Remembering Zohrabai Ambalewali on her 27th death anniversary.

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Zohrabai Ambalewali (1918- 21 February 1990) was an Indian classical singer and playback singer in Hindi cinema in the 1930s and 1940s.

She is best known for her contralto or low voice range singing in the film songs, “Ankhiyan Milake Jiyaa Bharmaake” and “Aai Diwali, Aai Diwali” in 1944 hit Rattan (1944), with music by Naushad, and “Uran Khatole Pe Ud Jaoon”, duet with Shamshad Begum in Anmol Ghadi (1946), also under Naushad’s music direction. She, along with Rajkumari, Shamshad Begum and Amirbai Karnataki, were amongst the leading first generation of playback singers in the Hindi film industry. However, by the late 1940s, the arrival of new voices like Geeta Dutt and Lata Mangeshkar, meant Zohrabai Ambalewali’s career faded away.

Ambalewali started her career at age 13, as a singer with the All India Radio, singing mainly classical and semi-classical numbers. This led to recording a few albums of thumris with HMV music label. Eventually she made her Hindi film debut as a playback singer with film Daku Ki Ladki (1933) with music by Pransukh Nayak. After initial years in Lahore-based film industry, she shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai). Her musical success came with film Rattan (1944) under music director Naushad Ali, and such hit songs as “Aai Diwali Aai Diwali” and “Akhiyan Mila Ke, Jiya Bharma Ke”. She sang for music director Naushad, again in hit films like Anmol Ghadi (1946), Mela (1948), and Jadoo (1951). She also sang a qawwali with Noor Jehan and Kalyani “Aahen Na Bhareen Shikway Na Kiye” in film Zeenat (1945), which was the first ever Qawwali recorded in female voices in South Asian films and became very popular among the public.

This was the era when heavy thumri-style and the leading playback singers with nasal voices were singing in the Hindi cinema, with singers like Shamshad Begum, Khurshid, Amirbai Karnataki. This was right before the arrival of Lata Mangeshkar in 1948, which along with Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle shifted the popular taste towards finer voices, effectively bringing their careers to a gradual end. Another major film playback singer of that era Noor Jehan decided to migrate to Pakistan and had a highly successful singing career in Pakistan until she died in 2000.

Zohrabai Ambalewali retired in the 1950s from the film industry, though she continued to sing at the performances of her daughter Roshan Kumari, a noted Kathak dancer, who also performed in Satyajit Rays film Jalsaghar (1958)

Celebrating Cinema

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