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Millennium Post

Ghulam Haider: The Grand Master of Melodies

An icon of undivided India, Ghulam Haider carried forward his community's historic musical legacy, creating harmonious renditions that had revolutionised Indian music in the early 20th century, writes Sharad Dutt.

Whenever I have met members of the vintage film music lover's societies, I have noticed thir great admiration for one particular composer. Some called him the 'Grand Master of Melodies'. He was none other than Ghulam Haider. I was familiar with the name and heard his compositions in Khazanchi, Khandaan, Humayun and Shaheed. My favourite composers of his generation were Anil Biswas, RC Boral, Pankaj Mullick and Khemchand Prakash. I was compelled to comply with the opinion of these film music aficionados. They, too, had regard for my preferences. Thus, Ghulam Haider became a challenge, and my research revealed that RC Boral, Keshav Rao Bhole and Naushad were also inspired by his music. Even Anil Biswas confessed that he was unique.
Born in Hyderabad Sind (now in Pakistan) in 1908, Ghulam Haider hailed from a professional community of Muslim musicians, popularly known as Mirasi, who had a longstanding history of singing traditional folk songs at festivals. They also had a sound base in ragas, since many of these Mirasis excelled in classical music.
Though a dentist by profession, strangely enough, he was addressed as Masterji instead of being called Doctor Saab, due to his mastery over music. Right from his nascent years he started playing the harmonium for theatre companies and musical troops that toured different places. But he made Lahore his permanent residence where he was trained by Babu Ganesh Lal. Soon, he was to play harmonium for Calcutta's famed Alfred Theatrical Company and Alexandra Theatrical Company. And after returning to Lahore, he got a job in Jenaphone Recording Company of Seth Janak Das and rose to the rank of chief music composer.
While working for Jenaphone, he heard a child artist and was impressed by her voice. He recorded a Punjabi song, Hath joda pakhiya da, with this twelve-year old singer, Shamshad Begum. The bosses of the Company liked the song so much that Haider recorded 200 songs with this legendary singer in a year's time.
Once on a hot summer day, Haider was at home and he heard a beggar singing in the street, Baba ek paisa de de Baba. He was so fascinated by the song that he sat with his harmonium and composed a song instantly, Raavi ke us paar sajanwa Raavi ke us paar, in Raga Pahadi.
Later, he recorded this song in the voice of Umrao Zia Begum (who later became his wife) in 1938. When the song was broadcasted from Radio Lahore, it became a rage all over the country. A purist like Keshav Rao Bhole of Prabhat Film Company was so inspired by Raavi ke us paar that he composed a bhaav geet for a Marathi film Maza Mulga (1938). RC Boral was the star composer of New Theatres and he had composed an all-time great number of KL Saigal, Ek bangle bane nayara, in film President. He was also stirred by the naat of Haider, Asrab ko jaane wale mera salaam le ja. So was Naushad stimulated by Raavi ke us paar and he composed, Dharti ko aakash pukare (Shamshad-Mukesh) in film Mela (1948).
Haider even motivated the composer of South, B Sudarshanam, who composed a song for film Parashakti, penned by M Kurunanidhi. The lyrics, too, were a take on Haider's composition, Aaye khushi ke zamaane, from film Akela. The inimitability of Haider's music inspired the major composers of that era.
Haider's first Hindi film was Thief of Iraq in 1934. He gave music for Majnu (1935) and Swarg Ki Seedhi (1939). But he continued with his trajectory in Punjabi films with Sassi Punoo (1939), Yamla Jat and Choudhary (1940), giving noteworthy musical renditions. Noor Jahan, too, made her debut with Punjabi numbers, Shala jawaniya mane, Bas bas vay dholna and Pinjare de bina qaid jawani in film Gul Bakawali (1935).
