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Commemorating the Melody and Qawwali King: Roshan

Roshan Lal Nagrath's immortal compositions and Qawwalis during Bollywood's golden era will resonate and remain as fragrant defying time and space, writes Sharad Dutt.

While producing and directing a documentary on music director Roshan, I had the privilege of interviewing scores of people, who had been closely associated with him including his immediate family. These encounters enabled me to know about the man and his music far more intimately.

Born on July 14, 1917, in Bhuiya village of Surjewala district (now in Pakistan), Roshan Lal Nagrath had a special ear for music even though his family was into a construction business. Blessed with a sensitive father, who could decipher his son's artistic predilection, young Roshan was put under the tutelage of Master Manohar Barve in Shahjhanpur in UP, since the former had bagged a construction contract in this township. Later Roshan joined Maris College in Lucknow. But music remained his first love, and he imbibed the intricacies of this fine art from Pt SN Ratanjankar and Ustad Allauddin Khan of Maihar Gharana, besides learning sarangi from Ustad Bundu Khan of Delhi Gharana.
Roshan could play varied instruments ranging from harmonium, jaltarang, sarangi to dilruba. In one of the concerts, ZA Bukhari, Station Director of All India Radio in Delhi heard him playing on Dilruba and offered him a job as a staff artist for Rs 70 a month. In this decade-long stay in AIR, he married Ira Mazumdar, who happened to be his pupil. Immensely enamoured by Anil Biswas's compositions, Roshan moved to Bombay at his behest and assisted music director Khursheed Anwar in film Sringar (1944). As veteran producer-director-lyricist-dialogue writer, Kidar Sharma said: "I met Roshan at Dadar Station. He was really struggling hard. I found him very talented and offered to compose for my film, Neki Aur Badi (1949), with me in the lead opposite Madhubala and Geeta Bali. The film failed miserably. Roshan was dejected and wanted to return to Delhi. I told him that I was known for taking risks and he would still be my music director in the next venture, Bawre Nain, starring Raj Kapoor and Geeta Bali."
The wheel of fortune turned and Roshan hit the jackpot with Bawre Nain. Its lyrics were penned by Kidar Sharma himself and one of the songs was versed in a question-answer form, 'Mujhe sach sach batado kya' (Mukesh and Raj Kumari); a solo by Mukesh, 'Teri duniya mein dil lagta nahin'; and a duet, 'Khayalon me kissi ke' (Mukesh and Geeta Dutt). In the words of singer Raj Kumari, "I was singing in films for quite some time, but Roshanji's compositions in Bawre Nain - 'Mere roothey huey chanda'; 'Ghir ghir ke aasman par'; and 'Bairi balam sachch bol ib kya hoga', that Pt Kidar Sharma wrote was inspired by a Haryanvi folk song, 'Main thhan tere pass khadi', were remarkable and gave me a new identity, especially 'Bairi Balam'. I was always asked to sing this song in my live concerts."
Ranjeet's Bedardi (1951) directed by Kidar Sharma and music composed by Roshan didn't impress much. Yet, Roshan was signed again in Ranjeet's Movie Tone production, Hum Log (1952). Roshan's foot-tapping melody, 'Chhan chhan chhan baajey payal mori' (Lata Mangeshkar), 'Apni nazar se unki nazar tak' (Mukesh), based on horse hoof beats, and duet, 'Gaaye chala jaa, gaye chala jaa' (Lata Mangeshkar and GM Durrani) brought Roshan to the forefront. After Bawre Nain and Hum Log Mukesh and Roshan became bosom friends (they had known each other since Delhi). When the singer launched his maiden production, Malhar (1951), Roshan was the first choice. He composed melodious tunes in different ragas. The evergreen duets in Bhairvi raga: 'Kahan ho tum zara awaaz do', and in Yaman Kalyan raga: 'Bade armaan se rakha hai', rendered by Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh became super-duper hits. And two solos of Mukesh set in Shivranjani: 'Tara tootey' and 'Dil tujhe diya tha', besides the captivating 'Garjat Barsat sawan aayo in Malhar' (which Roshan later used in Barsat Ki Raat). Pt Ram Narayan Sarangi Mastro recalls his association with Roshan, "He was a trained classical musician and used Indian instruments like sarangi-flute-sitar-tabla in his compositions. I enjoyed playing sarangi in his compositions the most."
