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His was such a glorious journey, Khalid Mohamed’s flashback to Sangeet Samrat Naushad Ali.


Tall, lithe, spotlessly dressed – black sherwanis suited him the most. Naushad Ali was so at home conjuring tunes on a piano that he almost seemed to be glued to its 52 black and 32 white keys, on which his slender fingers moved magically.


As pointed out by music experts the first instrument, he ever learnt to play in his  life was the harmonium, after which he mastered the piano. In fact, his career kicked off with a job as a pianist for the songs of Samunder (1937) for composer Mushtaq Husain.


After being a part of music orchestras for a few years, he commenced a long, arduous and eventually a many-splendoured journey as a solo music director.

Today, on streaming channels (primarily Netflix), I’ve been watching the documentaries on the making of the anthemic track We are the Word (The Biggest Night in Pop) , besides an extremely insightful take on conductor-writer-arranger Quincy Jones who was responsible for the fantastic quality of  Michael Jackson’s best-seller albums Thriller and Bad to name just two.


It’s a shame, then, that the streaming channels or documentary outlets have not come up with an updated, comprehensive, technically polished documentary for the ‘now’ generation, on Naushad’s invaluable contribution to popular cinema’s soundtracks, which have stood the test of time despite altering tastes and fads.


Perhaps, there’s the usual obstacle to secure the songs’ copyrights and other bureaucratic wrangles. Surely,  the official safekeepers of our musical heritage archives could overcome the hurdles. However, who knows? This could be easier suggested, than realised.


Naushad Ali (1919-2006), known for introducing elements of classical music in his compositions, kickstarted his career as a solo music director with Prem Nagar (1940). Four years later, with his tracks for Rattan, he had arrived at the forefront of Hindi cinema’s music scene.


Born to a court clerk in Lucknow, the city of Urdu tehzeeb and adab, he would travel to the Deva Sharif durgah at a distance of 25 kms, to listen to qawwals. Under the tutelage of Ustad Ghurbat Ali, Ustad Yusuf Ali and Ustad Babban Saheb, he studied the intricacies of music, besides repairing harmoniums.


For silent films he had performed in the orchestra pit on the tabla, harmonium and sitar at Lucknow’s Royal Theatre. After setting up his own Windsor Music Entertainers troupe, he initiated the Indian Star Company leading a group of travelling players.


However, Naushad and his musicians could not survive on music alone, and while performing in the townships of Gujarat were driven to abject poverty. On returning home to Lucknow, at the age of 13, he began watching films avidly which in 1931 progressed to the talkie era. No pain, no gain. Hence, he moved to Bombay in 1937, nursing the ambition of becoming a professional film music composer.


Making do with whatever money he had  lived in a tiny room in Colaba.  On going broke, he  slept on the footpath opposite Dadar’s Plaza cinema. Next he assisted the much-in-demand composer  Ustad Jhande Khan at a monthly salary of Rs 40. Followed a stint in Chembur with a Russian producer on a film which was shelved mid-way.


As a pianist, he found a slot in composer Ustad Mushtaq Hussain's orchestra. Eventually, life looked up to a degree when he assisted composer Khemchand Prakash at Ranjit studio for Rs 60 a month.


At long last a friend, lyricist D.N.Madhok, introduced him to the prominent producer  Chandulal Shah. Yet, it was A.R. Kardar’s Nai Duniya (1942), which secured him his first credit as a music director. For Kardar’ s Sharda, in the same year, Suraiya gave her first playback for the song Panchhi Jaa picturised on heroine Mehtab. Two years later director M. Sidiq’s Rattan (1944) – a love story thwarted by caste differences -- zoomed Naushad right to the top. And he began to charge Rs 25,000 a film.


The chartbusting songs of Rattan  included Ankhiyan Milake,  O Jaanewaale, Pardesi Balma, Rum Jhum Barse, Saawan ke Baadlon, Diwali Aayee ,Angdai Teri Hai Bahana and Jhoote Hain Sab Sapne Suhane, variously rendered by Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Shyam Kumar, Manju and actor Karan Dewan.


Still, all wasn’t well on the personal front. Naushad had to keep his music career a secret from his conservative Lucknow family. Ironically, at his nikaah ceremony, the band had struck up tunes from Rattan.


Chronicles maintain that from 1942 until the late 1960s, he was one of the top music directors in Hindi films. He scored a total of 65 films during his lifetime, 26 of them being silver jubilees and eight golden jubilees.


Nargis, Raj Kapoor & Dilip Kumar in Andaz (1949)

Doubtlessly, we all treasure our different  Naushad favourites. Subjectively, I can merely have the audacity to list my all-time evergreens in no particular order: Tu Kahe Agar and Uthaye Ja Unke Sitam (Andaz, 1949); Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki (Dulari, 1949), Aaj Gawat Man Mero (Baiju Bawra, 1952), Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, Beqas Pe Karam Kijiye and Mohe Panghat Pe (Mughal-e-Azam, 1958); Nain Ladgaye Hain and Do Hanson Ka Joda (Ganga Jamuna, 1961); Chale Aaj Tum Jahaan Se (Uran Khatola, 1955); Dil Ki Mehfil Saji Hai (Saaz aur Awaaz, 1966); Apni Azadi Ko Hum (Leader, 1964); and Nazariya Ki Maari (Pakeezah, 1972).


