'Woh na ayenge palat kar': Did the film industry kill Mubarak Begum?

Farhana Farook
·Contributor
·8-min read
'Woh na ayenge palat kar': Did the film industry kill Mubarak Begum?

Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yoon hamari yaad aayegi, which she sang for Kidar Sharma’s Hamari Yaad Aayegi, won her resounding ovation.

It also reverberated in the silence that enveloped her last years. Today it’s become a requiem for the late Mubarak Begum.

Her rustic and rich voice enthralled the film industry between the ’50s-’60s. But she was soon edged out by competition, lack of schmoozing skills and crushing personal problems. Someone who had fans sitting on the bonnet of their cars listening to her perform live, Mubarak Begum’s life became a struggle for survival.

The burden of unpaid bills, the grief of losing a daughter and her own internment due to illness… forced Mubarak Begum to live on the kindness of strangers, the benevolence of authorities and on fading memories…

Revisiting the tragic times of singer Mubarak Begum...

RUSTIC TALENT

Born on 5 January1936 in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, Mubarak Begum grew up in Ahmedabad. As a child she loved music. Later, she was inspired by singers Noorjehan and Suraiya. A disciple of Riazuddin Khan of kirana gharana, she learnt Hindustani classical music, before she accompanied her father to Mumbai in the mid-’40s.

She sang ghazals on All India Radio during the late ’40s. Her break in films came with the song Mohe aane lagi angrayi (Aaiye 1949) for composer Shaukat Dehlvi. Later she bagged seven songs in Meena Kumari’s Daera (1953). The film flopped, but the bhajan Devta tum ho boosted Begum’s popularity.

Her big moment came with Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955). At first, she was given just two lines to sing… Woh na aayenge palatkar, unhein lakh hum bulaayein, which were to be played on loop. Lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi loved her poignant yet easy rendition so much that he wrote a full song instead. Composer S D Burman, who’d earlier dismissed her saying, “Awaaz polish karo!” couldn’t help admiring her.

After this came another Bimal Roy hit — the mujra Haal-e dil sunayege composed by Salil Chowdhury for Madhumati (1958).

At the recording of Kabhi tanhayiyon mein for Hamari Yaad Aayegi (1961), director Kidar Sharma, who also wrote the lyrics, sat with his eyes closed till the song was recorded. He then gave four annas to Begum. When she hesitated, composer Snehal Bhatkar urged her to accept it saying, “Whoever he gives money makes a name.”

The song of heartbreak, Kabhi tanhayiyon mein, topped the charts. People placed bets as to who’d sung it… Lata Mangeshkar or Mubarak Begum, so refined was her voice. In fact, Kidar Sharma changed the title of the film from Jawaan Mohabbat to Hamari Yaad Aayegi sensing the immense potential of the song.

T. Prakash Rao’s Mujhko apne gale laga lo (Humrahi 1963) came her way when a top singer didn’t turn up for the recording. “When she got to know that I’d sung it she objected. But Jaikishenji (of Shankar-Jaikishen) said that he wouldn’t have anyone else sing it,” shared Begum in an interview.

The hit duet put her in the league of top singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Suman Kalyanpur. Sadly, her career, despite her versatility and having cut records for top composers, wrapped up by the 1970s. One of her last songs was Saanwariya teri yaad mein for Ramu To Diwana Hai (1980).

ALLEGED SABOTAGE

Inexplicably, Mubarak Begum remained on the periphery of an industry that once venerated her talent. Often reduced to a scratch artiste, she blamed the ‘bullying tactics and monopolistic rules of the industry’.

Director of Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Suraj Prakash, confirmed in an interview that the female version of Pardesiyon se na ankhiyan milana was initially recorded in Begum’s voice.

Writer Manek Premchand in his book, The Hindi Music Jukebox: Exploring Unforgettable Songs, has titled a chapter on Mubarak Begum as ‘The Flightless Bird of Hindi Playback Singing’. In an interview to him, Begum reportedly said, “Unhonein mere parr kaat diye (they clipped my wings)!”

In another interview, she said that the late singer Geeta Dutt ‘never made fun of any singer’, while others did. “They’d laugh and distract me, so that I wouldn’t get it right and was asked to leave.”

Begum shared her frustration saying, “The world knows who didn’t let me succeed. I took to singing to look after my family. I didn’t come here for name or fame. My songs were dropped from films or sung again by someone else. They did this with many artistes. They said, ‘If you make so and so sing, we’ll never sing for you’. The composers would get scared.”

HOPELESS & HELPLESS

Through the years, the burden of looking after her two children alone, property disputes and familial stress also distracted Begum from her career.

Pushed into poverty and later physical incapacity (due to a back injury), Begum in the later years could barely move. She lived in congested one room-tenement in Jogeshwari in Mumbai, her bed occupying most of the space. Just below her bed, a mattress was spread for her 40-plus daughter Shafaq Banu, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

Her son Hussain and daughter-in-law Zarina with their daughters lived in the same flat. She was grateful to Javed Akhtar through whose efforts she could avail of the small studio from the Chief Minister’s quota for artistes.

“The Government earlier gave me Rs 1500, now it’s Rs 3000 a month. Some fans send money. I feel humiliated. Whenever there’s a Mohammed Rafi concert, I participate. I’m taken in an armchair.”

Begum recalled Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s generosity saying. “Once I was to perform with Hridaynath. When I went there, he quietly put an envelope of money in my purse. He’s so well-mannered.”

With hardly any work, Begum found it difficult to pay ‘the gas, maintenance and electricity bills’. Her ailing daughter needed to include fruit in her diet. “We can’t afford it. At least Rs 10,000 is needed for her medical expenditure. My son runs a private taxi. He has four daughters. I don’t take help from him,” she maintained.

Sinking in depression, Mubarak Begum started taking sleeping tablets. “I was taken to a psychiatrist as I’d withdrawn into myself. Meri rozi par asar padha tha!” she cried.

In 2011, the Maharashtra government reportedly sanctioned financial aid of one lakh for the treatment of the ailing singer even as news of her being in dire straits surfaced.

Her health deteriorated after her daughter, Shafaq Banu’s death, in September 2015. Within six months, Begum was hospitalised. The state offered to take care of the medical bills.

Her daughter-in-law Zarina reportedly said that while no one from the industry offered help, Salman Khan made a donation directly to the hospital. Zarina mentioned that for other routine expenses, Lata Mangeshkar’s family trust helped them.

The 80-year-old singer passed away on July 18, 2016 after a prolonged battle with hope and despair, life and death.

To repeat her favourite Urdu shair (verse)…

“Khiza ka rang kabhi nazar se door na huwa

(The shade of autumn never went out of sight)

Kati hai umar baharon ki arzoo karte karte

(I have spent a lifetime waiting for spring).”

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