Naushad

'Emperor' of Indian film music
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Naushad Ali (Naushad), composer and poet: born Lucknow, India 25 December 1919; married (three sons, six daughters); died Bombay, India 5 May 2006.

There is a grainy black-and-white photograph of the Indian "music director" Naushad that says so much about the Golden Age of the Bombay film industry in the 1950s and 1960s. Naushad looks at the camera, caught in mid-movement. He is wearing western clothing - shoes, trousers, white shirt (sleeves properly down) and tie - but in a crescent around him is an assembly of musicians. You see two percussionists, clarinets and winds, at least seven violinists, probably a sarod's pegboard, a mandolinist and a sarangi player. That combination of instruments is instant nostalgia and gives a snapshot of the creative palette with which Naushad worked.

He was the undisputed Samrat ("Emperor") of Indian film music and in the manner of the day, he was prolific. "Music directors" were composer- arrangers on treadmills. Naushad Ali had entered the film industry in 1937, going on to work under the name Naushad, for example with the lyricist D.N. Madhok and such singers as Zohra Ambala, Karan Siwan and Manjoo on Rattan (1944). He was well placed to ride on the crest of the wave of adventuresome music directors from the late 1940s onwards.

Born in 1919, Naushad grew up in Lucknow, a centre of Raj-era culture. His father, Wahid Ali, was employed as a munshi (secretary/translator) in the city's law court. The talkies arrived in India in 1931. Naushad had already become a cinema habitué in the silent era when cinema came with live music. The spectacle of the films attracted him enormously, but he was hooked on music.

As a lad he joined a junior theatrical club and was appointed as the club's music maestro for their theatrical presentations. In time Naushad formed his own Windsor Music Entertainers or just Windsor Entertainers, so named because he had seen the word "Windsor" around Lucknow and liked its ring. It led to the Indian Star Theatrical Company, an ill-starred company: the travelling players got as far as Viramgam in Gujarat, where they discovered penury, even after selling off theatrical props and musical instruments. Naushad recalled how things got so bad that he had a vampire dream and leapt out of bed and through the window, falling two floors. The company limped back to Lucknow through the kindness of one of Naushad's friends.

Lucknow's film industry gave Naushad no breaks so he went to Bombay in 1937, where he obtained work as a pianist in Mushtaq Hussain's film orchestra. His breakthrough came when he polished off an unfinished film score and got a credit as assistant to Hussain. Then the film company collapsed. This pattern of hoped-for boom, then bust, did not deter him. He kept working, sometimes with no mention in the rolling credits, but employed none the less.

With A.R. Kardar's 1942 film Nai Dunya ("New World") he got that coveted first credit as "music director" and he began to work in earnest for Kardar Productions. Naushad had a measure of flexibility and could work outside Kardar Productions, as happened with the successful film Rattan that lived up to its meaning of "precious stone" at the box office.

Naushad's name became a trademark of quality, especially so through his contributions to some of the most truly iconic post-war Indian cinema. His name will always be associated with the director Prakash's Baiju Bawra (1952), Mehboob's Mother India (1957), K. Asif's Mughal-E-Azam ("Emperor of the Mughals", 1960) and Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah ("Pure of Heart", 1967).

For Baiju Bawra he obtained the services of two highly respected musical authorities, Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit D.V. Paluskar, and included a classical performance from them. This ran counter to trend. Bombay bigwigs believed that Hindustani classical music, considered too élitist or highbrow, would be a turn-off when it came to cinema attendance. After all, it went against the trend of happy-go-lucky ditties cross-faded into sentimental mawkishness (before reaching the happy ending). But it worked.

Naushad went still further when he when he managed to obtain the services of the obdurate light classical vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan - obdurate because he was probably the most feted Hindustani vocalist of the era - for the sumptuous film Mughal-E-Azam.

The great joy of Naushad's music was that it was premised on maintaining the highest of standards. His knowledge of melody, rhythmicality and tempo was peerless. His championing of Urdu after Partition in Bombay's Hindi film industry was typical of his linguistic awareness too.

Naushad was also a respected and published poet and formally launched his book of Urdu poetry entitled Qathwan Sur ("The Eighth Note") and the Navras label's album of the same name as part of Hounslow's book fair and festival "Bookmela" in November 1998. He was truly a gentle man, loved and respected. When I interviewed him once, I apologised for putting his year of birth as 1925 in an encyclopedia. He just grinned and said he was happy to have a few years lopped off.

Naushad once modestly said, "I have only poured old wine into new bottles." In fact, he created new standards of excellence that have never been bettered.

Ken Hunt

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