Talat Mahmood

A tremor in voice which would have been considered a fault, proved an asset to Talat Mehmood. The tremendous effect of the velvety voice conveyed the urge and intensity of emotions which marked his individuality.He was known as Melody King and Ghazal King.

'King of Ghazals' Talat Mahmood was born in a highly cultured but conservative family in Lucknow, India, on Feb. 24, 1924. He was one amongst six children. Talat showed his musical leanings from a very young age and would enjoy sitting through all-night music soiree's listening patiently to some of the biggest names in Indian classical music. Later, for a very short period of time Talat studied music at Marris Music College, before people began noticing his natural singing talent and offers to sing began to pour in.


In those days, the Gramophone Company released some ghazal records sung by Bengalis, which lacked the finesse of chaste Urdu pronunciation. Around 1940, Talat Mehmood went to Calcutta where he met his singing idol, K.L. Saigal. The famous brothers Kamal and Subal Dasgupta offered him to sing the song Sab Din Samaan Nahin Thaa .He cut his first disc in 1941 and became a singing sensation in 1945 when one lakh copies of Tasveer Teri Dil Mera Behla Na Sakegi were sold 1945, which took him to the heights of name and fame. He also sang many Bengali songs for which he was known as Tapan Kumar Sinha.

Fate had even bigger things in store for Talat and in 1949 he came to the Hollywood of India - Bombay. His name and fame had already preceded him and people in the Bombay Film Industry were already aware of this handsome and talented young singer and soon he was offered the song "Ae dil mujhe aisi jagha le chal jahan koi na ho" composed by the then reigning music director Anil Biswas and picturised on the great Dilip Kumar. The combination was electrifying ! The record was an overnight success and set the trend for the filmi ghazal.

In Talat Mahmood, the music directors found the perfect voice for ghazals. His diction and intonation were word perfect. His expressive style and emotional nuances were unparalleled. The mellowness, sweetness and pathos in his voice set him apart from all the other singers. Here was a voice that was fresh ! The style absolutely new !! He was unanimously hailed as "The King Of Ghazals", a title he consolidated over the period of years to become the greatest name in ghazals !!! His film solo's and romantic duets numbered in hundreds as hit after hit followed. Talat soon grew into a living legend.

However, the handsome young 'King of Ghazals' did not go unnoticed by the film producers, who besieged him with offers to act in their films. Such was Talat's aura, that for his film 'Dil-e-Nadaan', producer-director A.R. Kardar, launched an 'All India Beauty Contest' to hunt for a beautiful girl who would play the heroine opposite the young and immensely talented superstar Talat Mahmood !!! Talat was to finally accept 13 films with top heroines like Nutan, Mala Sinha, Suraiya, Shyama, Nadira and others before he decided that acting was not his forte. And hence, Talat gave up acting to concentrate on singing.

Naushad Ali, the legendary composer, was very close to him. Talat and Naushad came upon the new kind of music together. Still, this was also the time Talat began battling with Parkinson's disease. He couldn't sing any more and his career came to a standstill. Naushad remembers Talat the legend and recalls how that rich voice was silenced.

In 1948 Talat got his first break from Naushad for the film Babul. He came to Mumbai in 1950, when he sang under the direction of Anil Biswas in the film Tarana. He sang for film Samapti when he was just 20 and then for Jago Musafir and Raaj Laksmi. The films in which he acted were Raaj Lakshmi, Samaadhi, Malik, Waaris, Laala Rukh, Raftaar, Aaraam, Dil e Nadaan, Diwaali Ki Raat, Ek Gaon Ki Kahani and Sone Ki Chidiya. Between 1945 and 1958 he acted in 13 films, in which he was the hero in 9 films.

The only way to describe Talatsaab is to say that he had a silky voice. I have always said this to everybody who asked me. His voice never suited loud songs, songs that demanded a high-pitched voice. Shouting or screaming didn't suit him and so he avoided those kinds of songs too. He only sang soft, romantic, lyrical, ghazals.

He was a legend in the industry. He acted in many films but stopped because it didn't really suit his temperament.Talat Mehmood sang a total of 784 songs of which 212 were non-film songs. Music director Snehal Bhatkar made him sing in films Pagle, Aarzoo and Bindiya. Khayyam offered him to sing in the films Footpath and Shaam e Gham Ki Kasam. His favourite lyricists were Ghalib, Momin, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Prem Dhawan and Rajinder Krishan. He acted with many famous heroines of his times such as Nutan, Suraiya, Shyama, Nadira and Mala Sinha. He sang duet songs with many eminent female singers in which almost 100 songs were with melody queen Lata Mangeshkar. He rendered playback singing for Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and V. Shantaram.

