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Two To Tango: Mehboob Khan & Naushad

It was a partnership that began with a film, which had three top singing stars of the day cast together, Anmol Ghadi (1946). Naturally, there were huge expectations around the film’s songs. Filmmaker Mehboob Khan decided to entrust the music of the film to an upcoming composer, one who had recently broken through big time with the 1944 blockbuster, Rattan. The music director was Naushad Ali and the rest as they (always) say is history. It was an association that lasted for every film that Mehboob directed thereafter through Elan (1947), Anokhi Ada (1948), Andaz (1949), Aan (1952), Amar (1954), Mother India (1957) and his final film, the ill-fated Son Of India (1962). In this feature piece, I look at some of the best of the collaboration between these two creative geniuses.

As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound Of Music (1965), “Let’s start at the very beginning, A very good place to start.”, so I start with Anmol Ghadi. With three singing stars in the cast, as mentioned above, Naushad had his task cut out to justify the voices of each of them – Surendra, Suraiya and the great Noor Jehan. While the film by Mehboob may have dated, its music remains evergreen. Each of the songs composed is brilliant but Naushad still reserved that something extra for Noor Jehan, who sang 4 solos and a duet in the film. Her songs from the film, like this divine solo, highlight just what a huge loss it was for Indian cinema, when she chose to make Pakistan her home following the division of the sub-continent. Sadly, India’s loss was Pakistan’s gain.

Anokhi Ada, a love triangle starring Naseem Banu, Prem Adib (in a non-mythological role) and Surendra, sees Naseem play a woman who loses her memory after a train accident. From the hospital, she is taken by Surendra to his house. He renames her and denies her any sort of treatment so that she doesn’t get her memory back. Of course, this is because he’s fallen in love with her. But before the accident, Naseem and Adib were in love and now, once Adib reenters the life, he tries to get her to remember their past… As the amnesiac woman, Anokhi Ada sees one of Naseem’s best ever performances, ably supported by Adib and Surendra.  And while not the strongest of Mehboob-Naushad combinations, there are nevertheless some wonderful songs in the film including this gem of a duet by Mukesh and Shamshad Begum, which is filmed on Adib and Naseem.

Andaz is undoubtedly among Mehboob’s masterpieces. A solid love triangle starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, it is an early film following Indian independence that takes a look at the lifestyles of India’s urban elite. The glossily mounted film sees three masterful central performances by it main cast and boasts of superb songs composed by Naushad that were set to wonderful lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri. Interestingly, Naushad chose Mukesh to be the voice of Dilip Kumar while Mohammed Rafi did the playback for Raj Kapoor in the film. With the strong impact he made singing under Naushad’s baton in Anokhi Ada and Andaz, it is odd that Naushad did not use Mukesh for a long time in the films he composed for and would reunite with him only 19 years later for the Rajendra Kumar-Vyjayanthimala starrer, Saathi (1968). But above all, musically Andaz will be remembered as one of the big, big breakthrough films for Lata Mangeshkar along with Dulari (1949), Barsaat (1949) and of course, Mahal (1949). Here is a lovely solo sung by Lata Mangeshkar for the film.

Aan sees Mehboob let his hair down and even have some fun as he presents an entertaining, swashbuckling tale that is an ode to the bard’s Taming Of The Shrew. His first film in color, the filming was done in 16mm Gevacolor and then the print was blown up in Technicolor. In Aan, Mehboob and cinematographer, Faredoon A Irani, evocatively paint their canvas with shots of the vast countryside, peasants in bullock carts and the fields, horsemen thundering under golden skies and what have you. The film’s highlights include its lavish sets, the exciting horse chases and breathtaking action scenes, especially the spectacular finale with the sword fight between Dilip Kumar and Premnath in front of a lit pyre with heroine, Nadira, bound to the stake! And then, of course, there is Naushad’s music. Aan sees one of the best ever collaborations between Naushad and Mohammed Rafi and therefore, between Rafi and Dilip Kumar, The latter, himself, is in fine form as the commoner hero who loves and makes an ideal  ‘Indian woman’ out of the haughty princess, played by Nadira, making her film debut.

Amar was an experiment that didn’t work at the box office. In yet another triangle, that was begun with Dilip Kumar, Nimmi and Meena Kumari as its main star cast, the film finally saw Madhubala take on Kumari’s role. Audiences couldn’t except a flawed and cowardly hero, a respected lawyer, who in the heat of the moment, succumbs to the lust of the flesh and rapes milkmaid, Nimmi. Tormented by guilt, he then keeps silent about his crime, leaving the milkmaid to face the world on her own. Finally, when the incident comes to light, it is his fiancé (Madhubala),  the conscience in the film, who sets things right as she sees to it that Kumar marries Nimmi. The disappointing performance of the film saw the music suffer as well. One song that proved popular, though, was the leitmotif song, Insaaf Ka Mandir Hai Yeh, sung by Mohammed Rafi. But for me, the most beautiful song in the film is this Lata Mangeshkar solo filmed on Madhubala, Jaanewale Se Mulaqat Na Hone Payi. I vaguely  remember reading somewhere long back that when Madhubala first heard the song, she was so overcome by it that she wept copiously.

I end the piece with a song from Mehboob’s magnum opus, Mother India, an opulent reworking of his earlier film, Aurat (1940).  The ultimate tribute to Indian womanhood, Mother India remains one of the all-time great films of Indian cinema that made it to the final nominations for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category. However, it lost out by the narrowest of margins to the Italian film, Nights of Cabiria (1957), directed by Federico Fellini. As the peasant woman struggling to keep her land away from the clutches of the slimy moneylender while also trying to bring up her family with whatever dignity she can, Nargis gives the performance of a lifetime. It would win her the Best Actress Award at the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in then undivided Czechoslovakia. Naushad’s earthy music, though receiving mixed reviews at the time of the film’s release, is considered one of his best ever scores today and it has to be said, complements the film perfectly.

1 Comment

  • Awesome post. Indeed Noor Jahan’s decision to shift to Pakistan was a big loss to Indian film industry. She looks so sweet in this song. Naushadji should have used Mukeshji at least sparingly. The gap seems too long. It might have happened because Rafiji was first choice for many leading actors of the time except Raj Kapoor & later Manoj Kumar.

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