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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mellifluous melodies: my favorite Shamshad Begum songs

Shamshad Begum Shamshad Begum The name conjures up images of golden classics, old-fashioned fun songs, and a nasal voice that may be out of fashion now, but never seems dated. She started her career singing for radio Lahore in 1937. From there to singing for movies was but a short step. She recorded her first film-song for music director Ghulam Haider in the Punjabi film Yamla Jatt (1940), and her career as a popular playback singer was launched! She went on to give us hundreds of popular songs in her lovely earthy voice with its distinctive nasal twang. And she is perhaps the only female singers to have provided playback for leading men – she sang for Shammi Kapoor (Bluffmaster) and Biswajit (Kismat)!

Shamshad Begum

For a singer without any formal musical training, she had an amazing vocal range and command over her voice. I love her folksy songs best, but there is no denying that she shone at every genre she handled – from the "Western" Meri jaan sunday ke sunday, to the haunting Dharti ko aakash pukare and the numerous peppy numbers that have been remixed ad infinitum in more recent times. Her biggest hits were from the 40s, most of which I’m not very familiar with. But even limiting myself to her 50s songs, I still had lots of great songs to choose from! The only way I could limit myself to “ten favorites” was by listing the first ten songs that came to mind – though even then it was a tough job since I did want to include some of her 40s songs and some of her lesser known numbers. And here is my list, in all its freshly edited glory (the songs are included in this youtube playlist):

1. Hum dard ka afsana (Dard, 1947) Music director: Naushad

It is at once an earnest appeal for compassion and a passionate avowal to improve their lot, by a group of orphans. When I first heard this song, I was struck by the earnestness in Shamshad Begum’s voice. Most of her songs that I had heard before, usually had her in a playful and bouncy mood, with the occasional sad song thrown in. Her unusual earnestness apart, I just enjoy this song for her voice that flows like a steady stream of melted chocolate – sweet, thick and so very rich!

2. Meri pyaari patang (Dillagi, 1949) with Uma Devi; Music director: Naushad

A group of playful women doing what apparently comes naturally to womankind – multi-tasking. They sing while they dance, fly kites and fight kite-battles. And it does not even appear to be an unusual scene in this village, else Suraiya wouldn’t be sitting with that bored expression on her face! Or perhaps she thinks that there are enough singers in the fray and so, won’t join in? Shamshad’s duet partner here is Uma Devi whom we know better as Tun Tun, the comedienne!

3. O dilwalon dil ka lagana  (Patanga, 1949) with Chitalkar; Music director: Chitalkar Ramchandra

In a film teeming with popular songs, this one is admittedly lesser known than the hilarious Mere Piya gaye Rangoon, but I love the lyrics of this one more. The woman (Nigar Sultana) counsels the spectators that losing your heart [to someone] is a good thing, while the man (Yakub) qualifies it with "sometimes". And every time she extols the virtues of following your heart, he counters with a droll recital of the consequences! They end up concluding that it’s nice to fall in love, sometimes – ironic considering how much romance goes into the making of this film’s plot. And just listen to the voices – the singers are having as much fun singing as we have listening!

4. Saiyaan dil mein aana re (Bahar, 1951) Music director: S. D. Burman

I’ve loved this song ever since I heard it on radio, looooong ago. It’s such a happy song with all the trappings of romantic anticipation. There is a lilt in Shamshad’s voice and you can almost hear her dancing, skipping and jumping all over the place. And I loved it even more when I realised that onscreen, that is exactly what Vyjayanthimala does! This was by way of her (Vyjayanthi’s) Hindi film debut, and I can’t help but wonder if this lovely song had anything to do with the success of this film. 

5. Do se ho gaye ek hum (Ashiana, 1952) with Kishore Kumar. Music director: Madan Mohan

Kishore-Shamshad always struck me as a rather unusual singing duo, more so because I (wrongly) think of them as belonging to different decades. So I am always surprised at how well matched they are, even in their humorous antics. Kishore may be Bollywood’s Buffoon No. 1, but here he is clearly out-buffooned by Shamshad. Just listen to her "O Mister" – it makes Kishore sound positively sober in comparison! The lyrics of the song are hilarious enough – a couple (can’t find the video so I can’t say who they are) are celebrating their wedding night and anticipating the divorce about to happen soon – but Shamshad’s buffoonery makes them even funnier.


