RMIM Archive Article "269".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: Talat Mahmood - voice from the past
# Source: Rediff on the net (http://www.rediff.co.in)
# Author: V Gangadhar
# Copyright 1996 Rediff On The Net
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Voice from the past
Not many Talat Mahmood fans with associate him with acting. After
all, the mellow voice which rendered golden classics like Jalte
hain jiske liye, Tasveer banata hoon tasveer nahin banti, had
earned him repute as a singer.
But the incomparable Nutan always referred to Seema and Sone Ki
Chidiya as her most memorable films. Both films starred Balraj
Sahni and Talat Mahmood. Besides, at a Suraiya retrospective in
Bombay in 1994, a much-acclaimed film was the late Sohrab Modi's
Waris. This film, too, starred Talat Mahmood.
"I filled a necessary void in those days," says the soft-spoken
hero of 14 films. "I was a singing hero." There were other
luminaries of Hindi cinedom who had also filled that slot. Prom-
inent among whom was that great singer Kundan Lal Saigal, oft-
remembered for his tragic rendering of the role of Devdas. The
incomparable Kishore Kumar is remembered for his various comic
roles. Why, even the soulful Mukesh tried his hand in acting in
an eminently forgettable home production.
Of course, these singers were promoted and sold as stars because
of their singing ability. Something like the Elvis craze that
swept the United States in the fifties and the sixties. None of
those guys expected an academy award winning performance from
Elvis - all they wanted was to see their favourite singer, live,
on screen. Hence, Presley always had roles specially written for
him. And the focus was always on his singing ability.
Which is exactly happened with Talatsaab. He was born into a
highly cultured, but conservative, family in Lucknow. Music
interested him to such an extent that he studied it as a subject
in Lucknow's Morris College. Often, he sang for the All India
Radio, Lucknow. Later, he signed on with HMV. He had to go to
Calcutta in 1941 for the recording sessions, which was when he
was spotted by the famous New Theatre bosses.
Talatsaab was an extremely handsome young man. Even today,
despite the ravages of time, a heart attack and a paralytic
stroke, there is a certain heartwarming glow about the man. "P K
Sanyal of New Theatres wanted me to sign me on as an actor,"
Talatsaab recalled his early days in Calcutta. "I had no objec-
tions, really. But my father was a bit upset, though he came
Calcutta was the scene of hectic filming during the early 1940's.
Talatsaab's first film, Raj Lakshmi, co-starred Kanan Bala and
Chhabi Biswas. Released in 1945, the film did fairly well and was
followed by Samapti with Bharati Devi and Tum Aur Mein with Kanan
Devi. Talatsaab had never trained as an actor. He performed by
instinct and picked up tips by watching his co-actors on-screen.
"I enjoyed acting," recalls Talatsaab. "And these were soft,
romantic roles in films that has a number of songs. The films of
this era followed the singing hero concept very closely." But the
handsome actor, at 22, faced a peculiar problem. Most of his
heroines like Kanan Bala and Kanan Devi were older than him and
the pairing, at times, looked distinctly odd.
During the late 1940s, the focus of movie making shifted from
Calcutta to Bombay. Like several other young aspirants, Talatsaab
also made the change. He was warmly welcomed; his reputation had
preceded him. Music director Anil Biswas gave him a break in
Arzoo and his playback singing for Dilip Kumar proved to be a
major highlight of the film.
During the early 1950s, Talatsaab was sought after by every lead-
ing music director. He lent his voice to every single top hero,
from Dilip Kumar to Bharat Bhushan. In 1951, he made a guest
appearance in the Dev Anand-Madhubala starrer, Aaram, sitting at
the piano as he rendered that memorable number, Shukriya
shukriya. The film was not much of a success, but the song is
hummed even today.
His first role as a hero in a Bombay film, though, only came in
1953. "(A R) Kardarsaab chose me as the hero for his film, Dil-
E-Nadaan," explained Talatsaab. Newcomer Peace Kanwal, the winner
of a beauty contest organised by Kardar and the Kolynos tooth-
paste firm, was the heroine.
Dil-E-Nadaan was a soft, romantic triangle with Talat, the
singer, being wooed by two women, Peace Kanwal and Shyama. The
music score by Ghulam Mohammad produced everlasting hits like
Zindagi denewale and Yeh raat suhani raat nahi..
Dil-E-Nadaan's music became the rage. And Talatsaab became a
sought-after hero in Hindi films. Then followed Daak Babu (with
Nadira), Waris, Raftar (Nadira and Naaz) and Diwali Ki Raat
(Roopmala, Shashikala and Leela Mishra). In the last mentioned,
the elegant Talatsaab played a taxi driver.
Well known director Satyen Bose directed him in the 1957 hit, Ek
Gaon Ki Kahani (Mala Sinha). Producer S U Sunny - who had made
the Dilip Kumar starrers, Babul and Udan Khatola - cast the
singer-duo of Suraiya and Talat Mahmood in Maali. The innovative
Khayyam scored the music for Lalla Rookh, a fantasy where
Talatsaab starred with Shyama.
"I never did more than one or two films at a time," Talatsaab
recalled. "I also noted the difference between filming in Bombay
and filming in Calcutta. Unlike the more artistic Calcutta where
movies were made at a slow pace, Bombay was commercial. Life was
hectic. Everyone was in his own world and was, of course, very
What kind of an impact did Talat Mahmood make as an actor? The
great singer thought a while and then candidly admitted, "Listen,
I was not competing with stars like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand or
Ashok Kumar. But, in those days, soft, romantic films were appre-
ciated and singing hero like me could do well." His films were
not box office bonanzas. Neither were they disasters which disap-
peared without trace, days after their release. Three of his
films - Waris, Sone Ki Chidiya and Ek Gaon Ki Kahani - were
Talat Mahmood's major drawback was that, quite often, he held
himself back in crucial romantic scenes. His self-consciousness
showed. He could not essay violence and comedy. But he was ade-
quate as an emotional actor. And he had a large female following.
From 1956, Talat Mahmood regularly went on foreign tours. The
concerts - held in the UK, the US, the Gulf and even the distant
West Indies - were super hits. To the extent that, in the Carib-
bean, Indian residents even gave up watching cricket to attend
When he sang in Kabul as the royal guest of King Zahir Shah, the
women in the palace competed to get themselves photographed with
him. He got a ticker tape welcome in Mauritius. The late Anwar
Sadat, president of Egypt, was one of his fans. But the ultimate
accolade came from Pakistan - at the packed Karachi stadium, Pak-
istani women came in thousands to listen to him. It was a first.
It was also a display of star quality. But as he acted in films
and spent months abroad on concerts, music directors and produc-
ers had to look for other playback singers. As a result,
Talatsaab lost out on some memorable films like Madhumati.
Some of the music directors felt that, having turned actor, he
would not be easily available as a playback singer. As
Talatsaab's son, Khalid, explained, "Also, Father would never ask
for favours. Not would he undercut anyone. He was, and is, a
thorough professional and a gentleman."
By the mid-1960's, film music had changed. Shammi Kapoor, with
his boisterous Yahoo image, had arrived. There were fewer oppor-
tunities for a voice like Talatsaab's. But the concerts contin-
ued, so did the recording of private ghazals. The government
honoured him with a Padma Bhushan and Doordarshan made a documen-
tary on him.
Today, Talatsaab leads a retired life in his well maintained Pali
Hill flat, watching TV and listening to old songs. Friends and
fans are always warmly welcomed. They pour in from all parts of
the country to shake hands and cherish the meeting with a singer
whose voice, for decades, symbolised the agony and ecstasy of