February 20, 2020 is renowned vintage actor Shyam’s 100th birthday. Silhouette presents a heartfelt memoir tribute by his nephew Bimal Chadha.
Today we celebrate the Centennial Birthday of Shyam. He was born this day 100 years ago at Sialkot to Sita Ram Chadha, of the British Army and Charan Devi. His mother named him Sundar Shyam Chadha. She was a beautiful tall lady. Shyam took to her features and height. When her children Shyam and Harbans (my father) were just five and three years old, respectively, her untimely death due to high fever, shook the family fabric. Their father raised them as a single parent and put them in hostels. He later remarried as the boys grew up.
Shyam, brought up in Rawalpindi was a bright student and passed in 1st Division in school as well as in his graduation from Gordon College. From childhood he was theatre inclined and flourished in debates, elocutions and theatre during college.
Shyam shifted to Lahore, the happening place in those days. His reputation as a theatre artiste followed him. He took Lahore by storm and appeared in many theatre productions. Tall fair and handsome to the core, he was encouraged to head to the films.
Shyam got his first break in a Punjabi Film Gowandi as a hero against Veena in 1941. It was a great success in the Northern Circuit, especially the music. This was followed by two other Punjabi films – Madari (1950) and Bhaiyya Ji (1950), with the latter he turned a producer. Having tasted minor success he headed to Bombay in search of a break.
In Bombay, Shyam underwent the plight of struggle and hunger. He got some minor work as an assistant to the director, under producer-director, JK Nanda, a consolation of having some work to sustain his living in Bombay and being in the industry. Later Nanda cast him as a hero in 1942 against Ramola in Khamoshi, made in Calcutta. Khamoshi hence is Shyam’s first film in Hindi.
Just two years after this, in 1944, having seen his two earlier releases, WZ Ahmed, his old friend from Lahore, cast him in his forthcoming film, Man ki Jeet (1944), paired opposite his own wife Neena. Ahmed owned the Shalimar Studios in Poona. With the success of Man ki Jeet, Shyam became a hit star overnight. Shyam didn’t look back after that.
Shyam, the family man, shifted us all to Bombay and later to Poona, just before the Partition. He took up the responsibility on himself as the sole breadwinner.
Shyam went on to work with all the successful actresses of his time. He was bracketed with Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar as an actor. He acquired many friends and amongst them his friendship with author Saadat Hasan Manto became legendary. There are a lot of documented stories on them. Manto wrote a befitting piece on him named Murli Ki Dhun in Ganje Farishtey. Manto has done full justice to Shyam. Mahmood Farooqui in India has beautifully recorded the story in his own voice. Listen to it at the end of this piece.
In his short career span of 10 years, Shyam went on to make 31 films:
* Man ki Jeet 1944
* Majboor 1947
* Dillagi 1949
* Raat ki Rani 1949
* Kaneez 1949
* Naach 1949
* Patanga 1949
* Bazar 1949
* Samadhi 1950
were some of his notable films.
His songs from the films are still remembered, especially the duet Tu mera chand mein teri chandani with Suraiya from Dillagi. This one song was a milestone for Naushad Suraiya and Shyam.
After a horse riding accident on the sets of Shabistan on 25 April 1951, this young life was extinguished. He was only 31 years. The film industry came to a standstill, shocked beyond disbelief. His loss is remembered by many even today.
Shyam was married to Mumtaz Qureshi (Taji). She migrated to Pakistan after his death. He left behind a daughter Saira, who happily married to Rahat Kazmi, lives in Karachi. Both are TV actors and directors on PTV. His son Shakir Shyam is a renowned doctor in London.
Shyam has left behind a multitude of fans and actors, spread all over the globe. Many write in. We celebrate his life today with reverence as a big hearted good human being.
I remember him from childhood. On one of his birthdays, I was waiting to be born, he had laid out a party with few close friends. With no news of me, he was disappointed and the party was a damper. The good news came the next day by way of a telegram. I had arrived in the world, at Pindi. The party was held again next day, announcing my arrival.
Till he lived our birthdays were celebrated jointly. The celebrations were held alternately on 20th and 21st. I always remember him on my birthday. I, being the eldest child, was his favourite, and he indulged me with love and kisses. He would take me along to his shootings when I was bored, the driver would bring me home. Affectionately I used to call him Shyam ‘Daddy’.
The photographs are a testimony to his great short lived life he lived and remembered even today. The readers are encouraged to write in their remembrances and songs here. To celebrate his life a book on him authored by me is under editing to be published later in the year to mark his Centennial Year.
Murli Ki Dhun (Mahmood Farooqui reads reminiscences of Shyam by Saadat Hasan Manto published in Manto’s collection of essays Stars from Another Sky
More to read
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