When people in many countries around the world will be celebrating the last Christmas of the millennium, a man will be completing 80 years of his life. A life that has already occupied the pride of place in the history of Hindi film music. A life which has been instrumental in the creation of many a musical legend. A life which has bridged together generations with music. From Saigal to Sanu and from Amirbai to Anuradha, he has been there, seen it all. He is the one and only Naushad!
December 25, 1919. That was the day when it all began. Naushad was born. His father Wahid Aii was a clerk in Lucknow court. The household was extremely conservative and Naushad's passion for music was a constant source for conflict. At the age of 18, rebellious Naushad decided enough was enough. He left his home for Bombay to make a career in Hindi film music.
Naushad initially worked as an assistant with many of the then top composers like Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Ustad Zande Khan, Manohar Kapoor and Khemchand Prakash. One of the leading lyricists of that time, D.N.Madhok, was very much impressed by his talent and recommended him as an independent composer for the film Prem Nagar. The year was 1940. A brilliant career was about to begin. The struggle period where he had to walk all the way from Colaba to Dadar for the want of money to buy even the railway ticket - was finally over.
The first mega-success for him was Rattan (1944). Songs like Milke bichhad gayee ankhiyan, Ankhiyan mila ke jiya bharma ke, O jaanewale balamawa and Jab turn hi chale pardes became so popular that soon Naushad became a household name. In Anmol Ghadi (1946), his tunes like Aaja meri barbad mohabbat ke sahare and Aawaz de kahan hai were immortalised by Noorjehan's classic renditions. Noorjehan's decision to migrate to Pakistan then deprived the music lovers of more such gems from this duo.
The same year in Shahjehan he got an opportunity to compose for Kundanlal Saigal, the then uncrowned king of Hindi film music. The young composer teamed up with the great singer to create some great songs like Jab dil hi hi toot gaya, Gham diye mustakil and Aye dil-e-beqarar jhoom Unfortunately this musical association too didn't last long as Saigal expired soon afterwards. A legend goes that Saigal had expressed a wish in his will that- Jab dil hi toot gaya should be played during his final journey!
Association with great artistes
This kind of association with the all-time greats of the Hindi film music has really made Naushad, a living legend himself. He was the one who gave the first break to Suraiya in Station Master when she was just 10. Umadevi - who later became popular as character actress Tuntun - also got her first song in his Natak and her Afsana likh rahi hoon from his Dard is one of the all-time favourites.
Mohd. Rafi also started off his great career with a Naushad composition from Pahele Aap. Naushad's Andaz songs for Lata.and Mukesh like Uthaye jaa unke sitam and Jhoom jhoom ke nacho aaj were instrumental in establishing these great singers' credentials in the early part of their career.
Baiju Baawra (1952), Mother India (1957) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) are three shining milestones in his career. The first film - one of the finest showcases for Indian classical music - brought him the first-ever Filmfare- award for best music; the second one is still considered the best Hindi film ever made and the third one is another magnum opus par excellence and one of the most successful ever. Songs like Tu Ganga ki mauj, main Jamuna ka dhara, Nagari nagari dware dware and Pyar kiya to darna kya added another dimension to these films. For Pyar kiya, Naushad and the lyricist Shakeel Badayuni spent hours together just to get the right expression. Finally Naushad thought of a folk song in Purabi dialect that he used to hear in childhood - Prem kiya ka chori kari and an immortal song was born. No single song has captured the rebellious nature of love in such subtle yet expressive manner.
For Daastan (1950) and Jaadoo (1951), he had shown his ability to blend Western music with Indian music. The Suraiya-Rafi Dastaan duet Taara ri, aara ri is still a delight to hear. But after Baiju Baawra he decided to limit his compositions within the framework of Indian classical and
Folk- music. Many a stalwart from the classical field sang for his soundtracks. Aaj gaawat man mero jhoom ke by Pandit D.V. Paluskar and Amir Khan and Prem jogan banke by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in Mughal-e Azam are still revered by the connoisseurs. Songs like Rafi's Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj and Madhuban mein Radhika naache re and Lata's Mohe bhool gaye sawariya and Diya na boojhe ri aaj hamara time and again highlighted this mastery over classical tunes. His use of folk tunes in Ganga Jamna in songs like Nain lad jayee hai (Rafi) and Dhoondho dhoondho re saajana (Lata) was superb.
His choosiness saw him working with very few film makers like A.R. Kardar, Mehboob Khan, K. Asif and S.U. Sunny. Even in his heydays he never did more than four films a year - mostly just working on one or two soundtracks in a year. Repeated experimentation with the tunes and lyrics till he was totally satisfied with the final product often earned him the title of the 'slowest' music director.
His orchestration and compositions- may be because of his conscious effort for 'Indianization' - gradually started sounding predictable and typed. Many critics and contemporaries derided his music as slow and stale. In the rapidly changing musical world after the sixties a non-commercial entity like Naushad had only one way to go. Towards extinction!
It is not as if Naushad didn't try his best to survive in the rat race. He was successful to an extent in sound tracks like Mere Mehboob, Leader and Saathi. But he was distinctly uncomfortable in keeping up with the changing trends. No wonder he never really managed to recapture the lost glory.
From then on, he remained an icon who was there to be periodically remembered for his past glory but as a market product his 'sell by' date was long over!
The Naushad- saga is an apt reminder of fickleness of fame but timelessness of history!
(*The article was written in 1999 for Khaleej Times.)