Sajjad Husain: A Composer Par Excellence
A veteran composer, Sajjad Husain rendered music in fewer films compared to his contemporaries, but he hooked the nation with his soulful melodies. As 2017 marks his centenary year, Sharad Dutt writes a tribute acknowledging his greatness.
We Indians are traditionally fond of celebrating centenaries. Often these centenaries are pertaining to Gods, saints and politicians. We rarely remember artists, writers and creative entities. This year of 2017 is a centenary year of two legendary composers, who hooked the nation with their soulful melodies, Sajjad Husain and Roshan.
A veteran composer, Sajjad Husain rendered music in a lesser number of films but his renditions are remembered till date. According to vintage music lovers, Sajjad had a very complex persona. Born in Sitamau, Mandsor, in Madhya Pradesh, in June 1917, he hailed from a family of musicians. His father Mohammad Amir Khan was a sitarist, and while doing his riyaz he would make his children play the sitar as well. But this instrument alone didn't attract young Sajjad, and by the age of 12, he could play the sitar and eighteen other instruments. Self-taught in classical music, he had no Ustad, so to say, but was greatly inspired by the renowned doyen Ustad Bande Ali Khan of Kirana Gharana. He was also a great admirer of music directors of New Theaters, Rai Chand Boral, Pankaj Mullick and Timir Baran. Their compositions inspired him immensely, and led him to Bombay in 1937, to try his luck in films. Working as an accompanist playing the sitar, flute and Hawaiian guitar, he also had a stint with All India Radio, but soon returned to his real destination to assist Rafiq Ghaznavi, the music director of AR Kardar's film, Swami, and Harish Chandra Bali for a short while.
Renowned as the one-man orchestra, Sajjad got his first break as music director in Shaukat Husain Rizvi's (husband of singer actor Noorjehan) Dost. The original music director of the film was Master Ali Baksh (father of legendary Meena Kumari). When Jawab (1942) directed by PC Barua became a musical hit, Shaukat Husain Rizvi liked this song of Jawab by Kanan Devi, 'Ae chand chhup na jaana', so much that he asked Sajjad to compose similar music. But Sajjad's reaction to this song was that 'it was no tune at all'. He composed eight memorable songs for Dost, starring Noorjehan-Motilal. Its songs, 'Koi prem ka dekey sandesa'; 'Badnam mohabbat kaun karey'; 'Alam par alam sitam par sitam'; 'Ab kaun hai mera' by Noorjehan were super-duper hits. After the success of Dost, Shaukat Husain gave the entire credit of singing to Noorjehan, and Sajjad felt deprived of his due recognition. A hurt ego, and a pledge that he would never ever work with Noorjehan, made him miss the film Jugnu. There was yet another opportunity when music director Pt Hanuman Prasad Sharma, mightily impressed by the compositions of Dost, asked Sajjad to join him in Gaali (1944). He composed three songs for this film, which were highly appreciated.
Sajjad composed music in films, Dharam (1945), Tilisami Duniya (1946), Mere Bhagwan, Kasam (1947) and Magroor (1950). The films didn't succeed on box office, but the music of these films had the inimitable signature of Sajjad Husain. Geeta Roy's number in Mere Bhagwan, 'Mujhe bawri bawri log kahein', became her all-time great. Another hit song from Magroor was, 'Toot gaya hai toot gaya hai wo saaz-e-mohabbat toot gaya' (Shamshad Begum-Rajkumari-Mohammad Rafi).
Mohan Sinha, director of Mere Bhagwan, again gave a chance to Sajjad in film 1857 (1946). His brilliant music in this film and outstanding compositions were sung by these singer-actors. Suraiya's matchless melodies, 'Gam-e-ashiana satayega kab tak' and 'Meri ho gayi unse baat'; Surendra's solos, 'Umeedon ka tara kismat se', 'Wo pehli mulaquat hai', and Shamshad's solo, 'Jhamak jhamak liye teg tamak' were highly appreciated. But the duet which stood out the most was, 'Teri nazar mein main rahoon, meri nazar me tu' (Surendra-Suraiya). In 1857, Sajjad proved his unique skill, using chords of the guitar very effectively in the interludes.
