Naushad’s Celestial Music and The Other ‘Secret Art’
BY VIKAS DATTA
Few music composers can achieve the distinction of their tunes becoming so popular as to be played at weddings — especially their own. Unfortunately, for this individual, who reached this pinnacle in his late 20s, it was a time when careers in films were frowned upon and Naushad Ali had to silently listen to both his (oblivious) father and father-in-law roundly abuse those who made it a profession.
And then there is another telling story of how Naushad, who passed away in 2006, functioned. He was recording that matchless melody “Jawaan hai mohabbat” from “Anmol Ghadi” — the swan song of undivided India — when the director, the redoubtable Mehboob Khan, strode in and began instructing the musicians and technicians on how to go about, and even asked singer Noorjehan to change a note here or there. All Naushad could say was “Everything would be carried out the exact way you want it, Mehboob sahab.”
However, the very next day, Naushad deftly turned the tables. He went to the sets and was told by the director that they were filming the song he had just recorded. Asking the director’s permission to see it through the camera, he started to ask the staff to move props here or there.
Mehboob Khan’s response was to catch Naushad by the ear and ask: “Hey you ‘laatsahaab’, who do you think you are? Scram, this is not your job. Your job is music direction, direction is my job.” And Naushad quietly said that this was the admission he was waiting for, and to Mehboob Khan’s credit, he realized it — and stuck to it in the next seven films they did together.
That was Naushad for you. His forbearance, and tact, surmounted his innate and vibrant sense of rhythm that saw him enjoy a glittering six-decade-plus career in Bollywood, where he became the only one to compose for both K.L. Saigal and Shah Rukh Khan.
Responsible for the eternal music in many defining Bollywood classics — “Rattan” (1944) — whose tunes were played at his wedding; “Shahjehan” (1946) — the last film of Saigal; “Mela” (1948), “Andaz” (1949), “Aan” (1952), “Baiju Bawra” (1952), “Mother India” (1957), “Kohinoor” (1960), “Mughal-e-Azam” (1960), “Gunga Jumna” (1961), “Sunghursh” (1968), and finally, “Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story” (2005), he also stepped in to complete the music for “Pakeezah” (1972), whose composer, his protege Ghulam Mohammad, had died prematurely during the film’s long gestation.
Not only was Naushad’s repertoire marked by seamless weaving in the melodies of Indian classical, the cadences of folk music from all over the subcontinent, and the harmonies of Western classical music, but he was also successful in persuading legends such as Ustad Amir Khan, D.V. Paluskar and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to sing for films.
And then, he also possessed a secret talent — but that was to be expected, as he hailed from Lucknow, the city of poets!
While he could draw on the services of some outstanding lyricists — Majrooh Sultanpuri, D.N. Madhok, and Khumar Barabankvi — and though his enduring partnership was with Shakeel Badayuni, Naushad was himself quite a gifted poet across all forms, from ghazals to nazms and geets, and verses for special occasions as well.
Like his music, which figures in less than 100 films, he went in for quality, not quantity. His collection of poetry, “Athvan Sur”, barely comprises 100 pages of poetry, but what figures is pure gold.
He also dealt with philosophical thought with a ‘Ganga-Jamuni’ sensibility: “Na mandir mein sanam hote na masjid mein khuda hota/Hami se yeh tamasha hai na ham hote to kya hota.”