This article was originally written for the newly launched website on Shamshad Begum. It is available at this link.The Year – 1948. Three ladies are brought together by legendary C. Ramchandra to record the female version of a qawwali - a reigning superstar, a moderately successful singer and an upcoming singing sensation. The film – Khidki and the song – Khushiyan Manayen Kyun Na Hum. This was the probably the first time that Shamshad Begum shared the microphone with Lata Mangeshkar. Given the stature of the three singers at that time, Shamshad Begum was the lead singer, and Lata Mangeshkar and Mohantara Talpade merely supporting singers. As the ladies, in their own way, belted out the catchy refrain of Da Da Da Da, the stage was set for two eras to collide.
Over the next couple of years Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar were brought together several times by composers such as C. Ramchandra, Husnlal Bhagatram, Chitragupta, Ghulam Mohammed and most importantly Naushad, to create some timeless melodies that still sound as fresh as they did when they were created.
In terms of numbers, Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar have not sung very many songs together. Out of the 27 songs for which they shared the microphone, perhaps the most well-known song is Dar Na Mohabbat Kar Le from Naushad’s Andaz (1949).
Everyone knows that 1949s was the watershed year in the career of Lata Mangeshkar as she saw a meteoric rise to emerge as someone who would dominate the singing world for decades to come. This song from Andaz perhaps underscores what was to come. Those were the days it was considered a huge thing to sing for the lead actress of a film and was, in a curious way, a measure of success for a singer. In this song from Andaz, Lata Mangeshkar was the voice of the lead actress, Nargis, while Shamshad Begum sang for Cuckoo. Naushad, on his part, carefully divides the song almost equally between the two singers so that each singer gets adequate opportunity to interpret the song in her own distinctive style. The result – a timeless masterpiece.
In the very same year, the two singers shared the microphone once again for C. Ramchandra’s Patanga in the delightfully quirky Pyar Ke Jahaan Ki Niraali Sarkaar Hai.
There are a couple of Shamshad-Lata songs that were picturised on children. Given the nature and texture of their voices, Shamshad’s voice was used as playback for the male child while Lata’s for the female child. The way Shamshad Begum’s voice fits on the on-screen child, it is difficult to imagine any other singer’s voice in these songs. C. Ramchandra’s Kas Ke Kamar Ho Ja Taiyar (Sangram, 1951) and Naushad’s Bachpan Ke Din Bhula Na Dena (Deedar, 1951) are two such songs.
As the decade of 1950s started, C. Ramchandra had almost completely turned towards his new muse, Lata Mangeshkar, and started using Shamshad Begum’s voice only sparingly. He summoned the two singers just twice - once for O Ladke Ladke Ladke Dil Dhakdhak Dhakdhak Dhadke in Shabistan (1951) and then again for Ye Tirchhi Nazar Aur Teekhi Ada in Lehren (1953), a qawwali that was reused two years later in Duniya Gol Hai (1955).
Husnalal Bhagatram were other music directors who created some lovely duets for Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar. Unfortunately, these duets have become distant memories with the passage of time and have entered the category of rare, or difficult to find songs. Consider, for example the immensely catchy Hum Se Dil Ki Lagi Na Chhupana (Pyar Ki Manzil, 1950), or the folksy Maza Mla Hai Jise … Dil Ki Qadar Nahin Jaani (Sartaj, 1950), or even the routine qawwali-like Jab Teri Gali Mein (Sartaj, 1950) and Kabhi Hanste Hain Do Dil (Farmaish, 1953).
Among music directors who created duets or group songs for Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar just once are Roshan (the lovely saheli-song in Chandni Chowk with Asha Bhosle – Har Baat Poochhiye), Nashad (Chhodo Chhodo Ji Baiyan Mori in Baradari) and S. Mohinder (Dhadke Dhadke Reh Reh Ke, based on Punjabi folk with Mohd. Rafi and Balbir in Naata).
Ghulam Mohammed, who was Naushad’s assistant, and also a successful independent music director in his own right, used the strengths of both the singers to create a foot-tapper in Kundan (1955) – Matwale O Matwale.
Perhaps one song that showcases the distinctive singing styles of Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar is Chhup Chhup Ke Na Dekho from Zindagi Ke Mele (1956). It can be considered as two intertwined songs. Shamshad Begum the fast paced portion, while Lata Mangeshkar sings the plaintive portions set to the tune of Vaishna Jan Te. The appeal of this song lies in the fact that the song keeps shifting moods in a seamless fashion. Take out Shamshad Begum’s portion and all that will be left is an ordinary sad song. Similarly, take out Lata Mangeshkar portion and the appeal of the song will considerably diminish. It is the juxtaposition of two contrasting moods and two contrasting voices that makes this song what it is.
Finally, no article about the songs of these two legendary singers can be complete without mentioning what was their last song together. It was Naushad again who brought them together in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) for the wonderfully tunes and picturised – Teri Mehfil Mein Qismat Aazma Kar Hum Bhi Dhekhenge. Mughal-e-Azam also had a Lata-Shamshad-Mubarak song that never found its way into the film - Husn Ki Baraat Chali.
Hearing the few gems that Shamshad Begum and Lata Mageshkar have sung together, one cannot but feel sad that the two singers did not come together more often. What a delight it would be, had composers like Sachin Dev Burman, Madan Mohan and Shankar Jaikishan composed songs for these two singers to sing in their own patented styles. Alas!