In the year 1949, Sajjad composed two unforgettable numbers for film, Rooplekha. A solo in Mohammad Rafi's melodious voice, 'Teer pe teer khaye ja', and his duet with Surendar Kaur, 'Kabhi chandni rato mein,' were sung for Sajjad the first time.
Similarly, Lata Mangeshkar's maiden song for Sajjad's baton was in film Khel (1950), starring Dev Anand-Nigar Sultana. Khel became a hallmark in Sajjad's career, where he had used four voices of different female singers for these soulful numbers – 'Jaate ho to jaao'; 'Bhool ja ae dil mohabbat ka fasana' (Lata); 'Sajana din bahure hamare' (Geeta Dutt); 'Tod gaye armaan bhara dil' (Meena Kapoor); 'Woh aayenge gagan ki neeli neeli odhni ko' (Shamshad). Lata always enjoyed working with Sajjad, and he returned the compliment saying that Lata was the greatest singer ever.
K Asif's star-studded film, Hulchal (1951) was directed by SK Ojha with Sajjad as the music director. Sajjad composed master pieces, 'Aaj mere naseeb ne and Loota dil mera' (Lata); and classic thumri- style number, 'Koi kis tarah raaz-e-ulfat' (Rajkumari). But Sajjad had some differences with Ojha, and he walked out of the film, replaced by Mohammad Shafi. The same year, Saiyyan, another commendable creation of Sajjad, was released. This film had classic numbers by Lata, 'Kaali kaali raat'; 'Wo raat-din woh shaam' and 'Hawa mein dil doley', were the outcome of his distinct style, but in Sajjad's perception 'Tumhe dil diya ye kya kiya maine' (Lata) was one of his finest compositions. Sajjad's best score was yet to come in Sangdil (1952) directed by RC Talwar. Lata, Talat Mehmood, Geeta, Asha and Shamshad were at their best in this film based on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, a timeless love story. Lata's 'Woh to chaley gaye ae dil'; Geeta's 'Darshan pyaasi aayi daasi' and Shamshad's 'Le chal wahan piya' were rare gems. The lilting romantic duet by Lata and Talat, 'Dil mein sama gaye saajan' and Talat's solo, 'Ye hawa, ye raat, ye chandni,' were chartbusters. So was the unforgettable duet by Asha and Geeta, 'Dharti se door gorey baadlon ke paar.'
In 1955, RC Talwar and Sajjad came together in 'Rukhsana', starring Meena Kumari-Kishore Kumar. Sajjad got an extraordinary rendition from Lata in 'Tera dard dil me basa liya'. Due to Lata's illness, Sajjad had to bank on Asha. The melodious duets by Asha and Kishore, 'Ye chaar din bahar ke'; Asha and Mubarak Begum's 'Dil ko laga ke hazoor hum to huey majboor' were outstanding. But Sajjad accused Naushad of using this tune in qawwali style in Mughal-e-Azam. Taking great pride in his music, he always held his ground and never allowed any interference in his music, be it a producer or director. Once S Mukherjee, a successful producer who himself was an egoist, asked Sajjad, "Kya guarantee hai ki aap ka music chalega?" Sajjad shot back, "Kya guarantee hai ki aap ki film chalegi?"
Sajjad was a perfectionist, and perhaps, he was the only music director who didn't have an assistant or an arranger. He wrote his own notations. The evergreen song of Talat in Sangdil, 'Ye hawa, ye raat, ye chandni' was recorded in seventeen takes. Sajjad was remorseful that one of the instrumentalists didn't play to his satisfaction, and whenever he heard this song, he would say, "I wish that he could have played it better."
