5 May 2006: Naushad Ali, Indian composer and producer, died

“If a dispassionate history of the evolution and development of Hindi film music gets written, Naushad Ali's name will certainly find a pride of place.”

~ Satish Chopra, Indian journalist, for The Hindu feature - Nostalgic about Naushad, May 2012

The death of Indian film music composer, poet, and producer, Naushad Ali, on 5th of May 2006, marked the end of a glorious era of music that has never returned till date. Naushad was a celebrated Hindi film music director between the 1940s and early 1970s. He is best known for his classical, folk and devotional compositions during this time.

Born into a Muslim orthodox family in Lucknow, on December 25th 1919, the journey of Naushad to Bombay (now Mumbai) was anything but easy. He received his music training in Lucknow, despite his family’s reservations. When it came to choosing a career, there was only one in Naushad’s mind, the thing his family detested the most – music. So, he ran away to Bombay to find work. Work did not come easily and were usually small music-related jobs here and there. After much struggle he got to work with composer Khemchand Prakash, as his assistant. Naushad regards this experience to be the most valuable of all in terms of learning.

Music Director

Naushad’s first break as a music director came in 1940 for the movie “Prem Nagar”. The movie and its music almost went unnoticed, but Naushad continued to get work. The first time he tasted success was for the film “Rattan” in 1944. This film catapulted his fame to such an extent that he could charge Rs. 25,000 per film. His films began to be known for his songs and the public started recognizing his talents as a musician par excellence.

Naushad worked with some of the greatest lyricists, singers, and musicians of the time. Lyricist D.N Madhok, who wrote the songs for Rattan, was one of his foremost partners. Others include Zia Sarhadi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Khumas Barabankvi and Shakeel Badayuni. With Shakeel Badayuni, Naushad formed a sought after alliance and close friendship. They made some of the best music in the industry, including those for “Mother India”, “Mughal-e-Azam”, and “Baiju Bawra”.

Naushad used a number of singers for his songs. He, in fact also introduced some, like Suraiyya. He also brought classical singers to sing playback, like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan for “Mughal-e-Azam”, and classical vocalist Ustad Amir Khan for “Baiju Bawra”. Among other singers, Naushad’s staples were Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi. It is believed that initially he used to get Talat Mehmood to sing most of his songs, but after he found Talat smoking inside the recording studio he ousted him and turned towards Rafi. Mohd. Rafi ended up singing 149 songs for him for 41 films.

After "Pakeezah" (1971) and "Tangewala" (1972), the era of classical based playback declined. Naushad was then asked to compose for only a few songs per film or for a period film. The last film Naushad ever composed for was “Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story” in 2005.

Unique Aspects of Naushad’s Music Direction

There are a number of instances that show that Naushad was a truly unique composer and arranger. He is believed to be one of the first arrangers to use “a hundred-piece orchestra” for the music of the movie “Aan”. He is also recognized for not using any orchestra at all, but just humming chorus for a song in “Uran Khatola”. “Mughal-e-Azam” is another example of his unique music direction – he made Lata Mangeshkar sing in a glaze-tiled bathroom to get the right echo effect required in the song “Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya”.

Even though, Naushad was a hard-core classical music composer for films, he is considered to be the first to bring together Indian and Western instruments for his music. He is also believed to be one of the first to separately record playback voice and music track for his songs, which is the basis for ‘sound-mixing’.

In addition, Naushad was known among his contemporaries as a perfectionist. Be it the tunes or lyrics, he studied every aspect of the song with much care and carefulness. He is believed to have made the lyricists rewrite lines of the song if he was unsatisfied with even a single word. This elaborate way of music direction would cost him almost a fortnight to compose a single rendition, an extremely uncommon event in the present generation. Naushad, in an interview, opens up about his misery over the present method of music-making – “These days, you come across people, who have done the music of 200 films in two years. What I'm saying is that, we used to agonize over every tune and phrase in music, spend sleepless nights over a song, and work on it until it was perfected.” Farouk Luqman, Jeddah-based journalist rightly remarks, “Rock and roll has come and gone so has the twist and similar music but most of Naushad’s songs will remain part of India’s heritage.” (Article: Naushad Ali: India’s foremost music director, by Farouk Luqman, for Arab News, August 2012)

Accolades and Awards

In his entire career of 62 years, Naushad’s name is associated with music scores of 66 films. Among these 35 were silver jubilee hits, “12 golden jubilee and three diamond jubilee mega successes.” “Baiju Bawra” was his first Filmfare Award win. Many more awards came in the subsequent years. His life’s work was honored with Padma Bhushan (1992), Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1992), and Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1982).

Beyond Music

Naushad’s life had been mostly about composing music. But there is a part of him that is seldom mentioned – his writing skills and flair for poetry. This is what made him so good at knowing whether the lyrics of his songs were working or not. His poetry were compiled and released as a ghazal album named “Aathwan Sur” in 1998. Hariharan gave voice to Naushad’s renditions.

Naushad has also produced movies like “Babul”, “Maalik” and “Uran Khatola”, and written stories of films like “Teri Payal Mere Geet”, and “Palki”.


Also on this day:

1479 – Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru, was born

1883 – Archibald Wavell, the 43rd Governor General of India, was born

1916 – Zail Singh, the seventh President of India, was born

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