Leading singers stifled my voice: Mubarak Begum

Leading singers stifled my voice: Mubarak Begum

Mubarak Begum

"I don't want to name them. Everyone knows them. They snatched away work from me, ensuring that no music director or film-maker ever gave me any," Mubarak Begum told PTI.

The 70-year-old singer lives in penury in a small house of Behrampauda area in western suburb Jogeshwari, with an ailing daughter and a son who drives a taxi. "It's a struggle to take care of the grocery, phone and electricity bills," she added. A singer long forgotten by the film fraternity, she mesmerised an entire generation of music lovers with her immortal numbers like 'Mujhko apne gale lagaa lo', 'O mere humrahi' from film 'Humrahi' and 'Bemurrawwat bewafa begana dil' from 'Susheela'.

Widely appreciated in the '50s and the '60s, Mubarak Begum did not attain pole position in the Hindi mainstream movies. "Music composers wanted to give me work but these singers, who later became globally famous, ensured I did not get work as it would have meant competition," she said.

"I had no godfather in the film industry. Mukesh had Raj Kapoor, Mahendra Kapoor had B R Chopra... there was no one for me," she said.

After all these years, does she bear a grudge against her contemporaries, who "ruined" her career? "I trust that 'Allah' rewards those who do good and punishes those who snatch other people's livelihood," she said.

"They (her detractors) told the music composers, if you let Mubarak Begum sing, we will not work for you." The versatile singer, whose numbers like 'Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yun hamari yaad aayegi...' had music aficionados wanting for more, says the film fraternity has turned a blind eye to her plight.

Her daughter Shafaq Banu, 41, is bedridden with advanced stage of Parkinson's disease. "It is a tough task arranging for her medicines or run household expenditure. I have a constant back-ache and waist pain for which I need to take medicines regularly," Mubarak Begum said.

Born in Sujangarh, Churu in Rajasthan, the singer spent childhood in Ahmedabad and Vadodara before her father, a fruit vendor, noticing her singing talent, decided to shift to Mumbai. "My father thought I would get work here. In Mumbai, initially I sang 'ghazals' for the All India Radio and music composers took note. I started getting work," she recalled. Actor-politician late Sunil Dutt helped her get a house. "I went to meet Dutt saab. He did not know me although I had sung in the 1955 Sohrab Modi film 'Kundan', in which he acted. After someone told him about me, he was delighted and said 'I sang very well and that I preceded even Lata Mangeshkar in the industry,'" she said.

"Then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh sanctioned this house (in Jogeshwari) to me seven years ago from the Chief Minister's discretionary quota for artistes and I moved into it four years ago after selling our old house at Grant Road," Mubarak Begum said.

"I had no money to pay for the (new) house. Lyricist Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi raised the money. "When I recorded songs, we got between Rs 150 to Rs 500 per film," she said. "I must have recorded between 500 to 1,000 songs, including in Hindi, Gujarati and also Rajasthani folk songs," she added.

"There are some ardent fans who keep calling me for some functions. I recently went to Jaipur where everyone recalled my career." What does she think of today's Hindi film music? "Today, there are no songs... it's all a tamasha (farce)," the singer said, adding she doesn't listen to the latest music churned out in Bollywood. "What keeps me engrossed are the 'saas-bahu' serials on TV," said the singer.

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