Friday, September 25, 2009


A Humble Tribute to the Greatest Playback Singer of all times – by Nasir.

By 1944, lots of things were happening on the filmy scene. Dadasaheb Phalke, the “Father of Indian Cinema” died. Mumbai began to attract the Punjabi musicians. With the exception of Pandit Govind Ram and Pandit Amar Nath, the other musicians of Lahore such as Master Ghulam Haider who left Pancholi Arts, Shyam Sunder, Feroze Nizami, Khurshid Anwar, Hansraj Behl, Rashid Atre , and Pandit Husnlal-Bhagatram who were the younger brothers of Pandit Amar Nath, came over to Mumbai.

Devika Rani selected a youthful peshwari Pathan named Yusuf Khan for a role in Jwar Bhata. Devika Rani who had earlier named Mumtaz as Madhubala, launched him as Dilip Kumar for that was one of the three names selected for Yusuf Khan. This name, Dilip Kumar, was to cast a magical spell of its own for three generations.

The Jwar-Bhata song by Arun Kumar, SANJH KEE BELAA PANCHEE AKELAA, was a hit. Anil Biswas who provided the music also sang a song, and others included Manna Dey, Parul Ghosh, Amirbai, Surendra, and C.Ramchandra.

Some other popular songs were by Raj Kumari in Panna, Amirbai in Bharthari, and Manju in Chaand. Manju’s song in Chaand, DO DILON KO YEH DUNYAA was the first hit of Husnlal-Bhagatram who had also made their debut. With their lilt and rhythm they popularised the Punjabi folk tunes. More on this later. Around this time, Hemant Kumar recorded his debut song in Hindi in Iraada for music director Amarnath.
 Bulo C. Rani made his musical debut in Pagli Duniya. Another great musical hit was Meri Bahen. K.L. Saigal’s DOH NAINA MATWAARE and KYAA MAINE KIYAA HAI among other songs are the more memorable ones. Pankaj Mullick was the music director.

Noor Jahan gave hit songs, including BADNAAM MOHABBAT KAUN KARE under Sajjad Hussain in Dost.  Speaking of which, it may be mentioned here that Sajjad Hussain was one of the most promising music directors of the Indian Screen but for the fact that his eccentricity and to live life on its own term in the environment,  where sycophancy is a norm, did him in so that in his career of 20 years he remained without work most of the time and could do only 14 movies, ending with Rustom Sohrab (1963).  He spared no one.  He called Talat Mehmood as Ghalat Mehmood, Kishore Kumar as Shor Kumar and had a tiff even with Lata Mangeshkar telling her to be careful since his was not just a Naushad's tune.  Some eight years later, he did not bother even about Dilip Kumar during the making of Sangdil (1952) so that they never worked together again - which was clearly to the advantage of Naushad.   D.N. Madhok who was a multi-talented person and who was specially noted as a lyricist who often composed music for his songs and did not mind if  any music director used his tunes,  found himself at the receiving ends at the hands of Sajjad Hussain who told him to stick to his job of a lyricist!  Though the story belongs to the next decade, I cannot but help mentiioning that Sajjad Hussain outrightly accused Madan Mohan of lifting the tune of his YEH HAWAA YEH RAAT YEH CHAANDNI for the latter's TUJHE KYAA SUNAAOON DILRUBA (Rafi's famous song in Aakhri Dao).  I happened to listen to Madan Mohan's composition in Woh Kaun Thi (1963) SHOKH NAZAR KI BIJLIYAAN when I was reminded of Sajjan Hussain's 1946  composition in the movie named, 1857 sung by Surendra and Suraiya:  TERI NAZAR MEIN MAIN RAHOON at least the beginning line.    It appears that Madan Mohan thus did admire the maestro.  That Sajjad Hussain was a genius has never been doubted.  Anil Biswas dubbed him as the most original composer.    Some of the movies in which Mohammed Rafi gave the playback to his compositions are Roop Lekha (1949), Maghroor (1950) in Hulchal,  Saiyyan (both 1951) and Rustom Sohrab (1963).

