Talat Mahmood

Rare vintage photos of legendary Indian singer & actor Talat Mahmood
Talat Mahmood was an Indian playback singer who is considered as one of the greatest male Indian non-classical and semi-classical singers. Although he tried his luck as a film actor, he did not succeed a great deal in acting.

Talat Mahmood Biography

Talat Mahmood (24 February 1924 – 9 May 1998) was an Indian playback singer who is considered as one of the greatest male Indian non-classical and semi-classical singers. Although he tried his luck as a film actor, he did not succeed a great deal in acting.

Talat received Padma Bhushan in 1992, in recognition of his artistic contributions in the spheres of cinematic and ghazal music. he had a unique, elegant and profoundly artistic style of singing. Talat was a very gifted singer in every sense. He was particularly famous for singing soft and sombre semi-classical and non-classical ghazals, but the film songs sung by him are also considered critically flawless and outstanding. Although Talat's typical genre was Ghazal, he was an astoundingly brilliant film singer who sung innumerable fantastic film songs.

Romantic and tragic were the moods he liked most and it was he who helped a great deal in shaping the style and method of modern ghazal singing. He can be described as the real founder of modern semi-classical and non-classical ghazal. During the 1950s and 60s, Talat was the first choice of the high-brow literary and artistic community of Indian sub-continent, especially Urdu-speaking community. Even his cancelled songs were immensely popular among them. No other singer had such intellectually high-class and learned audience at the time with an exception of Manna Dey. Talat's voice has often been described as the softest male voice of the Indian sub-continent; not only this, but his voice is also considered among the most soulful male voices ever heard in the Indian sub-continent.

Talat Mahmood was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, to Manzoor Mahmood. Talat showed his musical leanings from a very young age and would enjoy sitting through all-night music soirees listening patiently to some of the biggest names in classical Indian music then.

Coming from a conservative Muslim background, singing was not encouraged. Talat had to choose between working in films and staying at home. Despite his parental objection he opted for the former, though his family accepted the fact only about a decade later when he gained respect in the industry.

Talat apprenticed classical music under Pandit S.C.R. Bhat at Marris College of Music, Lucknow (presently Bhatkhande Music Institute) some time in late-30s. He started his career purely as a ghazal singer in 1939. Talat Mahmood began his singing career at the age of 16 in 1939 when he began singing the Ghazals of Daag, Mir, Jigar etc. on All India Radio, Lucknow. His voice had a quality distinct from all the other singers. HMV was quick to notice this and offered Talat his first disc in 1941 Sab din ek samaan nahin tha, Bun jaoon ga kya se kya main, Iska to kuch dhyan nahin tha.

His reputation as a ghazal singer was not limited to his hometown of Lucknow, but it reached the city that proved to shape his destiny – Calcutta. The then famous ghazal singers were Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, K.L. Saigal and M.A. Rauf. The classical songs he sang were "Sapnon Ki Suhaani Duniyaa Ko" for film Shikast and "Laage Tose Naina" for Chaandi Ki Deewar.

In 1944 came the hit Tasveer teri dil mera behela nah sake gi. Its popularity was so phenomenal and unrivalled that even today it remains one of the top selling non-film discs. This disc brought Talat the fame throughout India and soon he was beckoned by the Calcutta film industry. Talat made cameo appearances and starred in about 16 films, for both the Calcutta (film hub of the 1940s) and Bombay Film Industry. The three films in which he starred were regional hits in Calcutta. Initially, in Calcutta, he recorded a lot of Bangla songs (basic album) under the assumed name of "Tapankumar". Several of his Bangla numbers were super hits in Bengal and are still aired on All India Radio old song reminisces. He sang to the tune of eminent music directors like Kamal Dasgupta ["Du'ti paakhi du'ti teere... "], Sudhin Dasgupta ["Ei rimjhimjhim barosha..."], Rabin Chattopadhyayaa ["Chander eto aalo..."], Hemanta Mukhopadhayay ["E Jodi aakash hoy..."] and V. Balsara ["Tumi sundar jodi nahi..."] during the 50s and early 60s.

In 1949 Talat moved to Bombay, to sing for the Hindi film industry. His name and fame had already preceded him and soon he was flooded with offers. His big break came with the song Ae dil mujhe aisi jagha le chal jahan koi na ho composed by music director Anil Biswas for the soundtrack of the film Arzoo. The song proved to be extremely popular.