6. Dekho dekho huzoor (Alibaba And Forty Thieves, 1954) with Mohammed Rafi. Music director: Chitragupta, S.N. Tripathi

This time it’s Rafi against whom Shamshad Begum plays off her humorous antics, while Arabic dates (the edible kind) and sour grapes play a very prominent role in the lyrics! A feisty Shakeela tries to hold off an ardent suitor (Mahipal, if I recall correctly) by telling him that she is "a bunch of sour grapes" that he will "not be able to reach". When the "sour grapes" come in the shape of Shakeela and sound like Shamshad, can one blame the said suitor for promising rashly that she is his Arabic date in whose shade he will spend his life? 

7. Aa dil se dil milale (Hatim Tai, 1956) Music director: S.N. Tripathi

I love the Arabic sound of the music in this song, and Shamshad’s mellifluous voice is just the icing on the cake. While 'seductive' is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of her voice, this song certainly brings it up! When she sings Aa dil se dil mila le (come, let heart meet heart), I cannot understand Jairaj’s hesitation in following this particular invitation (anybody know who the actress is?). Is it because this song clearly calls out for some belly dancing that is remarkable by its absence?

8. Boojh mera kya naam re (CID, 1956) Music director: O. P. Nayyar

Shamshad Begum worked with a cross section of music directors, from her mentor Ghulam Haider to Naushad and Madan Mohan and other less well-known musicians, but nobody, in my opinion, used her voice to such good effect as O. P. Nayyar. Perhaps it was the touch of Punjab in his music and her voice that brought out that vibrant energy in her singing, but her songs with him remain her most popular ones to date. Coming back to this song - I love the flirty, peppy tone of the lyrics and Shamshad’s breezy rendition. You can hear the smile in her voice as she asks us to guess her name and gives clues about herself. And I love that Minu Mumtaz gets to lip-sync onscreen. She does it with just the right amount of teasing flirtatiousness, though I wish she were allowed to dance a bit more.

9. Bheega bheega pyar ka sama (Sawan, 1959) with Mohammed Rafi. Music director: Hansraj Behl

A foot-tapping romantic number, this one has long been a favourite of mine. There is nothing like Shamshad-Rafi being let loose in a peppy song complete with O. P. Nayyar’s signature horse-beats. But wait, this was composed by Hansraj Behl! Hmm… is that why it’s actually picturised on a couple traveling in a horse-cart? Instead of quibbling over small details like that, let’s enjoy Shamshad-Rafi giving full rein to their joy in singing and savour the sheer happiness this song embodies.

10. Kajra mohabbat waala (Kismat, 1968) with Asha Bhosle. Music director: O. P. Nayyar

While it was Kalyanji-Anandji who first successfully used her voice in an androgynous context, it is this OP Nayyar cross-dressing classic that has found long-lasting fame. It is still re-mixed and played in dance clubs! The reason isn’t far to seek: Shamshad-Asha bring such verve and playful energy to their singing; the music is vibrant and perfectly complements the singing; Babita-Biswajit channel the vivacity so well onscreen… In short, everything comes together in this song so well that it would take a very picky critic, indeed, to find a fault with it!

And before I sign off, here’s the Shamshad Begum interview that got me started on this post  - part-I and part-II (the link was sent to me by my sister who wisely suggested I stop drooling over Rafi and think of my other favourite singers! Now I have, and will continue the series with some other singers over the next few months.)

Shamshad Begum links:


  1. Sweetness! What I love about Shamshad Begum is that she has her songs picturized on guys and gals both. Now I am going back to the post and listening to the songs...
    Thanks for these golden oldies. I've a lot to discover here.

  2. Kanan, there is a LOT of Shamshad goodness yet to be discovered. I had no idea how popular she was in the 40s, and what lovely songs she sang back then.

