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Who sabotaged Shamshad Begum’s career?

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The death of Shamshad Begum saddened those who can relate to film music’s golden era. Her death also makes one wonder as to how far she could have gone had she enjoyed a smooth career sans the overwhelming interference of Mangeshkar sisters. It’s a known fact that because of Lata and Asha, many female singers could never blossom to their full potential. This specifically happened to Shamshad and Mubarak Begum, who lived in oblivion because of Asha and Lata. Film historian, the late Iqbal Masood wrote in the now defunct ‘Star & Style’ that O.P. Nayyar’s first preference was Shamshad Begum, whose metallic tenor he liked a lot. O. P. Nayyar never liked Lata Mangeshkar because he found her voice to be too shrill, which lacked desired huskiness for his songs. That’s why he never gave a single opportunity to Lata. When Asha realised that Shamshad was getting more importance and more songs, she began to emotionally blackmail O. P. Nayyar. Film critic Anil Sari Arora wrote in Stardust (1976) that O P decided to rope in Shamshad for the songs of ‘Naya Daur’ (1957). Asha put her foot down and sulked. When Lachchhiram (the forgotten composer of Razia Sultan, 1957) advised O P Nayyar to opt for Shamshad Begum instead of Asha, she and her sister spread canards about him. A couple of years ago, Asha said that she’d write about the people like O P Nayyar, Lacchiram, among others, who tried to sexually exploit her. It’s the other way round. Mangeshkar sisters had a visceral aversion to Mubarak Begum and Shamshad Begum. They were threatened by these two female voices, whose Urdu was naturally far better than that of Mangeshkar sisters. While one cannot deny the greatness of Lata and Asha, the fact remains that the two sisters were always scared of those female singers whose mother tongue was Urdu. Asha and Lata still cannot pronounce many Urdu words the way they should be pronounced. They falter when it comes to enunciating deep-sounding ‘ain’ (which comes in ‘mua’yyan: Maut ka ek din ‘mua’yyan’ hai: Mirza Ghalib), ‘ghain’ (as in ‘ghair’ or middle syllabic ‘ghain’: Aghiyar: the plural of ‘ghair’) and ‘Qaaf’ (Qayamat/Qura’an).

Those, who’re into classical and semi-classical music, will be in agreement with me that both the sisters are very bad ghazal singers because ghazal requires a certain kind of voice, called ‘kharaj ki aawaaz’ in Urdu. This has never been a problem with the Muslim singers of yore, who all knew Urdu as it was their mother tongue.

Most of the problems in life stem from a persistent sense of insecurity and professional rivalry. It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail. Lata and Asha realised this harsh reality of life, quite early and saw to it that no one must cross their paths. They ruthlessly sabotaged careers of many a female singer for their own survival. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2013 on page no. 2

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