Today marks the birthday of Jesus Christ, but also of a man who was pretty much regarded as little less than a god by thousands of music lovers in India between the 40s and the 60s. The one and only Naushad Ali, who was born on Christmas Day, 1919.
While Naushad may not have been the music director I first became aware of, he was definitely among the first, his songs featuring so often on radio programmes that I soon cottoned on to the fact that this man was very good—and very popular. Then, when TV came into our lives with Doordarshan in the 1980s, Naushad became the very first music director I could recognize by face: he was getting on in years by then (though he was still working, composing music for TV series and so on), but every now and then, there would be TV interviews with him, in which he would reminisce about the golden days of Hindi cinema.
Born and brought up in Lucknow, Naushad was deeply interested in both music as well as theatre since a young age, and eventually set up an entertainment company (Windsor Entertainers), for which he composed music. With the advent of the talkies in the early 1930s, Naushad realized that here was his chance to compose for cinema. Much against the wishes of his orthodox and disapproving family, he ran off to Bombay in 1937. Thanks to the support and help of Khemchand Prakash and DN Madhok, he finally got a break in Hindi cinema, his first musical score being for Prem Nagar (1940).
It wasn’t until Rattan (1944) that Naushad got his first hit—and what a hit that was. Remembering the success of Rattan’s music in later years, Naushad recalled a delightful anecdote in an interview. When his parents arranged Naushad’s wedding, they told his future in-laws that their son was a tailor, a respectable occupation compared to the cinema industry employee he actually was. Naushad kept mum, but on the day of the wedding, was flattered to find that the band playing as the baaraat arrived at the venue was performing all the latest hits—that is, the songs of Rattan.
When it came to composing songs based on folk music, or on classical Hindustani music, there was little rivalling Naushad: he was the master of these genres—and that is why, perhaps, his music was so successful through the 40s and 50s. It was in the 60s, as Ganesh Anantharaman points out in Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, that Naushad’s tunes (though with some exceptions) began to sound too alike, as if his creativity had dried up. “Perhaps he also found composing in the era of Shammi Kapoor’s Yahoo a strain,” notes Anantharaman.
In the 28 years of his prime between 1940 and 1968, Naushad composed music for only 62 films—not a huge number, if you compare that with some of his contemporaries. But what songs! Some of the greatest, most recognizable, most popular songs of the golden age of Hindi film music were Naushad’s.
In celebration of his birth centenary, therefore, ten of my favourite Naushad songs. These are all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen, and are in no particular order. And, as is usual when I’m compiling lists of songs, no two songs are from the same film.
1. Madhuban mein Radhika naache re (Kohinoor, 1960): Anybody who’s been following this blog for a while would know by now of my love for this song. Of all the Hindi film songs that are classical in tone, Madhuban mein Radhika naache re was the very first one I fell in love with—and, till today, it remains my favourite. The intricacy of this performance takes my breath away: the balance between vocals and instruments, between words and lyrics. Between long stretches of just the sitar being played, and then Rafi’s voice, flirtatious yet accomplished, a virtuoso. A wonderful, wonderful song.
2. Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam (Mere Mehboob, 1963): My father, whose sense of humour can be really wacky, told me a parody of this song when I was young: Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam/Mera khoya hua rangeen pajama de de (“My love, let my love compel you/Return to me my lost, colourful pajama once again”). It says a lot for the beauty of the original song that this nutty distortion didn’t ruin Mere mehboob tujhe for me (which, by the way, has happened to me several times—with songs all the way from Sau saal pehle mujhe tumse pyaar tha to Dil ke jharokha mein tujhko bithaakar). Here, while Rafi’s voice plays a huge part in rendering the wistful longing of Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics, it is Naushad’s music, so contained and low-key, so elegant, which makes this song what it is.
I must admit that this song was a hard one to choose. With most of the other songs in the list, choosing that particular song from the film in question wasn’t too much of a problem. In Mere Mehboob, Naushad produced one beautiful composition after the other, and selecting just one song was a real problem.
3. Mera salaam jaam lejaa (Udan Khatola, 1955): While the last song of Udan Khatola—one of the most heartbreaking songs of farewell in Hindi cinema, as far as I am concerned, O door ke musaafir—is a beautiful one, the title song from the same film is the one I decided to showcase on this list. With the clip-clop ‘tonga beats’ which OP Nayyar had pretty much made his trademark, Naushad departed from his more usual style of folk and/or classical tunes and created a song that’s frothy and light and very infectious (in fact, it has more than a shade of OP Nayyar in its composition). The ‘oye!’ coming in now and then is folksy, but the ‘aaaaaah’ of the chorus has a somewhat Western choral feel to it. Superb.
4. Mann tadpat hari darshan ko aaj (Baiju Bawra, 1951): This song has something of an iconic status in Hindi cinema, especially when one wants to emphasize the secular nature of the Hindi film industry: because a devotional song, so obviously an intrinsic part of Hindu worship, owes its beauty to three Muslims: Mohammad Rafi (who sang it), Naushad (who composed the music) and Shakeel Badayuni (who wrote the lyrics). Here, discussing specifically the music of Mann tadpat hari darshan ko aaj, I must say how much I love the way Naushad changes the pace of the song, introducing it in a low-key, subdued way that allows Rafi’s voice to take centrestage—but finally, in the very end of the song, allowing a crescendo that includes a chorus and more frenetically-played musical instruments.
