The story of Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director

While pulling out playback singer Shamshad Begum’s version of Katiya Karoon, we at TCRC realised that she was one of the earliest female playback singers in the Hindi film industry. This set us off on a search for India’s first woman film director and led us to this interesting piece on Fatma Begum, written by Rohit Vats for IBN Live as a part of their “100 years of Indian cinema” series. Here’s an excerpt from that piece (click here to read the entire story):

Born in an Urdu speaking family, Fatma Begum was related to Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III. She was the mother of Zubeida, Sultana and Shehzadi, who were popular actors of the silent era. She started working in films in 1922 after getting trained in plays. Fatma worked with filmmakers like Ardeshir Irani and Nanubhai Desai before founding her own production company Fatma Films which was later rechristened as Victoria-Fatma Films. ‘Bulbul-E-Paristan’ that released in 1926, became the first Indian film to be directed by a female director. However, acting remained on her wish list and she continued to act till late 1930s.”

Ardeshir Irani, who Fatma worked with as an actor, incidentally is the father of Indian talkie films, having made both “Alam Ara” (in Hindi) and “Kalidas” (in Tamil, with songs in Telugu).

We also tried to find an image of Fatma Begum on the web. While we did come across few images, we couldn’t confirm the veracity of any of them. The Whistling Woods (a film school in Mumbai) blog, for instance,  features this picture:

Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director.

Cineplot Enyclopedia, on the other hand, features this image:

Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director.

Clearly different people, don’t you think? It is interesting (and worrisome) to note that the internet doesn’t  have a single undisputed image of the first woman director in one of the world’s largest film industries. On days like these, we at TCRC find renewed vigour in our attempt to archive cinema-related artifacts. Have you found other such examples with respect to information about the early days of cinema? Do share them with us by writing to tcrc.india[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Shamshad Begum & The Original ‘Katiya Karoon’!

We at TCRC were deeply saddened to hear about the demise of Shamshad Begum, one of the earliest playback singers in the Hindi film industry. She was 94, only half a dozen years younger than Indian cinema itself (if we go by the release of “Raja Hairshchandra” as the beginning). Along the way, Shamshad Begum has given us some of the most evergreen melodies in Indian film music, including hits such as “Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar” and “Kajra Mohabbatwala” for composer OP Nayyar, and “Mera Piya  Gaye Rangoon” for music director C Ramanchandra.

Shamshad Begum. Photo Courtesy: Hindustan Times

A Padma Bhushan awardee, Shamshad (which means “graceful” in Persian) Begum recorded her first song, a Punjabi number, in the 1930s. And it is another Punjabi number that we at TCRC are bringing to you today, as a tribute to this doyenne. In the 1963-released, black-and-white Punjabi movie “Pind Di Kurhi” directed by Baldev R Jhingan, Shamshad Begum had sung a version of “Katiya Karoon,” the folk number which was recently adapted in Imitiaz Ali’s “Rockstar” starring Ranbir Kapoor. While the new “Katiya Karoon” was composed by AR Rahman, the original version delivered by Shamshad Begum was composed by Hansraj Behl and was picturized on actress Nishi. Watch and enjoy!