By late 1940, he [Talat Mahmood] was singing for All India Radio Lucknow and Lahore. In 1941, his voice had become the talk of talent-hunters, so he was given an opportunity to record a few non-film songs for HMV in Calcutta. They signed a contract with him for thirty rupees per song. Midway through his music studies he left Lucknow. His delighted teachers permitting him to resume studies a year later. His first recording happened in September 1941, the song being Sab din ek samaan naheen tha, Ban jaoonga kya se kya main, iska to kuchh dhyaan naheen tha, written by Fayyaz Hashmi and composed by Subal Dasgupta. Present at this recording was the great singer-composer-actor Pankaj Mullick, who patted the young émigré for a job well done. In Calcutta, the young man started learning Bengali. After six recordings for HMV in Calcutta, Talat returned in 1942 to complete his studies at Marris and in the next couple of years, he heard a lot of Gangubai Hangal, Fayyaz Khan and Roshanara Begum.

Education completed, he headed back to Calcutta in 1944 to see if there was something he could achieve in that city. Of course meeting Saigal was a high priority now. The great singing actor had moved to Bombay, but did visit Calcutta from time to time. Among the first things Talat did was contact Pankaj Mullick, who remembered the young man and Talat was delighted when the composer invited him to watch the recording of a Saigal song. That song was Do naina matwaare, sung exceptionally by Saigal. Young Talat was completely overwhelmed by the experience.

Around now he recorded the wonderful non-film song Tasweer teri dil mera behla na sakegi, for writer Fayyaz Hashmi and composer Kamal Dasgupta. Despite its success not many maestros were inviting him to sing for them, even though he was singing a few Bangla songs and meeting important people. One of these was P C Barua whose company M P Productions signed him not just to sing, but also to act in the film Rajlaxmi, released in 1945. The film’s heroine was Kanan Devi, and this was his first screen appearance. He also sang two solos in the movie. The motivating Jaago musafir jaago, kholo man ka dwaar was his first film song and Is jag se kuchh aas naheen, the defeatist one, was his second. It was quite an accomplishment for a twenty-one year old.

Next year, he changed his name to Tapan Kumar. We do not know if he did that for wider acceptability or because of the film he now got to act and sing in, the 1947 released Tum Aur Main had an actor with a name uncomfortably close: Talaaq Mohammad! In this movie, as Tapan Kumar, he sang with Suprova Sarkar, Purwaayi pawan lehraaye, o jeeya jaaye. In these years and under this new name, he was also recording several non-film Bangla songs such as Ae rimjhim jhim boroshay, but while these songs were doing well, his film songs and portrayals were not.

He switched back to calling himself Talat. Timir Baran composed for him four songs in Sampatti (1949), a film in which he acted too. Even this film did not add to his assets. However, as before, while he was trying his luck on the screen, and simultaneously he was doing many non-film recordings. These were doing fairly well. Apart from the above-mentioned Tasweer teri dil mera behla na sakegi, consider a few more of his non-film songs of the 1940s: Nigaahon ko churaakar reh gaye hain; Main teri chhabi banaoonga, as well as his own composition, Honton se gulfishaan hain wo, aankhon se ashkbaar hum.

In fact, this thing of running his work life on two parallel tracks—one of singing in cinema and the other of non-film songs—characterized almost the entire length of his career. But detailing that now would mean running ahead of the story. Anyway, since his film work was not doing well with the name changed or otherwise, he did the smartest thing under the circumstances; he moved to Bombay. This was in 1949.

It was a very good decision. He found a reception committee of composers waiting for him; Vinod, Anil Biswas, Naushad, Shyam Sunder, Khemchand Prakash, Bulo C Rani, Lachhiram, Hafeez Khan, Snehal Bhatkar and S Mohinder. All of them called the young man to sing for them right away and his recordings for these people, mentioned in the filmography and song list of this book, were all recorded in 1950. Some, like Anil Biswas and C Ramchandra, were especially in love with the tremolo in his voice, the vocal vibrato that connoisseurs loved and misadvised singers would exaggerate at private parties in the coming decades. Talat Mahmood had arrived.

