A Punjabi music maestro

September 12, 2021

Wazir Afzal composed music for more than 30 films, about 200 songs

A Punjabi music maestro

Wazir Afzal, who passed away last week, was a music composer with rare talent.

Deeply imbued with music, he was a leading instrumentalist and could play with great facility the mandolin and the sarod. It was his prowess with these instruments that made some well-known composers to enlist him in their orchestras for film songs. Other than that, he was mostly responsible for composing the background scores of many films.

Because of the dominance of the song, few here realise the significance of the background music in our films. In the West, even with the mainstream film (not musicals), the importance of the background is acknowledge and the composer and the players are remembered for it. In the subcontinent, however, the background score is often considered something of a supplementary nature. The ordinary filmgoer does not pay any attention to it. Those connected with it are also easily forgotten except by a few enthusiasts.

Afzal played the instruments with many of the leading composers in movies. They included Feroze Nizami, Khursheed Anwer, Master Inayat Hussain and Nisar Bazmi. It is rare for a composer not to play the harmonium. Khurshid Anwar was one such exception. Even Noor Jehan was surprised to learn this. It was usually Wazir Afzal who filled in and played the composition on the harmonium under instructions from Khurshid Anwar.

Wazir Afzal was lucky in that he was able to emerge from this anonymity and became a composer in his own right. Earlier, the names of even the composers were also not known to many cinema goers as vocalists dominated. The 78 rpm records too mentioned the names of only the movie characters.

Wazir Afzal, born in Patiala, was known for a certain Punjabi ang in his compositions. He had the chance to become a full time composer when he came out of the shadow of his more popular rivals, such as GA Chisti. He then composed the melodies of many memorable Punjabi numbers that were sung by Noor Jehan.

Some Punjabi films were produced in the early years after partition. In the 1960s, many more Punjabi films were made and did very well on the box office. There was a bias against Punjabi films that fed by the general impression that the Punjabi films were uncouth and not as sophisticated as the Urdu films. What distinguished those earlier films was their music.

Despite the presence of a large number of Punjabis in the film centres of Calcutta and Bombay, Punjabi films were seen as provincial in their scope. The front rank professionals in all areas of filmmaking did not really dwell on those.

After Lahore became the centre of filmmaking in Pakistan, Punjabi films were produced for a certain class. This resulted in some superb Punjabi film songs being produced during this period.

Wazir Afzal was asked to compose the music for the film, Chacha Khwamkhwa, after the producer had a falling out with GA Chisti. However, Afzal was only halfway through, when patch was reached and Chisti resumed the work he had left unfinished. Three songs, meanwhile, had been composed by Wazir Afzal. The next three decades were his most creative phase. Some memorable compositions were rendered by the leading vocalists in those days, including Noor Jehan, and the one who led the charge was none other than Wazir Afzal.

He composed music in more than 30 films, about 200 songs. Most notable if these were, Zameen, Dil Da Jaani, Do Matyaraan, Yaar Mastanay and Juma Janj Naal.

Some of his most famous compositions are: wey ja ajj ton tu maira, mein teri; kehnday nay nainnaa; shikwa na kar, gila na kar; tainu samnay bitha kay; sayyo ni meray dil da jaani; kahnu keeta piyar tairay naal; jindari nu rog laan waleya; and dilbar dildara.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

A Punjabi music maestro