Samshad Begum

Shamshad Begum (born April 14, 1919) is an Indian singer who was one of the first playback singers in the film industry. Shamshad Begum was born in Amritsar, Punjab. She was a big fan of K.L. Saigal and watched Devdas 14 times. She earned 15 rs per song and was awarded 5000 on the completion of the contract on jenaphone. She started her radio career on Peshawar Radio and did work in Lahore, Dehli etc. She made her debut on radio in Lahore on December 16, 1937 captivating the hearts of listeners with the enchanting depth of her voice. Shamshad was very much conscious of her not so beautiful face and she never posed for any picture and not many people saw her pictures anywhere. Until the end of 1970s, nobody knew her face but everybody could recognise her melodious voice as it was used by the great maestros like Naushad Ali and O.P.Nayar. Even today her songs from 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s make you stand still to listen to them.

She sang for the All India Radio (AIR) through her musical group The Crown Imperial Theatrical Company of Performing Arts, set up in Delhi. The then AIR Lahore helped her in entering the world of movies as frequent broadcasting of her songs, which induced music directors to use her voice for their films. Shamshad also recorded "naats" and devotional music for a couple of gramophone recording companies. Her crystal clear voice caught the attention of sarangi maestro Ustad Hussain Bakshwale Saheb, who took her as his disciple. Lahore-based composer Ghulam Haider used her voice skillfully in some of his earlier films like: Khazanchi (1941) and Khandaan (1942). When he shifted to Bombay in 1944, Shamshad went with him as a member of his team. She is credited with singing one of the first Westernised songs, Meri jaan...sunday ke sunday by C. Ramchandra. O.P.Nayyar describes her voice as that of a "temple bell" for its clarity of tone.

In 1944, when Mehboob Khan launched his historical venture Humayun, Master Ghulam Haider used her voice in the film. That was the time when Amirbai Karnatki was considered the number one playback singer in Bombay. With the introduction of Shamshad Begum in the film world of Bombay, contemporary composers almost fell over each other in booking her for recording of their songs leading to a prolific career until the mid-late 1950s. Music directors like C. Ramchandra, S.D. Burman, Naushad, and O.P.Nayyar used her as their prime female vocalist in the early part of their careers. Shamshad became a national rage between the 1940s and the late 1950s rendering songs with her nasal voice, which helped her carve her independent image--a voice different from her peers--Lata, Asha, Geeta, etc.

Shamshad Begum, the nasal-voiced legendary classical and playback singer of yesteryears stays at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai in Mumbai.

Most of her songs were memorable hits. Even the one rendered in 1960s for Kismat, after her retirement: "Kajra mohabbatwala ankhiyon mein aisa dala" composed by O.P. Nayyar, proved a superhit. Her duet with Kishore Kumar, "Meri neendon main tum, meri khwabon mein tum" from Naya Andaz (composed by O. P. Nayyar), similarly, remains almost a touchstone of melodious romance.

Shamshad, reputed to be a stunningly beautiful woman in her youth, performed live, both on-stage and on All India Radio through her musical group The Crown Imperial Theatrical Company of Performing Arts, set up in Delhi. Her crystal-clear voice caught the attention of sarang maestro Ustad Hussain Baksh-wale Saheb, who took her as his disciple.

Since Mumbai had already been acknowledged as the country’s film capital, Shamshad went there in the late 1930s to try her fortune.

She was immediately grabbed by master music directors like Naushad Ali, Ram Ganguly, S.D. Burman, O.P. Nayyar, and Khemchand Prakash. Throughout her film singing career, she remained a particular favorite with Naushad and Nayyar who used her voice not only to its fullest range but to the maximum extent possible. Shamshad became a national rage between the 1940s and mid-1960s rendering songs in her nasal voice, which helped her carve her independent--and till date unchallenged--niche in the world of music.

She became a rage with songs like "O, Lagi Lagi" (Aaan), "Dhadkar Mera Dil" (Babul), "Teri Mehfil Main Kismat Azma kar Hum Bhi Dekhange" (Mughal-E-Azam), "Chhau Main Rakha Virana" (Deedar), "Holi Aayi Re Kanhai" (Mother India)--all hits for which music was directed by Naushad.

Similarly, she gave superhits for Nayyar like "Kabhi Aar, Kabhi Paar" (Aar Paar), "Poochh Mera Kya Naam Re, Nadi Kinare Gaon Re" (CID). Among other notable numbers she rendered were "Saiyan Dil main Aana Re, Aake Chhup Na Jana Re" (Bahaar - S. D. Burman), "Ai Dil Na Mujhe Yaad Dila" (Saawan Aaya Re - Khemchand Prakash) and "Kaahe Koyal Shor Machaye" (Aaag - Ram Ganguly).