Towards the late 60's the filmi ghazals and good romantic songs gave way to the electronic rhythms of the disco generation. Disliking the new trend towards loud meaningless music, Talat decided to cut down his film singing assignments but continued his non-film ghazal recordings.

As a singer, Talat has already secured a place in history. Over the years, the King of Ghazals has created a catalogue of songs for generations to come. His fan following straddles the globe. He strides like a colossus in the field of ghazals - a KING whose name is surpassed by none !!!

Talat's voice was different - in a league of its own. A soft, sweet voice with silken grace and a superb velvety texture. It was a quintessential romantic voice with an innate sadness which touched the heart ever so gently. Then there was this queer quiver in his voice which made it a unique, enticing entity. Veteran composer Anil Biswas describes an incident when Talat - on hearing rumours that his quivering voice made recordist's job difficult - purposely decided to 'correct' the 'flaw'. After listening to his un-inspiring efforts Anilda just said, "Talat, that quiver is your identity. Otherwise what is the difference between a Talat Mahmood and any ordinary singer?" Needless to say, Talat got his message and never tried to sound different!

Talat's tremulous, emotional voice was tailor-made for the golden era of fifties when melody and emotion defined Hindi film music. For a while that voice became synonymous with Dilip Kumar's tragic romantic image. Listen to Aye mere dil kahin aur chal from 'Daag' or Shaam-e-gham ki kasam from 'Footpath' and see how perfectly these vocals matched the screen presence and portrayed the pathos! Unfortunately Talat's vocal association with the then superstar did not last long. A big opportunity to firmly entrench himself as the front-runner among the male singers was thus lost.

Still fifties provided him enough opportunities to show his mastery over soft, emotional, lyrical musical genre. Ghazals and sad, 'blue mood' songs represented his territory. Few could match him there. Jaayein to jaayein kahan, Andhe jahan ke andhe raaste, Aye gham -e- dil kya karoon, Zindagi denewale sun---the list of his soulful numbers is too long to recount. Even his romantic numbers like Main dil hoon ik armaan bhara, Tasveer banata hoon or Bechain nazar, betaab jigar somehow imparted that hard to define 'blue' after-glow. That was his strength and also his weakness as most of his numbers thus seemed strangely one-dimensional.

His duets though dispelled this doubt with their variety and quality. He sang so expressively in Milte hi aankhein dil hua deewana Kisi Ka with Shamshad Beghum, Chali kaunse desh gujariya with Asha Bhosle and Raahi matwaale with Suraiya! And what about those innumerable, memorable songs with Lata like Seene mein sulagate hain armaan, Aha rimzim ke yeh pyare pyare geet liye and Dil mein sama gaye sajan? He was simply amazing there!

Yet versatility was never his forte. Limited vocal range and lack of experimentation proved to be his stumbling blocks. He was distinctly uncomfortable while singing anything outside his domain. How awkward he sounded while giving that inebriated expression in Suno bhai hum ne bhi pee li hai thodi!

With the advent of robust rock 'n' roll style of the sixties Talat's soft style became obsolete. Still talented composers like Madan Mohan, Salil Choudhary and Jaidev reserved their worthy tunes for him whenever they could. As a result he could still enthrall with gems like Phir wohi shaam, wohi gham; Aansoo samajh ke kyon mujhe and Dekh li teri khudaai. And who could ever forget the 'Sujata' beauty Jalte hain jiske liye? S.D. Burman had made him rehearse the song fifty times to get that dreamy expression right!

After the sixties he quickly faded out as a playback singer. His non-film ghazals still kept him in the business for a few years. Then the destiny dealt another cruel blow by taking away his health and confining him to bed. It was May 8, 1998 when the velvet voice was stilled for ever.

Long before he had said through one of his songs:

Meri yaad mein tum na aansoo bahana,

Na jee ko jalana , mujhe bhool jaana!


It's hard to do that!

Memorable songs

Even though Talat sang hundreds of hits, some of his most memorable songs from Hindi cinema are;

* Humse aaya na gaya - Dekh Kabira Roya (1957)

* Jayen to jayen kahan - Taxi Driver (1954)

* Tasveer banata hoon - Baradari (1955)

* Dil-E-Nadaan tujhe hua kya hai - Mirza Ghalib (1954)

* Sham-E-Gham ki qassam - Foothpath (1953)

* Jalte hain jiske liye - Sujata (1959)

* Meri yaad me tum na - Madhosh (1951)

* Phir wohi sham wohi gam - Jahan Aara (1964)

* Aye mere dil kahi aur chal - Daag (1952)

Movie career

Talat was a handsome man and a good singer, which prompted movie producers to try him as an actor. The handsome young Ghazal king did not go unnoticed by the film producers, who besieged him with offers to act in their films. Talat was to finally accept 13 films with top heroines like Nutan, Mala Sinha, Suraiya and others before he decided that acting was not his forte. Talat gave up acting to concentrate on singing.

