Ten of my favourite Shamshad Begum solos

This is an important year when it comes to Hindi film music—because 2019 marks the birth centenary of some of classic Hindi cinema’s greatest in the field of music. Music director Naushad was born a hundred years ago; lyricists Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan were born a hundred years ago; and two of Hindi cinema’s most popular playback singers—Manna Dey and Shamshad Begum—were also born in 1919, less than a month apart.

Born in Lahore on April 14th, 1919, the day after the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar (which is just about 50 km from Lahore), Shamshad Begum never had any formal training in music. Her prowess as a singer, however, came to the fore very early, and by the time she was 10 years old she was singing in family marriages and religious functions. In the teeth of parental opposition, she was helped by an uncle who got her an audition with Ghulam Haider. In 1937, she began singing with All India Radio Lahore, and this proved a breakthrough—such a breakthrough that Shamshad Begum was offered a role as an actress and even bagged it after a screen test. Thanks to a very conservative father (who had insisted she wear a burqa even to sing!), Shamshad Begum had to finally decline the role and focus on her singing.

… to which she did full justice. Mehboob Khan, who brought Shamshad Begum to Bombay in 1941 and gave her the chance to sing in films like Khazanchi (1941), paved the way for her to soar to the top of the charts: her popularity peaked between 1940-55, and she was eventually only displaced by the Mangeshkar juggernaut. Even then, through the 50s and 60s, and even into the 70s (when she finally stopped singing playback for cinema), Shamshad Begum got to sing some of Hindi cinema’s most enduring hits.

It’s not as if I’ve never done a Shamshad Begum post on this blog. Six years ago, in the middle of a month I’d devoted to regional Indian cinema, Shamshad Begum passed away, and I took time out to pay tribute to her—in the form of a list of regional language songs that she’d sung. This time, then, to commemorate her birth centenary, here are ten of my favourite solos of hers, from Hindi cinema. As always, these songs are all from pre-70s films that I’ve watched, and are in no particular order.

1. Boojh mera kya naav re (CID, 1956): This song appears at the top of the list for a simple reason: because it is my earliest memory of the voice of Shamshad Begum (though at the time I didn’t know the name of the singer). I was perhaps about nine years old when I watched CID, and I still remember being entranced by Boojh mera kya naav re. Not just by the picturization—the women filling their gagris and dancing as they did so; Minoo Mumtaz, all effervescent and teasing; a debonair Dev Anand and a sullen but very pretty Shakila—but also by the music and the singing. I love Shamshad Begum’s singing: it has so much verve, and it so completely reflects the flirtatiousness of the lyrics.

2. Kabhi aar kabhi paar laaga teer-e-nazar (Aar Paar, 1954): This song has a slight resemblance to Boojh mera kya naav re (and even more to another popular Shamshad Begum song, Ab toh jee hone laga from Mr & Mrs 55): she is the voice of a passerby, a total stranger who sings a song that takes note of and celebrates the still-nascent attraction between the two lead characters of the film. Kumkum’s character and her fellow construction workers have a surprisingly large amount of free time to sing and dance, but so what: the song is good, and Shamshad Begum’s voice fits Kumkum to a T.

3. Bachke balam kahaan jaaoge (Naya Andaaz, 1956): By the mid-1950s, Lata Mangeshkar had become so popular that Shamshad Begum was often relegated to singing (as can be seen from the two previous songs on this list, as well as several of the songs that follow) for supporting actresses, and often for item numbers, so to say. But her voice could still be considered suitable, by the discerning, for a lead actress. In Naya Andaaz, which starred Meena Kumari as a theatre actress/dancer/singer, Shamshad Begum sang playback for the heroine.

Meena Kumari is young and pretty and Shamshad’s voice is perfect: she captures the teasing, playful tone of the song perfectly, telling the lover that he cannot ever hope to escape her. She will be there, right behind him, wherever he goes.

4. Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala (Al Hilal, 1958): If I were asked to pick particular favourites in this list, Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala would probably top the list—because I have loved this song ever since I first heard it. It’s a very peppy, infectious tune, a dance picturized on a young and energetic Shakila (who, by the way, is acting a girl who habitually disguises herself as a man, who in this instance dons a woman’s disguise. Convoluted in a Victor-Victoria sort of way). It’s a fast-paced song, and Shamshad Begum does justice to it and to Shakila: she sounds so young and full of energy herself.

5. Naina bhar aaye neer (Humayun, 1945): Naina bhar aaye neer featured on my earlier list of Shamshad Begum songs too, and I could not bring myself to omit it from this list, because irrespective of which list of Shamshad Begum’s songs I draw up, this song would have to be on it. If the Shamshad Begum of the later 50s was usually slotted to sing the frothy, peppy songs for the dances (as the previous songs all show), the Shamshad Begum of a decade earlier could, with just as much ease, be called upon to sing a sad song. A song that talks of tears, of pleading, of praying.

I love the way she is restrained and controlled, her voice never sliding over into what could have been a screechy and melodramatic rendition. Lovely.

6. Na bol pee pee more angana (Dulari, 1949): A classic song from a time when Shamshad Begum was at her peak. For me, the song that defines Dulari (otherwise a fairly forgettable film with a predictable story line) is the Rafi hit, Suhaani raat dhal chuki—but of all the other songs, Shamshad Begum’s Na bol pee pee more angana is my favourite. Geeta Bali, while not the heroine (Madhubala played the female lead here, opposite Suresh), gets to lip-sync to this love song where she gently chastises the papeeha, telling the bird to go away and not keep reminding her of the lover who is not there. Shamshad Begum’s voice suits Geeta Bali beautifully, and has a sweet, mildly teasing tone at times (when she shoos the bird away), and a faintly sad one at others (when Geeta Bali’s character yearns for her lover).

7. O babuji main na karoon teri naukri (Shrimatiji, 1952): In several films from the early 50s (Baabul is another), both Shamshad Begum and one of the other emerging queens of Hindi playback, like Geeta Dutt or the Mangeshkar sisters, sang songs for the same film, and for the same actress (this has always made me wonder why: voices don’t change so, and Shamshad Begum’s voice is such a distinct one that realistically speaking, a woman who sings with her voice cannot be picturized singing in Asha’s voice, or Lata’s).

Shyama in Shrimatiji has Geeta Dutt singing playback for her in some songs (the romantic ones), Asha Bhonsle singing the lovely Barkha ki raaton mein—and Shamshad Begum singing what was a very popular song back then: O babuji main na karoon teri naukri.

Shyama here, while an aspiring theatre artiste, finds herself shoved onto the stage rather earlier than she’d been prepared for. But she gamely takes on the challenge, and belts out a song and dance. Shamshad’s voice suits the feisty, ‘don’t give a damn’ nature of the lyrics: she’s so full of life, so zesty and unabashed.

8. Kaahe koyal shor machaaye re (Aag, 1948): As a child, I remember being very clear that I didn’t like the songs of the 1940s and before: that nasal singing (something we kids made a lot of fun of, imitating it till our noses and throats got sore) was, in my opinion, just terrible. Now a more mature (I think!) me admits that that was a style which had its own place—and its own masterpieces. That style probably became outdated with the coming of singers who didn’t sing in that somewhat nasal style and music directors who didn’t encourage it—though some singers (like Mukesh) did succeed with a voice reminiscent of an earlier era, till well into the 70s.

Here, then, is a 1940s song, with Shamshad Begum singing for Nargis. The style, from the music (Ram Ganguly’s) to Shamshad’s, is, for me, very typical of the late 1940s. A song of vireh (separation), of being parted from the lover and missing him.

