Sangeet ke liye shukriya, Shamshad!

Other people much more qualified have written moving tributes to Shamshad Begum, who died today at 94. I have nothing to add to the praise rightly poured out, except to say that ever since I became interested in Hindi cinema, I have loved her songs, and felt that she was undervalued while alive. This is not a biographical paean, just an inadequate expression of my gratitude for all she gave us, and my sadness at her death.My introduction to the legends of Golden Age playback singers set me on a different path to many in terms of appreciation. I first heard Lata in films from the 90s, by which time her falsetto was a hideous, torturous screech, physically painful to listen to, made all the more so by being paired with actresses young enough to be her great-grandchildren.To this day, I’ve been unable to complete my plans to watch more Karishma Kapoor movies because my ears recoil in pain when Lata’s screeching fills the air. I have since heard and come to love many of Lata’s earlier songs, but in terms of a place in my affections, those 90s films as an introduction guaranteed that she would never take first place

Lata’s sister, on the other hand, I first heard from her heyday, and she remains my favourite female playback singer. After her comes Shamshad, whose distinctive voice makes it easy even for me, with all the musical perception of a dead fish, to jump up with excitement when watching a film and hearing a new song saying “Hey, that’s Shamshad!”. Here is the first song that I reacted to in that way:

I’ve subsequently been educated by several Hindi film buff friends  in the many grievous flaws of that film, but all I really remember is all the lovely Shamshad!

Being a fan of both Asha and Shamshad, watching Naya Daur was a real delight for me when reshami salwar started and I realised that my favourites were singing together. When I heard the sad news of her death, this song was the first one I turned to, to remember them both, in what was not their only “drag duet”.


A highlight of the film Tanu Weds Manu for me was when Kangna’s character dances to a song I had not previously heard. Now that I have  seen the original picturisation for kajra mohabbat wala I understand why it’s top of so many people’s lists of Shamshad songs, and I know that I need to see Kismat. My two favourites together again, once again blurring gender lines:


Since this is a celebration of Shamshad’s impact on my experience of Hindi cinema, and a look at why her death literally made me shed a tear when other “bigger” names have not, I will conclude this brief tribute with the song that started it for me. The very first time I ever heard Shamshad’s voice made an instant impression, in no small part because in the picturisation of this magnificent qawwali, she “won” the sing-off against the singer I still resented for hurting my ears. I can think of no better way to remember the unique treasure that was Shamshad than by letting her beat Lata one more time, in untainted monochrome – khudaa haafiz, begum:


6 Replies to “Sangeet ke liye shukriya, Shamshad!”

  1. Lovely tribute, Stuart. And I so love each of the songs you've posted – especially the last one, which is one of my absolute favourites.

    P.S. Have been discovering a lot more about Shamshad Begum's singing since yesterday. Will share someday soon.

    1. Thanks, I am really looking forward to a Dustedoff Shamshad ten! By the way, how many films did she and Geeta Dutt both sing for? There's one film that's nagging me in which Shamshad sings a song early in the film, then Geeta does the rest.

    2. IMDB lists 28 films in which both Geeta Dutt and Shamshad sang.
      Could Aar Paar be the movie you mention? I remember the title song being sung by Shamshad – but from what I remember all the other songs are Geeta's.

    3. Thanks so much, I knew you'd have the answer! One thing I remembered was that the song was in a film I own on DVD, not just one I rented or watched online, so having Aar Paar in my DVD collection confirmed it. 🙂

  2. What a lovely tribute Stuart. Shamshad begum is one of my favourite singers too. Have you heard Dharti ko Aakash Pukare from Mela, and Kahe Koyal Shor Machae Re from Aag? Two of my absolute favourites. Will be doing a best -of-Shamshad list too.

    1. Thanks, neer! Another Shamshad list will be a treat to look out for. I have heard, and like, Kahe Koyal Shor Machae Re as I own a copy of Aag. I had not heard Dharti ko Aakash Pukare, thanks for the tip. What I've heard sounds moving and beautiful, but the way it's up on YouTube suggests to me that I need to see it in the film to do it justice.

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