Shamshad Begum: The singer who sang for 'rebel woman'

Shamshad Begum: The singer who sang for 'rebel woman'

The death of playback singer Shamshad Begum, whose soft nasal warbling sparked fire in the dark-grey shades of enigmatic feminine characters on Hindi film screen in the late forties, fifties and sixties, closes a chapter in the annals of popular Indian music.

Begum passed away at her residence here on Wednesday due to age-related ailments.

The 94-year-old crooner known for ever-green hits like “Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin Pe Nishana”, “Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon,” “Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar” and “Kajra Mohabbat Wala” had been unwell for the past several months and was also confined to a wheelchair under constant medical supervision.

Her daughter Usha Ratra said: “She passed away last night and her funeral was attended by relatives and close family friends.”

Conferred with Padma Bhushan in 2009, Shamshad Begum’s musical journey began in 1947 at Peshawar Radio in Lahore. Born to a conservative family in Amritsar (in Punjab) on December 16, 1919, the young girl had to fight prejudices and gender-bias in society in order to pursue her voyage into the musical sea.

Interestingly, despite having a nearly three-decade journey in the world of music, Begum honoured a promise made to her father in the early days and rarely got herself photographed.

Married at the age of 15 in 1934 to Ganpat Lal Batto, Begum never attended any recordings without her burkha. Despite her reluctance to play to the media gallery, she sang songs in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil and Punjabi and that too for all time greats like her mentor Ghulam Haider, Naushad and O P Nayyar.

Touch of audacity

Though her robust voice blended beautifully with the music that kissed the golden fields and green hills, her forte was in bringing the right touch of audacity in the voice of women who dare to chalk out their own path.

Unlike other singers who were desperate to croon for holier-than-thou, teary-eyed and syrup-drooling heroines, Begum preferred singing for the mischievous village belle or a fiery gypsy woman or a cynical sophisticated moll challenging masculine supremacy.

The late fifties saw urbanisation and the mushrooming of mean streets dotted with drinking dives; Begum managed to instill westernised derring-do inflection into the songs picturised on rebellious women living on the edge in these dimly-lit haunts.
However, the sixties saw the rise of Mangeshkar sisters and Begum along with other singers gradually began fading into the pale.


She was an artiste of extraordinary talent and abilities, and the songs she has left behind in her long career, which she started with AIR in 1947, will continue to enthrall music lovers.
Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister 

I had worked with her in several films. She was a very nice, cheerful and simple
human being. I pay my tribute to her.
Lata Mangeshkar

The golden voice of Shamshad Begum, playback singer of great eminence in some of the most historic film songs... now silent... RIP.
Amitabh Bachchan

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