  3. Have tagged you. Please go look.

  4. What a lovely post- just what i needed before bed. [content, happy smile] Thanks!

  5. Awesome post, just awesome :) Shamshad begun's mastery over classical notes stun me. Also how rustically beautiful her renditions were. I call that raw power in her chords. Though I have not heard most of the songs you have listed, I can very well understand how great they are. I love Leke pehla pehla pyaar from CID. I also like kabhi aar kabhi paar and Ab to ji hone laga kisi ke surat from Mr and Mrs 55. Thanks for this post. I loved it :)

  6. Oh, lovely post! And thank you so much for reminding me of Saiyaan dil mein aana re: such a wonderful song. :-)
    Other than the songs Sharmi mentions, I also like Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka from Naya Daur and the sweet Bachpan ke din bhula na dena from Deedar. She was a vastly underrated singer.

  7. Great list!
    I jsu tlove her voice! Such a melodious but all the same with a certain cut to it.
    I think she is the only singer, where I can say that none of her songs are boring. I can't recollect even one song of hers,w here I would say "okay, I'll turn it off"
    BTW, don't you also feel that her voice didn't suit Vyjanthi in the song "Saiyan dil me aana re!"

  8. lovely post. am having such a good time going through your playlist.

  9. Fab post, i went through each and every one of the links and my favourites are the ones from patanga, i'm so tempted to get it on my next shopping trip (whenever that is, still keeping my resolution)

    Biswajeet is totally killing it in Kajra mohabbat wala what a fab drag act he is, wouldn't it be nice to see Sonu nigam do the same in his remix version

    and as for saiyan dil mein aana re, the lovely Richard S. first brought it to my attention months ago as it was remixed with the Spice girls wannabe by a Girlband and as much as i detest remixes of classics, i just love this one to bits. Spice Girls (my first obsessions in life) + Old bolly tune mash up, i'm sold

  10. Lovely list!!! I hadn't heard Meri pyaari patang before. But I had all the songs that Sharmi and dustedoff mentioned in my mind, esp Reshmi kurta salwar jali ka .
    I totally love Bujh mera kya naam re . And tahnks to Kajra mohabbat wala that I find Biswajeet extremely girly otherwise also.

  11. What a lovely list! Love all the songs. I had never hear Meri pyaari patang before.
    All her songs are so lively and listening to them.
    Bujh mera kya naam re is one of my all time favourites - love that teasing flirtatiousness about it.
    And thanks to Kajra mohabbat wala , that I don't feel guilty about finding Biswajeet extremly girly :P
    Few songs that pop up at the mention of Shamshad Begum are Mere piya gaye rangoon, Sainyya dil mein aana re, Kajra mohabbat wala, Reshmi salwaar kurta jali ka, Leke pehla pehla pyaar .
    But loved the way you have included the lesser known numbers. Thanks!

  12. Banno, that's a very interesting tag! I'll have a lot of fun doing it. :D

    Shweta, Shamshad at night is just what the doctor ordered for a good night's sleep! :D

    Sharmi, I somehow always think of her as better suited to folk songs because her voice suits their rustic simplicity, but she is simply amazing as a classical singer, too. And I LOVE that her voice never gets shrill in the high notes. Your favorite Shamshad songs just confirm my hypothesis that O. P. Nayyar used her voice to best effect!

    dustedoff, she certainly is very underrated. I guess the different singing styles that emerged with the rise of Lata-Asha kind of side-lined her, which is a pity. I love Reshmi salwar kurta (more OPN-Shamshad goodness) and of course, Bachpan ke din bhula na dena is such a lovely song... Sigh! I need another favorite Shamshad list! :D

    harvey, she certainly never comes over as boring - she has too much energy in her voice to be that! :D I did think her voice sounded a bit odd for Vyjayanthi but that's probably because I have never seen her lip-sync to anyone but Lata/Asha, and not because the voice is actually unsuitable.

    bollywooddeewana, the songs and the actors of Patanga (I LOVE Shyam) were way better than the movie itself. So be prepared to be disappointed by the end and the irritating drama.

