Enduring genius, 12.5.06

One of India’s all-time greatest music directors, Naushad Ali, died in Mumbai last Friday (5). He will be remembered for his excellence in introducing classical music into Hindi films.

The 86-year-old, who began his career 66 years ago, suffered a heart attack at Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai after being admitted a week ago. It is understood that he has been unwell for a long time. Along with his cardiac problem, Naushad had of late been suffering from a minor kidney ailment.

Dr Dev Pahlajani, head of the cardiology department at the hospital who treated Naushad, said: “He was a very jovial man.

“Every time I hear his songs, I will always remember his last days with us in the hospital,” he added.

The veteran continued working almost till the end, with his last film being Akbar Khan’s recent release Taj Mahal-The Eternal Love Story.

Naushad was regarded as one of the greatest music composers in Indian cinema, with hit songs like Mohabbat ki jhooti kahani pe roye (Mughal-e-Azam) and Zindagi mein hum aaye hei to jeena hi padega (Mother India).

His life was a journey from the footpath to the recording studios. Born on Christmas Day in 1919, he spent several nights on the footpath after moving to Mumbai in the late 1930s to try his luck as a musician.

The composer, who hailed from Lucknow, had cried when his film Baiju Bawra was premiered at Mumbai’s Broadway theatre.

When the late producer, Vijay Bhat, asked him why he was crying, Naushad told him he had slept on the footpath opposite the theatre when he had dreamed of seeing his music brought to life.

“It took me 16 long years to cross that footpath,” he said.

After studying under Ustad Ghurbat Ali, Ustad Yusuf Ali and Ustad Babban Saheb, Naushad repaired harmoniums [a musical instrument] and composed for amateur theatricals before coming to Mumbai.

Since his childhood, he was an avid listener to the live orchestras which often accompanied silent films. But parental pressure to wean him away from music compelled the future maestro to run away to Mumbai in search of his dream.

He assisted Khemchand Prakash, whom he considered his teacher, in Mumbai in the late 1930s. Naushad got his break as an independent music director in Prem Nagar (1940).

Naushad’s forte was Hindustani classical music. His classical training enabled him to make swift adaptations of ragas into film music, as demonstrated by the song Man tadpat hari darshan ko aaj (Baiju Bawra), sung by Mohd Rafi.

He had major hit songs in a number of films including Mughal-e-Azam, Mother India and Baiju Bawra. His other hits included songs in Shahjahan, Dard, Dillagi, Dulari, Anokhi Ada, Barsaat and Andaaz.

He composed music for 67 films during his career, and completed Pakeezah (1972) after original composer Ghulam Mohammed’s death.

He mainly used classical music in his films, but kept the compositions relatively simple so the common man could understand and enjoy them.

Naushad would never tire of talking about two of his favourite singers Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi. “Latabai ek kudrat ki nem hai. (Lata Mangeshkar is nature’s gift). In my long association with her, I have never once heard her sing off-key even when she does it casually.

“Rafisaab ke jitna kahun kum hi padega (Whatever I say about Mohammed Rafi will be inadequate). Umda insaan, heratangez gayaki ke malik (Refined human being and astonishing singer),” he had said.

Lata Mangeshkar, India’s greatest playback singer, once remarked that the music Naushad composed for Baiju Bawra had surprised her.

“It was entirely different from what he had done before. Different ragas were used for different situations and the purity of the ragas was maintained to the maximum possible extent,” she said.

Naushad was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1981 for his lifetime contribution to Indian cinema, and the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 1992. He was the first to combine the flute and clarinet, sitar and mandolin. He was also one of the first to introduce song mixing and separate recording of voice and music in playback singing.

It was a reversal of fortune of sorts for the legend with the advent of the 1960s and the decline of Dilip Kumar, since he used to compose music for most of the thespian’s films.

Tributes have poured in from friends, family and a number of Bollywood musicians, film producers, directors and actors.

Music composer Uttam Singh said that, with Naushad’s death, the curtain has come down on a generation of classical music in the film industry. He said: “He was an institution. His last work in Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal is a hit. His death is a personal loss to me.”

Noted actress of yesteryears, Saira Banu, said her husband Dilip Kumar and she shared a lovely friendship with Naushad.

“We were expecting to take him to Pakistan where two of his films, Taj Mahal and Mughal-e-Azam are being released,” she said.

Director Mahesh Bhatt said Naushad was a “symbol of secular India, a man who really lived out what the composite culture was all about in his daily life. His music has a resonance of that culture”.

He added, “When he composed bhajans, it seemed he was a devout Hindu. He had the depth of India and her great civilisation really running through his veins.”

Bhatt said that Naushad was heartbroken when the secular fabric of the nation was torn apart during communal riots.

Naushad was also saddened when the quality of Indian music deteriorated due to mindless imitation of the West. Apparently, the music director used to say, “We Indians must change with the times, but not lose touch with our roots”.

A purist to the core, Naushad had equal flair for the Indian classical as well as Western classical music. “If I were born in Europe, I would be composing symphonies,” he said.

Radio 1 DJ Nihal said: “Naushad was a classic musician who resisted the lure of Bollywood towards sounds of the western music. He kept it real.”

Akbar Asif, the son of Mughal-e-Azam director K Asif, said: “When my father was making Mughal-e-Azam, Naushad Ali Saab was the first and last choice to compose the songs because he was the greatest music director the film industry has ever seen. He will forever live on in the hearts and minds of film fans through his timeless music.”

The legend of Naushad will not only live on, it will grow.