Coming back, the year 1944 clearly belonged to Naushad for his trend-setting musical compositions in Rattan, starring Swarnlata and Karan Dewan, which was directed by M. Sadiq. The songs penned by D.N. Madhok and sung by Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnatki, Manju, Karan Dewan, and Shyam Kumar, were highly popular. Just hear the beats in MILKE BICHHAD GAYEE ANKHIYAN (Amirbai)!
The superhit duet, O JAANEWAALE BAALAMWAA (Amirbai and Karan Dewan) is parodied in the 1965 flick Padosan where the hero who is a non-singer finally settles down to sing this number to win the heart of his beloved, Saira Banu. Old timers surely remember that ANKHIYAA.N MILAA KE, JIYAA BHARMAA KE of Zohrabai, where the beloved tries to prevent her lover from leaving. The movie as a whole, had such an impact on young girls of impressionable age that many of them were emboldened to elope with their young lovers. The signs of Life imitating Art had begun for the better or worse. No more the puritan standards of the Thirties, not withstanding the smouldering smooch of Devika Rani and Himansu Rai in Karma (1933)! Rattan was a box-office hit across the nation, with everyone humming or singing its song. S.D. Burman was to find his formula for success when he heard his servant singing a Rattan’s number, JAB TUM HI CHALE PARDES LAGAAKAR THESS... Though annoyed at first, he soon realised that it’s the simplicity of the song that makes it popular. Thereafter, he would hum his tunes to his servants and obtain their feedback. This struggler was thus able to obtain a firm foothold in Mumbai thereafter with a thundering success for decades to come.

In April that year, two heavy explosions occurred, one after the other, when a ship, SS Stikine,  carrying wartime munitions such as torpedoes, shells, mines and 1,395 tons of explosives along with inflammable material, such as cotton, barrels of oil, and timber along with  and gold bullions worth 890,000 Pounds Sterling, caught fire. The explosions rocked the Victoria Harbour of the Bombay Docks, killing 800 people and scattering the debris around.  Since World War II was ongoing, people thought it was the work of sabotage or that Japan had bombarded Mumbai. But the explosions were accidental around which many tales have been woven. Many firemen who rushed to the scene after the first explosion had pay with their lives when the second explosion took place after some time. Eye-witnesses tell us that the impact was such that those who were on the scene of the incident had their heads severed by the impact.  Eye-witnesses who came later even chanced to see the bodies of headless firemen running around in the line of duty. Owing to the explosions, many other ships were destroyed. Gold bullions from the ship flew all around, either sinking in the waters or falling in the homes of the nearby residents. A 28-lb gold bullion was found a mile away from the accident site.

The above incident fanned the fear that the Japanese would be coming to the Mumbai shore. The Japanese did not come but the fear resulted in a mass exodus of people from Mumbai. Ghulam Haider’s musicians too made their exits to Lahore and no amount of coaxing, salary advance or double-salary, and secured shelter could hold them back.   It was also reported the explosion wiped out the home and belongings of Baby Mumtaz (Madhubala, then aged 11 but was already into the films) and she and her family luckily escaped the death or injuries,  as all the members of the family were away at a cinema-hall at that time. 

This incident left an impact on Naushad Saab, so that two decades later he explored it as the theme for his 1967 movie, Palki, where the hero is given up for dead in the explosions. In passing, it may be mentioned here that the incident was predicted three days in advance by a naked faqir known as Nange Shah Baba. This faqir who had never spoken before suddenly began shouting, “Bhaago Bhaago” as a warning to the residents around. The faqir lies buried in the Chhota Sonapur Qabrastan of Mumbai.

Gul Baloch the Punjabi movie, which had featured the first filmy song of Rafi with Zeenat Begum was released in 1944. Now with the bulk of musical talent having shifted to Mumbai, it was time for Mohammed Rafi too to follow suit. When Mohammed Rafi migrated to Mumbai sometime in July 1944, little did he himself realize that his immigration from Lahore to Mumbai was to catapult him in future as not only the best playback singer but also the most revered one of the sub-continent.