Beyond Bygone

A musician of eminence -Pandit Amarnath

An early pioneer of the fledging film music industry, Pandit Amarnath was a master musician belonging to the Punjab School of music, who, through ups and downs, led with innovations and created back to back evergreen hit scores until his untimely death

March 14, 1931, marked the release of India's first talkie Alam Ara. Produced and Directed by Khan Bahadur, the movie was responsible for making song and dance routines the soul of Indian films. Soon a new industry was born that was the film music industry. Prabhat Film Company of Puna (Pune), New Theatres of Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay Talkies (Mumbai) played a significant role in enriching the film music industry. Initially, the film music industry had a great influence from Parsi theatre, Bhakti Sangeet and Natya Sangeet.

In the 1940s, folk music became more prevalent in films. Bangla Folk dominated the films of Bengal. Maharashtra folk tradition was reflected in the films of Prabhat. Naushad introduced UP folk in his massive hit Rattan. Master Ghulam Haider was a pioneer of the Punjabi school of Music. Pandit Amarnath was the doyen of this school. He gave the film industry its first music duo who went on create many evergreen compositions – Pandit Husanlal and Bhagatram (Panditji's younger brother).

Pandit Amarnath was born in Jalandhar in 1912. Panditji started his career as singer, actor in the stage plays in his home town of Jalandhar. He also recorded private songs, Ghazals, Thumri, Gurbani, classical and semi-classical in the voice of child prodigy Master Madan in the 30s. Master Madan only recorded eight compositions in his life of only fourteen years under the baton of Pandit Amarnath – Bagaan which peengan paiyaan, Raavi de parle kandey, Man ki man hi mahi rahi, Chetna he ko chet le, Mori binti mano kanha re and Goree goree baiyaan. This was confirmed by Khyyam Saheb in my documentary on him.

Pandit Amarnath made his debut in 1942 with Roop K Shorey's film Nishani. He personally supervised the rehearsals of Panditji and the musicians. The film had Ragini and Majnu in the lead. Panditji used the voice of Shamshad Begum and his own discovery Naseem Akhtar. Shamshad's number, Shayam dil le ke rooth gaye and Naseem Akhtar's, Toot gaya hai sapna were instant hits. Cine studios Lahore made the Punjabi version of Shantaram's classic Padosi on Hindu- Muslim unity.

The film Gowandhi was released on April 8, 1942. Panditji introduced singer Zeenat Begum who later became his favourite. Panditji himself sang a patriotic song, Pagdi sambhal jatta with SD Burman and chorus. The film became an instant hit.

Pandit Amarnath's most successful film was Daasi (1944), starring Ragini, Nazam and Gyani. Zeenat Begum sang her scintillating numbers, Ho rasiya kabhi le chal tu jamuna ke paar, Subh hui aour panchi jage and Wo din yaad karo. The chartbuster of the film was Raatein na rahi wo, na rahe din wo hamare. After the release of Daasi, Panditji came to be known as Pandit Amarnath of Daasi fame.

Pandit Amarnath's music was a mix of Punjabi folk, Mehfil Sangeet of classical shades and village music which can be seen in his compositions. In 1944, Panditji went to Calcutta to give music for Indrapuri studio's Irada. Upcoming singer Hemant Kumar recorded his first song, Phir mohabbat ke payam aane lage under his guidance. Another popular composition of Panditji for the movie was Aram se jo ratein kate wo ashk bahana kya jane. Pandit Amarnath was the most revered composer of the 1940s. He gave several evergreen numbers in that decade.

Panditji did a Punjabi film Koel, (1944) directed by Roop K Shorey. Pandit Amarnath did another Punjabi film, Gul Baloch (1945) with composers Shyam Sunder and Lachhiram. Mohammad Rafi made his debut with Gul Baloch. His number, Soniye oye hereiye oye was composed by Shyam Sunder. Panditji's popular compositions for this film were – Je unjh nahi adeya and Ishq lagana saukha nahi pardesiya.

Pancholi Art Pictures Lahore asked Panditji to compose music for the film Dhamki (1945). It's popular numbers were Jawani mastani hai, Jab tum yahan hum wahan (Mannuwar Sultana), Milake akhiyan, akhiya na churana and Aankh milake koi re (Zeenat Begum). Same year he did another film for Pancholi, Kaise Kahun directed by Moti B Gidwani. The film's popular numbers were: Gori gagar ki ganga udhar diye ja and Ambua pe papiha ye ga gaya hai.

Panditji was in so much demand that he started getting offers from Bombay, Pune as well as Calcutta. When he got an offer from Prabhat to do music for their film Chand, he declined the offer and suggested that instead they should take his assistants Husanlal and Bhagatram. Prabhat honoured Panditji's request and agreed. This was the beginning of India's first musical duo.

In 1945, Panditji was asked to give music in the film Ragini. Panditji made a romantic solo, Uth soye hue hushn tujhe ishq jagaye in the voice of Zohra Bai. In 1946, Panditji gave music for the film Aiye Bahaar in Bombay with Anupam Ghatak. But the music of this film is hardly remembered. He also gave music in Pancholi's Shrin Farhad (1945) with composer Rashid Atre.

In 1946, he came back with a bang in Chitra Productions Lahore's Jhumke directed by JK Nanda. The music of Jhumke was an instant hit. Some of the popular numbers included- Beqaar jiye koi, bemaut mare koi, Jhoom rahe, jhoom rahe matware, more jhumke jhoom rahe, Bus ek nigah mein fitne jaga to sakti hun and Usne dekha maine dekha ab duniya dekhne wali hai. His favourite singer, Zeenat Begum did full justice to her mentor Pandit Amarnath's compositions.

In 1946, Pandit Amarnath's composed music for Shahar Se Door and Sham Sawera were also noticed. It's a common thing in the film industry that composers hit the bottle if the film is a super hit.

After the grand success of Jhumke, he also fell into the same trap which affected his health badly. He had a few films in his hand at this stage as well, even his most successful film Mirza Sahiban starring Malika Tarannum was made at this stage. He had composed several evergreen numbers for this film. It's super hit was – Haye re ud ud jaye mora reshmi duppata.He had signed up for the film Patjhad for Pancholi's picture but after his untimely death, Ghulam Haidar and SD Batish were signed up instead.

Similarly, Panditji was replaced by Khurshid Anwar in Pagdandi. In the film Roop Rekha, (1948) Panditji had recorded a song, Bol bol mein umada hai toofan. He had also recorded a few compositions for Ek Teri Nishani – Aa gai zalim jawani aa gaiye and Ek dekha khwwab suhana. Asha sang for the first time for Panditji in the song, Teri kafir jawanio ko jawani kaun kahta hai. The film was later completed by Sardul Kawatra and was released in 1949.

Pandit Amarnath died at the age of 35 in 1947. His untimely death was a great loss to the music industry and especially to the Punjab School of Music, robbing us of many great hits.

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