by: Harjap Singh Aujla

South Asia Post Issue 46 Vol II, August 31, 2007

There are very few gramophone discs recorded in the voice of Shaminder. Bhai Shaminder Singh hailed from a wealthy landlord family of Muktsar, a historic town in Southern part of East Punjab. Shaminder was fond of decent music from his childhood and he got his primary lessons in classical Indian music from a local Sikh religious musician. From his teens, he used to sing while being alone. He  was exposed to good Punjabi and Hindi music since his early childhood. He liked Suraiya, Surinder Kaur and Shamshad, but his most favourite singer was Lata Mangeshkar, whom he admired like a living goddess, a “Devi”.

Born (according to Sardul Kwatra) in 1930-31, Shaminder was younger to music director Kwatra. his elder brother built a house in Sector 11 Chandigarh during early sixties. At that time Shaminder was living in Bombay. During the November to March Shaminder used to visit Punjab and he stayed at his brother’s house. One evening, during early seventies, a fair skinned handsome middle aged man was walking on a back street in Sector 11. On this very street my father had built his house. On seeing a stranger, an extrovert in me came alive and I asked him about his introduction. He told me that he came from Bombay and was holidaying at his brother’s house. This house was located only two furlongs away from our house. When he told his name, I quickly asked, “Are you the same Shaminder who sang “Charkhe diyan ghookan ne” with Lata Mangeshkar?”  He smiled in affirmative and I introduced him to my father who was pleased to meet with this sophisticated man. From that chance meeting, we became good friends and he often had tea at our house.

The remaining part of this article is based on my numerous conversations with Shaminder and some cross checking with Sardul Kwatra. Shaminder, as a teen aged youth, had to travel to Ferozepore to watch the movies. He was more interested in the music part of the films. He was highly impressed with the music of Punjabi films “Chaman” and “Bhaiya ji” and Hindustani films “Bazaar”, “Aaram”, “Lahore”, “Ek thi Ladki”, “Mahal” and “Bari Behan”. His father was a devout Sikh and Shamminder was brought up as a practicing Sikh. They used to often visit a shrine associated with the memory of Guru Gobind Singh in Muktsar. But his visit to the Golden Temple impressed him the most. He was wonder struck at the ambience, music and eternal charm of the Golden Temple. This generated the urge in him to explore other places too. He thought if Amritsar could mesmerize him, Bombay may surprise him even more and he realized that he had the seed of music in him, which needed to germinate. From then on he took music  seriously. He started singing quite often and started mimicking Mohammad Rafi and Talat Mahmood. He will sit in front of the radio set and start accompanying Rafi or Talat. He started watching more movies, especially the great musicals.

Then one fine day in late 1953 or early 1954 he decided to board the train to Bombay. In Bombay he met Sardul Kwatra, whose music he had listened to in films “Posti” and “Kaude Shah” and liked it. Being a fellow Punjabi, Sardul was of great help to Shaminder. Sardul was professionally not very busy. His experience was mostly in composing music for the Punjabi movies. But he was relatively new to the world of composing music for more proliferating Hindi film music.

An interesting episode happened between Shaminder and Sardul Kwatra, which eventually led to the emergence of a new playback singer. Sardul had a brain storming session with Shaminder. Sardul wanted to test Shaminder’s aptitude and ability in music. Sardul produced the tune on harmonium and Shaminder was asked to sing it. Sardul discovered that Shaminder could sing professionally. He found a quality in Shaminder’s voice, which could make him a make shift substitute for much in demand Talat Mahmood. Sardul could not hide the fact that he was a great admirer of Talat Mahmood. Sardul had listened to Talat’s voice in scores of Hindi/Urdu film songs and he had also heard Talat singing for music director Vinod in a Punjabi film “Mutiar”. Sardul composed a  soulful tune for Talat Mahmood to sing a duet opposite Rajkumari in film “Kaude Shah” and got him to sing in a chorus also for the same movie. Sardul’s “Kaude Shah” experience was so pleasant and rewarding that he composed more tunes for Talat for his future ventures. One such tune he tried on Shaminder. It  was meant for a “Mahia” duet “Charkhe diyan ghookan ne, sun lai toon kann dhar ke haye sohniyan mere dil diyan hookan ne”. Sardul realized that Shaminder could sing this song quite proficiently. He was not sure whether Lata will agree to sing this song with a perfect stranger. But Shaminder insisted vehemently that he will sing this duet with Lata only. Sardul offered Shamshad Begun, the then number one female singer of Punjabi cinema. Shaminder refused in spite of the fact that he had nothing against Shamshad Sardul suggested Asha Bhonsle, who at that time was almost at par with Lata. Shaminder made a counter offer, he promised to finance the movie if he got an opportunity to sing opposite Lata. Sardul agreed and promised to approach Lata. Lata Mangeshkar was extremely busy during those days, but she agreed to sing a few Punjabi songs in the music direction of Sardul Kwatra.

Thus film “Vanjara” was born in 1954. Shaminder finanaced it. Lata eventually sang five songs for this movie. When Shaminder recorded his first duet with Lata, everybody was looking for the expression on Lata’s face, but she smiled in affirmative. It brought cheer on the faces of every one present. Lata eventually sang another duet with Shaminder. Both duets became quite popular. The other duet was “Uche chubare waliye ni saanoon kar na ishare”. The film barely broke even at the box office, but a determined Shaminder was unperturbed, because its music did well. One of its songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar “Sade pind wich paake hattee, ki moh layi bulbul wargi jatti, we khatt giyon khatti, oh hatti waliya, asan kahnoon dil tere naal laa liyaa, oh banjariya” was in circulation up to the nineteen eighties.

Later on Shaminder sang a few more duets with Lata and Asha Bhonsle for some Hindi films too. Talat Mahmood may not be aware of the fact that Shaminder ended up singing some of the songs tailor-made for Talat himself. During those days Talat’s rendition was a sure ticket to the success of any song. He was the highly paid male playback singer during his heydays.

During the sixties, S. Mohinder also started composing music for Punjabi films. He and Shaminder became good friends. Shaminder shaved off his beard some time during the nineteen sixties. During the early seventies, S. Mohinder composed the music for a religious Punjabi movie named “Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam”. Shaminder was one of the financers and male lead role holder for this movie. By that time, Shaminder had retired from singing, but compared to his contemporary heroes of Punjabi films, he did reasonably good acting in this movie.

To the best of my knowledge, Shaminder is no more in this World. This is the way it is regarding a playback singer called Shaminder, who gave a few hit songs but no flops.