Talat’s fame preceded him. He was not auditioned. All composers knew about his endearing work in Calcutta. They knew too that the high octaves were not for Talat, his range was a notch lower, but in that tessitura, they were going to fully exploit his extraordinary vocals.

The Bombay music and film world in 1949 was not exactly starved for artistes. Apart from others, Mohd. Rafi, Mukesh, Shamshad, Lata and Suraiya were already established singers, even if Manna Dey and Asha were struggling. In music composition, Anil Biswas, Naushad, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Khemchand Prakash, C Ramchandra, S D Burman and Shankar and Jaikishan had shown their class, with Khayyam waiting for a hit. Lyricists like Rajinder Krishan and Shakeel, Shailendra and Hasrat, Majrooh and Raja Mehdi Ali Khan were well known. In the wake of exceptional films like Andaz, Barsaat, Ek Thi Ladki, Mahal and more, with remarkable music—popular interest in our cinema was growing very fast. Good, original artistes would be needed to make the huge tidal wave that was going to come roughly over the next two decades. There was going to be room—in fact, a huge need—for these artistes; Kishore and Hemant, O P Nayyar, Salil Choudhury and Madan Mohan, Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi. And Talat Mahmood was a double-barrelled attack with his handsome appearance and wonderful voice.

There is a bit of uncertainty as to who recorded him first. Bulo C Rani, claimed to have recorded him first with Sundarta ke sabhi shikaari for Jogan, and Anil Biswas, who had him croon the ghazal Aye dil mujhe ayesi jagah le chal jahaan koi na ho for Arzoo, both incidentally Dilip Kumar starrers.

Things were happening for Talat now. Many actors wanted to lip sync his appealing velvet voice, and in time, they did too. Memorable Talat melodies are associated with the great stars of the time. With Dev Anand: Jaayen to jaayen kahaan, and Hain sabse madhur wo geet, and Aa teri tasweer bana loon. Raj Kapoor: Dil matwaala, laakh sambhaala, Main dil hoon ik armaan bhara and Tumko fursat ho meri jaan to idhar dekh to

lo. Dilip Kumar: Aye mere dil kaheen aur chal, and Ye hawa ye raat ye chaandni. Ashok Kumar: Kisi surat lagi dilki behel jaaye to achha ho and Sab-kuchh luta ke hosh mein aaye to kya kiya. Shammi Kapoor: Chal diya caarvaan and Aye gham-e-dil kya karoon. Bharat Bhushan: Phir mujhe deeda-e-tar yaad aaya and Phir wohi shaam. He sang for Sunil Dutt, Karan Dewan, Manoj Kumar, Pradeep Kumar and of course, for himself.

Things were changing in his personal life too. He was in love with Bengali actress Latika Mullick from his Calcutta days, and now, financially independent, he tied the knot with her in Bombay on 20 February, 1951. Ms Latika Mullick became Mrs Nasreen Talat Mahmood.

He started acting now, some of the films being, Dil-e-Nadaan (1953, with Shyama and Peace Kanwal), Dak Babu (1954, with Nadira), Waris (1954, with Suraiya and Nadira), Raftaar (1955, with Nadira), Deewali Ki Raat (1956, with Roopmala), Ek Gaon Ki Kahani (1957, with Mala Sinha), Lala Rukh (1958, with Shyama), Maalik (1958, with Suraiya), and Sone Ki Chidiya (1958, with Nutan).

In Dil-e-Nadaan, he played the role of a Lucknow-based violinist whose father hates music, forcing the young musician to flee. He then comes to Bombay and is helped by a music store owner, whose daughter, the debutante Peace Kanwal, gradually falls in love with him, and he reciprocates those feelings. Along the line he also learns to sing and play the piano with some felicity, then graduates to become a music composer. Enter the lady’s sister Shyama, who instantly falls for the young man, never mind what he does professionally. So, after a while, Peace implores him to marry her sister instead. Talat refuses but he is under the family’s obligations, right? Only because Peace threatens suicide does he finally relent to marry her sister. This is fertile ground for incompatibility. It is also fertile ground for some exceptional songs of pain, the kind that characterize Talat’s work.

Excerpted with permission from Talat Mahmood The Velvet Voice by Manek Premchand, Manipal University Press.