Naushad – Marquee Magic

Naushad_01_-_www.filmkailm.comAnu Malik’s father, the veteran Sardar Malik opened a program on AIR in the 1960’s by saying, “l am a music director of the vintage type. I belong to an era when we music directors were called Peti Masters (harmonium players). Today we are honored as composers and artistes. The man who wrested this honor for us is Naushad Saheb.” That is Naushad’s place in the history of Indian cinema.

Not many people know that long before conductor Zubin Mehta hit the headlines in the West, Nsushad was the first Indian invited to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the early Fifties, a rare achievement by any standards.

Naushad_04_-_www.filmkailm.comNaushad Ali, to give his full name, was born on Christmas Day, 1919 in Lucknow where his father was a judicial clerk at the court. He received his schooling in the Aminabad High School, but text books never succeeded in fascinating him. He was fascinated by music, a fascination probably acquired and certainly intensified at the local Royal Cinema which young Naushad often visited. Films in those days were silent and the music that accompanied them was provided locally in the theater by an orchestra set up by the exhibitor.

Naushad was thrilled by the music which was provided daily from the orchestra pit of the Royal Cinema. Barely 12 years of age, he managed to win regular access to a musical instrument shop owned by a man well versed in Indian classical music. Naushad visited the shop regularly to fiddle with various musical instruments.

Naushad_with_his_kid_-_www.filmkailm.comA little later, without receiving any regular guidance from anyone, Naushad was handling a variety of instruments with dexterity and reproducing on them the musical pieces he had heard in the Royal Cinema. In due course this led to his being accepted as a pupil by some venerated local musicians and soon, Naushad was proud to find himself performing in the Royal Cinema’s orchestra.

Naushad says that no one in his family in those days had any particular fondness for music, least of all his father who considered musicians to be generally the scum of the earth and a musical career something to be ashamed of.

with_Vrajendra Gaur (center)

Running away from home and after a few escapades, it was in early 1938 that Naushad first came to Bombay where he found shelter with a benefactor in Colaba. Short of funds but full of optimism, Naushad started making daily visits to film studios, walking all the way down from Colaba to places like Dadar and Parel, in search of an opportunity to have a word with a music-director and ask for a job.

It was only after a month of persistent efforts that Naushad got an opportunity to give a test before music-director Jhande Khan and this led to his appointment as a piano player on a salary of forty rupees a month. After some time, Naushad became assistant music-director, first assisting singer Manohar Kapoor in composing the music of the Punjabi film ‘Mirza Sahiban,’ and then joining Ranjit Studios as assistant to Khemchand Prakash.

His favorite male voice, Rafi.

And thus, in 1940 appeared on the movie screen a credit card. “Music by Naushad,” that was to herald the dawn of the most glorious musical era of lndian cinema. The film was ‘Prem Nagar’, directed by M. Bhavanani. Then only 21, he became the youngest music composer of lndian cinema. Before he was 25, Naushad had become a national legend, with the songs of ‘Ratan’ ringing in the air of the entire country. Nothing like this had happened before in the Indian cinema.

What did Naushad give to Indian cinema in the three and a half decades of musical supremacy? In briefest terms; over 600 compositions with 500 of them alive and ringing even today.


Every singer whom he used gave his best in a Naushad film. Saigal in ‘Shah Jahan’, Noor Johan, Suraiya and Surendra in ‘Anmol Ghadi’, Shamshad in ‘Mela’ and ‘Babul’, Mahendra Kapoor in ‘Sohini Mahiwal’, Rafi in ‘Baiju Bawra’, Lata Mangeshkar in ‘Uran Khatola’, ‘Shabab’, ‘Amar’, ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ and ‘Mother India’ and it was Uma Devi in ‘Dard,’ and Talat Mahmood in ‘Babul’ to mention only a few.

Naushad has long been used to setting his music down in written notations and he maintained a complete file of his compositions, including the background music. He worked in close collaboration with the lyric writer. After he studied the script and the song situations, he usually hummed the tune into existence. .When the tune was more or less fixed in his mind, he sat at the piano to devise the ‘decoration’ of the composition. After finalizing the composition, he planned its orchestration and decided about the pieces to be assigned to different types of instruments like brass, string, reed and so on.



There is proof enough of Naushad’s composition’s time-space defying appeal that began in 1940 with “Prem Nagar’ and subsided after “Aadmi” (1968). During this period, Naushad composed music for 48 films. According to one computation, 26 of them ran for over 25 weeks each, which the film industry call ‘silver jubilee run’. Eight others for 50 weeks (Golden jubilees) and two others ran for 60 weeks. It is not overstretching the facts but stating the obvious that every year from 1943 to 1957, every Naushad film celebrated jubilee.

Here is the the Nausahd Score Board:

60 Weeks (2): “Ratan” (1944), “Baiju Bawra” (1952)

Naushad_05_-_www.filmkailm.com50 Weeks (Golden) (8) “Mela,” “Anokhi Ada” (1948), “Andaaz” (1949), “Deedar” (1951), “Aan” (1952), “Mother India” (1957). “Mughal-e—Azam’ (1960), “Gunga Jumna” (1961), “Ram Aur Shyam” (1967) and “Pakeezah (Background Score, 1971).

