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25 December 2020

The Masters: Naushad Ali

Naushad Ali. The name conjures up an old world aura, tehzeeb, and of course, scintillating melodies. From the footpath to the recording studios, from rags to riches, from a runaway to a celebrated music director, Naushad’s was a tale of grit, determination, and yes, talent. 

Born in Lucknow on 25 December 1919, Naushad moved to Bombay in the late 1930s to see if the Fates would look kindly upon his desire to be a musician. He cried, he once said, when Baiju Bawra premiered at Broadway theatre in Bombay – he had once slept on the footpath opposite the theatre. 

Coming from a religious and conservative background, his fascination for music had to be hidden from his family. Secretly, he began working at a shop that sold musical instruments. His interest and talent led to the owner giving him a harmonium for his own. 

Young Naushad had already wetted his feet in show business by composing music for amateur theatricals. It was here that he learnt the rudiments of classical music from Ustad Babban Khan, etc. His also joined a theatre company in Lucknow – this exposed him to folk music from different regions. His parents, however, did not approve of his fascination with the arts; facing immense pressure at home, Naushad Ali ran away to Bombay in 1937.  He was 18 years old. 

After a few forays into working as an instrumentalist in films, Naushad got his first big break when music director Khemchand Prakash took him on as an assistant. It was 1940 before he got his first film as an independent composer – Prem Nagar, for which, Naushad says, he did a lot of research on the folk music of Kutch. 

Soon, other films followed, but it was with Rattan (1944) that Naushad first tasted success. The success of the film and its music catapulted Naushad into the top league. However, his conservative family were still set against him working in films and Naushad didn’t dare tell them about his success. In fact, said Naushad in an interview, his father told people that his son was a tailor, not a musician in Bombay, so that he could get a suitable girl to marry his son. On the day of the wedding, the baraat played the songs of Rattan; Naushad was thrilled, but also scared – his father-in-law, says Nausad, remarked that the man who composed ‘such songs’ should be ‘beaten with a slipper.

However, both the families, his own and that of his in-laws’ had to come around. Success, in Naushad’s case, was not fleeting. For almost three decades, Naushad would be considered one of the foremost composers in Hindi cinema. 

For a man so celebrated, Naushad composed for less than 70 films. Not a varied filmography, compared to some of his peers. Yet, if you were to listen to music from that period, it would be hard put not to include several of his songs among your favourites. Indeed, many of my own favourites didn’t make this list – one, because there were so many to choose from, and one had to stop somewhere. And secondly, because I was trying to go beyond the usual classical numbers that populate any list of Naushad songs. That led me to drop one of my favourite songs of all time – Madhuban mein Radhika naache re from Kohinoor.   

Similarly, Mughal-e-Azam which according to Naushad himself, was an epic effort, from sitting with long-time collaborator Shakeel to find the right lyrics to going with director K Asif to coax Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to give voice to Naushad’s vision of Tansen – battling between Mohe panghat pe, Bekas pe karam kiijiye and Khan Saaheb’s thumri, Prem jogan ban ke, I ended up dropping all three when my list became too cumbersome. 

I make no apologies for the fact that the list is skewed towards Mohammed Rafi solos. The collaboration between Naushad and Rafi began so early in the latter’s career; Rafi sang some of his best songs for the composer, and it would be well night impossible to make a list of the composer’s best melodies and avoid Rafi’s songs.

Strangely, since this wasn’t my intention at all, this list is also, therefore, a tribute to two great talents – Mohammed Rafi was born on December 24th, Naushad on the 25th.  And the composer had a great hand in shaping Rafi’s career.

But the following list is merely representative of some of my favourite songs of the composer in no particular order and is in no way a compilation of his ‘best’ songs – if one can even presume to make such a list.   

Suhani raat dhal chuki
Dulari (1949)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Mohammed Rafi first sang for Naushad in Pehle Aap (1944). The next few years would see Rafi well on his way to success, singing for diverse composers, including Naushad himself. By the time Naushad signed him for Dulari, Rafi was a well-established, if unhappy singer. According to Naushad, Rafi was ready to quit playback singing, when he asked the young singer to wait, since he had a song that he wanted Rafi to sing. The film, and the song, Suhani raat dhal chuki were both successful, and the rest, as they say, is history.

