In 1949, music composer Nashad introduced a 13-year-old girl as a playback singer in the film Aiye. Mubarak Begum sang “Mohe Aane Lagi Angdaai” in a style reminiscent of Noor Jehan and a duet “Aaiye Aao Chalen Chalen Wahan” with another fledgling talent, Lata Mangeshkar. That year, Mangeshkar got her first hit song “Aayega Aanewala” from Mahal, while Mubarak Begum’s career never quite hit the same high notes.
The 80-year-old singer died on July 19 after a prolonged illness. She had been living in the northern Mumbai suburb Jogeshwari for the past several years with her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Her health is said to have deteriorated after her daughter’s death in September 2015, and there were reports that she was struggling to pay her medical bills.
Mubarak Begum was born in 1936 in Sujangarh in Rajasthan and raised in Ahmedabad in Gujarat before moving to Mumbai. In a television interview for Rajya Sabha TV’s show Shaksiyat recorded in 2012, the frail-looking legend recalled her childhood and the moment when she decided to become a singer – after watching a movie featuring the voices of Noor Jehan and Suraiya.
Her father put her in the Kirana gharana of classical music, where she trained with Ustad Riazuddin Khan and Ustad Samad Khan Sahab. She also began performing for All India Radio, which led to her break with Nashad.
After a few years, Mubarak Begum sang for Kamal Amrohi’s Daera (1953). Her voice emerged in the bhajan “Devta Tum Ho Mera Sahara”, composed by Jamal Sen and featuring Meena Kumari. The film flopped, but the song boosted Mubarak Begum’s popularity. She got a solo number “Woh Na Aayenge Palat Kar” in Bimal Roy's Devdas (1955) with music by S D Burman. Roy used her voice once again in Madhumati (1958), in which she sang “Hum Haal E Dil Sunaenge” for music composer Salil Choudhury.
By this time, her voice had come to be associated with mujra songs. She broke the jinx when she sang the soulful “Kabhi Tanhaiyon Mein” for the Kidar Sharma film Hamari Yaad Aayegi (1961). The song remains one of her most well-known.
Legend has it that the song was initially offered to Mangeshkar, but she did not have the time to record it. The track established Mubarak Begum’s versatility. She that proved she wasn’t a fluke when she sang the melodic duet “Mujhko Apne Gale Laga Lo” with Mohammed Rafi for composers Shankar-Jaikishan in the film Humrahi (1963).
Despite her talent, Mubarak Begum remained on the fringes. She remained a second choice for playback singing, which had begun to be dominated by the sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Without naming names, Mubakar Begum recalled in a 2010 interview, “Music composers wanted to give me work but these singers, who later became globally famous, ensured I did not get work as it would have meant competition.”
Mubarak Begum went along with the flow, singing duets with her female peers, such “Hume Dum Daike Souten Ghar Jaana” (Yeh Dil Kisko Doon, 1963) with Asha Bhosle and “Nighahon Se Dil Ka Salaam” (Cobra Girl, 1963) with Suman Kalyanpur.
Mubarak Begum’s career wrapped up by the 1970s, barring a stray song every few years in a film that didn’t succeed. One of her last songs “Saanwariya Teri Yaad Mein” was for Ramu To Diwana Hai (1980).