Two of Roshan's films, in 1952, Anhonee and Naobahar merit a special mention. Directed by KA Abbas, Anhonee had Roshan composing captivating melodies like 'Main dil hoon ek armaan bhara' for Talat Mahmood, and a romantic duet, 'Mere dil ki dhadkan kya bole', with Lata Mangeshkar. In Naubahar, he composed timeless numbers in Bheem Palasi raga: 'Ae ri main to prem deewani' and 'Dekhojee mera jiya churai liye jaye' (Lata Mangeshkar). In words of Anil Biswas, "Roshan quite often used to come to my recordings. At the time of the recording of 'Kahan tak uthayen gam,' he burst into tears. I consoled him and said he would be composing better tunes in future than mine. It proved true when I heard his music in Naobahar." In 1953, he got an opportunity to work with Kidar Sharma in Gunah. Roshan recorded Talat's all-time great number, 'Mere khawab mein aake'. Somehow, Kidar Sharma wanted to complete this film in a hurry and he replaced Roshan with his consent and brought in Snehal Bhatkar. In Sanskar, Talat's song, 'Mohabbat ke jhoothe saharon ne loota' and in Sheesam a solo by Mukesh, 'Ek jhoothi si tassal'i, became their signature numbers.
Roshan was a dedicated family man, and whenever he composed his new tune he would invite his wife and children, play it for them and seek their opinion. In the words of Ira Roshan, "We all would listen to the tune carefully. I would always tell him that it is very good but Raju (Rajesh Roshan) would say, 'Papa, why don't you use Bango, Congo and Guitar in your music and see the result.' He would listen to everybody and remain quite. He was a man of few words."
Rajesh Roshan, who later became a music director of reckoning further added, "As a child, I was very fond of Shankar Jaikishan and SD Burman. I couldn't understand Papa's music at that tender age. But now when I listen to his soulful melodies, I feel only he could create such music." In Mashooka, starring singers Suraiya and Mukesh, Roshan's music was duly noticed. It had enchanting compositions but the song that stood out was sung by Suraiya and Kishore Kumar in his yodelling style,
'Ye sama hum tum jawan, pehlu se dil sarak jaaye'.
Legendary director BR Chopra directed Chandni Chowk, where Roshan captured the mood of the film through his music. The title track, 'Zamana wahi hai aasman wahi hai' (Mohammad Rafi), the wedding song,
'Banno ke haath mehndi lagi' (Lata, Asha and Meena), and the qawwali number, 'Har baat puchhi' (Shamshad, Lata, Asha). But the melody which became very popular was 'Kabhi chaar bajey kabhi paanch bajey'
(Sunder and Shamshad).
Roshan's films Chhora Chhori (1954), Rangeen Raatein (1956), Taksal and Do Roti (1957), didn't fare too well. OP Nayyar and Shankar Jaikishan stormed the musical scene and overshadowed Roshan's music. And when one of the brilliant directors-actors, Vijay Anand (Goldie), made his debut in Agra Road (1957) directed by Ravindra Dave, the film flopped but Roshan's two duets, 'Unse rippi-tippi ho gayee' and 'Duniya ki nazar hai buri' became immensely popular.
Like Madan Mohan, Roshan was branded a flop music director, and never offered 'A' grade films. But the song set in Raga Bhairavi,
'Saari saari raat teri yaad sataye',
in Ajee Bas Shukriya (1958) became a super hit. Roshan's box office success was to come with Krishan Chopra's films. Heera Moti (1959) based on Premchand's short story, 'Do Bailon Ki Katha', had music compositions based on UP folk music. 'Kaun rang moongawa, kaun rang motiya' (Suman Kalyanpur and Sudha Malhotra) in poorbi style was a chartbuster. In 1960, Filmistan's Babar directed by Hemen Gupta was released. Roshan worked with Sahir Ludhianvi for the first time in this film. Later, this duo created musical history. Babar was a melodious milestone for Roshan with such ghazals,
'Tum ek baar mohabbat ka imtihan to lo'
(Mohammad Rafi), 'Salam-e-hasrat qabool kar lo' and 'Paiyam-e-ishq' (Sudha Malhotra), and a qawwali, 'Haseenon ke jalwe pareshan rehtey' (Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey, Sudha Malhotra and Asha).