Laxmikant Pyarelal, The most prolific duo of Hindi Film Music were also great fan of Talat Mahboob's silky voice. They composed an extremely melodious duet with Lata Mangeshkar in 1971 film Woh Din Yaad Karo, this happened to be his last song in Hindi films.

Talat Mehmood was the real founder of modern semi-classical and non-classical ghazal. So, his influence upon other contemporary and succeeding ghazal singers has been broad and profound. It was he who paved the way for such legendary ghazal singers as Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh. Hence he will always be placed very high for his contributions to transform and revitalize the whole art and form ghazal singing.

Talat Mehmood can safely be placed among the greatest male gazal and/or film singers of the Indian subcontinent together with the singers like K. L. Saigal, Mohammed Rafi, Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Kishore Kumar, Jagjit Singh, Ustad Ghulam Ali and Mukesh. Because of his soft and silky voice, subtly intricate and detailed method, correct pronunciation, infallible striking of the notes that are being tried, very sound knowledge of Indian music, striking the right note on the right time, and never missing a single bit of a beat, Talat conquered the souls of countless people throughout the globe, wherever Urdu and Hindi are spoken and understood. He is particularly and immensely popular among learned Urdu-speaking audiences having literary or artistic background, especially in Pakistan.

Talat was a member of the famous male singers' troika of the 1950s who had their respective separate fan-followings throughout the Indian subcontinent, the other two were Muhammad Rafi and Mukesh. This famous troika was the most popular group of the film singers of the 1950s in the entire sub-continent, who enjoyed the largest audience ever existed during any period of sub-continent's cinematic history. Talat exerted a profound influence upon the ghazal singing of his time with his immensely melodious voice and artistic craftsmanship, particularly suitable for typically semi-classical ghazal singing. He was born to be a Ghazal singer, with his majestic style and brilliant diction he conquered not only the hearts of innumerable high-brow listeners but also common folks of his time. He was the heart-favorite singer of the older and maturer audience of his time, and this type of audience still listens to him more than any of the ghazal singers who ever sung except the Shahenshah-e-Ghazal Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh. So, in a sense, he still necessarily is a member of another troika, to be more precise, the three most influential ghazal singers of all time.

Talat particularly and profoundly influenced a whole generation of young singers who succeeded him; including legendary ghazal singers Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas (who always honors him with the title of Shahenshah-E-Ghazal), singer Sajjad Ali and playback singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya.

G. M. Durrani was a model to many playback singers who followed then. The soulful renditions of Durrani were to be reminded of by Talat's singing as well.

Besides being a gifted singer, Mahmood was quite handsome as well. He acted in over a dozen films with top actresses of the time like Nutan, Mala Sinha, Suraiya and others. Later he decided to give up acting to concentrate on singing.

The advent of rock-n-roll in the late 1960s sidelined singers like Talat. As long as he was top box-office draw, the film producers insisted on including his songs in their films. Talat's velvety vocals posed a special challenge to the music-composers, most of whom leaned towards the deep baritones of Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. The resultant demise of his film career led to the decline of his singing career. At the same time, the social changes and happiness brought about by increasing prosperity in India meant that blue mood ghazals and heart-rending ballads were not popular any more. Talat continued to record good songs, but less in number. His last soundtrack recording, in 1985, is the song "Mere Shareek-e-Safar", a duet sung with Miss Hemlata, from the film "Wali-e-Azam" composed by Chitragupt and written by Ahmed Wasi.

However, Talat who was the first Indian singer to go on foreign concert tours in 1956 to East Africa found eager fans awaiting his arrival in other foreign countries. Jam packed audience in the United States, the UK, West Indies and other countries awaited his arrival enthusiastically. He performed in famous Royal Albert Hall in London, Madison Square Garden in the States and Jean Pierre Complex in the West Indies. He continued singing in the packed auditoriums until 1991 when he toured the Netherlands. Talat sang about 800 songs in his long career. His songs are still popular among the music lovers as they were in the days these were released.

Talat married a Bengali Christian girl from Calcutta, who also acted in films and was a great fan of his, Latika Mullick, later named Nasreen on 20 February 1951 and had two children Khalid born in 1953 and Sabina born in 1959.

People, who were close to Talat, describe his nature as a quiet one. He is often remarked as a decent man, and his velvety and silky voice also reflected that decency and sense of calmness. Music directors, who worked with him, claimed that while listening to him, one would develop the feeling that Talat was a soft-hearted man. Dilip Kumar termed Talat as "a perfect gentleman". He was a fine gentleman who always had time and respect for his admirers.