9. Saiyyaan teri akhiyon mein dil kho gaya (12 O’Clock, 1958): OP Nayyar was one music director who used Shamshad Begum’s voice a good deal. Even in films (CID, Aar Paar, 12 O’Clock, Mr & Mrs 55, Kismat, among others) where Asha Bhonsle invariably got to sing playback for the lead actress, Nayyar would sneak in a song where a supporting actress or a dancer got to lip-sync to Shamshad Begum’s voice. Here, Sabita Chatterjee (?), dancing along with Johnny Walker, sings a light-hearted romantic song: oh, the havoc he has wreaked on her poor little heart, by being the charmer he is. Shamshad’s voice has the sweetly teasing tone that fits the playfulness of the song to a T.

10. Chhod baabul ka ghar (Baabul, 1950): And to end, a song which is one of the most poignant bidaai songs I’ve heard. While Shamshad Begum sang another iconic bidaai song for Mother IndiaPee ke ghar aaj pyaari dulhaniya chali—seven years before Mother India, also under the music direction of Naushad, and also for a song picturized on Nargis, she had sung about a bride leaving to go to her groom: Chhod baabul ka ghar. This song was repeated at various stages throughout the film, beginning as a credits song, and sung very poignantly (and with minimal accompaniments) near the end by Talat. In between, at a happy stage in the film, Shamshad Begum sings it playback for Nargis. It’s a lovely song, and the credits version—with Shamshad Begum and a chorus—is especially full of emotion.

Happy 100th, Shamshad Begum! May your voice live on.

54 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite Shamshad Begum solos

  1. Somewhere I came across the story that Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar was picturized on Jagdeep, but censors had problems with this female voice/male performer combo. And so the scene was remade with Kumkum.Unfortunately I can’t remember the source of this story.

  2. One of my Shamshad Begum favorite is ….

    I’m also surprised how you could ignore the most famous Shamshad Begum song which is an iconic song and immensely popular even today:

    • Yes, Yeh duniya ke mele is a good one. I skipped Saiyyaan dil mein aana re because it featured in my previous Shamshad Begum tribute, and I didn’t want to repeat songs.

  3. Thanks for this list. Shamshad certainly had a very distinctive voice, & it’s very disconcerting to hear her songs sung by anyone else. Her duet with Talat, “Milte hi aankhen dil hua deewana kisi ka” is a study in contrast – Talat’s dulcet, silky tones versus her sharp, silvery, ringing voice.

    Btw, the first song on your list should read “Boojh mera kya naav re”, naav rhyming with gaanv & chhaav. Naav is Marathi for naam, though Minoo Mumtaz’s character doesn’t seem to be Maharashtrian at all. I guess the rhyming requirement won out.

    • I agree that Milte hi aankhein dil hua is a fine study in contrasts – and I don’t think any other female playback singer could have done justice to it the way Shamshad Begum did. The earthy sharpness of her voice lends it just the right flavour.

      Thank you for the explanation of naav! I had been seeing it mentioned in some places as that, but didn’t know why, so assumed that it was a case of misheard lyrics. Or something… thank you, I will correct that.

  4. Hello,
    I also had planned a post, but postponed it for her death anniversary, later this month.
    Though popularity believed that, her birthday falls on 14th April, she mentioned in one the interviews that exact date and month were unknown.
    But the year was 1919.
    So your post is spot on.
    It’s so difficult to choose just ten solos from her songs. I could never have got my ten songs, and would have landed doing a series. So hats off to you, for choosing just ten!
    And many of the songs were new to me. The AL hilal song reminded me of ina mina dica.

    But, congratulations for a great post.

    • Oh, dear. This post seems to have a lot of errors, as others have pointed out too! :-( Anyway, thanks for letting me know about the exact date and month of her birth being unknown (why am I not surprised about that?).

      Glad you liked this post, Anupji. Come to think of it, mine is also part of an unplanned series – the first post being the regional language songs one!

  5. Madhu,
    Nice tribute and very good selection of songs. With her metallic voice it was impossible not to like her. One of my great favourites is her early song ‘Man bhooli kathayen yaad na kar, phir saawan ke din ayenge’ from the film ‘Doosri Shaadi’.

