None could capture the ache of romance better than Talat Mahmood
If romantic longing of the human heart could be given an aural form, it would be Talat Mahmood’s voice. Listen to some of the softest songs of yearning from Hindi films to realise how Talat’s voice is a whispering window to pain and pine. Poet Shelley’s immortal lines that “the pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself” is an apt summation of Talat Mahmood’s singing.
Talat’s velvet soft singing complimented an almost parallel thought of Shelley through Shailendra’s song of “Patita”. Inspired by Shelley’s immortal lines, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”, the song “Hain Sabse Madhur Vo Geet Jinhein Hum Dard Ke Sur Mein Gaate Hain” comes alive in the dew throated voice of Talat. Filmed on Dev Anand and Usha Kiran, the song depicted a lover comforting a misery struck woman but it is the Talat’s voice that gives you goose-bumps.
Time and again, the uncrowned ‘King of ghazals’ poured forth gentle emotions, moulding his songs into sweet sagas of sacred, unrequited passion. ‘Jalte hain jiske liye teri aankhon ke diye” (Sujata) with its haunting tune and heartwarming lyrics has been rendered timeless by Talat’s voice. Harmonium has played an intrinsic part in many a Bollywood song, but never has it been complemented with such finesse as in this song. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lines explore the depths of emotions.
Similarly, ‘Mitwa nahin aaye’ (Devdas), an S. D. Burman composition with Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics is another gem rendered impeccably by Talat. Its tender pitch is backed by Talat’s caressingly soft expressions.
His singing endeared him to lovelorn youngsters of the era, while many drooled over his inflections of Urdu and Hindi verses. Talat also set the benchmark for the non-classical, light ghazals with his fabulous diction and petal soft voice. Later, Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhas and Chandan Das followed his footsteps.
Starting from the earliest non-film ghazal ‘Tasveer teri dil mera behla na sakegi’ of Fayyaz Hashmi with music by Kamal Dasgupta, Talat made a distinct impression on the hooked-to-the-radio generation of the 1940s. After a string of similar non-film ghazals as well as Bengali film songs, Talat made a resounding impact when he entered the Bombay film industry. He enchanted connoisseurs and common man alike with his songs and ghazals.
Every song is a testament to the goodness of the artiste, who was referred to as a thorough gentleman. Rewind to gems like ‘Sapnon ki suhani duniya ko’ (Shikast), ‘Humse aaya na gaya’ (Dekh Kabira Roya), ‘Jayen to jayen kahaan’ (Taxi Driver), ‘Tasveer banata hun” (Baradari), “Seene mein sulagtein hain armaa’ (Taraana), ‘Sham-e-gham ki qasam’ (Footpath), ‘Meri yaad mein tumna’ (Madhosh), ‘Phir wohi sham wohi gam’ (Jahanara), ‘Aye mere dil kahin aur chal’ (Daag), ‘Zindagi dene wale sun’ (Dil-e-Nadaan) to understand the era when melody was the king and soft-throated thrush was an adornment. His duets like ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha’ (Chhaya), ‘Dil-e-Nadan tujhe hua kya hai” (Mirza Ghalib), “Kehta hai dil tum ho mere liye” (Mem Sahib), “Pyas kuchh aur bhi bhadka di” (Lala Rukh) and ‘Pyar par bas to nahin hai’ (Sone Ki Chidiya) with Lata Mangeshkar, Suraiyya and Asha Bhosle are etched in our hearts.
Born in Lucknow in 1924, Talat, despite parental objections, took to learning music. Along with his voice, his exceptionally good looks helped him get lead roles in films like Lala Rukh, Sone Ki Chidiya, Dil-e-Nadaan, Dak Babu, Raftaar, Ek Gaon Ki Kahani and many more. But while the celluloid roles did not augment his status, his singing certainly lent him an enduring glory. As the synthetic sounds of electronic instruments started dominating film music, the soft, pure notes of the handsome singer receded into the background.
Married to his lady love Latika Mullick, Talat never saw his contemporaries as competitors, instead held them in high esteem. At the demise of his dear friend and colleague Mohammed Rafi, Talat said, “I wish the Almighty had taken my life instead of Rafi Sahab’s as the world needs him more!” Two of the greatest voices of Hindi cinema came together in the song, ‘Ghum ki andheri raat mein’ (Sushila).