5. Uthaaye jaa unke sitam (Andaaz, 1949): I have a connection with this song: my uncle, David Vernon Liddle ‘Verni’ played the guitar for Uthaaye jaa unke sitam (Naushad was one of the composers for whom Verni played a good deal). That connection, however, is beside the point in this case: I love Uthaaye jaa unke sitam for other reasons too (no, the regressive lyrics, so full of righteous self-sacrifice, aren’t part of that). But the music, so understated when Lata’s singing and swelling so beautifully (though still restrained) in between lines, is lovely. It’s seemingly simple, but you can, on listening carefully, see how it changes as the song progresses. And, of course, there’s Lata’s voice itself: Naushad is supposed to have told her to sing this song in the style of her ‘Pakistani sister’ (Noorjehan), and Lata does that remarkably. She does sound uncannily like Noorjehan here.
6. Aawaaz de kahaan hai (Anmol Ghadi, 1946): And, taking up from the previous song—in which Naushad asked Lata Mangeshkar to sing like Noorjehan—a Noorjehan song. Like Rattan, Anmol Ghadi was one of those films that had an absolutely stellar score, one superb song after another. Choosing between songs like Jawaan hai mohabbat haseen hai hai zamaana, Udan khatole pe ud jaaoon, and Aaja meri barbaad mohabbat (which are my favourite songs from Anmol Ghadi) was a tough one, but I finally decided to stick with the song which I had instinctively picked as my favourite: Aawaaz de kahaan hai. I love the tune, and the way Naushad keeps the music so subdued that Noorjehan’s gorgeous voice shines forth (Surendra’s voice, I must admit, I am not as enamoured of). This song comes through mostly in the form of the tune carried by Noorjehan, with pretty much minimal instrumentation. Classic.
7. Akhiyaan milaake jiya bharmaake (Rattan, 1944): A much younger me—till well into my teens, and even beyond—just couldn’t summon up a liking for Hindi film songs of the 40s. The voices, as far as I was concerned, were too nasal, the music too dated (yes, I held strong and not always intelligent views on matters like this). But among the handful of songs from the 40s that I didn’t mind was Akhiyaan milaake jiya bharmaake. Today, I can safely say that I don’t merely ‘not mind’ this song, I love it. Zohrabai Ambalewali’s voice is playful and flirtatious, and Naushad’s music fits the scenario perfectly: the young woman teasing her lover into not going away. The pep of the interludes, the somewhat folksy feel to the entire song: hummable and infectious.
8. Chhod baabul ka ghar (Baabul, 1950): Baabul had some nice songs, but of all of them, my favourite is this one—and, it seems, perhaps Naushad (and director SU Sunny? I don’t know) thought so too, since Chhod baabul ka ghar appears repeatedly through the film, sung by various people. It’s a credits song; Dilip Kumar sings the refrain once, Shamshad Begum sings the cheerful version for Nargis, and right at the end, Talat sings a heartbreakingly slow, poignant version. I love the simplicity of this song: the music has the sort of down-to-earth, relatable feel that SD Burman had said was the hallmark of a song that would be likely to succeed. For me, the genius of Naushad shows in the way he tweaks the same song to create a completely different feel: the pep and joy of the Shamshad version is miles apart from the sorrow of the Talat version.
9. Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salaami le le (Ram aur Shyam, 1967): Unlike (say) his contemporary SD Burman, Naushad is generally not regarded as one of those who constantly reinvented his music in such a way that he always stayed contemporary. He was immensely successful and his songs very popular in the 1940s and 50s, but by the late 60s, Naushad had begun showing signs of a certain ennui, and though he did compose music through the 70s and 80s—right up to 2005, actually—there were none of those stellar scores he had once been so known for.
Ram aur Shyam, therefore, marks one of the last of his good scores: a film that had some lovely songs, including the cheery Aayi hain bahaarein mite zulm-o-sitam, and O baalam tere pyaar ki thandi aag mein—and this one. A farewell that’s disguised as a party song, but actually talks of an impending separation, perhaps forever. A lovely tune, and beautifully rendered by Rafi.
10. Teri mehfil mein kismet (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960): And, to end, a song from one of the most epic blockbusters Hindi cinema has ever known. Mughal-e-Azam holds a special place in the annals of Hindi cinema, for just about everything that went into it—the extravagant sets, the all-star cast, the painstaking detail, the chemistry between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, the dialogues (Kamal Amrohi’s and Wajahat Mirza’s, among others’) and Naushad’s music. Naushad composed some 20 songs for Mughal-e-Azam, though eventually only a few of these were retained in the film.
While the very popular Pyaar kiya toh darna kya might be the first song that comes to mind when one thinks of this film, to me that song, good though it is, has been rather done to death. And Mohe panghat pe Nandlal, while also lovely, is not originally Naushad’s composition—it was a thumri which had been sung many times before by others.
And there is this, a wonderful qawwali. Madhubala’s and Nighar Sultana’s characters face off, ostensibly throwing challenges at each other, but actually with their words cloaked in innuendo. To the prince who looks on, the real message is directed: to him is the singer’s love offered, even if it brings her nothing but woe. Sadly prophetic for poor Anarkali, but such a classic song.
Which are your favourite Naushad songs? Please share!