the ghazal

Talat Mahmood, the photogenic ghazal superstar

Not only did he sing like a dream, but also his good looks were a major distraction.

He was impossibly photogenic no matter which angle he was filmed from. He appeared with leading actresses Madhubala, Suraiya, Mala Sinha, Nadira and Nutan in Hindi movies. Thespian Dilip Kumar was in awe of his chivalrous personality. And yet, fans did not actually want to see him as much as they wanted to hear his velvety voice. Talat Mahmood is the first name in ghazal singing, and also its brightest star.

He was born in February 1924 in Lucknow into a family that did not encourage his interest in singing. Against their wishes, he enrolled at the Marris College of Music in the city, and began singing for All India Radio at age 16. Picking up the ghazals of poets such as Mir Taqi Mir, Daag Dehlvi and Jigar Moradabadi, his voice clicked immediately. Within a year, the music label HMV signed Mahmood for a disc recording. His first song, “Sab Din Ek Samaan Nahi Tha,” was written by Fayyaz Hashmi and composed by Subal Dasgupta. When it was being recorded, music director Pankaj Mallick happened to be in the studio. He made the young man an offer to move to Kolkata and act in films. But Mahmood had unfinished business in Lucknow. He completed his course in music.

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It wasn’t until Mahmood sang “Tasveer Teri Dil Mein Behla Na Sakegi,” written by Hashmi and composed by Kamal Dasgupta, in 1944 for HMV that the vibrato entered his voice. It marks a distinct shift from his adolescent voice, which emulated his idol K L Saigal’s nasality. In “Tasveer Teri Dil Mein,” Mahmood identified a tingling, quavering pitch that became a hallmark of his style. One lakh copies of the record were sold. A star was born.

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Mahmood later met Mallick and reminded him of the acting offer. Rajlaxmi (1945), Tum aur Main (1947) and Samapti (1949) were rolled out, featuring him in the lead role. The movies gave listeners a face to admire along with the honeyed voice. Mahmood also sang non-film Bengali songs under the name Tapan Kumar. “Ei Rim Jhim Jhim Barasha” was hugely popular.

His songs were doing well, but his films were not. Mahmood moved to Mumbai in 1949, and more movies followed: Dil-e-Nadaan (1953), Dak Babu (1954), Waris (1954), Raftaar (1955), Deewali Ki Raat (1956), Ek Gaon Ki Kahani (1957), Lala Rukh (1958) and Sone Ki Chidiya (1958). His singing was hailed, but his acting not so much. Mahmood took the hint and decided to concentrate on his voice.

During this period, he was also crooning for the leading men of the decade, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor. “Aye Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagah Le Chal,” written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and composed by Anil Biswas for Arzoo (1950), established Mahmood as the voice of Dilip Kumar.

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Eminent film and music critic Raju Bharatan wrote in his book A Journey Down Memory Lane about Mahmood’s supreme quality of voice, which made everyone from Lata Mangeshkar to Kishore Kumar nervous. Mangeshkar, in particular, dreaded singing duets with Mahmood because she felt that his rich and smooth voice would render hers dull in comparison. Kumar remarked, “I think I better give up singing! How do I match your Urdu diction and inflexion, your soz (ardour)?”

Mahmood had set the bar very high when he sang “Dil-E-Nadaan” with singer and co-actor Suraiya in Mirza Ghalib (1954) for music composer Ghulam Mohammed. So perfect was Mahmood’s Urdu diction that he was crestfallen when composer Khayyam chose Mohammad Rafi to sing Mirza Ghalib ghazals for a 1969 album. Mahmood remarked, “How could a Punjabi possibly sing Ghalib?”

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Mahmood sang over 700 songs in his career, including a rare solo “Kadale Neelakadale” in the Malayalam film Dweepu for composer MS Baburaj. His last recording was “Mere Shareek-e-Safar”, a duet with Hemlata, for the film Vali-E-Azam (music by Chitragupta). Lyricist Ahmed Wasi writes, “Mere shareek-e-safar, ab tera Khuda hafiz” (My companion in this journey, I take your leave now). It turned out to be Mahmood’s swan song. He died on May 9, 1998, at the age of 74.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

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According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.