It is well known that Naushad zoomed off in an orbit of his own with Rattan (1944). He had debuted four years earlier as independent music director with Prem Nagar (1940). To be exact, his first recorded song was Bata do koi kaun gali more Shyam in the voice of Leela Chitnis for Kanchan (1941), but because of some rift with that film’s team he had to leave it after recording this song and the remaining songs were composed by Gyan Dutt. Kanchan’s release got delayed and, thus, Prem Nagar became his first film. Before Rattan, Naushad did over a dozen films, having over 120 songs. You may ask, is it worthwhile to discuss his pre-Rattan songs?
Before the Internet, for most of us the radio was the primary source of music. I was familiar with about five of his early songs pre-dating Rattan. The Internet (YouTube) has brought to us a large number of his early songs. Arunji has done a series on Vintage Naushad (going up to 1946) on Atul Song A Day. Atul himself has covered Naushad in a very exhaustive manner. These sources now reveal that a large number of his early songs are of outstanding quality. One for one, these songs are no less melodious and enjoyable than Rattan’s. Rattan is a milestone, because it was the beginning of Naushad’s spectacular rein at the top, when all the 10-12 songs in a film would be stupendous hits. The film, to my mind, is no great shakes; I have mentioned somewhere that Sanjog (1943) is a much smarter movie for its times, but success generates its own myth. Some myths were started by Naushad himself, such as he brought UP folk with Rattan. Anyone familiar with vintage film songs knows that UP folk is present in many songs of Saraswati Devi and Anil Biswas of 30s and early 40s. And most interestingly, Naushad himself used what is distinctly UP folk in some songs of Prem Nagar. We all try to be known by our grand successes.
Thus, the exploration of early Naushad is historically interesting. We also get some very unique insights. If you look at his entire work, especially the later part, his tilt towards a selected few singers is very pronounced – Rafi in male playback; Lata Mangeshkar, Shamshad Begum and Suraiya in female playback. Major singers like Geeat Dutt, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey virtually did not exist for him. Early Naushad is very different. You have some unheard names like Pandit Ramanand, Bimla Kumari, Sharda (not the one who croaked in 60s/70s) in Prem Nagar. They are never again repeated; the next year in Mala (1941) he has some other unfamiliar singers such as Miss Rose, Miss Brijmala and Shrimati Ghosh (corrected as Sheetal Ghosh, who is a male). Amirbai Karnataki has her first song, Kaahe barase jaye badariya, with him in this film. In Darshan (1941), Naushad uses GM Durrani for the first time, who would have his favour for some more films, until he discovered Shyam Kumar, Surendra and, finally, Rafi. He would later bring a mothballed Durrani for a wonderful duet with Shamshad Begum in Deedar (1951), Nazar phero na humse. In Darshan we also find a number of other singers (and actors) such as Prem Adib, Jyoti, Meera and Kaushalya. It would be the first and the last time for some of them that they sang for him. Readers would remember Jyoti was a major singer for Anil Biswas (For trivia buffs, she was a sister of Waheedan Bai, thus a mausi of Nimmi. She married GM Durrani).
In Nai Duniya (1942), we are aware Suraiya debuted with Boot karun main polish babu. While she would have a long, successful run with Naushad, the major vintage era singer Rajmukari who was the lead singer in this film, would not be so lucky. She would barely have a look-in later. GM Durrani continues as the male playback singer. In Sharda (1942), Suraiya sang for Mehtab, and as the legend goes she was so small that she had to stand up on a stool to sing. Many sources credit Panchhi ja, peechhe raha hai bachapan mera from this film as Suraiya’s debut song. Another new singer(-actor) Nirmala Devi appears in this film. Long ago I knew her as the classical singer Nirmala Arun, whom I had an opportunity to hear live, and the next morning found myself in the same train compartment with her returning from Saharsa to Patna. I didn’t know then that she had acted and sung in films, and that many years later, she would be known as Govinda’s mother. In Station Master (1942), there are no surprises as to singers – GM Durrani, Prem Adib, Rajkumari, Suraiya, Amirbai and Kaushalya had been used earlier. But it would be curtains for Prem Adib, Rajkumari and Kaushalya. Prem Adib would be the second lead in Anokhi Ada (1949), but Mukesh would sing his songs with a magical effect.
In Namaste (1943), Naushad repeats his then favourite, GM Durrani, but his female lead singer is Parul Ghosh. She was the main singer for her brother, Anil Biswas. Naushad’s choice might have been prompted by her very famous songs in Basant (1942) and Kismet (1943). Before Naushad hit big time, Anil Biswas was the man to beat. We find a new name Sham as a singer. My guess is he is Shyam Kumar, who would be Naushad’s favourite singer replacing GM Durrani in the next few films.
In Kanoon (1943), he uses Suraiya, Shyam and Nirmala. In 1944, he had three more films besides Rattan: Geet, Jeevan and Pahle Aap. The chronological sequence of these films is not known to me; therefore, we may also look at the songs of these films. The four films of 1944 show interesting progression in beauty parade of singers. Zohrabai Ambalewali makes entry in the year in a small way, becomes the lead singer in Pahle Aap, and creates a sensation in Rattan we have already seen. Nirmala Devi is repeated, but probably 1944 marked her exit from Naushad. The glory of Zohrabai (and Amirbai too) would not last much longer either, because in later years Suraiya would be the star actor-singer in several films which became superhits; Shamshad Begum would take centrestage in several films, until Lata Mageshkar swept everyone away.
