Talat Mahmood was one of the greatest male Indian non-classical and semi-classical singers. Talat was a very gifted singer who had a unique, elegant and profoundly artistic style of singing. Although Talat’s typical genre was Ghazal, he also sang film songs which are also considered critically flawless and outstanding. He sang innumerable fantastic and memorable film songs.
Talat Mahmood was the real founder of modern semi-classical and non-classical ghazal, and during the 1950s and 60s he helped a great deal in shaping the style and method of modern ghazal singing. He helped spread it to the masses, especially the Urdu-speaking community in India and abroad. His voice is also considered among the most soulful male voices ever heard in the Indian sub-continent.
He recorded more than 800 songs and ghazals and acted in about 16 films. Talat received Padma Bhushan in 1992, in recognition of his contributions in the spheres of cinematic and ghazal music.
Talat Mahmood was born on 24 February 1924 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. His father Manzoor Mahmood was a very respected and revered man in the society. Talat was one of the six children in a conservative Muslim family where singing was not encouraged. However, Talat was interested in music from a very young age. He would listen through all-night music soirees to some of the then biggest names in Indian classical music. Despite his parental objections, he opted to choose working in film industry. His family accepted the fact only about a decade later when he gained respect in the industry.
Talat learned classical music from Pandit S. C. R. Bhat at Marris College of Music, Lucknow in the late 1930s. In 1939, he started his career as a ghazal singer at the age of 16, when he began singing the Ghazals of Daag, Mir, Jigar etc. on All India Radio, Lucknow. His voice had a distinctive quality. The music records company HMV was impressed and offered Talat his first disc in 1941. It featured ghazals like ‘Sab Din Ek Samaan Nahin Tha’, ‘Ban Jaoonga Kya Se Kya Main’, ‘Iska To Kuch Dhyan Nahin Tha’.
Professional Career as a Singer
His reputation as a ghazal singer spread beyond Lucknow to Calcutta – the city that shaped his destiny. At that time, the famous ghazal singers were Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, K. L. Saigal and M. A. Rauf. Talat sang the classical song Sapnon Ki Suhaani Duniyaa Ko for film Shikast and Laage Tose Naina for Chaandi Ki Deewar.
In 1944, he sang the evergreen hit Tasveer Teri Dil Mera Behla Na Sakegi, whose popularity remains unrivalled even to this day. This brought Talat fame throughout India and soon he was much sought after by the Calcutta film industry. Talat made cameo appearances in about 16 movies, for both the Calcutta and Bombay Film Industry. The three movies in which he starred were regional hits in Calcutta. Initially in Calcutta, he recorded a lot of Bengali songs under the assumed name of “Tapan Kumar”. Several of his Bangla numbers were super hits and are still aired on All India Radio. During the 50s and early 60s, he sang to the tune of eminent music directors like Kamal Dasgupta, Sudhin Dasgupta, Hemanta Mukhopadhayay, and V. Balsara.
In 1949, Talat moved to Bombay, where his name and fame had already preceded him and he was flooded with offers. His big break came with the song Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagha Le Chal Jahan Koi Na Ho, which was composed by music director Anil Biswas for the movie Arzoo.
Career in Hindi Cinema
Talat Mahmood was the real founder of the modern day ghazals. His influence on other contemporary and succeeding ghazal singers has been huge. He paved the way for such legendary ghazal singers as Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh.
Talat Mahmood was one of the greatest male ghazal and film singers of the Indian subcontinent together with singers like K. L. Saigal, Mohammed Rafi, Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Manna Dey, K. J. Yesudas, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Kishore Kumar, Jagjit Singh, Ustad Ghulam Ali and Mukesh. Because of his soft and silky voice and a very sound knowledge of Indian music, Talat endeared himself to the millions of ghazal-lovers throughout the globe, wherever Urdu and Hindi are spoken and understood.
Talat was a member of the famous male singers’ troika of the 1950s, the other two were Muhammad Rafi and Mukesh; who had the largest audience ever existed during any period of sub-continent’s cinematic history.
Talat Mahmood was quite handsome and acted in over a dozen films with top actresses of the time like Madhubala, Nutan, Mala Sinha, Suraiya and others. Later he gave up acting and decided to concentrate on singing. He is known for his work in Baaz (1953), Devdas (1955) and Haqeeqat (1964).
The advent of rock-n-roll in the late 1960s sidelined the classical and ghazal singers. Talat’s velvety vocals were ignored by the music-composers, and more of the playback singing went to Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh. This was also because Talat became associated in the popular mind as a singer of sad songs of the ghazal variety. The decline of his movie career led to the decline of his singing career. Talat continued to record good songs, but very less in number. His last soundtrack recording was Mere Shareek-e-Safar, recorded in 1985, from the movie “Wali-e-Azam” composed by Chitragupt and written by Ahmed Wasi.
Talat was the first Indian singer to go on foreign concert tours in 1956 to East Africa. He was welcomed by jam-packed audience in the United States, the UK, West Indies and other countries. He performed in the famous Royal Albert Hall in London, Madison Square Garden in the States and Jean Pierre Complex in the West Indies. He continued singing overseas until 1991 when he toured Holland. Talat sang about 800 songs in his long career, which are still popular among the music lovers.
In 1951, when he was in Kolkata, Talat married a Bengali Christian girl Latika Mullick, later named Nasreen, who was also a film actress and his great fan. The couple had two children Khalid born in 1953, and Sabina born in 1959.
He died on May 9, 1998, at the age of 74, of heart attack in Mumbai. His death was mourned by music lovers around the world, especially the music fraternity of Indian films for whom he was an awesome inspiration. Letters of condolence poured in from every quarters and celebrities made a beeline to his Mumbai residence to pay their last respect. Talat Mahmood has produced some of Bollywood’s most treasured songs and has earned a place in the hearts and souls of all music lovers for all time to come.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah
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