The Temple Bell falls silent


In darkened cinema halls across the nation, during the time of grainy black-and-white movies, as the extremely effervescent Nigar Sultana lip-synced Mere piya gaye Rangoon, kiya hai vahan se telephoone in the superhit film Patanga (1949), the singer's voice, a thick, textured tone, delighted the audience with its innocent mischief.

Not many knew the singer back then, but the infectious song just stuck, as many heard reruns of it on their boxy radio sets later. Shamshad Begum — one of the first female playback singers of the country — had arrived.

She later went on to become the golden voice of the industry — the voice behind popular songs like Kahin pe nigahen (CID), Holi ayi re kanhayi (Mother India), Chhod baabul ka ghar (Babul) and Sunday ke sunday (Shehnai).

The reclusive singer, whose lilting voice was a part of LPs at every music store in the country in the '40s and '50s, died after a prolonged illness on Tuesday afternoon at her daughter Usha Ratra's Mumbai residence. She was 94.

"We remember Shamshad Begum's scintillating, dynamic voice that gushed out of radio sets into our hearts, like an arrow dipped in honey. But I have to say that the real Shamshad Begum was not how her voice sounded on screen.

She was an extremely gentle and sober human being. I had once invited her for an award ceremony and she replied, 'I don't like any kind of pomp and show. I am comfortable with my family'. She had a magnificent voice that came across beautifully in songs such as Gaadi waale (Mother India) and Door koi gaye (Baiju Bawra)," recalled radio anchor Ameen Sayani.

"She was an excellent singer with an extremely powerful and versatile voice. She remained the queen of playback singing for long, and did all kinds of songs for a number of music directors. As a person, she was humble and respected others. Success did not affect her," said composer Khayyam.

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