He completed the soundtrack of Pakeezah since its original composer Ghulam Mohammed had passed away, besides devising its unforgettable background music. The last film which Naushad composed the music for was Akbar Khan’s period opus Taj Mahal: The Eternal Love Story (2005).


Naushad passed away on 5 May 2006 in Mumbai following a cardiac arrest at age 86.

He was survived by six daughters and three sons.


During his lifetime, the Maharashtra State Government had sanctioned a plot of land for the Naushad Academy of Hindustani Sangeet. Now and then, he would write poems which have been published in a book titled Aathwaan Sur (The Eighth Note). A private album, Asthawan Sur –The Other Side of Naushad with eight ghazals was recorded, a rare collectible.


Perhaps his songs of sorrow were his calling card, drenched in the melancholia of the black-and-white era, even though the 1950s are considered the optimistic Nehruvian era. Paradoxically while the nation was bathed in post-Raj euphoria, the Indian screen hero was quite often a doom-laden and tragic.


Think Naushad, think Dilip Kumar who was anointed the tragedy king. Not surprisingly, when the actor turned towards lighter roles, Naushad also loosened up to strike up jaunty rhythms, shifting grooves from the dark plaints of Mela and Uran Khatola to the upbeat cadences of Kohinoor and Ram aur Shyam.


Expectedly in a business where star-musician alliances are a rule rather than the exception, Naushad’s fade-out began as Dilip Kumar’s did. The new lover boy had arrived in the persona of Rajesh Khanna followed by the angsty young man Amitabh Bachchan,


Naushad was now a square in a round hole. His reliance on lush orchestrations, chaste lyrics and contempt for imported rock-and-roll riffs made him an anachronism. The maestro attempted to adapt to the changing hit parade with a rather jazzed-up score for Saathi (1968) but it appealed neither to the purists nor the pop buffs.


Not the sort to rest on his laurels – of which he had plentiful – Naushad did muster up a few more scores, but the writing on the wall clearly spelt out the warning that he could not return to his glory days of the 1950s.


Many of the movie czars who had stood by him resolutely, like Mehboob Khan,were no more. Moreover, if a film of a very popular actor tanked at the box office, Naushad had been made the fall guy. Case in point: S.U.Sunny’s-Mahesh Kaul’s Palki (1967) featuring Rajendra Kumar, the actor for whom the composer had earlier given an outstanding score in H.S.Rawail’s Mere Mehboob (1963).


Naushad was not a pragmatist. He could not understand why his semi-classical style of music as in Baiju Bawra and Mughal-e-Azam had no buyers in the fast-approaching instamatic age. He would, at times, take a year to compose a film’s score; other upcoming composers already had 200 tunes ready in their `banks.’


Even before the upsurge of snappy, ya-ya composers, when it came to getting his just dues, the maestro had been a victim of politics. In private as well as published conversations, he would neither forgive nor forget the award given to Shanker-Jaikishen for the Kamal Amrohi-produced  Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai over his infinitely superior music for K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam.


He was conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and 1992. A road outside his oceanfront house, Ashiana, on Carter Road, Bandra, has been named Sangeet Samrat Naushad Ali Marg.


Indeed, a visit to his Bandra seafront bungalow was a traditional rite among music lovers and journalists, after just a single ‘phone call.


I dropped by one noon, and detected he could be extremely convivial but rigid. Said he, “Please stay for lunch. We can talk for hours but don’t ask me to accept the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Awards. You may not be personally responsible for the injustice done to Mughal-e-Azam but I cannot forget how insulting that was, it was like a slap on the face.”


Madhubala in Mughal-e -Azam (1960)

I was stonewalled. He talked endlessly about the deterioration of film music but did not acknowledge the merits of some of the young composers, A.R. Rahman included. The maestro made it clear that he detested remixes and the MTV ethos. He would rather cherish the memories of the artistry of Ghulam Mohammed, K.L. Saigal and Noor Jahan.


A firm believer in namaaz and rozas, he lived his last years in quietude, emerging once in a while on a wheelchair to talk of the music that was. His closest friends were Dilip Kumar, Johnny Walker and Ifthekar. His Bandra house had several of their sepia-tinted photographs, and stuffed tigers, reminiscent of his love for shikar.


During our conversation, he had flashbacked to his jobless days, of how he had slept on the footpaths of Dadar opposite the Plaza cinema. When one of his films premiered at the Plaza, he told me he had laughed, “I have just crossed the road.I will never forget that as long as I live.”


The same can be said by all of us about both the music composer and the man.


Khalid Mohamed is a Mumbai based film critic, screenwriter, film producer & film director.

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Mar 03
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

I may sound discourteous, rude ... but it's not 'Plaza' where Naushad saheb stayed initially but 'City Light' theatre in Matunga.

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