    Saiyaan dil mein aana re wasn't safe even from Spice Girls wannabes? NAHIIIN!!! (I will check it out though.)

    sunheriyaadein, agreed that its entirely due to Kajra mohabbat waala that even I find Biswajit quite girly.

    You should check out Dillagi songs - the entire soundtrack is lovely though the film is once again, not worth watching even for the songs.

  13. I also love the duet
    Milte hi aankhen dil huya with Rafi.

    To say nothing of all her vintage Punjabi songs! She and Rafi also provided some wonderful duets in that language. Just check out the tragic

    And for a "happy" Punjabi favourite listen to these on youtube
    Batti baal ke banere uttey

    and she is the life of this bhangra duet with Rafi
    jatt kurian to darda mara

  14. "Saiyaan dil me aana re" is such a delight. You know what I like best--VJ's clothes, each one of them. Thanks Bollyviewer for this post. Shamshad begum hasn't been on my radar but there are inidividual songs I like. One with a young Dilip Kumar playing the piano for instance.

  15. bawa, Milte hi aankhen dil hua is lovely (its actually with Talat, not Rafi)! I used it in my piano songs list, so thought I'd give it a rest here.

    Thank you so much for those song recommendations. I had come across Saari umran dey pay gey wichoray and Batti baal ke banere on youtube before, but Jatt kudiyan to darda maara is a new one on me and it's totally delightful. Makes me want to jump up and dance! :D I've noticed that a lot of these old Punjabi songs are picturised on either Nishi or Indira Billi - were they the big heroines in Punjabi films back then?

    sophy, Vyjayanthi's dresses in Saiyaan dil mein aana re are all lovely, and she looks so young (too young to be mooning over Karan Diwan)!

    The "young Dilip Kumar playing the piano" song - did you mean Milte hi aankhen dil hua from Babul?

  16. I too feel the Shamshad love, and I bless you for making fun of the aberration that is fIENDS :) We must drive them out of business! Or at least make them change their ways!!

  17. They certainly are fiends! :D We need a "NOT friends of fRIENDS" action group.

  18. Bollyviewer, your choice of the Dard (1947) song: Hamdard kaa afsaanaa...completely bowled me over since that song is among my most favourites of Shamshad Begum's song.

    In my opinion, overall, Babul (1950) offers choicest of her songs under one roof. I haven't heard Shamshad Begum for decades; but those songs still ring in my ears. I find JAADU BHARE NAYNON MEN DOLE JIYAA TERI QASAM very enchanting. Shamshad's CHHO.D BABUL KA GHAR was such a cult song of Bidai that it remained very popular music for wedding procession down the decades. As a matter of fact, pardon me for saying, Lata sounds very feeble in Babul in her duet with Shamshad. In fairness, Lata was new while Shamshad was well-grounded by 1950and the former therefore owes a lot to Naushad Saab for taking her up since the Andaz (1949) days and leaving Shamshad in the lurch.

    My personal favourites include the Sindabad the Sailor songs and the one from Najma: BADEE MUSHKIL SE DIL KI BEQARAARI KO QARAAR AAYAA.

    Shamshad Begum has been aptly described as "Punjab ka Jaadu". Shamshad was still a force to reckon with throughout the Nineteen Fifties. The Kismat song could be said to be her swan song though she did sing a couple in the Nineties.

  19. This is a great list. Believe it or not, I have contemplated doing a Shamshad Begum list myself, and I also thought of the movies Dard, Dillagi, CID, Patanga, and Bahar!

    Coincidentally, for the past few days, I have had one of my favorite mostly-Shamshad Begum songs, "Door Koi Gaye Dhun Ye Sunaye" (Baiju Bawra) running through my head over and over. (There's a story behind why I was reminded of that song again...but it would probably take some space to get into that. Anyway, every time I am reminded of that song, it gets stuck in my head.)