The advent of rock-n-roll in the late 1960s sidelined singers like Talat. As long as he was top box-office draw, the movie producers insisted on including his songs in their movies. Talat's velvety vocals posed a special challenge to the music-composers, most of whom leaned towards the deep baritones of Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. The resultant demise of his movie career led to the decline of his singing career. At the same time, the social changes and happiness brought about by increasing prosperity in India meant that blue mood ghazals and heart-rending ballads were not popular any more. Talat continued to record good songs, but less in number. His last soundtrack recording, in 1985, is the song "Mere Shreek-e-Safar", a duet sung with Miss Hemlata, from the movie "Wali-e-Azam" composed by Chitragupt and written by Ahmed Wasi.

However, Talat who was the first Indian singer to go on a foreign concert tour in 1956 to East Africa found eager fans awaiting his arrival in foreign countries. Talat found packed audiences in USA, England, West Indies and other countries where he packed gigantic halls like Royal Albert Hall in London, Madison Square Garden in USA and Jean Pierre Complex in West Indies. He continued singing to packed auditoriums till 1991 when he toured Holland. Talat sang about 800 songs in his long career. His songs are as popular with his fans as they were the day these were released.

People who remember Talat describe his nature as a quiet one. He is often written and described as a decent man, as his voice reflected that decency and sense of calm. Music directors who worked with him claim that when one would listen to him, you would get the feeling that he's a soft-hearted man. As Naushad aptly reflects about Talat; "Because one's character reflects one's art too"[6].

Talat actively sang approximately 800 songs spread over 4 decades (between the 40s-80s). Some of the most popular work of Talat is available from the Gramophone Company of India Ltd. (now populary known as HMV). Some of the existing known available are;

* Golden Collection of Talat Mahmood (CD No. 131015-16)

* Talat Mahmood in a Sentimental Mood (CD No. 132335)

* Evergreen Hits of Talat Mahmood (CD No. 132017)

* For Talat's film 'DIL E NADAAN', famous producer A.R. Kardar launched an 'All India Beauty Contest' to hunt for a new heroine to act opposite this immensely popular and much sought after Singing Star. The winner was beautiful Peace Kanwal.

* In 1956, Talat became the first ever Indian playback singer to go abroad for commercial concerts.

* On Talat's US Concert Tour, Talat's popularity prompted famous New York television host Joe Franklin to invite Talat on his hugely popular programme "The Joe Franklin Show" watched by over 25 million Americans. He introduced Talat to American audiences as "The Frank Sinatra Of India !"

* 1954, the year Binaca Geet Mala switched to a countdown system; the topper was Talat Mahmood’s " Jayen to jayen kahan "[7].

* Producer-Director-Studio Owner Mehboob Khan of 'Mother India' fame, would always put his finger on Talat's throat and tell him " Khuda ka noor tumhare gale mein hai !"

* Talat's first recording : " Sab din ek samaan nahin hote " - for HMV in 1941.

* Talat's first film recording : " Jago musafir jago " for film RAJLAXMI in 1945.

* Talat's last recording : Ghazal album titled "GHAZAL KE SAAZ UTHAO" for HMV in 1986.

* Has sung in 17 Indian languages to include - Urdu/ Hindi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Telugu, Gujrati, Marathi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Sindhi, Awadhi, Marwari, Assamese.

* In 1979, Talat performed at the world renowned Royal Albert Hall. Talat was the second Indian playback singer after Lata Mangeshkar to be invited to perform at this historical venue.

Awards and Honors:

* Maharashtra Government s best playback singer - 1961.

* Padma Bhushan - 1992

* Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar (Madhya Pradesh Govt.) - 1996

Best Of Talat Mehmood:

Song Movie

Itna na mujh se too pyaar badhaa Chhaya

Seene me sulagte hain armaan Taraana

Pyaar par bas to nahin hai Sone Ki Chidiya

Jalte hain jis ke liye Sujata

Tasveer banata hoon Baradari

Main dil hoon ek armaan bharaa Anhonee

Ai dil mujhe aisi jagah le Arzoo

Jayen to jaye kahan Taxi Driver

Phir wahi shaam wahi gham wahi Jahan Ara

Ye hawa ye raat he chaandni Sangdil

Shaame gham ki kasam Footpath

Ai mere dil kahin aur chal Daag


Legends like him aren't born everyday and when they do their place can't be filled by anybody. Like K L Saigal, Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh... Nobody can fill their places. Where ghazals were concerned, Talat had the same stature as Begum Akhtar. He passed away on 9th May 1998.