Beyond Bygone

Musical dexterity Ustad Jhande Khan

Almost lost to the obscurity of the early film music industry, the legacy of Ustad Jhande Khan lives on, in memories of his contemporaries and those touched by the greatness of his work and his demeanour

Being a film buff and lover of vintage film music, I have made a habit of reading autobiographies and biographies of yesteryear's veterans and contemporary actors, directors, composers, singer and lyrcists. When a friend and regular reader of these articles on composers asked me to write about an almost entirely forgotten composer of 30s and 40s, I promised to do so but found it really challenging to write as there was hardly any material on this composer. There are scanty references here and there. The composer was Ustad Jhande Khan.

But, during the course of pursuing my aforementioned hobby, two autobiographies of veteran producer-director Kidar Sharma and composer Naushad Ali were of great help in writing about Ustad Jhande Khan. Both Ali and Sharma have given glowing tributes to the man and his music.

I had known both of them while making documentaries on them and talked to them about the composer. In words of Kidar Sharma, in 'The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma', which was published after his death, "I chose Ustad Jhande Khan for my film Chitralekha. Khan Saheb was a short bearded man with a turban who was a deeply religious man. I requested him to compose all the songs in 'Raag Bharvie'. Khan Saheb was reluctant and asked me how many rasgullas can one enjoy and that there should be variety. I replied that it depends on the person who makes the rasgullas and since you are a great master and chef, you will do a great job."

"Khan Saheb left the room and went for his prayers. When he came back, he said, 'I had a word with Almighty and he had asked me to accept the challenge. Because he will be present at the time while I compose the songs'. Khan Saheb had a great reputation of giving excellent music for Agha Hashr Kashmiri's stage dramas. He composed beautiful compositions for Chitralekha all in 'Raag Bharvie'. His rare compositions were Neel kamal muskaye bhanwra jhooti kasme khaye (in two parts) and Tum jao bade bhagwan bane. The lyrics were written by me. My friend Giani who had a good ear for music and also contributed in composing the two songs. He also played an important role in the film."

Chitralekha (based on Bhagwati Sharma's novel) became known for its music and it was a great boost to the film. Besides performances, its philosophical depth, dialogues and direction, were all praised in the Industry and Kidar Sharma was hailed as a great director writer and philosopher.

Naushad remembered Ustad Jhande Khan in his autobiographical chapter in his book 'Notes of Naushad'. He talked about his struggles and sufferings in Bombay, "My father was against music. He gave me an ultimatum to choose between music and home. I opted for music and left home at the age of eighteen. A friend Majid Abdul Saheb helped me and bought me a ticket for Bombay and gave me some money for the journey along with a latter for his friend Dr. A.A.Naami Saheb. Naami Saheb was first Indian to do PhD on Indian drama. During my short stay with him, he showed me an advertisement that New India pictures wanted some musician for their film and Ustad Jhande Khan was the composer. I went for an audition. There was a long queue and many musicians who were double my age were appearing for the same. I became nervous and was about to leave when the manager called me and asked me to go in for an audition. When I entered the room, I saw Ustad Jhande Khan for the first time. He had a beaming face and turban on his head and he looked more like a Maulavi. I played the piano in his presence. As I finished playing, he told me we will inform you if you have made the final cut later."

Naushad continued, "After a few days I got the letter to join the company as a piano player at forty rupees monthly salary. Ghulam Mohammad was my colleague there and used to play the Tabla. Khan Saheb started music for the film Sunheri Makdi (1937). Its director was Russian and knew English. His assistant was Rafiq Rizvi who knew English and Urdu and helped the director. Khan Saheb composed a tune which the director didn't like and asked him to improvise. When Khan Saheb was composing the tune he was not happy. I gave him a suggestion and when the director heard the tune, he was happy. Khan Saheb immediately told the director that the credit goes to the young boy. I was touched by Khan Saheb's humility. I was with Khan Saheb for more than four months when the film was completed. During this period, I learnt a lot and came to know the intricacy of film music which helped my career a lot. Ustad Jhande Khan was one of the great composers of hit films."

In the initial years of film making, studios played a very important role. Major studios of those days were Jyoti Studios in which Ardeshir Irani shot his first talkies, Alam Ara (1931). New Theatres of Calcutta, Bombay Talkies, Prabhat Film Company Puna and Ranjeet were the leading studios in the 30s. These studios had artists, directors, cameramen and composers were on their staff. Ustad Jhande Khan was on the staff of Ranjit.

Khan Saheb worked on a significant number of films for Ranjit. His notable films for Ranjit were Devi Devyani, Radha Rani, Sati Savitri, Shail Bala and Char Chakram, Bhool Bhulaiya, Miss 1933, Pardesi Preetam and Bhola Shikaar, Veer Babru Bahan, Tara Sundri (1934) with co-composer Ganga Prasad Pathak, Bharat Ki Bati (1935) with co-composer Anil Biswas and Prabhu Ka Pyara. Ustad Jhande Khan gave music in films of different genres in Ranjit's, mythological, social and comedy films. He gave more than 130 melodious compositions for Ranjit. Unfortunately, the names of the singers are not available.

Ustad Jhande Khan did four films- Dukhtar-E-Hind (1934) for Ajanta Cine Tone, Ansuon Ki Duniya for Amrit Films Punjab, Pagli (1943) for Maheshwari Pictures and Shenshah Akbar (1943) for Kamal Roy films, Bombay. He composed 45 songs for these films.

Ustad Jhande Khan became disillusioned with the music scene of the 40s. Being a purist, he did not compromise and opted to go to Pakistan and spent the last few days of his life in Gujranwala. Khan Saheb was a highly accomplished composer. Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari had great regard for Ustad Jhande Khan and used to discuss music with him in meetings with him. After partition, Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari became the Director-General of Pakistan Radio.

As Khan Saheb was regularly contributing to the radio, he wanted Bhukhari to take him on as permanent staff for the radio network but due to some constraints, he couldn't help him.

Khan Saheb dedicated all his life to the music. His contribution to stage plays and films has almost been forgotten. Today's generation may not remember his name. But whenever proper history of this period in the Indian film music industry is written, it will begin with Ustad Jhande Khan.

Khan Saheb died in anonymity in Gujranwala at the ripe age of 86 on October 11, 1952.

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