Remembering Naushad

May 08, 2022

Naushad was the one who gave Indian film music the stature for it to survive and even thrive as a form of music in the region extremely rich in the melodic arts

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here are very few musicians or vocalists who are spoken of in kinder terms by hereditary musicians than Naushad Ali. While he cannot be called the pioneer of film music in the subcontinent, he was the one who gave it the stature for it to survive, even thrive, as a form of music in a region extremely rich in melodic arts.

It can be said that his mentor, UstadJhanday Khan, was one of the pioneers of film music.Working with him Naushad Ali must have learnt the basics that sustained film music, in particular the film song. Naushad Ali had left his home in Lucknowto make his vocation his profession.In a state of destitution, he had sought employment till he was enlisted by UstadJhanday Khan who was overseeing the transitionfrom stage music to film music after the advent of the talkies.

In the 19thCentury, much of the music, particularly the song, had adapted itself to the requirements of the stage but the stage song was still khulagana where the vocalist could improvise on the given raga and the tentative bandish. Actually, music was the foremost selling point of a theatrical performance.Many of the leading theatre stars in those days were primarily vocalists. The stage performance consisted of a number of compositions to be sung.These grew over time to assume their own stature, independent of the action on stage.

This greater role continued in the new format of the talkie and the musical unity most of the time underpinned the action on screen. A critical factor was the limiting of the duration. While the theatre song could continue till the audiences had had their aesthetic fill, the film song was of a limited duration.Its performance became even more precise with the advent of playback recording.

Naushad Ali, like many of the leading composers was a harmonium player, he also played the piano very well and in UstadJhanday Khan’s orchestra he did just that. Another instrumentalist who also rose to become a well-known composer was Ghulam Muhammed who played the table.The two served in the orchestral set up and learnt very fast to assume independent status in due course of time. Naushad Ali was also working with the setup of Mushtaq Hussain Khan and later of Khem Chand Prakash.In the early 1940she had grown confident enough to become an independent composer.

Naushad Ali confessed in many interviews and talks recorded for posterity that he sought inspiration from the folk music of Uttar Pradesh. He said by the time he arrived on the scene, the Punjabi and Bengali folk music had been tapped into by the composers but the folk music of Uttar Pradesh had not been touched.He exploited it creatively. This was an open field for him and his early successes made a formula of this interaction between the pool of folk music and its adaptation to film music or the film song.

He is also credited with bringing in the classical forms of music and make those common place for the average film goer. Before him the classical bandisheswere toned down to be turned into popular numbers but Naushad Ali took the plunge and added the required virtuosity of the kheyal,thumri and dadrato make it palatable to the situation, character and the plot of the film.

Some of his films were actually about the famous music geniuses of the subcontinent.His blockbuster BaijuBawara set the tradition of not bypassing virtuosity but incorporating it no matter in what form.

In the later years of his life, he was saddened by the wholesale infusion of foreign musical expression and forms.He did not really approve of it. Some of it bordered on plain imitation. He stressed the need to always dipinto the pool of one’s creativity in the subcontinent.He thought that it was a bottomless reservoir which could always be used to slake one’s thirst for musical expression.

After a very successful career spanning over twenty-five years, the changing tastes in music gradually made him redundant.For about forty of his later years he was out of work and creative input. Except for LataMangeskhar and Asha Bhosle, the vocalists that he had worked with too died.These included Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh who died young.Others faded away like TalatMehmudand Shamshad Begum. Noor Jehan had earlier moved to Pakistan.He probably found himself out of sync with the musical environment of the late Twentieth Century.

Naushad died on May5, 2006

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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