Tribute: Naushad

Posted on May 14, 2006


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Paying tribute to Naushad with ten personal favourites from the composer’s catalogue.

MAY 14, 2006 – VIVIDH BHARTI USED TO HAVE – perhaps still has – this programme where they take up a raag, and illustrate its contours and colours through a classical piece and a film song. I haven’t tuned in to this programme – Sangeet Sarita, if I remember right – in a while, but when I heard of Naushad’s demise, the first thing that came to mind was an episode that outlined Malkauns through Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj (Baiju Bawra). How much less intimidating classical music becomes when it’s packaged into a staple of popular culture like the film song!

That’s Naushad’s legacy, that he made classical music less intimidating, more accessible for generations of listeners. So naturally, my first impulse on beginning this tribute was to list out ten of the composer’s most loved raag-based songs. But that would make him appear somewhat uni-dimensional – as if he looked on song situations as nothing but receptacles for his outpourings of a Yaman or a Tilak Kamod, as if he couldn’t just, you know, have fun. That wasn’t the case at all, and that’s why I’ll begin with…

Tarari tarari (Dastaan). From the lazy swing of the accordion that sets things going to the stop-and-go rhythms of the titular refrain, this delightful waltz is Naushad at his most carefree. Is it any wonder Rafi and Suraiya seem to be having so much… fun!

More blitheness of spirit is found in Koi mere dil mein (Andaz). I’ve always wondered why the fairly-typical-sad-song-of-the-era Uthaye ja unke sitam is the Lata Mangeshkar number everyone talks about from this film, while this one’s the real tribute to the musician (for creating such a gorgeously sinuous tune) and his muse (for so effortlessly navigating it).

And how can we talk happy tunes and not talk about Mera salaam le jaa (Udan Khatola)! Also known as Naushad’s visit to OP Nayyar territory, with clip-clop rhythms, guitar strumming along the main melody… The lines of the mukhda are tuned in ascending steps, while the stanzas offer a counterbalance with lines that appear to descend. But you’ll be too busy tapping your feet to notice any of this.

Enough of cheer. Let’s get to Nagri nagri (Mother India), one of Lata’s most heartfelt, most heartbreaking songs. Naushad’s unfussy orchestration lets the pain of the situation filter across almost entirely through his singer. Whether her micro-pause (sigh?) between dhoondhoon re and saawariya is intentional or not, it’s just one of the reasons this is one of the greatest sad songs ever.

Speaking of Naushad-Lata in a blue mood, we can’t ignore Mohabbat ki jhoothi (Mughal-e-Azam). It begins as just a love-be-damned statement, but as the feelings rise in lyrical fervour, the stanzas keep rising in pitch until, emotions spent, the tune falls gracefully back to the antara. Compositions don’t get much more brilliant than this.

Lest this become something of a Lata festival, let’s move to Suhani raat dhal chuki (Dulari) – a.k.a. Moonlight, Melancholy and Mohammad Rafi. The singer’s voice was made for such dulcet ballads, and Naushad colours the landscape with serene-as-the-night bursts of a guitar here, a flute there.

It’s Rafi again in Madhuban mein Radhika (Kohinoor) – one of Naushad’s most beloved classical compositions, in Hameer. What a rich feast of music! And what a marvellous performance by Dilip Kumar, making you believe that every taan, every murki is emanating from him, not his playback singer!

Naushad, Dilip and Rafi move to the countryside in Nain lad jaihen (Gunga Jumna), where we witness what’s surely the Tragedy King’s most boisterous dance ever. But this is such an infectious bit of folk, maybe he didn’t really have a choice. Thaa thinak dhin thaa!

I’ll complete a Naushad-Dilip-Rafi trifecta with Main hoon saqi (Ram aur Shyam). By the sixties, Naushad’s form had become iffy, but here he underscores a standard-issue love duet with a propulsive, bhajan-like percussive drive, doing what a music director needs to do the most: make a familiar situation fresh again.

It’s possibly a silly choice with which to end a listing exercise – especially when I haven’t even gotten to Mere Mehboob – but let’s remember the innocent pleasures of Nanha munna raahi hoon (Son of India). You’ve probably got to be of a certain age, and probably have to have grown up with repeat telecasts of this song on Chitrahaar to have a fondness for it. I love its gung-ho sense of patriotic optimism – a quality as rare today as a composer of the uncompromising stature of Naushad.

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