But this individualism and fetish for complete non-interference in his work cost him heavily. Producers and directors started avoiding him. Vishram Bedekar, who had directed successful films for Prabhat Film Company, was in his sunset days when he got an opportunity to direct a film, Rustam Sohrab (1963), starring Suraiya-Prithviraj Kapoor-Prem Nath. After a long hibernation, Sajjad composed music for this film, and undoubtedly he was brilliant, as evident in these compositions: Lata's 'Aye dilruba nazrein mila' was the most difficult song she sang; Suraiya's melancholic melody, 'Ye kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai'; another orchestrated lilting tune was, 'Ki lut jaoon main naam lekar wafa ka'. The qawwali picturised in soldiers' camp, 'Phir tumhari yaad aayi ae sanam' (Mohammad Rafi-Manna Dey-Sadaat Khan) had an Arabic flavour. But the ultimate number was, 'Mazendaraan Mazendaraan mere watan' by Talat, whom he recalled after a long gap.
Composers like Husn Lal Bhagat Ram and Madan Mohan had great reverence for Sajjad. They felt exhorted by his music. Madan Mohan had composed a song in film, Aakhri Dao, 'Tujhe kya sunaoon main dilruba' (Mohammad Rafi), which was inspired by Sajjad's popular number, 'Ye hawa, ye raat, ye chandni.' Sajjad raised a strong objection but Madan Mohan pacified him by saying, "Yes, I am inspired by a great composer's tune, not of any Tom, Dick and Harry." Even music of 'Rustam Sohrab' could not get Sajjad more assignments. He had eighteen released films to his credit and few unreleased films, too, besides some C-grade films like Shikaar (1973) and Aakhari Sajda (1977). Kamal Amrohi also announced a film, Aakhari Mughal, based on the life of Bahadur Shah Zafar. And Sajjad recorded one song in Lata's voice, 'Aainon ka shaher hai,' but the film was shelved and the song got lost.
No other composer is remembered as often as Sajjad. Even today, if you go to any music shop and pick up your favourite singer's CD, that of Noorjehan, Lata, Geeta, Shamshad, Talat, or Mohammad Rafi, you will find a song or two of Sajjad in these collections. A friend and vintage film music historian Nalin Shah had the privilege of having several meetings with Sajjad. He reminisces, "Sajjad suffered from an exaggerated sense of self-importance and had a bloated ego." According to him, some of the music directors were successful by fluke and ignorance of listeners. Sajjad would never be receptive to another person's point of view. He would say Naushad doesn't know ABC of music. He had nicknamed Talat as 'Galat Mahmood', Kishore Kumar as 'Shor Kumar' and Hemant Kumar as 'Ant Kumar'! He didn't even care for his lyricists. It was his arrogance that led to his downfall, notwithstanding his stature as one of the most talented music directors and an absolute stickler.
Raju Bhartan, in his biography of Lata Mangeshkar, states that when he asked Sajjad if he could recall any number of Lata composed by another music director, after long persuasion he mentioned one composition of Lata by SD Burman, 'Megha chhaye saari raat,' in Sharmilee. But he also added that the composition was not great; it was Lata's rendition that enhanced it. Ashraf Aziz, a medico, in his essay on Sajjad, Lyrical Grief Work - The Genius of Sajjad Husain, wrote that he heard Sajjad's composition in Noorjehan's voice in 1945, 'Koi prem ka deke sendesha, hai loot gaya hai loot gaya,' when his elder brother Masood, bought this record from Mombasa about a 100 miles away from their hometown in Tanga. It still lingers in his memory after more than seven decades. Sajjad was an accomplished mandolin player. In 1946, at the All-India Music Conference, he gave a stunning performance on mandolin and played Hari Kauns, Shivranjani Ragas and thumri in the presence of Baba Allauddin Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and some others.
In his last years, Sajjad lived the life of a recluse, avoiding meeting people he barely stepped out of his house. On July 21, 1995, Sajjad breathed his last at 78. At his burial, the only composer present was Khayyam Saab, but generous tributes poured in after his demise. Noorjehan said that artistes like Sajjad Saab were born once in a hundred years. Anil Biswas, the music maestro, paid the ultimate homage saying, "He was the most original composer of our industry. All of us at some point have been inspired by something or the other of Sajjad Husain."
Above it all, a music enthusiast Harshwardhan Laad of Indore has been commissioned a monograph on Sajjad Husain Saab on his centenary year by the National Film Archives of India – that says it all.