Saturday, May 13, 2006

Naushad - An Icon Departs

The great music director Naushad passed away on May 5th, 2006. Naushad was arguably the finest composer in the history of Indian cinema. This is not a claim to be made lightly, for the golden era of Indian film music that started in the 40's and lasted into the 60's, produced some extraordinary talents: Master Ghulam Haider, Anil Biswas, Khemchand Prakash, Roshan, Khurshid Anwar, S.D. Burman, Jaidev, Madan Mohan, Salil Chowdhury. Even amongst these giants, Naushad's mastery in the use of classical forms in film music was unparalleled.

There is no better example of his wizardry than his songs for the film Baiju Bawra. Rafi's masterpiece "man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj" in Raga Malkauns is legendary. As the story goes, Naushad wanted Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to sing this song but he demanded a hefty amount. Naushad convinced the producer to pay this princely sum but when Naushad went back to the Ustad he doubled his original ask. At this point Naushad turned to Rafi and had him practice and rehearse diligently so he could sing this difficult song. The Ustad upon listening to Rafi's version of the song supposedly expressed admiration and acknowledged his surprise that someone outside the gharana tradition ("attai") could sing so well. There is also a great jugalbandhi on this soundtrack between Ustad Amir Khan singing as Tan Sen and Pandit D.V. Paluskar singing playback for the title character of Baiju.

Scanning the obituaries of Naushad in Indian newspapers was sadly disappointing. There was not one English newspaper that did any justice to the man's legacy or his charming, civilized personality which was reflective of old Lakhnavi tehzeeb. The Telegraph's obit had some personal reflections from people like Dilip Kumar but most pieces were a dry recitation of easily found facts. It would be heartening to see the day when great sub-continental artists finally get insightful evaluations of their lives and work, not the generic praise laced with platitudes.

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