    There seems to be some mix up in her early history. ‘Khazanchi’ (1941) was made by Dalsukh Pancholi in Lahore, I don’t think Mehboob Khan was associated with this film. After its songs became a rage, Mehboob Khan invited Shamshad Begum to Bombay for his film ‘Taqdeer’ (1943), in which she sang eight songs. Rafiq Ghazanavi happened to be its music director. He had an important connection with Mehboob Khan, he gave voice to Mehboob Films’ title invocation, ‘Muddai lakh bura chaahe to kya hota hai, wohi hota hai jo manzoor-e-Khuda hota hai’. Another interesting trivia: ‘Taqdeer’ was the first film in which Nargis appeared as a heroine (she had earlier played some child roles).
    AK

    • Thank you for that information, AK. I hadn’t known about this. I do remember reading that titbit about Rafiq Ghaznavi being the voice behind that invocation, but had forgotten it.

  6. It´s hard to fault her singing. I was bowled over by this one when I first heard it, and all the covers cannot come up to it

    And I have a spot for Geeta Bali´s graceful dancing to Shamshad´s voice in this one

    • Mere piya gaye Rangoon is a favourite of mine, too! Delightful song. Not a solo, though… I was torn between Chaandni aayi banke pyaar and Na bol pee pee, and ended up choosing the latter, so I’m happy you posted the former! Thanks.

  7. Also love the classical style in her voice in songs such as Badi Mushkil Se Dil Ki Bekraari Ko …can´t find a video link though

  8. Thank you for this post! I absolutely love Shamshad’s style and her sharp notes as it was completely unique at that time and she was a trendsetter..

    The top 3 in your list are perhaps her most popular. I can never get tired of listening to boojh mera kya naanv re.. and the other song from CID – Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana..

    Another ones I really like from the same movie is leke pehla pehla pyar but it’s not solo.

    Top notch singing by her and she really was on top of her game during her prime. RIP queen of golden era of bollywood music!

    • I’m so glad you posted Kahin pe nigaahein kahin pe nishaana, Ashish! It’s a lovely song. It was toss-up for me between this one and Boojh mera kya naav re, so even though I chose the other one, I was hoping someone would post this. :-)

  9. Madhu ji ,
    I liked the post . A very nice tribute to a gr8 singer .
    U hav proved her versatility by selecting songs from all genres . Shamshad Begum voice befits in every mood – sad , comic , romantic , playful etc .
    ” छोड बाबुल का घर ” nd ” पी के घर आज प्यारी दुल्हनियाँ चली ” r the all – time hit बिदाई songs

    I hereby add Shamshad Begum’s entertaining song from ‘ शबनम ‘ of 1949 , in which she had sung some lines in different different languages

    Madhu ji , thnx for this post .

    • Thank you, Pramodji! Glad you liked this post. And thank you for this song – I don’t think I’ve heard Yeh duniya roop ki chor before. The multilingual nature of it reminded me of another Shamshad Begum song (which I listed in my earlier post of Shamshad songs). From Nishaan, Jaiyo jaiyo sipahiya baajaar, a really good song (and she sings much more in languages other than Hindi, too):

      Not a solo, but still, a very enjoyable song.

  10. Wonderful post. I can’t remember any solos jus now, but here are a couple of duets. I think they are rare as the other signer is Chitragupta. Very funny and enjoyable ones, especially the first one.

    1. Ek teer chala ke gori, Nav Durga (1953):

    2. Teri oonchi-2 hau dukaan, Kismat (1956):

    • Thank you for these two songs! I think the first one I’ve heard before (it sounded familiar), but the second one was new to me – and I loved it a lot. So much fun. :-)

  11. Great selection of songs! I feel that Shamshad Begum had a very distinctive voice and singing style, but the flip side was that her robust, earthy voice did not suit many heroines, particularly those of the 50s, and maybe that’s one of the reasons she lost out to Lata, Geeta and Asha. For example, her voice does not really suit Meena Kumari in the song from Naya Andaz (this is my personal view). The same is the case with Vyjayanthimala in “Saiyan dil mein aana re”, one of Shamshad’s best known songs.

