That silken voice

Romantic at heart: Talat Mehmood, left, with actor-singer Suraiya;

Romantic at heart: Talat Mehmood, left, with actor-singer Suraiya;  


Talat Mehmood’s evocative and melodious voice still enchants music lovers. His tenth death anniversary falls today.

Several legends like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Saigal have dominated Hindi film music. Talat Mehmood was not such a towering presence, but lovers of melody will always rate him among the greats of Hindi film music despite the fact that he was not active in films after the early Sixties. Ten years have passed since Talat died on May 9, 1998. But Talat is still remembered and listened to by millions of discerning music lovers.

Talat was unique, style-wise and voice-wise. That shy, seductive, melodious voice had a magic appeal. His songs were mostly romantic and melancholic numbers.

Original ghazal singer

“Talat was the original ghazal singer,” says today’s ghazal veteran Jagjit Singh while Pakistani ghazal legend Mehdi Hasan has always stated that he idolised Talat in his youth.

Talat did not have the versatility of Rafi or Kishore, but his golden voice, coupled with a sound classical base, created a special magic. It was composer Madan Mohan who probably used Talat’s silken voice for the maximum number of hits. Naushad, C. Ramachandra, Anil Biswas, Salil Chowdhury, Ghulam Mohammed, Shanker-Jaikishen, S.D.Burman, Sajjad, Khayyam, Jaidev and many others also created melodies in Talat’s golden voice.

Talat, who hailed from Lucknow, epitomised the archetypal Lucknowi aristocrat, with a taste for class poetry and chaste melody. He was a romantic at heart and his music reflected the man – soft, cultured and too refined to play manipulative games in the competitive Bollywood film music industry.

Rated the best male playback voice in the mid-Fifties, Talat then tried his hand at acting and producers took it for granted that he was pursuing acting seriously. They began to ignore him. Rafi emerged around this time and Talat’s slide began.

Talat never asked any one for assignments. It was not arrogance. It was that aristocratic upbringing, which he himself admitted in some interviews.

Apart from film songs, Talat had also sung several haunting ghazals in non-film records in those days. In the Eighties, when India witnessed a ghazal boom, Talat often rued the excessive importance given to ‘sharaab’ in modern ghazals and wondered why the gentle style of singing ghazals had changed.

Says playback singer G. Venugopal, who idolises Talat: “Those subtle Talat touches and nuances appear so simple, but it is only when you try to reproduce those touches that you realize how tough it is. There is a misconception that Talat could not sing high-pitched songs. In fact, he sang the high-pitched portions so effortlessly and spontaneously that one will not note that these are high-pitched notes! I feel that singing Talat’s songs would be a litmus test for young singers in today’s competitions.”

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Gems of Talat

‘Jalte hai jis ke liye’(‘Sujata’)

‘Jayen to jaye’(‘Taxi Driver’)

‘Meri Yaad’(‘Madhosh’)

‘Mere jeevan sathi’ (‘Babul’)

‘Phir Mujhe’ (‘Mirza Ghalib’)

‘Shaam-e-gham ki’ (‘Footpath’)

‘Kadale neelakadale’(‘Dweepu’ – Malayalam)

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