Monday September 25, 2023

Authority on subcontinent film music Sultan Arshad is no more

April 13, 2023

Musicologist Sultan Arshad Khan, who extensively documented the film music of the subcontinent, passed away on Wednesday morning at his residence in Clifton after a short illness. He was in his mid-80s.

His funeral prayers were led by his son Shehriyar Arshad Khan after Zuhr prayers, after which he was laid to rest in the Essa Nagri graveyard. The late author was considered an authority on the music of films of the subcontinent. He had a lifelong passion for music, particularly songs that were composed for Indian and Pakistani films, and was considered to be an encyclopedia of film songs.

Khan had a passion for film music since his early days. However, it was his career in the Pakistan International Airlines that gave a boost to his passion, as during his posting in Mumbai between 1987 and 1996, he was able to form acquaintances with great music directors and lyricists of India, including Naushad, OP Nayyar, Anil Biswas and Gulzar.

Conversing with such giants helped deepen his understanding and appreciation of music. His extraordinary memory proved to be an additional asset as he would instantly name the music directors, singers and year of release whenever any film was named before him.

He had recently retired from a private television channel where he headed the musical department for many years. He frequently appeared in television programmes on vintage film music and was also occasionally seen in musical events celebrating songs of yesteryears. In 2000s, some might recall him speaking in ‘Dunya Meri Jawan Hai’, which was a musical series presented on the Pakistan Television to pay tribute to nine great female Muslim singers of the subcontinent -- Roshanara Begum, Malika Pukhraj, Begum Akhtar, Amirbai Karnataki, Noor Jehan, Surraiya, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Khursheed and Shamshad Begum. Later, he acted as a moderator on Hum television’s tributes to great music directors such as Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan, C Ramchandra, Ghulam Muhammad, etc.

Khan published two books on film music during his life. They are titled ‘The Musical People’ and ‘101 Melody Makers’. He spent 14 years preparing for his second book. His third book, ‘Cinema Ghar’, has gone for publication.

Reviewing Khan’s book —The Musical People -- former information minister and senator Javed Jabbar wrote that The Musical People has such a vast and deep knowledge of film songs that it impresses other musicologists, who after meeting him find themselves wanting. It was just a coincidence that the author got posted in Mumbai (then Bombay) from 1987 to 1996 as Pakistan International Airlines manager for Western and Southern India.

Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) President Ahmed Shah said he and the entire ACP fraternity had been saddened by Khan’s demise. He remembered the late musicologist as a kind and generous man.

Shah also particularly lauded Khan for running a platform for new musical talents titled ‘Amateur Melodies’ for around 20 years, which helped many creative youths display their musical prowess.

Journalist Peerzada Salman remembered Khan as someone who was like a statistician for the film music. Art enthusiast Shakil Jafri, while commenting on Sultan Arshad Khan’s demise on his Facebook account, wrote that with his [Sultan Arshad Khan] sad demise a chapter of “The Music People” is ended. “Sultan Arshad’s name was metonym with the subcontinent’s film music history in general and with the Pakistani film music history in particular”.

During his decade-long posting in Mumbai from 1987-1996 he met a large number of personalities making music. Having great love for eternal film songs, he happened to develop strong friendships with a number of music directors, singers, lyricists and other reputed film personalities.

According an Indian publication, “In the 1990s, Sultan Arshad Khan, music connoisseur and general manager of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), had tried to goad Nayyar once into visiting Lahore as PIA’s special guest. The maestro, however, turned down the proposal, saying, ‘Old memories will kill me.’”

Researcher and Author Dr Aqeel Abbas Jafri, while commenting on Sultan Arshad Khan’s demise, told The News that Khan was a very cooperative and kind person. “I met him before Ramadan and he was very passionate about documenting all his memories about film music. His knowledge and information about music was very accurate. Sultan Arshad Khan was considered authority on film music.”

Author on classic music Sharif Awan told The News: “Khan Sahib was my senior. His contribution to film music is a great service as he extensively documented film music of the subcontinent from day one and until 1980. And his work was still continuing. We had been friends for the last 25 years. He had been very active until his last days.”

Some last public appearances of Khan happened a few months ago during condolence references for Nayyara Noor. He recalled in those events the time he had spent with the late singer discussing music.

About Nayyara’s admiration in India, he said that during his stay in Mumbai, he once played Nayyara’s rendition of Anil Biswas’s composition ‘Un Ka Ishara Jaan Se Pyara’ in front of the legendary music director himself who was so moved by it that he wrote a message for Nayyara, saying that she had sung his composition as a nightingale, and that he wished she were the original singer of that song.

In the preface to his book — The Musical People — Khan under the title ‘Music, music above all: The pleasure of life’ writes: “It may sound unbelievable but it is a fact that I started listening to and developed a passion for music when I was barely two or half and two years old (my elders told me so). It was in 1944-45, in Jaora, then a Muslim princely state situated in Malwa, the region famous for its very pleasant nights and the love legend of Baaz Bahadur, the prince of Mandau and his courtesan Roopmati.

“Ours was quite a musical-minded family. Both my mother and aunt (Chachi) used to have their separate collections of 78-RPM records, which they would play quite frequently on their respective portable gramophones. The records were a mix of film and non-film music. The latter included the naat, qattnvali, ghazal, thumri, and folk geet genres.

“It was through those records that I was introduced to music. With the passage of time my liking for film music overtook that for non-film music. And after the launching, in 1952, of the Hindi commercial service of Radio Ceylon (now Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation), relaying Indian film music programmes twice daily, my ears would always be tuned to Radio Ceylon, before going to and after coming back from school and when not doing my homework.”