O duniya ke rakhwaale… Bhagwaan
Baiju Bawra (1952)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Based on the legend of Baiju, a rival of the famed Tansen, the film called for a score that was based on classical music. Naushad rose to the challenge, and along with long-time collaborator, Shakeel Badayuni, crafted an immaculate bouquet of songs featuring his favourite singers, Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. (He also managed to coax Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit DV Paluskar to lend their voices for the characters of Tansen and Baiju in the film.) 
O duniya ke rakhwaale
is deservedly a classic, Shakeel’s lyrics expressing the world’s paradoxes and Baiju’s frustration with a God who has no answers to give him. Naushad set the song in the suitably grave Darbari Kanada, saying in an old interview on Doordarshan that he “…could have used the fiery Shankara, but because Baiju had to make the journey with a broken heart, I gave him Darbari’s komal swaras for company.”  And the ache in Rafi’s voice made it sublime. Perhaps nothing expresses the feeling of secularism as a bhajan – a Hindu devotional song – that owes its creation to three Muslims.
It is a shame that Naushad won only one Filmfare Award in his entire career – for Tu Ganga ki mauj mai.n Jamuna ka dhaara.

O door ke musafir
Udan Khatola (1955)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Among my ever-changing list of ‘favourites’, O door ke musafir somehow remains a perennial fixture. The pathos of its lyrics has always moved me. Produced by Naushad himself, the composer worked hard on composing a stellar score, experimenting with the music and its arrangement. 
Composed in Raag Durga, and filmed in the tragic climax, O door ke musafir is one of the most heart-breaking songs of farewell ever composed. According to Naushad, he’d originally conceived and recorded it as a ghazal but felt there was something missing. So he composed it afresh, much to the consternation of the director and leading man.

Aaj galiyon mein teri
Sohni Mahiwal (1958)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Based on the tragic legend of Sohni and Mahiwal, Naushad had the scope to explore the music of Punjab in the eleven songs he scored for this movie. Naushad was deservedly considered a master of orchestration, using a wide range of musical instruments to give shape and form to his melodies. And in this song, he showcased a rich orchestral score to complement Rafi’s sublime voice, singing Shakeel’s pathos-laden lyrics.

Ae husn zara jaag
Mere Mehboob (1963)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
My favourite song from this film is the title song, Mere mehboob mujhe teri muhobbat ki qasam. But with minimal music to accompany Rafi, the song is a better example of a lyricist’s pen. Besides, it appears quite often on my lists. 
Even here, Shakeel draws a vivid pen portrait of Sadhana’s beauty. And Naushad’s music and Rafi’s soft, romantic tones bring those lines to life in a way that never fails to move me.

Ta ra ri ara ri
Dastan (1950)
Singers: Suraiya, Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
After the success of Baiju Bawra, Naushad became known as a ‘classical composer’, an image thrust upon him, and one in which he became increasingly trapped afterwards. It wasn’t that he hadn’t composed classical music-based songs before, but post the success of Baiju Bawra, it seemed like producers and directors wanted him to only composed songs based on classical music. Prior to that, Naushad was free to experiment with various genres of music, including folk and western. This song from Dastaan was one such and Suraiyya’s ‘girl-next-door’ voice complemented Rafi’s lilt in this playful number.

Suraiya had begun her career with Naushad, singing Ye rail hamaare ghar ki with Rajkunari and Prem Adib in Station Master. That same year, Naushad used her to sing for a much-older heroine, Mehtaab, in Sharda, and Boot karoon main polish babu in Nai Duniya.

Awaaz de kahaan hai
Anmol Ghadi (1946)
Singer: Noor Jehan, Surendra
Lyrics: Tanveer Naqvi
This was the beginning of the period in which Naushad could seemingly do no wrong. Anmol Ghadi had one beautiful song after another (including one of my favourite Noor Jehan numbers, Jawaan hai muhobbat). This was yet another song where Naushad kept the music to a minimum, allowing Noor Jehan’s voice to take centre stage. And if ever a song needed Mohammed Rafi, it was this one (though he did get to sing Tera khilona toota baalak). But this song, for me at least, will forever remain a ‘Noor Jehan’ classic.

(Trivia: Noor Jehan’s death anniversary falls on December 23rd.)

Akhiyaan milaa ke jiya bharma ke
Rattan (1940)
Singer: Zohrabai Ambalewali
Lyrics: DN Madhok
Rattan was Naushad’s breakthrough film, one that would see him firmly entrenched on the ladder to success. The box-office success of the film was complemented by the stupendous success of its songs. Not being a great fan of Hindi film music from the early 40s, I’d never heard the music of Rattan (or I don’t remember hearing them) until my father asked me to record the songs of Rattan for him. For some reason, this song took my fancy then.
Over the years, I’ve come to like it very much indeed. Zohrabai Ambalewali’s rendition, too, fits the overall playfulness of Naushad’s composition, as she switches between flirtatious and teasing.

