img src=”http://images.bollywoodhungama.com/img/feature/11/may/mubarakbegum1.jpg” align=”right”alt=”Mubarak Begum”>
The year was 1961. A 19-year-old girl sang Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yun, hamari yaad ayegi, the title track of Hamaari Yaad Aayegi. The singer became a star overnight and the song remains an eternal favourite of lovesick souls till date.
The singer was Mubarak Begum. The song was lip-synced on the big screen by actress Tanuja. With it, the audiences began to see child artist Tanuja as a mature heroine. The song still echoes, but Mubarak Begum has been forgotten. “What a time that was. I just had to sing and have fun. I never bothered about rivalry, money or anything else that Mumbai was known for. I never complained,” says Begum, over phone from her one-room home in a chawl in Jogeshwari, a suburb in Mumbai.
Begum’s own failing health, her 41-year-old daughter’s Parkinson’s disease and lack of money to support the family have forced the reticent matriarch to discuss her life of drudgery. And now that she has decided to open up, her memory isn’t failing and the ring in her voice is tireless, as she hums her most famous number during the conversation.
“Allah ki dua se, aaj bhi awaz hi saath de rahi hai,” says Begum, as she recalls coming to Mumbai as a 11-year-old girl from her hometown, Ahmedabad. She remembers the clip-clop of the tonga as she would go to the radio station with her abba ji (her father’s elder brother) and her sister to audition as a ghazal singer. A trip to Jaddan Bai’s (Nargis’ mother and a famous singer herself) house had the tough woman mesmerised by young Mubarak’s voice. “I loved watching films. Taqdeer was being shot then and a sweet looking Nargis would always roam around with a badminton racquet in the house. Jaddan Bai suggested that with a voice like mine, I will never need a recommendation in my life,” says Begum, who took a two-year vocal training before beginning playback singing.
But when she began to sing in Sohrab Modi’s studio in Tardeo for composer Rafique Ghaznavi Khan, who was riding high on Taqdeer‘s success, her nervousness got the better of her. “I could not manage the songs. Khan sahab sent me home saying that this girl cannot sing,” recalls the 70-year-old.
She tasted success with Aaiye, the songs of which were composed by Shaukat Dehelvi. It was at the Eastern Recording Studio in Worli, while recording the songs for this film, that Begum met an upcoming star vocalist, Lata Mangeshkar. “At that time, Lata had only been singing for five or six years and I was a huge Suraiya fan. I was not really fascinated by her then,” says Begum. “Lata and I recorded Aao chalen sakhi together, which was followed by a solo of mine, Mohe aane lagi angrayi. I did not know then that she would become the star of the century. However, the Mangeshkar family was always a smart lot. They were strict about payments, while I was happy with Rs 150 for a song,” she adds.
After Aaiye, Begum hit her heyday. She sang seven songs in Kamaal Amrohi’s Daayra, Prakash Rao’s Humraahi and Bimal Roy’s Madhumati. This was also when she worked with the best music directors, including Shankar-Jaikishan, SD Burman, Kidar Sharma, Ravi, Jaidev, Salil Chowdhury and had patrons like Geeta Bali.
In the late ’60s, the calls from composers and filmmakers stopped. “My songs were being cut without a reason. I sang the famous Pardesiyon se na akhiyan milana with Mohammed Rafi in Jab Jab Phool Khile. But when we watched the film, my song wasn’t there. I knew that doomsday had arrived,” says Begum, whose husband had left her by then and she was a single mother of two children.
“I am still fending for them. My daughter is unwell and my son is a taxi driver. With no invitations to sing anymore, I have been forgotten. I cry when I see my songs being played on TV. Maybe, I wasn’t talented enough to survive the film industry,” says Begum.