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The True Sangeet Samrat: Naushad’s 91st Birth Anniversary

The ‘40s and the ‘50s formed the golden age of Hindi film music. With ace tunesmiths like Khemchand
Prakash, C.Ramachandra, Anil Biswas and others at the top of their game, it was an age of timeless
melodies that still resonate through Bollywood. And king amongst these composers was none other
than one Naushad Ali.

One of the most prominent landmarks of Mumbai is the Sangeet Samrat Naushad Ali marg. We know it
better as the picturesque Carter Road, seen in numerous Hindi films. It was here that the musical legend
lived, for nearly five decades of his life, and there is a certain sweetness to calling it by its official name.
Sangeet Samrat, emperor of music, Naushad Ali; there is perhaps no one else in Hindi film history who
carries the title better, on whom it is more befitting.

And like an emperor, Naushadsahab and his music had a certain touch of grandeur, delivering his best
work in big budget historicals like ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ and ‘Baiju Bawra’, or dramatic epics like Mother
India. He also had a knack for finding and polishing gems to a shine. Suraiya, who was discovered by
Naushad when she was thirteen, is an example, as is Uma Devi of ‘afsana likh rahi hoon’, who later
became famous as the first female comedienne of Hindi cinema, Tun Tun.

Born on Christmas Day, 1919,Naushadsahab passed away on the 5th of May, 2006. On his 91st birth
anniversary today, we take a look at a few of his greatest works.

‘Rattan’, released in 1944, was Naushad’s first big hit. Bollywood legend says the film’s music became
such a rage that it allowed Naushad to charge Rs.25000 per film at a time when composers were hired
by studios on monthly contracts of Rs.60 and Rs.100. Featuring the old, now-forgotten guard of vocalists
like Zohrabai Ambalawali and Ameerbai Karnataki, who existed in the pre-Rafi and Lata era, the
soundtrack featured such classics as ‘ankhiyan milake jiya bharmake’ and ‘o jaanewale balamwa’.

‘Anmol Ghadi’, released in 1946, stands as another classic of Naushad’s repertoire. Starring the
legendary singing star Noor Jehan and an 18-year old Suraiya, the film featured lilting melodies like
‘jawan hai mohabbat haseen hai zamana’ and ‘aawaz de kahan hai’, now regular remix fare. The film
also featured the composer’s first real hit pairing with another legend, Mohammed Rafi, on the song
‘tera khilauna toota’.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful combinations of film and music, 1960’s ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ is regarded
as one of the greatest films in Bollywood history. And while Prithviraj Kapoor, Madhubala and Dilip
Kumar created magic on screen, Naushad weaved magic in sound for K.Asif’s magnum opus. Though he
convinced no less than the great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to record two songs for the film, the
soundtrack centred around Lata. Tracks like ‘mohe panghat par’, ‘teri mehfil mein kismat aazmakar’ and
‘mohabbat ki jhooti kahani’ are frequently counted amongst her best works. But nothing even comes
close to ‘pyaar kiya toh darna kya’. The combination of K.Asif’s imagination, Naushad’s musical
brilliance, Madhubala’s visual allure and Lata’s vocal beauty has made the track part of Bollywood’s
great inheritance.

Undoubtedly though, Naushad’s greatest work has to be 1953’s ‘Baiju Bawra’. The film, which revolved
around the fabled Baiju, who vocally upstaged even the legendary Tansen in Emperor Akbar’s court,
called for Naushad’s classical best, seeking to silence critics who accused him of being too non-
confirmative. And the composer delivered, creating, perhaps, the most transcendent soundtrack ever
recorded in Hindi cinema; music nonpareil, each song based in classical ragas. With Rafi’s voice as his
muse, Naushad created peerless melodies like ‘tu ganga ki mauj’, ‘o duniya ke rakhwale’ and ‘insaan
bano’, while Lata’s best came in the beautiful ‘mohe bhool gaye saawariya’. A special mention also goes
to ‘man tarpat hari darsan ko aaj’, perhaps the most sublime bhajan ever composed on film; the
secularity of music seeps through in the fact that the composer, Naushad, the singer, Rafi and the
lyricist, Shakeel Badayuni, were all devout Muslims. However, the crowning jewel of the soundtrack has
to be ‘aaj gawat man mero jhoom ke’, the jugalbandi setpiece on Baiju and Tansen’s showdown. For the
track, Naushad sought out Ustad Aamir Khansahab, one of the greatest Hindustani vocalists of the
century, to sing for Tansen. But as the legendary Tansen was bound to lose the jugalbandi, legend says
that the composer asked Khansahab himself to pick a singer he wouldn’t mind losing to. It is a testament
to the Ustad’s humility, that he himself is said to have requested Pandit D.V.Paluskar to sing for Baiju on
the track, resulting in one of the greatest musical pieces in Bollywood history.

While these films do stand as some of Naushad’s greatest works, in a seven decade long career, he
created innumerable matchless melodies, all of which cannot be summed up in a single article. It is a
testament to his genius, that songs like ‘afsana likh rahi hoon’ (‘Dard’, 1947), ‘mere mehboob tujhe
mere mohabbat ki kasam’ (‘Mere Mehboob’ 1963) and ‘madhuban mein radhika naache re’ (‘Kohinoor’
1960) still form some of the most memorable music in Hindi cinema, some five-six decades after they
were first composed. While it may be a cliché to say so, the idea of immortality through one’s work has
never been truer than in the case of the great Naushad Ali.