Wednesday, February 25, 2009



It was in 1954 that Mehboob Studios was built near Hill Road, Bandra, Mumbai, by the legendary Mehboob Khan who had founded his own production house in 1942. The plot was in fact purchased as early as 1951 from one Jafferbhai, a Bohri Muslim. Spreading over 4.2 acres of land, Mehboob Studios features five huge shooting stages and a recoding theatre. It was a very popular venue for the leading film-makers of the golden age that was the Bombay Film Industry which is now commonly called the Bollywood. After Mehboob Khan’s death in 1964, the Mehboob Studios has seen ups and downs and was even rumoured that it was offered for sale. According to an insider information, it appears that the Khoja Jamaat Khana had offered to purchase the Studios at the price of Rs.220 crores, a decade and a half ago when money had much greater value then it has today. Of late, the Studio has been used by the film-makers of Saawariya and Bhootnath – to name just a couple.

Coming to our subject, a friend of mine, Mr. Sayyad, came to Bombay from Bhopal in early 1962-1963. He had a relative who used to look after and supervise the lighting arrangements at the Mehboob Studios. One day, having nothing better to do, he set out to meet him there. It was late morning. He noticed that the Studio was a very busy place. The two landscape gardens were full of people. Strangely, he noticed that one garden was full of women only. The other garden was occupied by men. All were talking gaily about something or the other. Perhaps they were the junior artistes who waiting for their daily chores. The canteen was jam-packed too. In the hallway, he recognised some seasoned artistes such as Jayant, Anwar Hussein, Mukri and others who were discussing the shoots they had done recently.
Thereafter, Mr. Sayyad walked up the flight of stairs and happened to enter the Recording Studio.

Little did he anticipate that he was about to witness the live recording session of one of the beautiful songs from H.S. Rawail’s romantic-musical movie called “Mere Mehboob”. It may be remembered that the Music Director Naushad had recorded the title track of Mere Mehboob with just six instruments. Mr. Sayyad saw some twenty-five people occupying the visitors chairs in the hall. He recognized one of them as the famous Bollywood villain, Hiralal. The visitors were sitting just at a distance of 15-20 feet from the musicians and were keenly watching the on-goings of the musicians who were located at one end of the hall. There were sections of musical instrument, notably violins and others. A lone, swarthy Tabla player was conspicuous by his white ‘Kurta” and Pajama. He was sitting sort of aloof from the other musicians. Naushad Saab was not around. His Assistant, Mohammed Shafi, stood facing the musicians. He used to point his baton at each section of musician in turn, which then played their piece of music. While the arrangement and embellishments were being tested by Mohammed Shafi, the sound quality was being supervised by the eminent Sound Recordist, Kaushik at the other end.

As Mr. Sayyad began to wonder who the singer would be, in walked Mohammed Rafi Sahaab with his ingratiating smile, and making Salaams to those present there. He wore a white pants and a white short-sleeves shirt. On seeing him, the entire Recording Studio came to life with happy anticipation. Rafi Sahaab had his Song- Diary with him. Mohammed Shafi asked him whether he needed a rehearsal. Rafi Sahaab said that it was not necessary and pulled up a chair to sit.

Thereafter Mohammed Shafi turned towards the visitors and began to ask who they were. He had this way of snapping his fingers and asking each visitor their business and then asking him to leave. He turned out at least six visitors out of the Recording Studio. Looking at Hiralal he asked him how did he find his way here. My friend sat motionless, fearing that he would be sent out. Finally, Mohammed Shafi snapped his finger at him. But before he could ask him the question, Mr. Sayyad himself got up and asked him, “Kyaa Main Bhee Baahar Jaaoon?” (“Whether I, too should go out?"). He, however, allowed him to sit. There were still last-minute instructions to be given. Looking towards the entrance, he signalled one watchman to go out and caution people against making any noise. Another watchman who got the signal picked up a stick to fend off the crows, if any, from the window sill and ledges. Clearly, there was a qualitative difference between the old and the modern Recording Studios.

At last Naushad Saab made an entry from the same entrance from where Rafi Sahaab had come. It looked as if there was a special entrance for the artistes and another common entrance for the visitors. He went up to Mohammed Shafi. Whispering something in his ears, he went out through the same entrance. My friend was not sure where he went, i.e. whether he had left the Recording Studio, or whether he had just gone to some other part of the recording studio.

Then there was a hush! Rafi Sahaab got up and went to up to the mike. In one hand he had his open Song-Diary. Looking into it, Rafi Sahaab began:
Aaj Furqat ka Khwaab Toot Gayaa...
Mil Gaye Tum Hijaab Toot Gayaa...
Tumse Izhaar-e-Haal Kar Baithe
Bekhudi me.n kamaal kar Baithe.

And so the song went on. Rafi Sahaab was singing so effortlessly, with one hand raised in gestures to indicate the nuances of the words such as “Yeh Adaayen,” “Yeh Shokhiyaa.n”. The beat of the Tabla was prominent among the harmony of the other musical instruments. The ecstasy was short-lived as the song came to an end. Thereafter, with the same niceties as before, Rafi Sahaab left the Recording Studio. Surely, he had another recording session somewhere since the early Sixties was the time when he was at the zenith of his singing career. The musicians collected their instruments.

The visitors began leaving the Recording Studio. Mr. Sayyad, too, came out with the pleasant experience that he would never forget - the experience that he would narrate to me some Forty-Five years later in details. After a few days he did get another opportunity to witness a live recording at the same place. This was the duet from Leader: “Teri Husn ki kya Taareef Karoo.n...” But that’s another story.


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