    And if you don't mind my mentioning a few of my other favorites :), there's "Pagade Pahen Ke" in Madhosh and "Udhan Kathole Pe" in Anmol Ghadi (where she's singing for the child version of Noor Jehan's character)... I also love the singing that she did for Nargis in Mela (as a match, I think I actually like Shamshad-Nargis more than Lata-Nargis), and I've recently been enjoying the soundtrack to the film that I think was her breakthrough, Khazanchi (1941).

    And as I've said, there are just so many more :) ...

    P.S. Note to Bollywooddeewana, thank you, it's always nice to be called lovely. :)

  20. Nasir, its interesting you say that about Babul because I was also thinking that the soundtrack is her best collection of songs. I read in one of her interviews that Chhod babul ka ghar was so popular in weddings that she was amused to find it playing even in her daughter's bidaayi!

    As to comparisons with Lata, I've always thought that her (Lata's) voice gets a bit shrill in the high notes, something that never happens with Shamshad Begum's voice. "Punjab Ka Jadoo" sounds like a very appropriate name for her!

    Richard, I almost included Door koi gaaye, but finally decided against it since there were already enough of her well-known numbers on my list. And I would love to hear the story behind why the song has become an ear-worm for you!

    Thanks so much for reminding me of Pagdee pehen ke turredaar (and the other great ones). I heard it somewhere recently - on your blog, perhaps?

    It's a good thing that I have forgotten so many of her great songs else this list would never have been completed!

  21. Bollyviewer,

    The reason that "Door Koi Gaye" entered my head again is that I was looking at a post at Old Malayalam Cinema, where Ebenezer/Cinematters talked about how a Malayalam film, Ponkathir, copied a song from Daag, and then I checked out the other songs in this movie and discovered that there was another song that obviously copied "Door Koi Gaye." (I also pointed this similarity out in a comment with YouTube links, so if you're curious, go here: )

    That's how the song reentered my head. I don't know why it always becomes an "ear worm" for me, but whenever that song is in my head, it takes a while for my mind to let go of it. :)

  22. Let me add my applause for your wonderful post/playlist, Bollyviewer! I had only been familiar with Shamshad Begum for her duet with Lata Mangeshkar in Mughal-e-Azam's great "Tere Mehfil." Thanks for introducing me to so many delightful songs!

  23. Lovely post on a sadly forgotten legend. I bet most people don't realize that Shamshad Begum is still alive.

    While "dharti ko aakash pukare" is my favorite by her, I'm also exceedinly fond of two of her duets with Rafi: "ham ne jab dil tha diya" from Chhoo Mantar and "ada se jhoom te hue" from Sinbad the Sailor.

  24. Richard, thanks for that link! While Aanandavaasam amaravilasam is not an exact copy, the similarities to Door koi gaye are unmistakable.

    I do wonder how the ear-worm part works for you. For me, it's usually the lyrics that keep running in my mind like a song playing on an endless loop. I assume that is not the case for you, since the lyrics do not probably convey any meaning. So is it the music that stays with you?

    Pessimisissimo, thank you! She is unfortunately off the radar for a lot of people now, but if you ever venture into Hindi film music from the Golden Age (the 1950s) you'll come across a lot of her delightful songs.

    Shalini, I did not realise that she was alive either - until I did some research for this post!

    And thank you so much for those lovely songs. I've never heard them before, and I thought I had heard a lot of Shamshad in the last few days (and years of Vividh Bharti)!

  25. I am VERY much looking forward to checking out all these songs. Shamshad has always been my favourite playback singer after Asha, and it's always nice to see her getting the props she deserves. I did wonder about your comment that "Oy Chali Chali Kaisi Hawa" was the first to use her voice in an androgynous context. Whenever I think of Shamshad and cross-dressing, I always think of her duet with Asha in reshami salwar from Naya Daur. The context definitely involves androgyny, hai na? :)

  26. And why didn't I come across this post when I was doing my post on Shamshad?? You have posted some of her older numbers, and some of my favourites are in here too. Bookmarking it for some more listening pleasure!

  27. Very good post. Please check 'Mere banne ki baat na poochho' from gharana