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16 November 2021

The Masters: Roshan


Roshanlal Nagrath. Or, to refer to him by the name he became famous – Roshan. Anyone who loves old Hindi film music will find that, inevitably, there will be a ‘Roshan song’ among their favourites. The unassuming music director may have had a short career – less than two decades – but he left his mark on the music of the golden age, and in our hearts. 

Born on 14 July 1917 in Bharia, a small village in Gujranwala district in Punjab (present-day Pakistan), Roshanlal Nagrath and his family moved to Shahjahanpur, where he began his musical education under the tutelage of Manohar Barve. His education in music continued when he joined Marris College of Music (named after the then-Governor of Lucknow, Sir William Marris, and presently known as Bhatkande College of Hindustani Music), Lucknow, where he trained under Professor SN Ratanjankar, a distinguished scholar and teacher of Hindustani classical music, who was the principal of the institute at the time.

Roshan is said to have learnt the sarod from Ustad Allaudin Khan in Maihar, and the sarangi from the famed ‘Sarangi King’, Bundu Khan. The young man was also a noted esraj (dilruba) player, and so proficient in the instrument that Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, a noted music composer himself, and the-then programme producer at the All India Radio (AIR), Lucknow, hired him as a staff artist for the esraj.

Roshan continued to be associated with AIR Lucknow for over a decade before, in the late 40s, moving to Bombay to try his luck in films. In 1949, he got to assist Khurshid Anwar in a film titled Singaar. But his big break came with Neki aur Badi (1949) – a Kidar Sharma oduction. The film, starring Kidar Sharma, Madhubala and Geeta Bali, was a resounding flop, dashing Roshan’s hopes of making a splash in the music industry. Film lore has it that the disappointed young man almost packed his bags to leave the industry. But Kidar Sharma – and better sense – prevailed. The next year, Roshan was back with a bang. Sharma’s Bawre Nain (1950), starring Raj Kapoor, Geeta Bali and Vijaylakshmi, was a stock boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-gets-girl-back film, but Roshan’s score followed no such stereotype. From the soulful Teri duniya mein dil lagta nahin to the foot-tapping Ichak bichak bhurr to the playful Mujhe sach sach bata de… kya?, Roshan’s compositions became hugely popular. The young director had the hit he so desperately craved. This was just the beginning of a very successful career.

Roshan with Sahir, Rafi and Omi [Sonik-Omi]
Picture Credit: Film History Pics

Unassuming as he was, Roshan did not win him much prominence though he was very well-respected by his colleagues who knew talent when they saw it. Film lore has it that Lata Mangeshkar once stepped in, to object to Roshan being replaced by OP Nayyar, an issue she escalated to the Cine Artistes’ Association. Roshan shared credit with OP Nayyar for Mehbooba (1954), but he never forgot how Lata had stood by him at such a time. [Screen 1954 edition reported on this incident.] The decade of the 50s saw as many misses as hits.

To some extent, Roshan’s career mirrored Madan Mohan’s – they both gave stellar scores for films that didn’t do very well commercially. The failure of these films meant that the scores would be relegated to ‘not-as-good’ even if the songs themselves surpassed the films they were in. The 60s, however, found Roshan composing for several films that became highly successful – Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), Aarti (1962), Taj Mahal and Dil Hi To Hai (1963), Chitralekha (1964), Bheegi Raat (1965), Mamta (1966).

