Mubarak Begum – Interview
She has worked with most composers of her time, yet never had the chance to make it to her zenith. Today, she remains a distant memory Mubarak Begum didn’t get many opportunities to get her voice heard. Today, as she looks back at a career which didn’t quite take off in the real sense of the term, she says, “I’ve done only 25 per cent of the work I could have. My wings were cut before I even began to fly. And I’ve never been able to understand why – since I was a niche singer, there was no question of treading on anyone else’s toes. But just as I was getting popular, composers stopped calling me for work. Finally, I reached a stage when I had no work at all.”
Now, as she waits for some miracle to release her from what has become a life of drudgery, Mubarak Begum looks back fondly on her days of struggle – when life still held out that most tempting bait, hope.
FILMS WERE A PASSION
“As a child, I loved watching movies. Though originally from Rajasthan, we lived in Sahrangpur Darwaza (Ahmedabad). I remember, whenever I knew somebody was going to watch a film, I’d throw a tantrum – I wanted to go, too! So, my ‘taya’ (paternal uncle) would take me, even though once the lights went off and the film began, I’d promptly fall asleep! When my family moved to Mumbai, Suraiya was very popular. I’d see her films, imitate her voice and sing all her numbers to perfection.”
“Then I started learning music from Abdul Karim Khan’s (a well known classical singer of the time) nephew, Riyazuddin Khan. I learnt just enough of classical music to be able to do ‘riyaz’ – I was told that too much classical training made one’s voice unfit for light music.”
“Around this time, I started singing on All India Radio (AIR) and, apparently, had a large audience. Among them was Rafique Ghaznavi Khan saab, remembered as the man who said the famous words (that accompany the logo of Mehboob Khan Films) – ‘Muddayi lakh bura chahe to kya hota hai, wohi hota hai jo manzoore khuda hota hai’. He is the music composer of ‘Taqdeer’, Nargis’s debut film.”
MIKE FRIGHT STRIKES!
“Anyway, Khan saab liked my voice and asked me to sing for him. I was very raw then, and was made to rehearse at a recording studio at Tardeo (Mumbai). But when I stood before the mike, I just couldn’t sing! Agajani Kashmiri, the well known writer, was also present and kept saying, ‘Go for another take.’ The others asked him, ‘What take? She can’t sing!’ We (my father and I) returned home. But, at the time, I felt no regret. I was too naive to really understand the importance of it all.”
“My father was very keen that I enter the music world, and constantly did the rounds of producers’ offices. That’s how I met Shyamsunder – a popular composer in those days – who introduced me to Ram Daryani. He was making ‘Badi Bahen’ at the time and promised to give me two songs in the film. But history repeated itself – I was made to rehearse (this time in Shree Sound Studios); and I got so frightened, I couldn’t sing!”
OVERCOMING MY FEAR
“This struggle continued till I met Yakub, who was making ‘Aayiye’, the music of which was composed by Shaukat Dehlvi, who did the popular ‘Nagma’. I remember going to Eastern Studios at Worli (Mumbai), where Allaudin, Yakub’s brother, was the recordist. And there, for the first time, we recorded without a hitch! The song was a solo, ‘Mohe aane lagi angrayi… aaja aaja balam’. I also sang a duet (with Lata Mangeshkar) for the same film, ‘Aao chalein, chalein sakhi wahan’.”
“Meanwhile, I continued meeting composers, hoping to get work. But some of them refused to hear me. When I went to meet S. D. Burman, he said, ‘Polish your voice, polish your voice’ without listening to my voice.”
“My next film was ‘Phoolon Ke Haar’, for which I sang eight songs. Composed by Hasraj Behl to the lyrics of D. N. Madhok, Verma Malik and Indivar, the film had Geeta Bali and Nigar Sultana in the lead roles. A few small films followed, for which I got paid as little as Rs. 150.”
MY BIGGEST PROJECT
“Then, I landed my biggest project, ‘Daayra’, thanks to Harishchandra Rao, its composer. I’d just finished recording a song for Jamaal Sen, a relative of today’s composers Dilip and Sameer Sen. I believe Harishchandra Rao had tried to get other singers, but they’d stood him up. So, he took me to meet Kamal Amrohi.” “Busy recording with Meenu Katrak, Kamal saab sent along a representative to decide on my voice. That’s how I got to sing for ‘Daayra’. The theme song, ‘Devta tum ho mera sahara, maine thamma hai daaman tumhara’ was a duet between (Mohammad) Rafi and me. I sang other numbers too – ‘Jali jo shama, deep ke sang jaloon’, for example. I had about seven songs in the film, which had Meena Kumari and Nasir Khan in the lead. Unfortunately for me, ‘Daayra’ was an utter flop. I was extremely disappointed.”
SONGS WERE WRITTEN FOR ME!
