And the music stopped…
After 17 years of struggle Nadeem Saifee and Shravan Rathod, handpicked by late Gulshan Kumar of T-Series, tasted overnight stardom. Soaked in melody and romance, their score for Aashiqui created overwhelming records and rolled out red carpets for the duo.
Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin, Saajan, Sadak, Deewana, Phool Aur Kaante, Pardes… music by Nadeem-Shravan meant a blank cheque for filmmakers and a bonanza at the box-office. Nadeem, debonair and flamboyant; Shravan mild-mannered and congenial became the face of audio cassettes, film posters, banners… and the toast of award ceremonies.
And then, one fine day, the strings just snapped. The slaying of music magnate, Gulshan Kumar in 1997, put Nadeem under suspicion. From a ‘composer’, he was viewed as a ‘could be conspirator’. Nadeem, who was in London when the tragedy took place, fearing persecution never returned.
Though the duo gave sporadic hits like Kasoor, Dhadkan and Raaz in between, their long-distance partnership ran out of rhythm. Alternating between Dubai and London but yearning at all times for his homeland, Nadeem once said, “I miss India… I am dying to come.”
His partner Shravan too bore the brunt in this game of intrigue and ignominy with a career gone out of tune. Keeping a brave front through the decades, Shravan on 22 April, 2021, sadly succumbed to COVID-19 complications.
Last year, Nadeem-Shravan’s hit Dilbar (Sirf Tum) was recreated for John Abraham starrer Satyameva Jayate. Featuring Nora Fatehi, it crossed the one billion mark on YouTube. In the endurance of their music, in their melodies and melancholies, will perhaps live on Shravan’s soul and Nadeem’s memories…
Nadeem Akhtar Saifi was born on 6 August 1954 while Shravan Kumar Rathod on 13 November in the same year. Nadeem’s childhood was spent in Mahim, close to the famed Hazrat Makhdoom Shah dargah. Fond of the drum, darabuka, dholak… talented Nadeem formed a band with the neighbourhood boys.
Later, the family moved to Bombay Central. This ‘drummer boy’ grew popular in school and later college, where he sang his own compositions. Admirer of Naushad, SD Burman and Shankar-Jaikishen, he enjoyed listening to Jaikishen play music at Gaylord restaurant in Churchgate.
Classical music was Shravan’s lineage, his father being renowned dhrupad and dhamar exponent, the late Pandit Chaturbhuj Rathod. Shravan and his singer brothers Roop Kumar Rathod and Vinod Rathod trained under his tutelage.
Shravan met Nadeem in December, 1972. He was invited to attend a music event at Elphinstone College, where Nadeem was the main percussionist. A common friend introduced the two.
The Nadeem-Shravan partnership was forged when they were just 19. Nadeem’s forte was western percussion – congo, tumba, bongo and drum. While Shravan’s stronghold was ethnic –tabla, harmonium, sitar and flute. Interestingly, Nadeem struggled in a car - a Ford – his father being a successful businessman.
Their first assignment was for the Bhojpuri film Dangal, (1979). The track Kashi hile, Patna hile (Manna Dey) was a hit. Their first Hindi assignment was Maine Jeena Seekh Liya (1981). Later, they gave music for Ilaaka, Tiranga, Hisaab Khoon Ka and Lashkar, which failed to impress.
Tired of the endless wait, Nadeem launched a readymade garments venture and called it Composer’s Collections. Nadeem had decided that they’d be partners in whatever they did – ‘selling paan or songs’!
Singer Anuradha Paudwal, who sang Haan pehli baar (Baap Numbri Beta Dus Numbri 1990) for the duo, encouraged them to meet T-Series chief Gulshan Kumar. The musicians had composed the songs Nazar ke saamne, Main duniya bhula doonga… for a non-film album. But when Mahesh Bhatt heard them, he decided to make a film around the tracks.
N-S (Nadeem-Shravan) were signed for for Bhatt’s Aashiqui (1990), co-produced by T-Series. Adding melodious tracks like Dheere dheere se, Saanson ki zaroorat, Ab tere bin jee lenge hum… made it a record-breaking album with 20 million units sold in India.
Nadeem fondly addressed Gulshan as Papaji, while the producer called him ‘Bade Bhaiya.’ “The best music without great publicity is like winking at a girl in the dark,” once said Nadeem explaining why hard-selling a film’s music was a savvy precedent set by Gulshan Kumar. Nadeem called him ‘the father of the music industry’ in India.
The twosome was on a roll scoring hit music for films including Phool Aur Kaante, Sadak, Dil Ka Kya Kasoor, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Dilwale, Raja, Barsaat, Agni Sakshi and Jeet (1991-1996). They won Filmfare Awards for Aashiqui (1990), Saajan (1991), Deewana (1992) and Raja Hindustani (1996).