Dalsukhlal M Pancholi was on par with BN Sarcar of New Theatres and Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies. Pancholi aspiring to have such lilting music in his films, sent Haider to Calcutta to observe the music of New Theatres. On his return, he told Pancholi that he would not emulate its music as he wished to be original. Given his great confidence in Haider, Pancholi relented. The music of Khazanchi (1941) created history, as Ghulam Haider introduced his own discovery Shamshad Beguam and it also happened to be her first Hindi film. Haider infused certain freshness in the music world, and in fact, he revolutionised the film music. A duet, Sawan ke nazare hain, sung by the maestro with Shamshad, became an iconic number. Khazanchi was the biggest hit of the Forties and Shamshad also hit the jackpot.
Master ji's next hit was Pancholi's Zamindaar (1942) with Shanta Apte in lead. Directed by Moti Gidwani, Haider composed tunes in different styles for Apte, Arman tadapte hain, Mere devra ki ho gai sagai, Chhodh gai more and Jao re sakhi, are still remembered by the connoisseurs. Shamshad also sang her memorable song, Duniya mein garibon ko aaram nahin milta. Haider's last film with Pancholi was Poonji in Lahore, another smashing hit, and Shamshad's chorus number, Gaadi wale dupatta uda jaye re, had his distinct signature. After the huge success of Poonji, Master Haider shifted his base to Bombay, scoring music for film Bhai (1943). While his duet with Zeenet Begum, Sajan aa ja sajan aa ja, became immensely popular, another song depicting national integration, Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai...,was also a blockbuster.
The iconic filmmaker Mehboob Khan launched his first historical magnum opus Humayun (1945), starring Ashok Kumar and Nargis. He signed Haider for this film and his masterpieces in Shamshad's voice, Rasm-e-ulfat kissi surat mein, Mere bhaiyya ne pehna hai taaj, were melodies par excellence. His music won the heart of the nation but the film didn't make the cut at Box Office.
In another historical, Bairam Khan, directed by Gajanan Jagirdar, Haider composed soulful numbers in Shamshad's voice that became very popular. Movie Mughal Sohrab Modi, too, opted for the much famed Haider and signed him for his films Shama (1946) and Majhdhar (1947).
Bombay Talkies signed Haider for film Majboor (1948). He wanted a fresh voice and announced a contest wherein Lata Mangeshkar was among the contestants. At the same time, S Mukherjee had approached Masterji for his forthcoming production and the latter introduced Lata to Mukherjee, who listened and outright rejected her voice with this comment , "Iski awaz patli hai, ye kabhi nahi chalegi." Haider shot back, "Mukherjee Saab, yeh awaz chalegi hi nahi balki daudegi aur aisi daudegi ki aap sab producer iske peechhey daudte nazar aayenge." Masterji's prophetic words were spot on.
While returning with Lata after meeting S Mukherjee, Haider composed a song in a local train, Dil mera toda mujhe kahin ka na chhoda, and recorded it in her voice for Majboor. This song was an unparalleled hit. Another hit of the film was Mukesh's first duet with Lata, Ab darne ki koi baat nahi. S Mukherjee signed Haider for Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal starrer Shaheed, and he introduced the new voice of Surendra Kaur, who sang a sensational number, Badnaam na ho jaaye mohabbat ka fasana, and a duet, Bachpan ki yaad dhire dhire, with Lalita Deolkar, also became popular. But the duet with political fervour in Mohammad Rafi and Khan Mastana's voice, Watan ki raah mein, took the entire nation by storm. Haider demanded one lakh of rupees for the music but settled for seventy-five thousand.
In the same year, he composed music for another super hit movie Padmini, starring Ashok Kumar and Mumtaz Shanti. He created moving tunes in Rajasthani folk. And Bedard tere dard ko seene se laga ke, became one of Lata's own favourites. This was Haider's last song recorded in India.
Haider was still seeking his roots, so he left for Lahore leaving behind a few incomplete films. In a career span of fifteen years with compositions for about two dozen films, the Master Craftsman never lost his Midas touch, but succumbed to cancer in 1953 when he was barely 45. In this short but stupendous spell, he made an everlasting mark with his seminal contribution, releasing music from the clutches of theatrics. And, his memories shall remain entrenched in the hearts of passionate music lovers across the subcontinent.
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