Shamshad Begum, the nasal voiced legendary classical and playback singer of yesteryears was born in Peshawar (now in Pakistan) in 1919. Making her debut on radio in Lahore in 1937, the Peshwar-born singer captivated the hearts of listeners with the enchanting depth of her voice. The then AIR Lahore helped her in entering the world of movies as frequent broadcasting of her songs induced music directors to use her voice for film songs. Shamshad Begum also recorded 'naats' and devotional songs for a couple of gramophone recording companies.
Lahore-based composer Ghulam Haider
used her voice skillfully in some of his earlier films like: Khazanchi (1941) and Khandan (1942). When he shifted to Bombay in 1944, Shamshad Begum went with him as a member of his team. In 1944, when Mehboob Khan launched his historical venture 'Humayun'. Master Ghulam Haider
used Shamshad Begum's voice in the film. The song 'Naina Bhar Aaye Neer..' captured the imagination on the country. That was the time when Amirbai Karnataki
was considered number one playback singer in Bombay. With the introduction of Shamshad Begum in the film world in Bombay, contemporary composers almost fell over each other in booking her for the recording of their songs leading to an extremely prolific career till the mid to late 1950s. Music directors like C Ramchandra
, S D Burman
used her as their prime female vocalist in the early part of their careers.
Shamshad created sensation with her songs in her very first film Khazanchi, the song was that gained most popularity was 'Ek Kali Nazon Se Pali..'. After that she gave countless hit songs like: 'Duniya Me Ghareebon Ko Aaram Nahi Milta..' (Zamindaar), 'Armanon Ki Basti Me Hum Aag Laga Baithe.' (Shirin Farhad), 'Dil Thandi Hawa Me..' (Shama), 'Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon..' (Patanga), 'Milte Hi Aankhen..' (Babul), 'Saiyyan Dil Me Aana Re..' (Bahaar), 'Boojh Mera Kya Naam Re..' (C.I.D), 'Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar..' (Aar Paar), 'Maine Dekhi Jag Ki Reet..' (Sunehre Din), 'Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin Pe Nishana..' (C.I.D), 'Pee Ke Ghar Aaj..' (Mother India), etc. Even the one rendered in 1960s for Kismat, after her retirement: 'Kajra Mohabbat Wala Ankhiyon Mein Aisa Dala..' composed by O P Nayyar
, proved a superhit. Her duet with Kishore Kumar
, 'Meri Neendon Mein Tum..' from Naya Andaz, similarly, remains almost a touchstone of melodious romance.
Shamshad's career was at its peak in the late '40s and early '50s. She was so popular at that time that she used to charge Rs 1000 per song, as against Rs 50 that Lata Mangeshkar
was getting. In the early careers of Mangeshkar, as well as her younger sister, Asha Bhosle
, between 1944 and 1956, they had often been asked by producers and music directors to imitate Begum's style of singing, because producers could not afford Begum's fees. In their first song together, Mangeshkar was a part of the chorus while Begum was the main singer. Many of the songs sung by Lata like "Ayega Ayega" were sung in Shamshad Begum's style. Even Asha Bhosle's songs like her first duet with Kishore – "Aati Hai Yaad Humko" from the 1948 film Muqaddar bear direct resemblance to Shamshad Begum's style.
It was between 1958 and 1963 that the career of Lata got a major boost as music directors started gradually preferring her soft voice. Until then, Geeta Dutt and Begum were the most preferred singers, but Shamshad Begum continued to be at the top from 1940 till 1963. From 1965, her songs started to be mimed by actresses other than the lead. Beginning in 1965, songs for her in films started getting reduced but the songs she sang instantly became hits through 1968. She then declared a self-imposed retirement in 1965. But she kept having certain composers asking her to sing songs in few films and among them her songs from films like in Daku Mangal Singh, Upkar, Kismat, Heer Ranjha, Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong, Teri Meri Ik Jindri and Main Papi Tum Bakhshanhaar. Her song "Kajra Mohabbat Wala" from the 1968 film Kismat and "Nathaniya Hale To Bada Maza" from the 1971 film Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong remains popular.
From the late 1980s, Begum started giving occasional interviews. In one of her interviews to Filmfare magazine in 2012 Begum dislosed "The more hits I gave, the less work I got. When I helped new composers I never told them to give me all their songs to sing. I believed only God could give, not them. "Her final interview was in 2012. In 2009, she was conferred with the prestigious O. P. Nayyar
Award for her contribution to Hindi film music. She was also conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2009.
Begum died at her Mumbai residence on the night of 23 April 2013 after a prolonged illness. She was 94.