“Around this time, I was called to sing for Naushad saabs film ‘Shabab’. When I got there, I found all I had to sing was a few lines in a child’s chorus. The song was Rafi’s ‘Mehelon mein rehne wale, hamein tere dar se’
“I was upset – it was such a big production and all I was getting to sing was a few lines! Then, they offered to give me a full song if I sang this one. I agreed.”
“After which, S. D. Burman ‘da’ suddenly called me over to visit him at Dev Anand’s office in Juhu (Mumbai). He was composing for the film ‘Devdas’ and wanted me to sing the number ‘Woh na aayenge palatkar, unhein lakh hum bulaayein…’. The song had just about two lines, which had to be repeated over and over again.”
“Sahir Ludhianvi, the lyricist, who was sitting there, heard me and said, ‘I’ll give you a full song.’ That’s how the song finally had an ‘antara’ and ‘asthayi’. Burman ‘da’ was very pleased and praised me. All I could remember at the time was how he’d refused to even listen to me when I’d approached him earlier.”
“I had the opportunity of singing in every film made by Bimal Roy. ‘Hale dil sunayenge…’ (‘Madhumati’) became very popular. Initially, even this song was just one stanza long, till Shailendra saab told me he’d write the full lyrics and the song grew in length.”
“That song was recorded with only three musicians – a sarangi player (Pt. Ram Narain), a ‘tabalchi’ and a harmonium player. Composer Salil Choudhry heard it, as he was entering the room, and was very thrilled!”
MY MOST POPULAR NUMBER
“I’ve sung in practically all of Kidar Sharma’s films too. For one, whose production composer was Snehal Bhatkar, I sang ‘Kabhi tanhayiyon mein yoon, hamari yaad aayegi…’ At the recording, Kidar Sharma sat with his eyes closed till the song was done, and then got up and gave me some money. When I hesitated, Snehal Bhatkar told me, ‘Take it. Whoever he gives money to makes a name.’ The film was ‘Hamari Yaad Aayegi’, with Tanuja.”
“At the time, I was told the song was a background number (those days background numbers didn’t figure on records). But on a visit to Pakistan, I found people talking about this song. Then, I realized that Kidar saab had got a record made after all. This song has been one of my most popular numbers. It still is.”
MY REPERTOIRE GREW
“Composers Shankar-Jaikishen were becoming very popular around this time, and I’ve always been a very ardent fan of theirs. I’ve always respected them for their originality – they were like no one else. I sang for ‘Hamrahi’ with them – the song was a duet with Rafi saab, ‘Mujhko apne gale lagalo ai mere hamrahi…’ I worked with them in ‘Around The World’ (a duet with Sharda, ‘Yeh muh aur masoor ki dal…’) and again in ‘Arzoo’ (‘Jab ishk kahin ho jaata hai…’ – a ‘quwaali’). “I worked with Kalyanji-Anandji in ‘Juari’ (‘Neend ud jaye teri chainse sone wale…’) and in ‘Yeh Dil Kisko Doon’. A song that scaled the heights of popularity was ‘Hume dum daike souten ghar jaana…’, which I sang with Asha Bhosle. Madan Mohan had me sing in ‘Neend Humari Khwab Tumhare’ (‘Sakiya ek bhi to de…’). In ‘Saraswati Chandra’, I sang the number ‘Vada humse kiya dil kisiko diya…’ and in ‘Kajal’ – ‘Agar tum na miloge to main yeh samjoongi…’. I had begun getting more and more work.”
SUDDENLY THERE WAS NO WORK!
“Then my life did an about turn. For no reason, my songs would be recorded and then cut off from the film, like in the film ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’, and again, in a number I recorded with Shobha Gurtu for Bappi Lahiri. Slowly, I realized that I was being edged out of the industry.”
By this time, Mubarak Begum had sung with almost every composer and singer – she’d had duets with Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt, Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Manna Dey… She’d sung for regional language films like in Sindhi (“It was ever so difficult,” she laughs, today , “to get the pronunciation right AND concentrate on the singing! But watching my co-singer, Talat Mahmood, struggling too made me do my best”). Now, she sings for stage shows – “I have to survive,” she says.
But listeners will never forget what she has sung, even if her repertoire hasn’t been very large. She has some memorable numbers to her credit – Jan Nissar Akhtar’s number for ‘Susheela’ with Talat Mahmood, ‘Kuch ajnabi se aap hain, kuch ajnabi se hum…’ or the one from ‘Daakbabu’, ‘Ghir ghir aaye badarva kare, rang bhare ras bhare pyare pyare…’
This industry where awards are two a penny, Mubarak Begum has received no recognition whatsoever for her work… “Forget appreciating talent with an award, we’re not even invited for the functions any more. So completely have we been forgotten,” says she, sadly – As told to Lata Khubchandani few years ago