Gham diye mustaqil
Shah Jahan (1946)
Singer: KL Saigal
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This is one of Saigal’s songs that I like very much (another is Mai.n kya janoo.n kya jadoo hai from Zindagi under Pankaj Mullick’s baton). Naushad and Saigal collaborated on just one film – Shah Jahan, the film that also marked the debut of lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri. Once again, Naushad’s restraint stopped his music from overcoming the singer’s pathos.
In an interview, Naushad reminisced about how he had idolised Saigal and was thrilled to know that Saigal would sing his compositions for Shah Jahan, how he had persuaded Saigal to record Jab dil hi toot gaya without taking recourse to whiskey, and how Saigal had quoted one of Majrooh’s lines “Chaah barbaad karegi humein ma’aloom na tha’ regarding his alcoholism.

Afsana likh rahi hoon
Dard (1947)
Singer: Uma Devi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
1947 would see the beginning of a new creative collaboration – with poet-lyricist Shakeel Badayuni. The film was Dard, which also saw the debut of a new singer called Uma Devi, who later became more famous as the comedienne, Tun Tun. Afsana likh rahi hoon, picturised on heroine Munawar Sultana, was a huge success, and Uma Devi was considered on par with Shamshad Begum.
In fact, Naushad was so fond of her (and Uma Devi was adamant that she would only sing for Naushad) that he always made room for one song by her in all his films.  

Both her singing, and her acting careers were thanks to Naushad. Yet, as she said in an interview in 1990, one mistake cost her singing career – under contract to Kardar Movies, her husband accepted an offer for Uma Devi to sing for Rajesh Rao in Chandralekha. Kardar dropped her from his movies, and so did other music directors who felt that she wasn’t good enough. It was Naushad who came to her rescue, getting a role written for her in Babul, and conspiring with Dilip Kumar to give her the screen name, Tun Tun.

Uthaaye ja unke sitam
Andaz (1949)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Even before Lata Mangeshkar began rehearsals for the song, Naushad asked her to memorise the lyrics – he wanted her to understand the essence of Majrooh’s poetry. A poet himself, Naushad believed that in order to bring out the required emotion, the singer needed to first understand the poetry.
Composed in Raag Kedar, Uthaye ja unke sitam is a lesson in restraint. Naushad’s music allowed Lata’s voice to shine, keeping the accompaniment understated. Whether it was Naushad’s insistence on Lata imbibing the essence of Shakeel’s lyrics or not, her voice changes, chameleon-like between regret, resignation, sorrow, and yearning. I can even appreciate the lyrical quality of the verses, without liking or endorsing its message.  

Mujhe huzoor tumse pyaar hai
Son of India (1960)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Mehboob Khan made Son of India following the thumping success of Mother India. Unfortunately for him, the film was a box-office disaster. I’m not a great fan of Nanha munna raahi hoon nor enamoured of the rest of the songs but this one – one of Geeta Dutt’s only two songs for Naushad – is a fabulous number that I wonder I hadn’t heard it before. It’s quickly become a favourite, as much for Naushad’s music and Geeta’s singing, as for Lillian’s verve in dancing to the song.
According to the folks over at geetadutt.com, this song has been used in a Portuguese TV advertisement. 
Chaman mein rah ke veerana
Deedar (1951)
Singer: Shamshad Begum
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Shamshad first sang for Naushad in Shah Jehan (Jab us ne ghesu bikhraaye). After that song, Naushad consistently used Shamshad, giving her one beautiful song after another. This one, picturised on Nargis, echoes the emotions of a young woman who has fallen in love for the first time. It was beautifully written by Shakeel and composed by Naushad. Shamshad’s voice brings the melody to life, her voice emoting to the song.
Naushad has consistently acknowledged Shamshad’s role in his meteoric rise as a music director. According to him, her voice had a very pure quality that touched listeners’ hearts. Already a big name when Naushad started his career, Shamshad’s collaboration with Naushad lasted for 16 long years. After Lata Mangeshkar, she was the female singer he used the most. 
Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya
Mother India (1957)
Singers: Shamshad Begum, Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
I’m on record as saying that I’m not a great fan of Mother India. The same cannot be said of its songs. This is not my favourite song from the film (Matwala jiya is), but this song is a better example of Naushad’s richly orchestrated music than the latter. With Shamshad, Asha, Rafi and Manna Dey lending their voices to Naushad’s stellar composition.
Naushad was also one of the few music composers of the time who understood the importance of background music, and worked as much on the background score as he did on the melodies.

Na phoolon ki duniya
Saaz aur Awaaz (1966)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Khumar Barabankvi
Richly orchestrated, beautifully sung, Na phoolon ki duniya is, I must confess, a ‘new favourite’. I’d never heard it before. In fact, it’s my husband’s contribution to this list.
I loved the way the music changed completely in the middle of the song, yet still maintained its cohesiveness. And since I’m in confession mode, let me also confess that I didn’t know Saira could dance! 
On his birth anniversary, a grateful tribute to a man who shaped a nascent music industry and left behind a legacy that will stand for generations.

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