    Here are two of my favourite Shamshad Begum songs, both duets with Rafi. In Musafirkhana, OP Nayyar hedged his bets, giving songs to all his three favourite singers – Shamshad, Geeta and Asha

    “Thoda sa dil laga ke dekh” from Musafirkhana

    “Bheega bheega pyar ka samaa” from Sawan

    • While I differ about Shamshad Begum’s voice suiting Meena Kumari in Naya Andaaz, I agree 100% about how the earthy robustness (well put!) of her voice didn’t suit the lead actresses of the 50s and 60s (and beyond). I think somewhere along the way the relatively higher voices, the less nasal tones, came into vogue – and stayed that way.

      Thank you for the songs you’ve posted. Both are good ones; I remember having come across Thoda sa dil lagaake dekh first when someone recommended it as a song for Not-quite-duet post. Because while Rafi is there, it’s really mostly Shamshad who’s doing all the singing.

  12. I like the following:
    Ek do teen … aajaa mausam hai rangeen ( AWAARA)
    Qusoor aap ka huzoor aap ka
    Mera Naam leejiye na mere baap ka( BAHAAR)..Agree totally that her voice does not suit Vyjayanthimala.
    Holi aayee re Kanhayi…(MOTHER INDIA)

    • Some good songs there among those you’ve mentioned. The Awara and Mother India ones were in my shortlist too, but I ended up omitting them, so especially glad that you included them.

  13. Ai ichak bichak churr,Ai ichak bichak churr
    Dil ud gaya Babu purr …. from BAWRE NAIN is a lively, playful one.

  14. I missed this, Madhu. I grew to like Shamshad as I grew older; until then, like you, I used to make fun of my father for liking her. From your list, I particularly love Kaahe koyal shor machaaye re – both song and picturisation.

    Some other songs I haven’t seen mentioned, but I really like are:
    Dil thandi hawa mein from Shama

    Na tum aaye na neend aayi from Rhimjhim

    Jin aankhon mein neend haraam hui from Jogan

    The beautiful Le chal wahan piya from Sangdil

    Na jaan re na jaan re from Biraj Bahu

    • I had not heard a few of these songs, Anu, and had forgotten the rest. Thanks for posting them here – especially the songs from Rimjhim, Jogan and Biraj Bahu. The Biraj Bahu song I really loved: how have I not heard this before? Lovely!

  15. Two more Shamshad Begum solos I like:

    “Aankh mili hai pyar hoga” from Alibaba and 40 Thieves

    “Thandi hawa ke jhonke” from Bhai Bahen (No video available)

    A Shamshad and Kishore duet – an unusual combination
    “O Madam do se ho gaye ek hum” from Aashiana

    • Thank you for these songs; the only one I was already familiar with was the Ali Baba Chaalees Chor one. And I’d not known that there was yet another old film called Bhai-Bahen (I’ve seen both the Daisy Irani one as well as the Sunil Dutt-Padmini one, but hadn’t realized there was another which predated them).

  16. Great post and great tribute indeed. I have yet to hear Bachke Balam Kahaan Jaaoge, Chaakuwaala Chhuriwaala, Naina Bhar Aaye Neer, Na Bol Pee Pee More Angana and O Babuji Main Na Karoon Teri Naukri. Now I will listen to all of them. Shamshad Begum was born in April and passed away also in April only. Her 6th death anniversary fell two days ago (23rd April).

  17. Aag is one movie with Shamshad ji singing fo Nargis.

    Bheega bheega pyaar ka samaa:

    Gham ka fasaana:

    Dhadke mera dil:

    O tana der na tana tana (Bewafa)

    Main jaan gayi tujhe saiyyaan

    Apologies if any of the above songs are already listed.
    Regards

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