Saturday, May 26, 2018

The velvet voice of India

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The 94th death anniversary of none other than Talat Mahmood, the "King of Ghazals", was on 9 May. Talat Mahmood was born in Lucknow on 24 May 1924. His father was Mansoor Mahmood. Talat was a famous Bollywood playback singer, and to a lesser extent, an actor. He was very popular in the 1950s and early 1960s and has many memorable films to his credit. His family was pretty conservative, and music was certainly not encouraged there.

However, the young Mahmood took a fondness of music very early of his age. He used to regularly visit the record stores as a youth and spent a lot of time attending all-night musical gatherings. His family did not approve Talat's interest in music and did not accept it until long after he reached professional success in the film industry.

The rise of Talat's musical career was not fickle but steady. In the 1930s he began his training at the Morris Music College under Pandit S.C.R. In 1939 when he was only 16 years old, he began to sing Ghazals on All India Radio. In 1941, HMV contracted him to sing his first disk; this was 'Sab Din Ek Samaan Nahin Tha'.  In 1944 his hit, 'Tasveer Teri Dil Mera Behela Na Sakegi,' was sold over 100,000 copies; this brought him to national limelight.

 It was then when he moved to Calcutta and began to sing and act for the film industry there. While in Calcutta he often performed under the name of Tapan Kumar.  It was in 1949 when he moved to Bombay and began to work in the film Industry there. During the 1950s he was a big name as a Bollywood playback singer.

Talat was known for his exclusive style of singing. He had a characteristic quiver in his voice that was unique.  At first many music directors saw this as a flaw, but it was Anil Biswas who saw this as a distinctive potential. He encouraged Talat to develop this and it eventually became his patent for an emotive rendition of a song.

Fame and success in the film industry is often a sea saw affair -- once you are in peak demand, for a while your career is fading with new taste. Talat Mahmood's success was to prove short lived, as changes in popular tastes started to leave him behind. More of the playback singing was given to Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh.

One of the problems with his career was that Talat became associated in the popular mind as a singer of sad songs of the Ghazal variety. When popular taste began to demand more upbeat songs, this reputation hurt him. So from the late 60s onward, Talat Mahmood was often unkindly thought of as a "has-been".  His last recording was 'Mere Shareek-e-Safar', recorded in 1985.  He died on May 9, 1998, at the age of 74.

Talat Mahmood may have passed away, but the passage of time allows us to look back upon his career, with a clearer sense of perspective. Although his peak barely spanned a decade, he has produced some of Bollywood's most treasured songs. This accomplishment has earned him a place in our hearts for all time to come.

For his accomplishment both in the spheres of cinematic and Ghazal music and intense artistic style singing he received Padma Bhusan in 1992. There is no comparison of Talat; he was gifted singer in all forms. He was particularly famous for singing soft and somber semi-classical and non-classical Ghazals, nevertheless the flam songs he sang are also considered rigid flawless and outstanding. Though Talat's genre was Ghazal, he was equally brilliant film singer who sang many sensational film songs.

Talat was fond of foreign singers like Nat 'King' Cole, Pat Boone, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and Connie Francis. His favorite actors were Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Rock Hudson, John Wayne, Richard Burton and Sean Connery.

A highly cultured and refined man, Talat Mahmood had faultless taste for the good things of life. It was a tragedy that Chain-smoking gradually took toll of Talat's silken-voice. At the fag end of his career, he forgot singing and he could not even speak properly. Talat Mahmood died in Bombay on 9 May 1998.

The writer is a columnist
and researcher

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