However, just when he was at his peak as a composer, Roshan succumbed to a heart attack at the relatively young age of 50, leaving us the poorer for his demise. Today is his 53rd death anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, here are a few of my favourite Roshan compositions. 
[Sadu's notes in whatever-colour-this-is.]
Barsaat ki Raat (1960)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey,  Asha Bhosle, Sudha Malhotra, SD Batish
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
In an interview that I once read, Khayyam said that he had been signed to compose the music for Barsaat ki Raat, but left the project when he learnt he was expected to use the tune of a qawwali composed by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (Na tu but ki talab mujhe - sung by him and Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan). But the producers had the singers’ permission, and Roshan composed a magnificent 12-minute long qawwali that reportedly took 24 hours to shoot – it became the stuff of cinematic legend. 
A song that skilfully combines music, poetry, instrumentation and vocals in a stunning mosaic, Na to kaarvaan ki talaash hai /Ye ishq ishq hai It is definitely one of the best, if not the best, qawaalis in Hindi cinema. Roshan used a number of singers – Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Sudha Malhotra, SD Batish, along with the chorus. The qawwali veered away from traditional tropes to include topics such as the tale of Radha-Krishna, Meera's love for Krishna, Sita-Ram, etc. It spoke of the Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed the Prophet, even as it defined the concept of ‘ishq’ as all-inclusive, insisting that love and devotion that raises an idol to the level of God, and mortals to immortality. Sahir modified some of the lines from the original qawwali and even used two lines from a verse by Amir Khusro – Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki / Laaj raakho more ghunghat pat ki for Na to karwaan ki talaash hai which was picturised as a verbal duel between two competing teams of qawwals. 
This magnificent melody saw Roshan use a variety of musical instruments, while also including the rhythmic hand clapping in a way that speeds up the tempo until the crescendo which passionately proclaims the triumph of an all-encompassing yet self-effacing love. That certainly was one of the hallmarks of Roshan's music - the perfect use of instrumentation.

The huge popularity of the score of Barsaat ki Raat helped buttress Roshan’s career – it would proved to be the start of a golden run until his untimely demise.

Mamta (1966)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Like Barsaat ki Raat, Mamta too, had a wonderful bouquet of melodies composed by Roshan. The best composers know when to let their music take a back seat – sometimes to the voice, sometimes to the lyrics. Here, in this lovely ballad, about a love that cannot be revealed, one that is as devoted as the lamp in the sanctum sanctorum of a temple, Roshan’s music is soft, sublime, and evokes a love that is pure… sacred... devotional.

The other song from Mamta that I really like is Rahe na rahe hum Roshan re-used his Tera dil kahaan hai (itself inspired by Thandi hawaayein from Naujawan (1951)) from Chandni Chowk (1954), with a different prelude. 

The prelude itself perhaps first brought to Indian ears by an album from  Ron Goodwin. The topic is covered quite nicely here by Ashwin Bhandarkar. But Goodwin himself took the tune Return to Paradise, a Rahbani Brothers’ composition, Sanarjiou Yaouman, sung by Asi Rahbani’s wife, Nouhad Haddad, also known as Fairuz. Here is a live version. Listen to the prelude and see how Roshan used it to lead into Rahe na rahe hum.

Bawre Nain (1950)
Singers: Rajkumari, Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: Kidar Sharma
It was Bawre Nain’s success that persuaded Roshan to remain in the industry. He seemed to have a point to prove to himself, and every song in this [rather melodramatic] film is a masterpiece, with the young composer using Rajkumari, Shamshad Begum, and Geeta Dutt for the female vocals. Rajkumari had the bulk of the songs – four solos and a duet – and in this, she is accompanied by Asha Bhosle.

There are other songs in Bawre Nain that are played more often but this song has a very interesting feel.  The lyrics are wistful, and it has a piquant melody. The two versions of this song have very different musical accompaniments. In the duet, which is part of the film, flute counterpoints are present throughout the song, and one can even hear the touch of a Hawaiian guitar.

The other version is a solo by Rajkumari, which, I think, is only present on the record.  Here, the metre is faster, the flute is present only in the beginning, there is no guitar, and the clarinet plays the larger supporting role. Both versions are beautiful. 

