Uma Devi

अफ़सान लिख रही हूँ (२) दिल-ए-बेक़रार का
आँखोँ में रंग भर के तेरे इंतज़ार का
अफ़साना लिख रही हूँ

जब तू नहीं तो कुछ भी नहीं है बहार में
नहीं है बहार में
जी चाहता है मूँह भी
जी चाहता है मूँह भी न देखूँ बहार का
आँखोँ में रन्ग भर के तेरे इंतज़ार का
अफ़साना लिख रही हूँ

हासिल हैं यूँ तो मुझको ज़माने की दौलतें
ज़माने की दौलतें
लेकिन नसीब लाई
लेकिन नसीब लाई हूँ इक सोग़वार का
आँखोँ में रन्ग भर के तेरे इंतज़ार का
अफ़साना लिख रही हूँ

आजा कि अब तो आँख में आँसू भी आ गये
आँसू भी आ गये
साग़र छलक उठा
साग़र छलक उठा मेरे सब्र-ओ-क़रार का
आँखोँ में रन्ग भर के तेरे इंतज़ार का
अफ़साना लिख रही हूँ

  THE SINGER and actress Uma Devi, popularly known as Tun Tun, made her mark in Indian cinema first as a playback singer (whose singing is heard while actors mime) and then as a comedienne. Her rotund figure added to her popularity and the comic relief provided by her performances in nearly a hundred Bollywood films became an addictive commercial ingredient in the 1960s and 1970s.

Uma Devi Khatri was born into a conservative Punjabi family in north India in 1923 (she claimed she had no record of her exact date of birth). She had an enduring passion for singing since her childhood. After losing both her parents while she was still in her teens, Devi was adventurous enough to leave home to seek a future as a singer in India's film capital Bombay (now Mumbai).

he competition was tough as the Bombay film industry in the 1940s had a string of talented singers such as Noor Jehan, Rajkumari, Khursheed and Zohrabai Ambalewali. Her first singing assignment came in Nazir's Wamiq Azra in 1946. Although the film did not earn her a fortune, it gave her a break into the industry and eventually led to her dream of working with the great film-music composer Naushad Ali.

She signed a contract with the producer-director A.R. Kardar, whose films Naushad scored, for 500 rupees. Devi's two early songs "Afsana likh rahi hoon" ("I Am Writing My Saga of Love") and "Yeh kaun chala" ("Who is This My Love?") from Dard ("Pain", 1947) became popular hits. It was her distinctive nasal voice quality with an undercurrent of pain that turned Uma Devi to an overnight singing star without any formal training.

 Following Dard, Uma Devi became Naushad's favourite performer. With him she got her next job singing in Mehboob Khan's Anokhi Ada ("Unique Gesture", 1948). Two popular numbers from the film, "Kahe jiya dole" ("Why the Heart Throbs") and "Dil ko lagake humne kuch bhi na paya" ("I Got Nothing by Falling in Love"), strengthened her position in the industry.

Her career took a dramatic turn when the southern Indian producer- director S.S. Vasan approached her for playback in Chandralekha (1948), a major film for Gemini Studios in Madras (now Chennai). She sang seven songs for the film, including the hit "Saanjh ki bela" ("These Moments of Evening"). Chandralekha remains Uma Devi's most acclaimed work.

But she had to pay a price for the film's success as singing for Vasan was a breach of contract with Kardar. Despite having Naushad as her mentor, Devi found her career as a playback taking a downward turn. Success in Madras brought about her downfall in Bombay. Soon, the Partition of India created professional chaos in Bombay and the 1950s saw the rise of new singing stars such as Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. A lack of formal training and an inability to handle higher scales were to let Uma Devi down in the face of the new, trained generation.

With a lull in her career, Devi settled down for a while, putting on an enormous amount of weight that was to accompany her throughout the second phase of her career. It was Naushad who suggested she try acting. She made her debut as "Tun Tun" in S.U. Sunny's Babul (1950), a film produced by Naushad Ali himself and starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis.

Tun Tun gradually grew as the first comedienne of Indian cinema. Some of her important films as a comedienne are Guru Aar Paar (Across the Heart, 1954), Mr and Mrs 55 (1955) and Pyaasa (The Eternal Thirst, 1957), all directed by Guru Dutt. She also acted with modern- day megastars, including with Amitabh Bachchan in Prakash Mehra's comedy blockbuster Namak Halal (1982).

Behind the facade of a comedienne, Uma Devi had a strong will to survive in the ruthless world of Bollywood films, where an artist is only ever as good as his last film.

Uma Devi Khatri, singer and actress: born 1923; married; died Bombay 24 November 2003.