ON this day 14 years ago, legendary Hindi film playback singer Talat Mahmood passed away. Well, Talat-saab is one of my favourite singers across genres, but what’s strange in my case is that it’s been exactly 14 years since I became a Talat Mahmood fan.
Yes, the beauty of his distinct velvet voice actually charmed me just a few days after he expired. Those days, I was working with Mid-Day newspaper, and though music had been my ‘beat’ for over three years, I specifically wrote about rock, pop, jazz, Indipop, ghazals and new Hindi film music. I was just getting into writing about Hindustani classical music, through some interviews here and there, but since we had some very knowledgeable Hindi film music columnists like Raju Bharatan, Nalin Shah and Rajiv Vijayakar, I never ventured into that arena.
On May 9, 1998, the news of the singer’s demise came in the afternoon. It was a Saturday, and next day’s Sunday Mid-Day had an early deadline. Keeping the short timeline in mind, the editor asked me to write a quick obituary. I was totally blank — I knew very little about Talat-saab, except the fact that he was a legend. Those days, there was no Google or Wikipedia to suddenly cook up a few paragraphs out of nowhere, and make everyone feel you were an authority on the subject.
So there I was, apologising to the editor, saying that I would not be able to do justice to the great artiste. I had known he had been immensely popular, but the only thing I was certain about was that he had sung ‘Tasveer banata hoon’ — which I later discovered was from the film ‘Baradari’. Back in the 70s, that song was very regular on radio, and while I heard a lot of older Lata, Rafi, Kishore, Asha and Mukesh hits, this was the only Talat number I thought I knew.
Finally, we contacted Raju Bharatan to write the obit, and the music encyclopaedia that he is, he faxed a brilliant 1,500-word article two hours later (e-mail was either new or non-existent those days). Sadly, the article was chopped badly because of space constraints, and only some 300 words were used, much to Bharatan’s and my dismay. While readers were disappointed at such sketchy coverage, they were further angered when I wrote a two-page obituary of American superstar Frank Sinatra, who passed away five days later on May 14, in next Sunday’s edition. Allegations of favouritism towards western culture soon cropped up.
The good thing about Bharatan’s unedited copy, however, was that it mentioned songs I had heard and loved, without knowing they were sung by Talat Mahmood. Of course, I had heard ‘Jaaye toh jaaye kahan’ (Taxi Driver), ‘Jalte hain jiske liye’ (Sujata) and ‘Phir wohi shaam’ (Jahan Ara). But over the years, I would have heard them in passing, probably on the radio, without paying too much attention to the depth of the voice and the beauty of the lyrics.
The next day, there was some TV coverage. For the first time, I heard Talat’s first hit ‘Aye dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal’ (Arzoo), and for the first time, I heard of the great music director Anil Biswas — which was also strange because one of my favourite Mukesh songs ‘Dil jalta hai toh jalne do’ (Pehli Nazar) was also composed by the same person, and I had first heard that song years ago. Somewhere, I started feeling rather silly at having missed out on such gems, and for not knowing too much on old music.
I decided to buy a Talat Mahmood compilation cassette, but before I could do so, I made a major goof-up. Singer MA Khalid, who has specialised in Talat songs, had organised a tribute concert, and requested some pre-event publicity. Now, I had heard that the late singer’s son was also named Khalid, and thus mixed things up. The write-up erroneously mentioned that Talat-saab’s son Khalid Mahmood would be doing the show.
Naturally, MA Khalid was upset, but gentleman that he is, he invited me to the concert at a Pedder Road auditorium. That was another revelation. The audience was filled with diehard Talat fans, and each song received grand applause. Khalid has a wonderful and soulful voice, and there, I discovered that a few more songs I knew were actually Talat Mahmood classics. Suddenly, I got a fresh meaning to ‘Aye mere dil kahin aur chal’ (Daag), ‘Sham-e-gham ki kasam’ (Footpath) and ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha’ (Chaaya).
The following day, I picked up Saregama HMV’s ‘The Golden Collection — Talat Mahmood’ from Rhythm House, and for the next few weeks, I made it a point to listen to it at least once a day. A few days later, I also bought the five-cassette ‘Legends — Talat Mahmood’ released by HMV.
Besides hearing the above-mentioned masterpieces closely, I discovered other gems like ‘Meri yaad mein tum na aansoon bahana’ (Madhosh), ‘Seene mein sulagte hain armaan’ (with Lata Mangeshkar in Tarana), ‘Raat ne kya kya khwab dikhaye’ (Ek Gaon Ki Kahani), ‘Aansoon samajh ke kyon mujhe’ (Chaaya), ‘Hai sabse madhur woh geet’ and ‘Andhe jahan ke andhe raaste’ (Patita), ‘Humse aaya na gaya’ (Dekh Kabira Roya), ‘Dil-e-Nadaan’ (with Suraiya in Mirza Ghalib), ‘Zindagi dene waale sun’ (Dil-e-Nadaan) and ‘Main dil hoon ek armaan bhara’ (Anhonee). So many more.
A few days later, on May 25, music director Laxmikant passed away. For some days, there were parallel phases of Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Talat Mahmood, and it was around that time, I felt the need to learn more about Hindi film music, specially details on who sang, composed and wrote what song. And in the pre-Google days, the only quick source was to go to Rhythm House, read the back covers of cassettes, and take down notes.
Since those times, Talat-saab has adorned many of my music listening hours. Besides his film songs, some of his ghazals and Bengali tunes have been absolutely mesmerising. In an absolutely enchanting era where male playback singing also had the great Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Manna Dey and Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood has been very special — for me, he’s been like a first among equals. Today, I have no regrets about discovering his music much later — everything, I guess, comes at the right time.