Dil Hi to Hai (1963)
Singer: Manna Dey
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Perhaps because of Barsaat ki Raat, Roshan was known as the master of qawwalis. In fact, there is a qawwali in Dil Hi to Hai as well. But Roshan could obviously do more than compose qawwalis. Here, he fits Sahir’s words to Hindustani classical song, complete with an elaborate sargam, composing a lush, complex melody, its intricate notes complementing Manna Dey’s vocal calisthenics that play around the notes with effortless ease.

Sahir based his lyrics upon Kabir’s Chunri mein pad gayo daag piya, offering a multi-layered perspective: one, a plaintive lament by a woman who’s afraid that she cannot return home with a besmirched reputation; the other, the journey of a soul to face its maker. In this song, you have the perfect example of what makes a song truly great – the impeccable ‘milan’ of music, melody, lyrics and voice.

Anhonee (1952)
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Lyrics: Satyendra Athaiyya
Roshan had a penchant for using Mukesh; the latter was known as Raj Kapoor’s ‘voice’. Yet, for this song, he switched allegiance to Talat Mahmood’s silken vocals – and it was an inspired choice. In this song, a quintessential ‘party song’ where one of the protagonists is asked to sing, Raj Kapoor does the honours, playing the piano as accompaniment. It is one of the few songs that feature a piano in its picturisation that also uses the piano in its melody – you can hear the piano in the interludes. (For a change, you also had a hero who could actually play the piano.) Interestingly, the song, a pleasing love ballad, changes tone midway – the music speeds up to reflect the discordance in the singer’s mind.

Satyendra Athaiyya, who wrote the lyrics, was the husband of the late Bhanu Athaiyya.

Jhoom jhoom ke jaam choom ke 
Coffee House (1957)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
Roshan used Geeta Dutt sparingly for a handful of films, mostly in the 50s, and their collaboration is probably best known for the first song she sang for him – Khayalon mein kisi ke from Bawre Nain. In Bedardi, another Geeta Bali starrer, which released the next year, Geeta Dutt fared better, with four solos. But it would take another six years for the singer to collaborate with the composer to sing a song that was unlike any she had sung for him until then. (1957 was also the year in which Roshan gave Geeta Dutt a chance to showcase her versatility in Agra Road.)

This song by Geeta Dutt is inspired by the melody Malaguena attributed to the composer Ernesto Lecuona.  One of my favourite performances of Malaguena is performed here by Pepe Romero, one of the great classical guitarists of our generation. His technique is wonderful as he uses his fingers to provide the accompanying tremolo while the thumb plays the melody.

But Lecuona is not the real composer of the melody. Instead, he borrowed the melody from the American composer Louis Gottschalk’s composition Souvenir’s d’ Andalouise (Gottschalk’s mother was French Creole.) Here’s a version played by Milen Manoj Earath, from my hometown, at the NCPA in Bombay – the left hand plays the familiar melody.

Garjat barsat bheejat aayilo
Malhaar (1952)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Indeevwar (adapted from traditional lyrics) 
Malhaar was Mukesh’s home production, and with Roshan at the helm of the music, boasted a stellar score that included the impish Bade armaan se rakha hai balam teri kasam, the plaintive Dil tujhe diya tha rakhne ko, and the sorrowful ballad, Kahaan ho tum zara awaaz do. Garjat barsat bheejat aayilo, a traditional bandish in Goud Malhar, plays over the credits.  
Roshan would repeat this bandish in Barsaat Ki Raat almost a decade later, once again playing over the film’s credits, with Kamal Barot and Suman Kalyanpur doing the honours. This song from Malhar has fewer accompaniments, just a tabla, a flute and… Lata Mangeshkar. 
Malhaar, with its mostly-inexperienced cast and crew, would also see the debut of lyricist Indeewar.

Ae ri jaane na doongi
Chitralekha (1964)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
This is not perhaps, the first song that comes to mind when you think of Chitralekha. Sansar se bhaagi phirti ho or even Man re tu kaahe na dheer dhare are two of my absolute favourites but both, in my opinion, have a greater focus on lyrics than on the music. 