Roshan touched great heights with Barsat Ki Raat (1960), directed by PL Santoshi. He did full justice to Sahir's poetry, ghazals and qawwali: 'Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi' (Mohammad Rafi's solo and duet with Lata) in Raga Yaman; 'Mayus to hoon vaade se tere' and 'Maine shayad pahle bhi tumhe dekha hai' (Mohammad Rafi); 'Mujhe mil gaya bahana teri deed ka' (Lata); and qawwali, 'Nigah-e-naaz ke, jee chahta hai choom loon', and 'Ishq ishq.'
Ira Roshan reacted in these words, "When Roshanji told me about these qawwalis, my instant reaction was who would listen to these lengthy renditions; people don't have the patience to listen to even a three-minute song. His reply was, 'Wait and watch'. He was right. These were to become immortal qawwalis of the film industry." Even though Zindagi Aur Hum, Soorat Aur Seerat, and Wallah Kya Baat Hai were not received well, Roshan came back with a bang and cast his musical spell in Aarti (1962). Its songs became so popular that Roshan regained his glory. In 1963, Roshan and Sahir were back with Dil Hi To Hai, a Raj Kapoor-Nutan starrer. Roshan's composition of classical tunes, were huge hits along with this qawwali, 'Nigahen milane ko jee chahta hai' (Asha and chorus).
Roshan and Sahir were at their best again in Taj Mahal, directed by M Sadiq starring Bina Roy and Pradeep Kumar. Its solo number, 'Jo baat tujh mein hai' (Mohammad Rafi); ghazals, 'Zurm-e-ulfat' and 'Khuda-e-bartar' (Lata); a duet, 'Jo vaada kiya woh nibhana padega', and a qawwali, 'Chandi ka badan sone ki nazar' (Asha, Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey and Mahendra Kapoor) fetched Roshan a most deserving Filmfare Award.
Dooj Ka Chand and Chitralekha (1964) were not appreciated by the audience. But the Roshan-Sahir pair continued to mesmerize, though Kidar Sharma and Roshan worked for the last time in Chitralekha. Meena Kapoor, a noted playback singer who had worked with Roshan, commented about Chitralekha's songs: "Roshanji had full mastery over classical and folk music. In Chitralekha, his compositions,
'Ae re jaane na doongi in Raga Kamod'; 'Kaahe jiya tarsaye in Raga Kalawati' (Lata); and 'Man re tu kahe na dheer dharey'
in Raga Yaman Kalyan (Mohammad Rafi) were simply superb."
Poet Neeraj, who made his debut as a lyrcist with the film, Nai Umar ki Nai Fasal (1965), said about Roshan: "I was so delighted that he was composing my geet. When I met him, he told me, 'Neeraj ji, your mukhda of Caravan guzar gaya is very long. Would you mind reciting it to me as you recite it on stage?' I recited it to him and he told me happily that I had solved his problem. He composed this song in Rafi's voice brilliantly. Another composition of mine, Dekhti hi raho aaj darpan na tum in Mukesh's voice is my favorite."
Mamta in 1966 was to be his swan song with these classic numbers by Lata: 'Rahte thei kabhi jinke dil mein', 'Vikal man mora', 'Rahein na rahein hum', and a duet with Hemant Kumar, 'Chhupa lo dil mein pyaar mera'. These were the finest compositions scored by him. Roshan always kept abreast with both quality and quantity, having composed for 56 films. He was facing tough competition with his contemporary music directors but he never negotiated with his art. Rakesh Roshan, his actor-director son said, "Music scenario was changing very fast and directors were dictating that they wanted this or that type of music. Papa would have never made commercial compromises. He was a purist and always composed music what would have befitted and enhanced a film."
In 1967, Aakhari Raat directed by Asit Sen, had music composed by Roshan except two songs, 'Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein' and 'Mehlon ka raja mila'
. On November 16, 1967, Roshan was attending a party with his wife Ira to celebrate the success of the film 'Laat Saheb', when he had a cardiac arrest. He was merely 50 and too young to depart the creative world. Later, Ira Roshan completed the recordings of these two songs.
Roshan's creations are eternal and he would always be remembered, as in the words of Majrooh Sultanpuri, who penned the lyrics of Mamta: 'Rahein ne rahein hum, mehka karenge ban ke kali ban ke saba baaghe wafa mein.' The resonance of his music will remain as fragrant defying time and space!

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