In director Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra (1952), a musical megahit that stayed in theatre beyond 100 weeks, a song inverted everything that existed in the musical lexicon of the time, one that was steeped in folk music. The film was the story of Baiju — an unknown singer who wants to avenge his father’s death by defeating Tansen in a musical duel. But his guru, Swami Haridas, tells him that a true singer needs to feel pain to be able to find legitimate brilliance. Distraught after his beloved Gauri (Meena Kumari) attempts suicide, Baiju sings, first in a Shiva temple and then on his journey to Agra.
The song, O duniya ke rakhwale..., written by Shakeel Badayuni and sung by Mohammad Rafi, explores Baiju’s agony. Rafi’s soulful voice heaves in the post dusk raga, the delicate Darbari. “I could have used the fiery Shankara, but because Baiju had to make the journey with a broken heart, I gave him Darbari’s komal swaras for company,” said music composer Naushad Ali, before a live performance of the song by Rafi, in a grainy Doordarshan video on YouTube.
The legend goes that Naushad pushed Rafi to the last bit of the taar saptak (highest of the three octaves). So much so that his vocal cords began to bleed and he spit blood. Rafi, then, could not sing for about 10 days. “I wanted to showcase his range,” said Naushad years later. The film that won him the Filmfare Award comprised other raga-based songs, such as Man tadpat (Maalkauns), Tu Ganga ki mauj (Bhairavi), Mohe bhool gaye sawariya (Bhairav) and Bachpan ki mohabbat (Maand).
Baiju Bawra set in stone the seminal nature of what Naushad’s music would go on to become in the coming years. “Someone once asked him, if you are to create the greatest song of your life which raga would you choose, he said, I’d invoke the gods to send back Rafi miyaan (Mohammad Rafi) for one hour.’ Such was their relationship,” says Raju Naushad, the composer’s son, from Mumbai. As part of the centenary celebrations of the composer this year, Raju is busy preparing for concerts and authoring his father’s biography. Naushad would have turned 100 on December 25 last year.
A spate of films that followed Baiju Bawra saw Naushad change the topography of Hindi film music, which also had names such as SD Burman, Vasant Desai and Anil Biswas in it. The composer had already lent music for films such as Rattan (1944) and Dilip Kumar and Nargis starrers Mela (1948) and Andaz (1949). Compositions in films like Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Mother India (1957), Gunga Jumna (1961) and Leader (1964) turned him into a composer with the Midas touch, one who struck a gentle balance between melody, integrity of a tune and that innate understanding of everything in between the composition and its performance. In a career of 62 years, he only composed music for 65 Hindi films. In an interview, he had said: “We used to agonise over every tune and phrase in music, spend sleepless nights over a song, and work on it until it was perfected.” Someone once asked him to name his favourite song. “My father said, ‘I haven’t created it yet. The day I do that, the artiste in me will die’,” recalls Raju.
Naushad was born to a court clerk and his homemaker wife in Lucknow. He found music during a visit to a dargah in Barabanki, where qawwals sang in reverence to the patron saint. A fan of silent films, Naushad was fascinated by the music played along in the pit in front of the screen. He learned at the feet of Ut Ghurbat Ali and Ut Babban Saheb, among others, and repaired harmoniums.
In his teenage, he came to Mumbai and slept on the footpath opposite Broadway theatre in Dadar and soon found a job as a piano player. Months later, he found work as an assistant to composer Khemchand Prakash, who gave him Rs 60 per month and the opportunity to make music. His first independent film was Prem Nagar (1940), but it was Rattan’s folk compositions that attracted attention. While Baiju Bawra cemented his place in the realm of Hindi film music, Mughal-e-Azam and its songs such as Pyar kiya toh darna kya, Mohe panghat and the legendary thumri in raag Sohni — Prem jogan — by Ut Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, created a musical rapture that is now the stuff of lore. Mother India’s folk-based Dukh bhare din and Matwala jiya were impactful too. Najariya ki maari by Rajkumari and Begum Parveen Sultana’s Kaun gali in Pakeezah are still remembered as some of
the most cherished pieces from Kamal Amrohi’s masterpiece.
In his later years, Naushad composed background music for the television serial Akbar The Great and The Sword of Tipu Sultan. “Every tune had the fragrance of the soil of Hindustan. You can't separate his music from the land that inspired him. People will know these tunes 100 years later too,” says Raju, who is also composing his father’s ghazals from Naushad’s book Aathwaan Sur. Not many know that Naushad wrote poetry too and penned some fine nazms under his name. “They have heard his tunes. Now they will hear the soul of his poetry,” says Raju.