I find the alaap based on a different scale (I can’t make out what it is; it seems to be a mélange of flavours -  perhaps, Bilawal predominates?) while the main song is based on a classical bandish E ri jaane na doongi e ri maai apne balam ko nainan me set in Raag Kaamod. Here is a link to the classical bandish sung by Nirali Kartik.

Swapn jhare dhool se 
Nai Umar ki Nai Fasal (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Neeraj
The poem by Gopal Das Neeraj that was popular long before it was used in the film, and the imagery used by the poet leaves quite a lasting impression on the reader/listener. [The oft-quoted line from this poem – Kaarwaan guzar gaya ghubaar dekhte rahe – never fails to move me.] Almost a recitation by Rafi, Roshan wisely lets his voice take centre-stage, but lets the music rise almost to a crescendo as Rafi’s voice dies away at the end of each verse. As I said before, a good composer knows when to foreground his music and when to let his music recede. 
Paaon chhuu lene do 
Taj Mahal (1963)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
If you look at Roshan’s discography, you will see there are albums where each song is a gem and you’re spoilt for choice. Taj Mahal is one such album. It has one of favourite songs of all time – Jurm-e-ulfat pe log sazaa dete hain. I eschewed that in favour of this romantic ballad because there, as in a couple of other songs on this list, the music stepped back in order to let the lyrics shine. Paaon chhuu lene do, on the other hand, is a wonderful mélange of music, lyrics and vocals. 
Dil-e-beqaraar so jaa
Raag Rang (1952)
Singers: Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Kaif Irani
An obscure film that was Geeta Bali’s home production, directed by her brother, Raag Rang boasted of a wonderful score by Roshan.  I do not know much about the film, since it appears to have sunk without a trace, but the score had some unusual melodies, This duet, by Talat and Lata is a haunting melody, which stays with you. The music is as unassuming as Roshan himself, never placing itself front and centre, nor relapsing into non-descript anonymity, but complementing the voices just so – like the faint whiff of a fragrance that stays with you long after you have left the room.  
Taksaal (1956) 
Singers: SD Batish, Lakshmi Shankar
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
Directed by Hemen Gupta, and starring Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy, this relatively obscure film followed the narrative arc of Zia Sarhadi's Footpath, with Sahni playing the wronged and angry young man who sets out to become wealthy through any means, fair or foul. Roshan composed the music and amidst songs by singers like Lata and Rafi, was this lovely bidaai song, fashioned like a folk tune. I wonder if there was an original folk song that inspired this one. It was sung by Shiv Dayal Batish and Lakshmi Shankar, both classical singers of great repute. 
In fact, SD Batish went to the UK before settling in the US, where he opened the Batish Institute of Music and Fine Arts in California. Lakshmi Shankar, too, was an eminent danseuse in Uday Shankar's troupe when she met and married his brother, Rajendra Shankar.
Photo Credit: Poignant Song
The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar

She continued to act and sing playback in regional films before pleurisy prevented her from dancing. But Lakshmi continued to sing, working with her brother-in-law Ravi Shankar on films like Neecha Nagar and Dharti ke Laal, as well as on international collaborations including
and a single with George Harrison titled I am missing you. She had earlier sung for for Richard Attenborough's Gandhi and in 2008, at the age of 83, Lakshmi was nominated for a Grammy (Dancing in the Light, Best Traditional World Music Album). 

Picture Credit: The New Indian Express

Taksaal also had two songs by Ratna Gupta, Hemen Gupta's wife. One of which was the peppy Takraaye ja mastaane. Ratna had earlier sung a few songs in Ferry (1954, also directed by Hemen Gupta), but seems to have not taken it up as a career. I haven't been able to find any other songs by her.
These are but a few songs that represent Roshan's versatility and talent. By no means is this a complete or even 'Best of' list. These are just some of my personal favourites from among his compositions. Please feel free to post your favourite songs by Roshan in the comments.

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