Shamshad Begum, the nasal voiced legendary classical and playback singer of yesteryears was born on the 14th of April, 1919. Making her debut on radio in Lahore in 1937, the Amritsar-born singer captivated the hearts of listeners with the enchanting depth of her voice. The then AIR Lahore helped her in entering the world of movies as frequent broadcasting of her songs induced music directors to use her voice for film songs. Shamshad Begum also recorded 'naats' (Islamic devotional songs) for a couple of gramophone recording companies.
Lahore-based composer Ghulam Haider used her voice skilfully in some of his earlier films like ‘Khazanchi’ (1941) and ‘Khandan’ (1942). When he shifted to Bombay in 1944, Shamshad Begum went with him as a member of his team. In 1944, when Mehboob Khan launched his historical venture 'Humayun', Master Ghulam Haider used Shamshad Begum's voice in the film. That was the time when Amirbai Karnataki was the considered number one playback singer in Bombay. With the introduction of Shamshad Begum to the film, contemporary composers almost fell over each other in booking her for the recording of their songs leading to an extremely prolific career till the mid to late 1950s. Music directors like C Ramachandra, SD Burman and Naushad used her as their prime female vocalist in the early part of their careers.
Shamshad created sensations with her songs in her very first film ‘Khazanchi’, the song that gained that became most popular was 'Ek Kali Nazon Se Pali'. After that, she gave countless hit songs like 'Duniya Me Ghareebon Ko Aaram Nahi Milta' (Zamindaar, 1942), 'Armanon Ki Basti Me Hum Aag Laga Baithe,' (Shirin Farhad, 1945), 'Dil Thandi Hawa Me' (Shama, 1948), 'Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon..' (Patanga, 1949), 'Milte Hi Aankhen,' (Babul, 1950), 'Saiyyan Dil Me Aana Re,' (Bahaar, 1951), 'Boojh Mera Kya Naam Re' (C.I.D, 1956), 'Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar', (Aar Paar, 1954), 'Maine Dekhi Jag Ki Reet,' (Sunehre Din, 1949), 'Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin Pe Nishana,' (C.I.D, 1956), 'Pee Ke Ghar Aaj' (Mother India, 1957), etc. Even the one rendered as late as 1968 for ‘Kismat’ under OP Nayyar, after her retirement; 'Kajra Mohabbat Wala Ankhiyon Mein Aisa Dala' proved a superhit. Her duet with Kishore Kumar, 'Meri Neendon Mein Tum' from ‘Naya Andaz’ (1956), similarly, remains almost a touchstone of melodious romance.
We can judge the popularity of her songs by the number of remixed songs which are storming the music market today. 70 per cent of these remixes were originally sung by Shamshad. And by the popularity of these remixes one can easily judge her popularity in 'her' days. Many yesteryear singers and composers are against this remixing of the old songs but Shamshad feels that there is no harm if the younger generation is enjoying the old songs in their new 'avtaar'.
Today Shamshad Begum is totally out of the media and films but she enjoys the memory of the golden past even today. She listens to the old melodies of yesterdays and lives peacefully in Bombay.
Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum have sung 20 odd songs together. It was Shamshad Begum's mentor Ghulam Haider who first used their talents in a group song ‘Jab Chand Jawan Hoga’ along with singers Munnaver Sultana and Naseem for the movie ‘Bairam Khan’ in 1946. They got their first major duet in 1947 in the movie ‘Bhookh’. This lovely duet 'Yeh Haseenon Ke Mele Albele' was composed by the super-hit music director Anil Biswas, and bacame a hit.
They then appeared for two duets in the 1948 movie ‘Actress’, ‘Ho Gori tera Banka Chaila’ and ‘Aankhon Aankhon Mein’ which did very well. (Another Shamshad song from the same movie, ‘Hello gentleman’ was also a hit). Bulo C Rani used them first in the movie ‘Anjuman’ the same year in the song ‘Pyati tera mera mera tera pyar’. He repeated them again in his 1949 movie ‘Nazare’ for two trios with G. M. Durrani ‘Duniya Ki Andheri Raat Mein’ and ‘Bahaar Aayi Chaman Ke’.
Their first big hit came in the form of the song ‘Mera Dil Tadpa Ke Kahan Chala’ in the 1949 movie ‘Shabnam’. There were two versions of the song in the film. A solo by Geeta picturized on Kamini Kaushal, and then a duet by Geeta-Shamshad picturized on Kamini and Paro, when Dilip Kumar and Paro try to bring Kamini Kaushals' memory back. The song’s timeless melody, scored by S D Burman and the divine voices of the two singers became a rage. This song was the much needed hit that facilitated S D Burman’s climb to the very top of the music industry. He, like many other music directors, used Shamshad as the stepping stone to move on to the more successful Lata, and later Asha.
Gyan Dutt had them sing a trio with Sulochana Kadam, 'Umangon Ke Din' and a duet ‘Jiya Ka Diya Piya tim tim kare’ in 1949's ‘Sunhare Din’. Husnlal Bhagatram had them sing together in 1950s ‘Gauna’, 'Mujhse Yeh Keh Rahi' with Rafi as the third singer. 1950 saw them in some other songs among which Meherbani's song ‘Aayi Basant Ritu Odhe Chunariya’ (with Surinder Kaur) was special for was the only instance of the three nightingales crooning together.
Unfortunately after 1950, their duets became less and less frequent. Music directors who had some of the biggest hits of their career with Shamshad, including O.P. nayyar, Chitragupta, Madan Mohan, C.Ramchandra, Naushad, S.N. Tripathi and S.D. Burman now moved on the new singing sensation, Lata Mangeshkar. According to Raju Bharatan, in his biography on Lata, Shamsad has time and again reiterated the fact that she helped all up and coming music directors and supported them to acquire a secure place in film industry, who later left her for either Asha or Lata and started to gave her raw deals.
While the 50’s saw the onset of a downfall in Shamshad’s career, Geeta was moving from strength to strength. They were used together only sparingly in the coming years. In 1952, they appeared in ‘Sapna’ in the song ‘Door Nagariya Tohri’ composed by a new music director Shyam Babu Pathak. Similarly, in 1954 in ‘Lakeeren’ they sang nimuba ‘Pe papiha bola’ for hafiz khan. Both songs, though not super-hits, became fairly popular.
Roshan used them many years later in 1957's ‘Agra Road’ for his melodious trio ‘Gunahon Ke Chiraag’ with Rafi, but the song did not become as popular as some others from the movie. The duo gave their final bow in the excellent ‘Hum Kisi Se Na Kahenge’ (which appeared in two parts) in the movie ‘Yahudi Ki Ladki’ for Hemant Kumar in the year 1957.
Inspite of being immensely talented artists both had an excruciatingly small number of songs together. Shamshad Begum, apparently, took retirement in the year 1958, returning only for a duet each in ‘Kismat’ (1968) and ‘Pakeeza’ (1971) with Asha and Rafi respectively.
The legendary OP Nayyar in an interview admitted; “I am to blame myself in the position I am today. My only regret in life is that I didn't stick to Geeta Dutt’s voice, and ignored her for Asha Bhosle. As I was involved very emotionally with Asha Bhosle at that time, and Asha Bhosle didn't want me to compose songs for any other female singer, this almost stopped me to use any other female voice. Asha Bhosle says that my compositions were very intricate and complex to sing, and I (Asha) and Mohd Rafi can only give 80% to OP Nayyar songs. I (Nayyar) think she is lying; Asha could only give 40% to my music. The only singers who can give 100% and did full justice to my songs were Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum.” It’s ironical then that he never cast his favourite singers together, not once!