Handsome, debonair and soft spoken, Talat Mahmood was one of India's foremost singing artistes. Born in Lucknow in 1924 in a conservative but musical minded family, this gifted artist had his early education in Lucknow and later in Aligarh. He received his musical training at the celebrated Morris College of Music in Lucknow where he three years before graduating.
Talat started broadcasting songs for All India Radio stations from 1939. He made his first record for His Master's Voice in 1941 in Calcutta. During the early part of his singing career when he was in Calcutta he gave playbacks and played minor roles in a number of Hindi and Bengali films. HMV was quick to notice this and offered Talat his first disc in 1941. The song was "sab din ek samaan nahin tha, ban jaoonga kya se kya main, iska to kuch dhyan nahin tha".
His reputation as a ghazal singer was not limited to his hometown of Lucknow, but it reached the city that shaped his destiny - Calcutta. Some of the famous ghazal singers of that period were Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, K.L. Saigal and M.A. Rauf. The classical songs he sang in their mold were "Sapnon Ki Suhaani Duniyaa Ko" for film Shiqast and " Laage Tose Naina " for Chaandi Ki Deewar.”. In 1944 came the hit "Tasveer teri dil mera behela na sakegi". Its popularity was so phenomenal and unrivalled that it still remains to be one of the top selling non-film discs of all time. This disc brought Talat fame throughout India and soon he was beckoned by the Calcutta film industry. Talat made cameo appearances and starred in about 16 movies, for both the Calcutta Film Industry (hub of the 1940s) and Bollywood. The three movies in which he starred were regional hits in Calcutta.
In 1949 Talat moved to Bombay, to sing for the Bombay film industry -- Bollywood. His name and fame have already preceded him and soon he was flooded with a number of offers. His big break came with the song "Ae dil mujhe aisi jagha le chal jahan koi na ho" composed by Anil Biswas for the soundtrack of the movie "Arzoo". The song’s immense popularity ensured the box-office success of the movie. In between his film and radio work. Talat was a very busy man, but found time to travel all over the country giving concerts. Geeta Dutt, who has sung few songs with Talat, accompanied him on such trips and had a great rapport with him.
The silken smooth voice and the velvety vocals of Talat Mahmood were eminently suitable for romantic songs and found apt expression in their heartfelt rendering. This was also true for the singing of geets as well as ghazals. His rich voice had the slight trembling timbre which was full of emotion and carried any song with full impact. It is no exaggeration to say that his stylized singing have few equals in the country even today.
Geeta Dutt and Talat sang some of the finest duets together.Their singing combination left listeners with a special indelible mark. Geeta was known for impeccable rendition of songs even at the highest possible scales. Talat’s voice was limited to intensities of lower scales that was essential for his style of singing. But together they created magic for us to cherish forever. One thing that is notable is that Geeta was deliberately made to sing the higher range vocals where as Talat carried it in the lower scales. This fact becomes clearer when we hear them sing together.
“Aaj ki bhag more” from Ratna Deep is an example that showcases a strong voice of Geeta Dutt complementing that of Talat in low key voice. So is the song “Aaye to kaise aayein” where it can be clearly seen that higher key vocals are allotted to Geeta. “Arman bhare dil ki lagan” from Jaan pehchan, one can clearly notice the way Geeta wraps her voice around that of Talat. This song composed by Khemchand Prakash is by far the most popular duet of Geeta Dutt and Talat Mahmood.
The playful song “Chori chori dil mein” from Kaafila shows how Geeta Dutt’s vocals dominate in the duet with Talat singing just a word or two…and also it can be seen clearly that the last antara of Talat is clearly done in a lower note, so as to fit in his range. “Dekho dekho ji balam” of Bahu is clearly a playful song where the emotions are so clearly brought out by Geeta ji…as she sings “ Mere akhiyon se door jana naa “ lovingly and full of emotion. Her voice effortlessly climbs up and down the scales even as we savour the beautiful song.
“Dil ko laga ke bhool se” from Dr Z is again a case of strong vocals of Geeta ji as she does the aalap effortlessly to support and synthesize the voice of Talat. “Hai yeh mousam yeh bahaar…” is again a runaway Geeta ji with her full unleashed beautiful voice…the western tuned song which has the mouth organ in the background accompanying her voice even as Talat rushes along in low key…Just notice the way Geeta sings “Chandni raat..ho abhi abhi..” at the higher and comfortable note ..a youthful voice at her zenith…
“Hazar hathwale” of Maha Pooja shows Geeta at her emotional best…moving us with the ripping haplessness of the human inability. “Kahin preet se bhara…” of Patal Bhairavi ..is an excellent showcase of Geeta Ji’s ability to catch the finer nuances of the situation..as she lets her voice out…” yeh chandrama…yeh chandni…yeh kaliyaan ..yeh lata..” in a total brilliant sweep of range and notes, where as Talat’s lines are decidedly at lower key, where his sweet voice holds the warmth.
“Kaise rokoge…aise toofan ko…” from Anandmath has young Geeta zoom across the scales with total ease where Talat sings the low keyed words lovingly. Hemant Kumar, the Music director of the film definitely has the idea so as to the range of Geeta Ji’s voice and gives her a carte blanche.
“Kehrahi hai dhadkane pukar kar…” of Laal pari is the ultimate example of the oomph in Geeta ji’s voice, as she glides across the scales with full ease..as she sings “Sajke tere dil ko mere…” with abandonment and yet total control over her voice. “Kya paaya duniya ne..” from Darbaar is a melancholic song, again an emotion filled voice of Geeta ji questioning the ways of the world and the unjust meted out to them.
“Mohabbat ki duniya mein..” is a laid back, low scale song in which Geeta never need to flex her voice..with Talat floating along side a melodious composition of lesser known Music Director Hafeez Khan. “Kaho ek baar mujhe tum se pyar..” is another lovely composition with Geeta leading all the way with Talat repeating “Mujhe tum se pyar..tum se pyar..” at the start of the antara.
“O Arabpati ki chori..” is a playful song with lilting voice of Geeta making fun of the situation with Talat aptly aside, a typical ched chad song. “Raat hai arman bhari” is a beautiful song done with the background of folksy chorus with high pitched voices..Geeta complements with her content filled voice in very low key voice spelling out each word lovingly making out a perfect pair with Talat.
“Sare jag se nain churakar…” is a rip away romper with Geeta in her element all the way..a fast paced number, where Talat is obviously rushed along..albeit a beautiful song from Naag padmini. “Shaam suhani nadi kinare..” is a song which was done at comfortable levels of Talat..easy going and a low scaled number.
“Sun lo ek kahani” from Ratna deep is a lori type of song again with low scaled voices of Geeta and Talat but the potential of Geeta comes to the fore..where she goes to the high pitch with..”Hai tha ek raajkumar salona“ effortlessly and at ease. “Thandi hawawon mein” from Bahu is an easy one, with melodious flute and low voices of Talat and Geeta all the way. “Tum sa meet mila” is a racy composition with a visibly aged voice of Talat with Geeta in a more restrained voice. The film Midnight (1972) was never released.
Altogether the pair of Geeta and Talat is unique as they each complemented so nicely..One can only hope they had many numbers to gift us which were not to be. But then, we are indeed grateful to the duo in eternity.