Naushad Ali is regarded as one of the greatest Music Directors ever of Indian Cinema.
Born on December 25, 1919 in Lucknow, he was an avid listener to the live orchestras accompanying silent films since early childhood. The theatre owners would hire musicians to play while the film screening was on. These musicians would see the film first, make their notes and then play for the film screenings, a sort forerunner of background scoring when the Talkies came. As Naushad grew up, he studied Hindustani music under Ustad Ghurbat Ali, Ustad Yusuf Ali and Ustad Babban Saheb and repaired harmoniums. He also composed for amateur theatricals such as the Windsor Music Entertainers.
As his family did not approve of his overtures into the world of music, Naushad escaped to Bombay in the late 1930s to try his luck as a musician. In Bombay, he had to really struggle and saw days of acute deprivation. He had to spend nights on the footpath in Dadar before he found work – initially as assistant to composer Jhande Khan and thenas a pianist in composer Mushtaq Hussain’s orchestra. He then joined music director Khemchand Prakash (whom he considers his guru) as his assistant.
Prem Nagar (1940) was his first Independent break but he first got noticed with Station Master (1942), Nai Duniya (1942) and ein particular, Sharda (1942), wherein a 13-year-old Suraiya stood on a stool to reach the microphone to do the playback for heroine Mehtab! Her song in the film, Panchhi Jaa Peeche Raha Hai Bachpan Mera, proved highly popular. It was finally the huge success of Rattan (1944) that took Naushad right to the top and enabled him to charge Rs 25,000 a film then in the 1940s! Ankhiyan Milake, O Janewale Balamwa and Sawan Ke Badalon became the most popular songs of the day and were hummed across the country. After that, there was no looking back.
Naushad rose higher and higher as he churned out hit after hit in the 1940s mainly in the films of AR Kardar – Shahjehan (1946), where he worked with India’s greatest singing star, Kundan Lal Saigal, Dard (1947), Dillagi (1949) and Dulari (1949) – and Mehboob Khan – Anmol Ghadi (1946), Elan (1947), Anokhi Ada (1948) and Andaz (1949). Anmol Ghadi saw him composing for three singing stars in the same film – Noor Jehan, Suraiya and Surendra. Even as Naushad used Shamshad Begum as his main female playback singer in many of these films, he was among the early composers, along with Master Ghulam Haider, Khemchand Prakash, Shankar-Jaikishan and Anil Biswas, who gave Lata Mangeshkar her early opportunity to sings. His songs for her in Andaz and Dulari were instrumental in her rise to the very top along with Mahal and Barsaat that year. In due course, Lata would become Naushad’s main female singer and Mohammed Rafi, his main male go to voice. He also formed a strong partnership with lyricist Shakeel Badayuni.
Naushad was one of the first to introduce sound mixing and the separate recording of voice and music tracks in playback singing. He was the first to combine the flute and the clarinet, the sitar and mandolin. He also introduced the accordion to Hindi film music and was among the first to concentrate on background music to extend characters’ moods and dialogues through music. But perhaps Naushad’s greatest contribution was to bring Indian classical music into the film medium and what’s more, make it popular among the masses. Many of his compositions were inspired by Ragas and he even used distinguished classical artistes like Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit DV Pulaskar in Baiju Bawra (1952) and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Baiju Bawra demonstrated Naushad’s grasp of classical music with some extraordinary singing by Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, easily Naushad’s favorite singers by far. To quote Lata Mangeshkar, “The music he composed for Baiju Bawra surprised even me. It was entirely different from what he had done before. Different ragas were used for different situations and the purity of the ragas were maintained to the greatest possible extent.” Naushad also won the inaugural (and his only) Filmfare Award for the song Tu Ganga Ki Mauj from Baiju Bawra.
Naushad has sometimes been criticized about the lack of variety in his music but one would say that is a little unfair. He could compose with a 100-man orchestra as he did in Aan (1952), go Western if the situation demanded it (Jadoo (1951)) or take the classical path (Baiju Bawra) with equal ease. He used to study every aspect of his tunes thoroughly. An astute poet himself, if he weren’t satisfied with even one word, he would ask the lyricist to write the whole line. He would often take a fortnight to compose a single song and often could compose music for just two films a year. He even turned down the Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumari starter Azaad (1955) because he felt the time being given to him for the film’s score was insufficient. To quote him in the 2000s, “In my 62 years in the film industry, I composed music for 66 films. These days, you come across people who have done the music of 20 films in two years. What I’m saying is that, we used to agonise over every tune and phrase in music, spend sleepless nights over a song, and work on it until it was perfected. And I am still looking for perfection.”
This reduced workload worked to his advantage as he went on to score the music for perennial classics – Mother India (1957), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Gunga Jumna (1961) and Mere Mehboob (1963). In Mughal-e-Azam, Naushad’s musical score was outstanding, particularly the two songs by noted classical singer, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (Shubh Din Aayo and Prem Jogan Ban Ke), not to mention the Lata Gems (Mohabbat ki Jhooti Kahani Pe Roye, Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, Bekas Pe Karam Keejiye) and Mohammed Rafi’s Ae Mohabbat Zindabad with a chorus of 100! It was indeed shocking that Naushad lost the Filmfare award that year to Shanker-Jaikishen for their populist score in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960).
With the late 1960s and the decline of Dilip Kumar, Naushad, who used to compose music for most of the thespian’s films, also suffered a reversal of fortune as film after film of theirs like Leader (1964), Dil Diya Dard Diya (1966) and Sunghursh (1968) came unstuck at the box-office, the lone exception being Ram Aur Shyam (1967). Even the big films he did with Rajendra Kumar post the huge musical success of Mere Mehboob – Palki (1967), Saathi (1968) and Ganwar (1970) – failed to make a major impact. Naushad then completed Pakeezah (1972) after Ghulam Mohammed’s death and continued doing an occasional film right up to the 1990s, but the magic of old was missing.
A Padma Bhushan awardee and a winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to Indian Cinema, the last film that Naushad composed music for was Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story (2005). He passed away in Mumbai on May 5, 2006 due to cardiac arrest.