We regularly speak of Bollywood music as if it was a single sort of thing. Far too often, the phrase is a coded reference for the big-name playback singers, Saigal, Lata, Noor Jehan, Rafi and Mukesh. And in the popular imagination (certainly in my own naïve one) the beautiful hits of Bombay’s Golden Era have (wrongly) become almost exclusively associated with the singers who brought them to life for the actors and scenes on screen.
But before Rafi or Lata or Shamshad Begum got to the studio the song had been conceived, composed, scored and lyrics written by others. These men (sadly few women have found space in this particular arena) were known as the Music Directors and as far as the film producers were concerned they were as important, if not more so, than the playback singers. Their names came up in the credits before the singers and usually in bigger letters. The Music Directors had their favourite poets and writers whom they tapped for lyrics to match the melodies. Indeed, by the 1950s, after the first generation of Indian talkies had passed, several composer-writer teams emerged who worked exclusively together: Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji being the most popular.
Today we tell the story of Naushad Ali, one of the truly great men not just of Hindi cinema but of Indian popular culture. Though not the first important composer of film music–Ghulam Haider, Pankaj Mullick and others composed the first great music of South Asian film–Naushad is regarded as standing head and shoulders above his peers during the peak of his creative life.
A Muslim boy from Lucknow, Naushad had a family that did not support his love of music. To find relief he ran away to the local equivalent of the circus, the nautanki. A popular form of travelling folk theatre that mixed bawdy song, folk tales and religious guidance, nautanki was until the near total domination of culture by cinema, village India’s main form of entertainment.
During this informal apprenticeship, he honed his skills on the harmonium (which he also repaired for additional income) and other instruments. During his time in Lucknow he watched small teams of musicians compose the ‘soundtrack’ to silent films at the Royal Theatre an experience that proved invaluable to the development of his own career as a composer. The musicians would watch the film through, talking to themselves and making notes about what instruments and sounds would work in which scene. Then when the audience came in they would play their ideas live as the reels rolled!
The young Naushad set up his own company, the Windsor Entertainers (he liked the ring of the English name) and after some formal training with a local maestro was confident enough to hang out his shingle as a composer. But Lucknow was an inhospitable place to make a career given his family’s opposition. So, like so many others seeking Lady Fortune’s hand, he made his way to Bombay.
It was not easy. He slept on the streets for months, composing music that was rejected by the studios or that failed to make an impression on the public. He earned little more than Rs.50 a month. Yet, he managed to compose for nearly a dozen films and even had the backing of the successful composer Khemchand Prakash but the ‘hit’ eluded him. In 1944 the Lady smiled. With the film Rattan Naushad’s music for the songs Akhiyan Milake and Milke bicchad gayi akhiyan smashed through. He now charged Rs25,000 a film! The film had cost just Rs. 75,000 to make but the record of the music itself grossed Rs. 3 million! And this is time when record players and recorded music was accessible to the very thinnest slice of Indians.
Naushad Ali, the harmonium repair man from Lucknow, was now a star. But when he returned home to get married, he was unable to tell his father and uncles that the music blasting from the loudspeakers was in fact his handiwork.
Naushad’s music is steeped in Hindustani classical traditions; many of his great hits are based on ragas. His years as a travelling musician had taken him all across the plains of northern India where his acute ear had picked up folk rhythms and melodies. Like his Lahori peer, Ghulam Haider, he filled his music with these folk elements, giving his music its distinctive feel. And though he was steeped in the traditions of north Indian music he was not averse to experimenting with western instruments. It is to Naushad that credit is given for introducing the accordion and clarinet to Hindi film music.
Naushad not only had an ear for a good folky riff but was an outstanding assessor of talent. His ‘discovery’ of the singer Suraiyya in the 1940s shot her to fame. And though he worked with everyone from Ameerbai, Shamshad Begum and Noor Jehan, his most memorable work was reserved for the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi, who were launched to the dizzy heights of all India fame on the back of Naushad’s music.
The number of iconic films Naushad scored is staggering: Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Baiju Bawra, Andaaz, Deedar, Ganga Jumna to name just a few. The massive success of Baiju Bawra marked the pinnacle of his folk-music phase, henceforth, his music would be known for its elegant and rich classical undertone and nuances.
The Age of Naushad stretches from 1944-1960 a sixteen-year period when no one could come close to his accomplishments. Yet as the 60s brought new sensibilities and a fresh generation of composer willing and eager to introduce western dance, baila, jazz and even rock music into the mix, Naushad was increasingly marginalised. And though his star faded and was completely extinguished in 2006, his reputation and contribution to the development of what we now all refer to as Bollywood music is universally acknowledged and praised.
Enjoy this slice of early Bollywood music from the masterful Naushad.
AAJ KI RAAT MERE DIL KI SALAMI LELE
AAJ PURANI RAAHON SE
AAJA MERI BARBAD MOHABBAT KE SAHARE
AAYE NA BALAM WADA KARKE
AYE HUSN ZARA JAAG TUJHE ISHQ
BETAAB HAI DIL
DHOONDO DHOONDO RE SAJNA
DIL KI MEHFIL SAJI HAI CHALE AAIYE
DIL-E-BETAB KO SEENE SE LAGANA
DO HANSON KA JODA
DO SITARON KA ZAMEEN PAR
DUKH BHARE DIN BEETE RE BHAIYA
DUNIYA NE TERI DUNIYA WALE
GAAYE JA GEET MILAN KE
GIN GIN TARE
HAMEEN SE MUHABBAT
INSAAF KA MANDIR HAI YEH
JAB USNE GESU BIKHRAYE
KAL KE SAPNE AAJ BHI AANA
KOI MERE DIL MEIN
KOI SAGAR DIL KO BAHLATA NAHIN
KYUN UNHEN DIL DIYA
MAIN DIL MEIN DARD BASA LAAI
MARNA TERI GALI MEIN
MERE JEEVAN SAATHI
MERI KAHANI BHOOLNE WALE
MIL MIL KE GAAYENGE
MORE SAIYAN JI UTRENGE PAAR
PANCHHI BAN MEIN
TASVEER BANATA HOON TERI
TERE SADKE BALAM
TERI MEHFIL MEIN KISMAT AZMAKAR
TU GANGA KI MAUJ
TU MERA CHAND
TUJHE KHO DIYA HUMNE PANE KE BAAD
TUMHARE SANG NAIN BHI CHALOONGI
YEH GOTEY DAR LAHENGA
ZINDAGI AAJ MERE NAAM SE