In 1944, Rafi makes a very tentative entry in Pahle Aap as a secondary voice to Shyam Kumar. He would have a very long probation under Naushad; barring a solo in Anmol Ghadi (1946), it wouldn’t be until 1949 when he would have a spectacular Suhani raat dhal chuki (Dulari), which would make Shyam Kumar and GM Durrani history.
Besides the above singers, we also have a sprinkling of songs in some more voices, some of which are fairly unknown.
I realise the above narration is quite tedious, and some readers may wonder what the point is of all this. A long procession of singers is not unique to Naushad, every major composer of the Vintage Era – take Anil Biswas, for example – had this feature. A small part of the reason was the phenomena of actors-singers. But the main reason was something else. Playback technology had been introduced as early as in 1935, and though soon there were a large number of playback singers, there was no Lata Mangeshkar before Lata Mangeshkar (and so was no Rafi before Rafi). Therefore, I treat 1949 as the clear dividing line between the Vintage and the Golden Era.
My primary purpose for writing this was not the above history, but to present Naushad’s early gems. Continuing the Year of Naushad celebrations, here are some of his great songs pre-dating Rattan.
1. Aye bhi wo gaye bhi wo by Parul Ghosh from Namaste (1943), lyrics DN Madhok
Anil Biswas must have given his best for his sister, who had her maximum number of songs by him. Yet Aye bhi wo gaye bhi wo is up there matching with her best by AB, such as Papiha re more piya se kahiyo jaye (Kismet), or Tumnko mubarak ho oonche mahal ye, humko hai pyari hamari galiyan (Basant). Naushad was very fond of tweaking his tunes to create another outstanding melody. He did that with this song to compose Jab se chale gaye hain wo zindagi zindagi nahi for Suraiya in Natak (1947).
2. Chale gaye chale gaye dil mei aag lagaanewale by Zohra Ambalewali from Pahle Aap (1944), lyrics DN Madhok
If you thought Zohrabai was Rattan, here is her gem from Pahle Aap, with all her verve, energy and full-throated voice.
3. More sainyaji ne bheji chunari by Zohra Ambalewali from Pahle Aap (1944), lyrics DN Madhok
Zohrabai is infectious. Here is another outstanding song with chorus-backing and a very brief male voice (most likely Shyam Kumar), but Zohrabai towers above all in this mix of UP and Punjab folk.
4. Kaahe barase jaye badariya by Amirbai Karnataki from Mala (1941), lyrics DN Madhok
Very early in his career Naushad gives this sure-footed song for Amirbai Karnataki.
5. Bata do koi kawan gali more Shyam by Leela Chitnis from Kanchan (1941), lyrics DN Madhok
Thanks to YouTube we have the very first film song composed by Naushad in the film Kanchan (1941), but his Prem Nagar was the first film to be released. Leela Chitnis was no singer, though her duets with Ashok Kumar in some Bombay Talkies films are remembered till today. She has to carry this song entirely on her own, but not a bad effort. (Note: Roshan composed a wonderful Kaun gali gayo Shyam in the twin voices of Lata Mangeshkar/Mana Dey for Madhu (1959). Further down in 1972, Naushad composed this traditional Khamaj thumri in the voice of Parveen Sultana for Pakeezah.)
6. Jin nainan nain samaaye by Prem Adib from Darshan (1941), lyrics Pt Phani
This song shows unconcealed ‘inspiration’ from KL Saigal.
7. Aye re pee ki nagariya se aye re by Sharda from Prem Nagar (1940), lyrics DN Madhok
In his very first film Naushad creates this extremely melodious folk-based song (UP?), which would become his hallmark a few years later. DN Madhok, who was a multi-faceted talent, helped Nauhsad get this assignment.
8. Dil loot liya ji dil loot liya by GM Durrani and Rajkumari from Nai Duniya (1942), lyrics Tanveer Nqvi
As we have discussed, this film had the debut song of Suraiya, Boot karun main polish babu. Rajkumari was the lead singer, which was the only time she would have this honour with Naushad. GM Durrani, besides being the male lead singer, was Naushad’s assistant music director in this film, which happened to be produced by Naushad himself. This was directed by AR Kardar with whom Naushad would have a very long association. Listen carefully, especially at 2.05, you will see early traces of O jaanewale baalamwa.
9. Tum nahi aate to nahi aao by Nirmala Devi from Sharda (1942), lyrics DN Madhok, music Naushad
Nirmala Devi was a prominent presence in some early films of Naushad. I have heard some of her classical based songs, but this ghazal style song is very pleasing. The lyrics follow the same style which DN Madhok used in some other songs such as, Aaye bhi wo gaye bhi wo and Jab se chale gaye hain wo. This song has a nice turn of phrase: You are not coming. OK don’t come, but याद से कह दो वो भी ना आये.
10. Kaun gali ka chhora pukaare by Shyam Kumar and Hamida from Sanjog (1943), lyrics DN Madhok
I am a huge admirer of Sanjog. I have used a song, Aa more saanwre sainya, from this film earlier in my post on Suraiya’s songs by Naushad. Suraiya was the lead singer for Mehtab in this film. Here is a fabulous duet which is a clear precursor of O jaanewale baalamwa (Rattan), picturised on unknown actors.