Their music gave voice to a new league of singers —including Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Sadhana Sargam and Anuradha Paudwal. Lyricist Sameer was an integral part of their odyssey, which included hits like Mera dil bhi kitna pagal hai, Sochenge tumhe pyar kareke nahin, Dheere dheere pyar ko badhana hai, Ghunghat ki aadh se...
Success comes with its shenanigans.
The duo had first met filmmaker Tahir Hussain in 1981 with their composition, Ghungat ki aad se. The veteran then had rejected it for being ‘immature’. But after Aashiqui, Hussain approached them again for a Mahesh Bhatt film. They played the same Ghunghat ki aad se tune once again. Tahir and Bhatt both said ‘Wah!’ and it was recorded as the mahurat song for Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993). What’s more, Nadeem demanded a lakh more than their market price for this score.
Their music for Subhash Ghai’s Pardes (1997) was ‘experimental’. It included the patriotic I Love My India, the romantic Do dil mil rahe hain, the qawwali Nahin hona tha, pop fare like My first day in America and the reflective Ye dil deewana. For that they were presented with two Opel cars.
With success also came allegations of arrogance and exorbitant demands. “People fail to see the tears of struggle… There’s lot that a composer undergoes… I knew my worth. Also, humility is seen in your attitude towards work. None of my producers suffered losses,” Nadeem defended himself in a throwback interview.
The euphoria came to a cataclysmic end when on 12 August 1997, Gulshan Kumar was shot dead outside the Jeeteshwar Mahadev Mandir in Andheri.
“If Papaji were alive, he’d have fought every allegation against me. He loved me. The incident took place a month after my being in London. The day I came to know about Papaji’s death, I was in tears. It was unbelievable. But someone wanted to tear me apart. So vicious were the allegations! I didn’t know that my talent could trigger so much hate in people,” Nadeem, who stayed on in London, lamented in an interview to Filmfare.
“Bijli girni thi aur sab jal gaya… Naddu (Shravan’s endearment for Nadeem) was made the bali ka bakra… When I was called for interrogation by the crime branch… I broke down,” confided Shravan years later to Filmfare recalling the dark days. In the same vein Nadeem was quoted saying, “Nazar lag gayi, nazar lagni hi thi!’
In 2001, the London High Court rejected the Indian government’s request for extradition as there was no prima facie case against Nadeem. Reportedly, Nadeem was exonerated by the House of Lords in the United Kingdom and the sessions court in Mumbai. But reportedly the arrest warrant against him was not withdrawn.
Eventually, Nadeem acquired British citizenship and later moved to Dubai with wife Sultana, son Samar and daughter Saima. He runs a successful perfumery business there and publishes the Holy Quran for worldwide distribution.
Despite the distance, the duo coordinated over the phone, and created chartbusters for films like Dhadkan, Kasoor and Raaz in the early 2000s. Sir Paul McCartney, of the Beatles band, appreciated Nadeem-Shravan’s score for Raaz, while American singer Lil Kim remixed the number to create a Billboard chart hit.
Their scores in the millennium for Yeh Dil Aashiqanaa, Ek Rishta, Hungama, Tumsa Nahin Dekha: A Love Story, Barsaat and Do Knot Disturb failed to impress.
Insisting on being the highest paid composers also perhaps went against them. In 2005, the duo split officially. Ironically, Dosti: Friends Forever was their last movie together. Nadeem returned as a solo composer for Ishq Forever (2015) and Suneel Darshan’s Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha (2017). But something was amiss.
Shravan too floundered without Nadeem. “The years after Do Knot Disturb (2005) have been the worst… In the last five years, I haven’t recorded a single song. Even my sons, composers Sanjeev-Darshan, have had it tough in the past seven years,” said Shravan to Filmfare in 2012. He turned his attention on the music careers of his sons (Sanjeev–Darshan) and film production.
Nadeem rued the fact that being away from India, he couldn’t serve his aging parents. “I had sworn on the grave of my child (Nadeem’s wife Sultana reportedly suffered a miscarriage during the traumatic period after the Gulshan Kumar murder) … that I’d fight till I’d be declared innocent… But my parents said that I wouldn’t be given a fair trial,” he sighed (Filmfare).
For Shravan too, there were challenges to surmount. In 2014, Shravan reportedly suffered a stroke. In 2017, he reportedly suffered a spinal cord compression after his car met with an accident in Rajasthan.
In April, 2021, Shravan, along with his wife and son/musician Sanjeev Rathod, was hospitalised after testing positive for COVID-19. The 66-year-old musician and his wife had attended the Kumbh Mela. He passed away due to further complications caused by diabetes and a heart ailment on 23 April.
Talking to Bombay Times, an aggrieved Nadeem, who was in London, reportedly said, “My Shanu is no more. We have seen an entire life together. We saw our highs; we saw our lows... No physical distance could ever separate the two of us. I am in deep pain… my friend, my companion, my partner of so many years is no more. It has left such a vacuum.”
Truly, the saddest farewell is the one that remains unsaid.