Beyond Bygone

The musical mogul: G A Chishti

A celebrity of sub-continental cinema whose name stands out with distinction among two generations of composers for the lilt and cadence of his compositions, mixed with an exuberant folk style, Chishti was apt at weaving complementary influences into Punjabi music with almost 5,000 tunes credited to his name

I must confess that I haven't heard of this composer until I did a documentary on composer Khayyam Saheb – Suro Ke Shenshah. He introduced the aforementioned composer as Baba Chishti or Chishti Baba. I could feel that Khayyam Saheb had great reverence for this man. After we finished the shooting, I wanted to know more about this man. In the words of Khayyam Saheb, "As I had mentioned that I had a great fascination for films. I started dreaming that I would take the career in films as an actor. I often used to go to Lahore which was the hub of film making. During the Second World War, I joined the army in the entertainment department which used to stage programmes for the soldiers. I used to do female roles. After quitting the army, I was once again in Lahore and had a chance meeting with Chishti Baba. He had composed a tune for a film and upon the arrival of the producer, Chishti Baba started playing a tune despite having forgotten the latter part of the composition. Standing near the door, I somehow gathered enough courage to speak. I told him what was missing. He not only patted me but kept me as one of his assistants without any salary. After some time, he went to Calcutta to compose music for films. I must admit that he was my first Guru."

Ghulam Ahmed Chishti was born in a village near Jalandhar on August 17, 1905. He was interested in music and used to sing Naats during his school days. He was later noticed by Agha Hashar Kashmiri who was very popular for his dramas and was the highest pain dramatist during those days. Chishti met him in Lahore in 1934. It was Agha Saheb who initiated him to music and he learnt the intricacies of music from him and started giving music in his stage plays.

After the death of his mentor, he joined the recording company and started composing his tunes. He had the privilege of recording the songs of legendary singer Jaddan Bai and Ameerbai Karnataki. He was also responsible for introducing Noor Jehan on the stage at the age of nine.

Chishti made his debut in 1936 in Din-o-Duniya. Some of the prominent numbers from his nine compositions are: Dekhe nahi bina chain, Shame ghum jane ko hai, Hain meri duaayein saath tere, Bhari hai kis bala ki sokhiyan rangeen pani mein, Premi jane pram lagi ki and Taqudeer ke naro se duniya ko hila denge. In an interview, actor-singer Master Fida Hussain claimed that songs of this film were very popular during that time and its lyrics were written by Wali Saheb. But, he couldn't give much information about the singers.

Chishti Baba's next film was Sohni Mahiwal (1939). The film was co-produced by RL Shorey and Dalsukh Pancholi and was directed by RL Shorey. The music of Sohni Mahiwal was a rage. After its release, Ghulam Ahmed Chishti established himself as a composer after the success of these two films. His next hit film was Pardesi Dhola (1941). The film was produced and directed by RC Talwar. The film had a star cast of Ramola, Anjana, Rajendra Singh and Jagdish Sethi. Like Sohni Mahiwal, it created waves in Punjabi cinema. Paap Ki Nagari was another hit under his name.

In Khamoshi (1942), directed by RC Talwar and starring Ramola, Gyani and Shyam Sunder, he composed various melodious numbers – Nain hamare bawre, Nain tore matwale sajaniya (Ramdulari/ Sinder Singh), Jhula dale daar per (Sundar Singh), Ghabrata hai dil and Man ko kaise bahlata hai dil (Ramdulari).

His other hit films were Man-Chali (1943) and Kaliyan (1944) which was produced by veteran director Kidar Sharma of Chitralekha fame. Kidar Sharma's favourite composer, Snehal Bhatkar, was spotted by Chishti Saheb and recorded two soulful numbers – Sajan pass bula lo and San ware baavre bansuri bajaye (B Bhatkar and Leela Sawant). Other hit numbers were: Tumhe pyaar karna sikhaungi (Lalita Parulkar), Kaga ji desh piya ke jaiyo (Leela Sawant) and duet, Sakhi re ab ke na sawan aye (Leela Sawant/Lalita Parulkar). The lyrics was penned by Kidar Sharma. Chishti used beautiful interludes of flute for the songs of Kaliyan. He also gave music in Shukriya. One song from this film, Ek shaher ki laundiya, was banned by the censor board but was a hit. The song was picturised on comedian-actor, Sunder. Another hit song of the film was Hamari gali aana ji (Zeenat Begum/Amar).

Baba Chishti became the favourite composer of RC Talwar. Once again, they reunited for Albeli (1945) – starring Ramola, Satish, Rooplekha and Heeralal. Chishti also wrote the lyrics of the film with Shanti Swaroop. The film had flavour of folk music. Zid, directed by SH Rawel, the film had Ramola, Sundar and Heeralal. Its song, Muddat baad aye ho (Sundar/Chorus), was well orchestrated.

In 1947, GA Chishti composed music for Yeh Hai Zindagi. Its hit number was Armaan bhade dil ko kaise bahlayein hum. GA Chishti also shared the credits of lyrics with Pandit Madhur and Arsh Lakhnavi. In 1948, he worked for Jhooti Kasmen directed by HS Rawel, starring Ramola, Robin Majumdar, Heeralal, Sundar and Iftqar. Its hit number were: Rul mil gaiya saiyan jhula jhulan ko ayein, Sawan ke din ayein (Sandhya Mukharjee), Hum hain tumhare ji (Robin/Utpala Sen), Chup raho rone se kya hasil and Kya kahein kis se kahein (Dhananjay). It had Ghazals of the Punjabi School and Chishti used violin pieces in a majestic way. His next film was also with HS Rawel – Do Baatein (1949) starring Ramola, Narang, Maya Banarjee and Sundar were in the cast.

His next film was Nai Bhabhi (1950) starring Amarnath, Smirti Vishwas, Sundar and Kukku. The film was directed by SD Narang. He also composed music for an unreleased film, Shashi – Chandni raat me aa, Na ye chand hoga na tare rahange and Nighein milakar jara muskara do. Later, Hemant Kumar used his composition Na ye chand hoga na tare rahange in the film Shart (1954). Chishti shared the credit with Harbaksh Singh. This was his last film in India and was released after his migration to Pakistan. By now, he had also composed music for HS Rawel's Jawani Ki Aag (1951).

GA Chishti migrated to Pakistan in 1949 where he made rich contributions to the Pakistani films in Urdu and Punjabi. He also recorded several hit numbers with Noor Jehan. Another acknowledgement to Baba Chishti was that he gave music for the first Silver Jubilee Film of Pakistan, Pheray.

Ghulam Ahmed Chishti was the top composer amongst many music directors of Punjabi School. This self-made man also wrote an authentic book on music, Maafat-ul-Naghmat. He has also been known for conversational style as well as so-called Hichki songs.

He devoted all his life to music alone and gave music in more than 200 films. Chishti Baba passed away in Lahore on December 25, 1994, at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy.

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