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.

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Ten of my favourite Hindi film ghazals

This is another of my ‘prize posts’, dedicated to one of the people who participated in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted on this blog last year. One of the quiz questions was a toughie that no-one was able to answer: Which was Sahir Ludhianvi’s first ghazal to be recorded in Hindi cinema? I did provide one clue: the operative word is ‘ghazal’.

This post therefore is dedicated to Ravi Kumar, the only person who guessed which song I was referring to, though since his guess came in the wake of his submission, it didn’t count. The song was Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, from Baazi (1951) – a song which is, in my opinion, a good example of what a ghazal is and isn’t. No, it’s not defined by its music – so, it needn’t be slow and soulful; it can be fast-paced and peppy. What does define a ghazal are its lyrics: rather, its structure and its rhyme scheme.

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Ten of my favourite bird songs

Birdsong? No, really. Bird songs.

I spent a bit of last Sunday at Delhi’s Okhla Barrage Bird Sanctuary. The barrage on the Yamuna hosts a vast number of migratory birds through the winter. Most of them are gone by this time of the year, but there’s plenty of bird life still to be seen:

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Ten of my favourite Mukesh songs

Of all the male singers who ruled the 50’s and 60’s, the one I’ve usually tended to ignore is Mukesh—and for what I must admit is a somewhat prejudiced reason: the most recognisable Mukesh songs, at least for me, are the ones he sang for Raj Kapoor, and nearly all of them just don’t appeal to me. Is it the fact that they’re picturised on RK (whom I, being the iconoclast I am, don’t much like)? Who knows?

But for Mukesh’s birth anniversary (he was born on July 23, 1923), I decided to explore Mukesh’s songs in greater detail—and realised that a lot of songs I really, really like are in his voice.

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