“I don’t need a therapist because I have Talat Mahmood”: A sneak peek into the legendary singer’s biography – Times of India

24th February marks the birth anniversary of Talat Mahmood, whose timeless songs remain one of the most priceless legacies of Indian music. Talat Mahmood’s mellifluous voice brought to life deep human emotions and the magic of his songs resonate even today. Talat Mahmood began his career as a ghazal singer before branching out into playback singing for Hindi films. He captivated audiences with his silky, velvety voice that expressed a range of emotions with ease, making him one of the most beloved singers of his time and even after 25 years of his death, his global fan following has not waned as his unique blend of classical and contemporary styles, coupled with his impeccable diction and phrasing continues to inspire generaions. His grand neice Sahar Zaman, an award-winning political journalist is penning his first definitive biography. We spoke to her about the book, the idea behind it and about his grand-uncle Talat Mahmood. Excerpts.
How do you remember your grand-uncle (naani’s real brother) ? Do you have any memories of him?

I remember him as a cute grand-uncle with twinkling eyes who would be excited to treat us and make sure we had the best time while visiting Mumbai. In his later years, of course, he slowed down and became very silent. One of my most special memories, which I also write about in more detail in the biography, is when I met him in Delhi after he received the Padma Bhushan. It was such a beautiful evening. Incidentally, it was a day or so after Eid , so it became a double celebration for us at his hotel room. It was a private affair with just six of us close family members. In hindsight, what I liked most about him was that he was such a simple person. Despite his huge stardom and pioneering success, I don’t know how he managed to remain so humble.

Known as the man with the golden voice, Talat Mahmood’s journey is quite remarkable. What was that one thing about him which you think stands out?
I have researched and found out so many more aspects of his career that I choose to define him as a gentle mould-breaker. I know it’s difficult to look beyond his charming looks and soft voice which was his biggest USP in the Golden Era of films, but he constantly remained a pioneer. His decision to become a professional singer despite belonging to a well educated and conservative Lucknow family, his decision to be the first ever playback singer to start would tours in the prime of his career in 1956, his decision to act on screen which made him Independent India’s first singing star and his decision to maintain parallel careers in non-film Ghazals as well as Bengali songs.Todays’ independent Ghazal music industry actually rests on his shoulders! He also played a significant role in spearheading the battle for royalty fees for singers. He had officially held the position of the Secretary of the Playback Singers Association when his friends Lata and Mukesh decided to join hands and raise their voice for the cause in the mid 1960s. Even his world tours helped establish which countries across the world had an NRI population with deep pockets to sponsor shows and buy tickets. Many times, other singers followed suit in those cities after the success of Talat’s shows.

Tell us about his biography and the reason why you named it-The Definitive Biography? Do you think the previous ones did not paint the right picture?
I’ve just finished the first draft of the biography and written about 70,000 words. The final book will soon be out to celebrate his centenary. But it’s most certainly the definitive biography. Firstly, because it’s the first and only biography. And secondly, the professional and personal insights are exclusive and unparalleled. The readers will be amazed to learn about new facets of his life and work. It’s been a blessing for me to be a journalist and a family member both. Because of my professional training as a journalist, access to members of the film industry and personal family insights make it an apt combination to write this book.

How easy or difficult was it to pen your own grand’s bio uncle’s biography? Did being a close relative made you a little biased in your approach?
Once again, I think my journalism background really helped me here. Yes, there were moments where I felt that should I be so brutally honest or should I not give out too many family details. So it’s been a tightrope walk of constantly striking the right balance. The best biographies in the world are said to be those when the protagonist is treated like a real person with all shades of black and white and everything else in between.

You have truly carried forward your grand-uncle Talat Mahmood’s legacy through “Jashn-e-Talat”. Can you elaborate on it?

Jashn-e-Talat is a tribute festival which I started in 2017. It was the first-of-its-kind multi performance show dedicated to Talat nana’s music and films. It includes singing performances, Kathak dance, salsa dance, theatric narration of his life and LIVE portrait painting of his images on stage. We’ve also done a flash mob on his original soundtracks at India’s biggest mall, the DLF Mall of India. The idea was to connect his music to the youth. It was befitting when the British Council listed it as a contemporary festival to watch out for. The combination of vintage music in the contemporary context was unheard of. But the journey of Jashn-e-Talat is also what led me to start writing the biography.

Tell us about some important anecdotes from Talat Mahmood’s life that you have mentioned in the book. When will the biography be out ?

Talat Mahmood’s life flows along with the history of India and the evolution of our music and film industry. He was a rare pre-independence celebrity and a post-independence filmstar. I can’t give out too many details but I can assure you that this biography traces his childhood in Lucknow, his life and career in Calcutta as Tapan Kumar for Bengali songs, his shift to Bombay for the Golden Era and his non-stop world tours – all of it in great detail. You dice that up with his personal life milestones and challenges as well. And voila, you’ve got one of the most interesting stories at hand. This will be a gift to all music lovers in a build up to his centenary.

Any message you would like to share with his fans, on his birth anniversary today?
I recently came across a European website where a designer was selling T-shirts and mugs printed with Talat Mahmood’s face. One of the taglines of the T-shirt said, “I don’t need a therapist because I have Talat Mahmood”. I was amazed. That’s the outreach of influence of his voice across generations and across nationalities too. After all, he was introduced to the American audiences as the Frank Sinatra of India. You listen to him just once and he will remain on your playlist as your friend and confidant forever.

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