Happy birthday, Uma Devi!
On her 88th birth anniversary, I would like to pay tribute to Uma Devi aka Tun Tun via some posts focused specifically on her very charming and delightful singing.
Now, I like Tun Tun just fine, but I have to admit that this performer didn’t register anywhere close to my own list of classic Hindi film favorites before I became aware of her as the singer Uma Devi. Of course, she was the singer known as Uma Devi first, but it’s often the case that the earlier films and songs come later to those of us who arrived much later and from a different location…
And I have been appreciating the voice of Uma Devi more and more lately. It’s a shame that she was discouraged from singing at some time to the point where she had to remake herself as a comedienne, playing perhaps too many fat jokes. Accounts I’ve read blame it on a combination of personal disputes, some major mistakes she made in the business (e.g., I think she broke a contract in order to sing in Chandralekha), and her unfortunate timing, as she reached her peak at the dawn of the era of Lata Mangeshkar. But, still, no explanation seems adequate to me. She should have been singing prominently for a long, long time.
In my own experience, I got to appreciate quite a few of Uma Devi’s songs strictly through listening first, because I actually got to download the songs as MP3s via some of my favorite blogs BEFORE I saw or searched out the films and song clips. And that’s one big reason why I want to share some audio links for this particular “Bollywood birthday” celebration – because those sites did a great deal to facilitate my own quite recent discovery of Uma Devi.
One soundtrack in which I got to hear some fine Uma Devi songs (four of them, by my count, if you include duets) was Dard, which I was able to download via Parties, Sarees and Melodies. (This blog was very significant in my Bollywood music education of the past several years, but it’s been dormant for a year and not really active for a couple of years. Are you coming back, Stella 1?) Although I first recognized this soundtrack as one of the great Naushad-Suraiya accomplishments, I soon realized that the songs on here which were possibly the best were sung by Uma Devi. (They were picturized on Munawar Sultana, who I think would have been completely overshadowed in this film by her co-star Suraiya, had Munawar not been “singing” such delightful songs throughout.)
One Web site that has been exceptional in providing Uma Devi Mp3s is Indian Baja, which offers a couple of really nice songs from Anokhi Ada (one of which I just posted the other day) and no less than five great Uma Devi songs from Chandralekha. (There is one song included that doesn’t have Uma Devi, but I can’t complain – it’s got a duet of T.A. Moti singing with Zohrabai Ambalewali!) In addition, this site has a special Uma Devi post that contains her two solo hits from Dard as well as songs from Natak (1947) and Chandni Raat (1949). That post also contains some nice biographical material, and, by the way, every post on this site is presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner. (Nicely organized, with pretty graphics to accompany often beautiful music.)
Now, I am certain that you can also find a bunch of good Uma Devi songs on Surjit Singh’s Hindi film songs site. In fact, I have already found his copy of the songs from Anokhi Ada. But due to the way that the site is, well, organized, it might take some time searching songs out. (Surjit Singh’s site actually has been a terrific source of soundtracks for me, especially for pre-partition songs by Noor Jehan and early songs by Shamshad Begum. But due to time limitations, I don’t think I could possibly do the sorting needed to find the other Uma Devi songs and get this post up while it is still Uma Devi’s birthday.)
And speaking of time limitations… I am also afraid that Uma Devi’s birthday will have passed by the time I find and post a bunch of my favorite film clips (especially if I even try to rank them). But, then again, why not celebrate Uma Devi’s birthday for a couple of days (or a few)? It’s become clear to me that as a singer, she just isn’t remembered today nearly as well as she should be.
P.S. Speaking of the songs she should be remembered for, I should mention one more place where I found Uma Devi doing a great vocal bit for Naushad before I saw the film or video clips. The stie in this case is Music from the Third Floor, through which I was able to get Dillagi. Now, this soundtrack is known as another one of the Naushad-Suraiya classics – as well it should be – but there is one song in which Uma Devi does a wonderful duet with Shamshad Begum. (I’ve posted it in video before, and I will again – just think of a mischievous gang of women philosophizing about love and life while they do some kite flying…)