Like many people who enjoy old film songs, the name Mubarak Begum will not be unfamiliar.
What is familiar is the story of people who are not smart enough being left by the roadside. A Mirror report says that she is living on Rs 700 a month pension she gets from the government; her two sons drive taxis and have their own families to look after.
It is also the story of the caucus that has always existed in most so-called glamorous professions. It is mentioned that she was a far better singer than Suraiyya. I have no doubt it. Suraiyya was just about okay for the kind of songs you hum when you are either falling asleep or trying to get someone to sleep…and do not throw the numbers from Mirza Ghalib at me. Here the words were enough and I should imagine the intent was to read out the verses in tarannum. I hope so…there were no high octaves, no mudkis. Suraiyya's was a dull voice.
But she was a sharp businesswoman. She lived well and continued until the end to stay in her large house at
Mubarak Begum did not know how to manage these things, perhaps. Besides, she did not have the advantage of being a singer-actress.
Also, the report does quote her as saying, “I was a victim of politics. There were a couple of singers who appropriated all singing contracts for themselves and ruined not only my career but of several others like Vani Jairam and Suman Kalyanpur. I refused to bootlick as I had a lot of self-respect. That's what cost me my career.”
This is true and, not just these seniors, even those who came in later had to face these problems. Sulakshana Pandit who wanted to sing songs filmed on her had to beg for it; Hemlata had to be content with some songs for Ravindra Jain; and Anuradha Paudwal managed to survive because of Gulshan Kumar and his music label.
In fact, had it not been for the new music directors, the caucus would have remained. However brilliant some singers are, there is always room for experimentation. After all, the divas stated by emulating those who were there before them. I am glad that A. R. Rehman does not fall prey to names, although he does get excited about the stars. Fine, as long as we get to hear a Chitra or a Mahalakshmi Iyer, I can live with it.
Mubarak Begum’s situation makes one wonder why nothing is done to protect the interests of these people. We have trade unions for mill workers, canteen employees, unskilled labour, doctors, teachers…what about those who are still giving us joy with their lilting voices?
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Picture shows Mubarak Begum on the left with her daughter Shafaque Bano: Mirror