Talat Mahmood (February 24, 1924 – May 9, 1998) was a popular Indian playback singer and film actor. A recipient of the Padma Bhushan in 1992, he had a unique style of singing. He was famous for singing ghazals. Talat Mahmood was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, to Manzoor Mahmood. Talat showed his musical leanings from a very young age and would enjoy sitting through all-night music soirees listening patiently to some of the biggest names in classical Indian music then. Coming from a conservative Muslim background, singing was not encouraged. Talat had to choose between working in films and staying at home. Despite his parental objection he opted for the former, though his family accepted the fact only about a decade later when he gained respect in the industry.
Talat apprenticed classical music under Pandit S.C.R. Bhat at Marris College of Music, presently Bhatkhande Music University, Lucknow some time in the 30s. He started his career purely as a ghazal singer in 1939. Talat Mahmood began his singing career at the age of 16 in 1939 when he began singing the Ghazals of Daag, Mir, Jigar etc. on All India Radio, Lucknow. His voice had a quality distinct from all the other singers. HMV was quick to notice this and offered Talat his first disc in 1941 Sab din ek samaan nahin tha, Bun jaoon ga kya se kya main, Iska to kuch dhyan nahin tha.
His reputation as a ghazal singer was not limited to his hometown of Lucknow, but it reached the city that proved to shape his destiny - Calcutta. The then famous ghazal singers were Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, K.L. Saigal and M.A. Rauf. The classical songs he sang were " Sapnon Ki Suhaani Duniyaa Ko " for film Shikast and " Laage Tose Naina " for Chaandi Ki Deewar. In 1944 came the hit Tasveer teri dil mera behela nah sake gi. Its popularity was so phenomenal and unrivalled that even today it remains one of the top selling non-film discs. This disc brought Talat the fame throughout India and soon he was beckoned by the Calcutta film industry. Talat made cameo appearances and starred in about 16 movies, for both the Calcutta (film hub of the 1940s) and Bombay Film Industry. The three movies in which he starred were regional hits in Calcutta. Initially, in Calcutta, he recorded a lot of Bangla songs under the assumed name "Tapankumar". Several of his Bangla numbers were super hits in Bengal and still aired on All India Radio old song reminisces. In 1949 Talat moved to Bombay, to sing for the Bombay film industry. His name and fame had already preceded him and soon he was flooded with offers. His big break came with the song Ae dil mujhe aisi jagha le chal jahan koi na ho composed by music director Anil Biswas for the soundtrack of the movie Arzoo. The song proved to be extremely popular.
Talat was considered a handsome man and a good singer, which prompted movie producers to try him as an actor. Talat acted in over a dozen films with top actresses of the time like Nutan, Mala Sinha, Suraiya and others. Later he decided to give up acting to concentrate on singing. The advent of rock-n-roll in the late 1960s sidelined singers like Talat. As long as he was top box-office draw, the movie producers insisted on including his songs in their movies. Talat's velvety vocals posed a special challenge to the music-composers, most of whom leaned towards the deep baritones of Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. The resultant demise of his movie career led to the decline of his singing career. At the same time, the social changes and happiness brought about by increasing prosperity in India meant that blue mood ghazals and heart-rending ballads were not popular any more. Talat continued to record good songs, but less in number. His last soundtrack recording, in 1985, is the song "Mere Shareek-e-Safar", a duet sung with Miss Hemlata, from the movie "Wali-e-Azam" composed by Chitragupt and written by Ahmed Wasi.
However, Talat who was the first Indian singer to go on foreign concert tours in 1956 to East Africa found eager fans awaiting his arrival in other foreign countries. Jam packed audience in the United States, the UK, West Indies and other countries awaited his arrival enthusiastically. He performed in famous Royal Albert Hall in London, Madison Square Garden in the States and Jean Pierre Complex in the West Indies. He continued singing in the packed auditoriums until 1991 when he toured Holland. Talat sang about 800 songs in his long career. His songs are still popular among the music lovers as they were in the days these were released. People, who were close to Talat, describe his nature as a quiet one. He is often remarked as a decent man, and his velvety and silky voice also reflected that decency and sense of calmness. Music directors, who worked with him, claimed that while listening to him, one would develop the feeling that Talat was a soft-hearted man. Dilip Kumar termed Talat as "a perfect gentleman". Talat sang approximately 800 songs spread over 4 decades spanning between the 40s and 80s. Some of the most popular work of Talat is available even today.