25 Weeks (Silver) (24): “Station Master”, “Nai Duniya”, “Sharda”, (1942), “Namaste,’ “Sanjog,” “Natek,” “Qanoon” (1943), “Pahle Aap” (1944), “Sanyasi” (1945), “Anmol Ghadi,” “Qeemat, “Shah Jahan” (1946), “Dard” (1947) “Dulari,” “Dillagi” (1949), “Dastan,” “Babul” (1950), “Jadoo” (1951) Deewana (1952), “Shabab,” “Amar” (1964). “Uran Khatola” (1956) ”Kohinoor” (1960), “Mere Mehboob” (1963), “Aadmi,” “Ganwaar” (1968).

With the coming of the seventies though, Naushad just slipped out of the public imagination.

His favorite female voice, Lata.

Many reasons were attributed to this. Firstly, Naushad was 21 when he made his sensational debut and over fifty when ‘Pakeezah’ reached the screen. In other words, he began his creative phase in his twenties and an ebb was reached when he reached his fifties. It is said that in creative arts and with creative geniuses, this is often the longest and the most fertile phase of creative outburst, though not as a rule.

Secondly, it was the exit or death of the old masters with whom Naushad worked; Kardar, Mehboob, K. Asif and S. U. Sunny. Though these men rose from humble beginnings, they had an innate refinement and belonged to an era when literature, not advertising, dominated the society.

Shakeel_Badayuni_2_-_-_www.filmkailm.comBeing men who grew up the hard way in life, there was a certain pathos and melody in their lives. They had a precise appreciation of pain and suffering. They demanded and received from Naushad not only an approximation with their own rhythms but also a passion they wanted to infuse their work with.

More than these men, the death of Shakeel Badayuni, the lyricist, proved to be Naushad’s greatest personal loss. Shakeel, coming from UP as did Naushad, had the same vision of a rural idyll which Naushad captured in his haunting folk melodies.

But the weightiest reason may be the changing trends in Indian film music. (I will not say public taste because that is molded by what the public receives).

Naushad_07_-_www.filmkailm.comIndian response to the new musical movements in the West, that were collectively identified as ‘atonal music’, was rough and crude with its hybridization and the induction of electronic chaos, catcalling and cacophony (the “Chal yaar dhakka maar’ variety of music). Even men of culture acquiesced in the situation. And the questionable accommodation of the ‘clash of generations’ idea imparted respectability to all such breakaway attempts.

In war-torn West, Pop culture signified the justifiable breaking away of a post-war generation from everything their parents generation had done. This trend came to India, a diametrically opposite society, at the most inopportune moment when we were re-establishing our links with the past. The culturally famished film-maker of Bombay grabbed whatever he thought was prospective and yielding. Indian tradition in film music became a stigma of backwardness.


Deeper than the corruption of the Indian film music tradition was the decline of the human material. People who rose to prominence in Indian cinema in the thirties and the forties were men inspired by a great vision and a sense of mission. Even when academically unlettered, they had their roots deep down in the soil. The culture of the land was in their system. By training and exercise they became the guardians of native traditions and, thereby, classicists.


Then the economic prosperity of the sixties dawned, the gloom, grief and tragedy of partition, famines and disease vanished. Even their thoughts were unwelcome intrusions to a generation brought up on the post-war European credo of ‘enjoyment of life’. In the forties and fifties people went to movies to scratch their wounds and re-awaken their grief. Next decade, they went for ‘a good time.’

Even when loaded with songs, the films of the forties through the early sixties had an honesty of feeling which is went missing from later concoctions manufactured by aggregation half a dozen imported films. They often had deep strains of a felt experience, an integrated quality that no prefabricated film of can conjure up. As a result, the music in those films ‘evolved’ from the first to the last song, building up a body of moods and emotions, strung together by a continuity of feeling.



That is why the music of the films of this period tore one’s heart apart and echoed the anguish of eternal pain. This, coupled with the echoes of the national torment referred to above, created the Indian cinema’s greatest musical profusion of all times – the era of the finest melodies.

Like all geniuses in creative arts, Naushad was a madman. And music was his madness. It is this ‘love irrational’ which Iqbal described as “the greatest creative impulse that unlocks the mysteries untrodden by reason.”

Naushad believed firmly in his talent and with the adroitness common to all geniuses, he decided never to compromise. And so, even before he was signed for his first assignment, he laid down absolute creative freedom as his first condition, a creative obstinacy even the indomitable Mehboob had to learn to respect.

Naushad_06_-_www.filmkailm.comHis enormous contribution is manifold. He brought the great masters of classical music – Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Paluskar – to sing in films ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ and ‘Baiju Bawra’ at a time when the classical masters had shunned the movies. It was Naushad who had the courage to use dholak and matka in his compositions. It was he who started composing a separate musical score for the credit titles (Aan, Andaz, Mother India). It was again Naushad who introduced authentic background compositions with highly refined and sophisticated techniques.

Naushad_03_-_www.filmkailm.comFinally, it was Naushad who gave chorus, his most monumental contribution to Indian film music. His chorus is not a jumble of a number of voices but a harmony of individual and collective exultation. Chorus being a community song, Naushad introduced a group ethos in music. ‘Aan’, Babul’, ‘Uran Khatola’, ‘Gunga Jumna’ and ‘Baiju Bawra’ will always be remembered for their choral compositions.

A Naushad composition has a mathematical precision. His opening music never exceeds  20-30 counts, that is, less than half a minute. The oral stanzas each last between 40 to 60 seconds. How compact his compositions are is revealed by the fact on very few occasions has he exceeded three and a half minutes.

with his children.

Naushad was honored with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1982 and he died on 05 June, 2005.

The thirty years of Naushad’s music are the longest ‘alaap’ of the purest and the most sublime human emotion; love.


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