From rags to stardom

April 30, 2023

Naushad Ali’s success story is similar to Prithviraj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar’s rise to fame

From rags to stardom


ike so many others from various religious, ethnic and class denominations, Naushad Ali fled away from home to try his luck in the world of show business. He was fortunate enough to make his rebellion look meaningful and appear heroic. However, one also thinks of others who took similar leaps but were unable to make it. It had or has as much to do with talent as luck because some of the unfortunate ones were no less talented. However, they did not get a break or a break at the right time.

Even when Naushad Ali had become very famous and his songs were being hummed by millions of people in the subcontinent, he had to hide from his extended family that he was a composer and worked for the film industry. His mother was most wary and instructed him to hide what he did, pose as a hairdresser or a barber or a clerk for she feared that once it was known that he was into music and that too in the films no one would agree to marry their daughter to him. He kept mum and ambivalent about what he did, posing as a petty official as he himself said in many of his interviews. Ironically, in his own baraat, the brass band played his compositions which had become famous and were in demand by lay listeners. As bridegroom, he feigned ignorance of music. Later, his wife made a point of not letting the children become a part of the world of music or films.

His was not a lone example. Many had ridden the same bandwagon. In Peshawar, Prithviraj Kapoor had played a few parts in stage plays in his college. He wanted to try his luck on the big screen but lacked the courage to tell his family about his dreams. Only an aunt was privy to his ambition and secretly gave him the money for the trip on train to Bombay. When it was discovered that the son was missing, she told the hapless family that Prithviraj had secretly left for Bombay to be part of the film world.

Prithviraj, too, was a success story. He later called his family over from Peshawar or Samundari, where the maternal side of his family had lived and helped them set up houses and professions in Bombay. His success and the passing years mellowed down the fury and fear of social approbation that his doings subjected the family to in those early years, laying the foundation of a whole dynasty.

He kept mum and ambivalent about what he did, pretending to be a petty official… Ironically in his own baraat, the brass band played his compositions which had become famous.

Dilip Kumar’s family, too, was from Peshawar. They had moved to Bombay in connection with the family fruit business and were happy that their days there were better than in their home town. The families of Prithviraj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar knew each other from their days in Peshawar and often socialised. Dilip’s father Sarwar Khan often taunted Basheswarnath Kapoor about his children for having joined a disreputable profession and making a living from it.

Dilip Kumar, too, kept the news of his joining the films secret from his father. It easier to hide because his first few ventures went unnoticed. However, when Jugnu was released and became popular, its publicity campaign, too, gathered momentum and was widespread. Basheswarnath Kapoor saw the hoardings and posters of the film and recognised the face of Dilip Kumar (Yousaf Khan). He hit back immediately to settle scores with his family friend. He extended good wishes and congratulated Sarwar Khan for his son having joined the disreputable profession. Sarwar Khan was in a state of disbelief and said that this could never have happened. He kept insisting that the person doing the role was one Dilip Kumar, while his son was Yousaf Khan. The upright Pathan’s family was meant to do better things in life but he was pestered so much that he decided to confront his son. When Dilip Kumar came home at whatever hour, the father was waiting and immediately pounced upon him and demanded the truth. The son froze but did not outright deny that such was the case. The father was furious and may have hit the son –the great Dilip Kumar –for bringing the family name to such disrepute. Prithviraj and Raj Kapoor interceded to bring the tempers down.

Dilip Kumar never looked back after Jugnu’s success and was soon the most adored figure in India. With it came fame and wealth that assuaged the anger and the fear of ostracization. Sometime later, Sarwar Khan reconciled and started taking pride in the contribution of his most successful son.

It still makes one wonder what happened or happens to thousands or millions who do not succeed. They must have lived nursing their failure, haunted by the insults and ignominy of bringing a bad name to the family.

(Naushad’s death anniversary falls on May 5.)

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

From rags to stardom