiyyaan dil mein aana re (Bahaar, 1951): For those who’re wary of the unfamiliar, let’s ease into this post with a song that is not only in Hindi, but is fairly popular. Picturised on a teenaged Vyjyantimala—who sings the song to the photo of the man she loves (played by Karan Dewan)—this is one of those songs that perfectly showcase Shamshad Begum’s very distinctive voice. There’s a slightly nasal quality to her singing (just enough to be pleasant), and I love the way she makes the song sound just right: playful, affectionate, and sweet.
2. Jaiyo jaiyo sipahiya baajaar (Nishaan, 1949): Easing further into regional languages, we now come to a song that’s from a Hindi film, but is actually multilingual. Here, Shamshad Begum sings a truly delightful song (those lyrics—“Jaiyo, jaiyo sipahiya baajaar, ke daal meri choolhe chadhi”—cracked me up the very first time I heard them).
P Bhanumathi, who seems to be responsible for cooking for a motley crowd of soldiers, tries to get them to help her out, and ends up having to pander to their regional tastes. Not in cooking, but in singing—she sings each verse in a different language, depending upon the soldier who approaches her. First up is Bengali (interestingly, a tune that can be easily identified as the same that SD Burman used for Aan milo aan milo shyaam saanware in Devdas) followed by Punjabi, Gujarati, and Tamil. From the Bangalan of Dharamtala to the Madrasan of Mylapore, Shamshad Begum sings it all—and with so much verve in her voice, it’s understandable that the men don’t seem to mind going hungry, if they can get their cook to prolong her song!
3. Chhad de tu mera dupatta (Koday Shah, 1959): While the actress who features in this song—Shyama—will be familiar to lovers of old Hindi cinema, here she stars in a Punjabi film. And Shamshad Begum’s voice provides the perfect playback to Shyama’s vivacity and dancing eyes, with a voice that seems to almost dance too. A folksy, very likeable tune to which Shamshad Begum (who sang a good deal for Punjabi films) does full justice.
4. Zama laley chinar de: Despite much searching, I have not been able to discover whether this song, sung in Pashto, is from a film (I am inclined to think it is not). I haven’t the faintest idea what the song means, or even if the words I think I can identify (like ‘chinar’ or ‘bulbul’) actually are the same, or mean the same as they do in Urdu. Whatever it is, it’s a song I fell in love with as soon as I discovered it. The music, the accompanying clapping, and the chorus are all quite reminiscent of Kashmiri music, which I find very soothingly rhythmic. Shamshad’s voice, of course, is the major reason I love this song.
5. Naan raaniye raajaavin (Aan, 1953): Like three of the songs that precede it, this song too has a Hindi film connection—because the film is the Tamil-dubbed version of Aan. Mehboob Khan, who made the Hindi film, also had it dubbed in Tamil, and both Shamshad Begum as well as Lata Mangeshkar sang the Tamil versions of their songs (with lyrics by Kambadasan).
It appears that the experiment didn’t quite work out; Mehboob Khan was given feedback (by Kambadasan, among others) and had to get the songs re-recorded by other singers. This one, originally sung in Hindi as Main rani hoon raja ki, was re-recorded in the voice of Soolamangalam Rajalakshmi.
I don’t know Tamil, so I can’t comment on Shamshad Begum’s pronunciation, but I must admit to liking this a lot. Her voice has that same slightly child-like simplicity of the original, and I can imagine Nimmi lip-synching to even the Tamil version.
6. Naina bhar aaye neer (Humayun, 1945): A return to Shamshad Begum’s Hindi songs, with this one—the song which made her popular. When I first watched and reviewed Humayun nearly two years ago, I was admittedly rather underwhelmed. One thing that did stick with me was the beauty of this, the first song in the film. Naina bhar aaye neer is a very different Shamshad Begum song from the ones I’ve listed till now: instead of being playful or fun, this one is a sad song, a cry to a loved one who has gone far away.
This song, while not at the top of most people’s lists of Shamshad’s great songs, is one of my favourites. Her restrained, controlled way of singing gives me gooseflesh, and she imbues the song with all the pain of a woman yearning for the man she loves.
Click here to watch a brief clip of a much older Shamshad Begum actually singing the song.
7. Teri kanak di raakhi mundeya (Do Lachhian, 1960; with Mohammad Rafi): In this song from the Punjabi film Do Lachhian, Shamshad Begum teams up with a male singer from her part of the world—Shamshad Begum had been born in Amritsar in 1919; Rafi was born 5 years later in Kotla Sultan Singh, also in Amritsar district. Here, as in several other songs that they sang together for Punjabi films, they bring all the boisterous folksiness of Punjab into the song. This one’s utterly infectious, and made me want to get up and join in the dancing.
8. Asomir mukhate hahi nai etiya (Piyoli Phukan, 1955; with Bhupen Hazarika): From Punjab in the west, to Assam in the east. According to IMDB (which is, admittedly, by no means infallible), the first two films for which Shamshad Begum sang were Assamese ones: Joymati (1935; the first Assamese film), and Indramalati (1939, the second Assamese film).
Piyoli Phukan, made two decades after Joymati, has this lovely duet by Shamshad Begum and Bhupen Hazarika. It does, I confess, give more prominence to Hazarika’s voice—he sings the solo sections, she only joins in at places. But her voice lends the right touch of sweetness, balancing his deeper tones beautifully.
9. Kateya karoon teri roon (Pind di Kudi, 1963): Another song from a Punjabi film (after Hindi films, which comprised most of her work, Shamshad Begum has sung most for Punjabi films). This one too has the folksy feel to it of Teri kanak di raakhi mundeya, but in a softer, more feminine way. I love the way Shamshad’s voice acquires a faintly teasing tone at just the right places—it’s very expressive.
10. Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala (Al Hilal, 1958): Blog reader and friend pacifist introduced me to this song and it became an instant hit in our household (I even put an mp3 version on my cellphone, which is the ultimate homage I can pay a song). My husband, whose knowledge of Hindi film singers is rather limited, asked, “Who’s the singer? She’s so peppy!” He was very surprised when I told him it was Shamshad Begum—he’d been under the impression she was a stuffy ghazal singer. It took a quick listing of some popular Shamshad songs—Boojh mera kya naam re, Saiyyaan dil mein aana re, and Kajra mohabbatwaala among them—to enlighten him.
So, to end this post, my absolute favourite Shamshad song. She rules this one, all pep and fierce energy and unflagging enthusiasm. Simply addictive.
Which are your favourite Shamshad Begum songs? (And, no: you needn’t restrict yourself to non-Hindi songs)