the ghazal

Salma Agha’s voice could not match her beauty

The actor, singer and favourite of street performers has tried every genre, including disco and ghazal.

Salma Agha’s acting career was a brief meteoric flare, but her voice has given her an enduring legacy. Her debut film Nikaah (1982), in which she sang the memorable song “Dil Ke Armaan”, written by Hassan Kamaal and set to music by Ravi, fetched her a Filmfare Best Female Playback Singer trophy. Agha had three nominations in the category, including a nomination for Best Actress on that eventful night, and it was clear that she was going to win in at least one of the categories. Her only true competition was herself.

Agha was born in Amritsar in 1956 and raised in London. She was trained as a singer in the Kirana gharana. Agha and her sister, Sabina, formed a group to sing ABBA hits on the album Salma & Sabina Sing The Hits Of Abba In Hindi (1981). Their cover of “Dancing Queen”, called “Mitha Maze Dar”, is a prime example of the sisters hitting higher notes with ease as their vocal pitches are on the upper scale. The album was considered a novel experiment, but it didn’t lead to a future in pop music.

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Agha’s first playback break was for the nondescript movie Maine Jeena Seekh Liya (1982), in which she sang “Zara Zara Tu Pyar Kar” for music composers Nadeem-Shravan.

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She moved to Mumbai to audition for playback in BR Chopra’s Talaq Talaq Talaq. Chopra asked her if she would act in the film too, an offer she could not resist. The film was later rechristened as Nikaah after clerics took offence to the initial title, which referred to the triple talaq divorce system in Islam. The film was a commercial hit, introducing a strong female protagonist.

The hazel-eyed beauty was hailed for her acting and singing, a rare combination of talents reminiscent of the golden days of Noorjehan and Suraiya. Her next film, Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki (1984), presented her disco avatar. The film showcased her versatility as a singer of both sad love songs and disco numbers with equal panache. However, she appeared only in a dozen films since, and nothing matched the success of her first two hits.

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Acting wasn’t her motivation for work and her distinctly nasal voice was uniquely suited only to her, which dried up playback offers. Agha began to focus on ghazals and produced several albums, including an unusual collaboration with ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan called Har Pal (1988). In the song “Saans Bhi Loon”, his mellow voice finds a booming echo in her high pitch.

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Here she sings a ghazal written by Mirza Ghalib, “Dil Hai Dil Agar” and if it hadn’t been for the generosity of listeners, few would be willing to look beyond her beauty to pay attention to her shrill voice.

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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.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

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.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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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.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

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