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Home» Opinion» Entertainment» Qawwalis a dying art in films

Qawwalis, a dying art in films

Raju Korti | June 01, 2013, 07:40 PM IST
qawwalis a dying art in films

Mumbai : In the 50s and 60s, a relatively small but significant slice of the film music was influenced by a genre that has almost made a quiet exit. If the qawwali isn’t heard in today’s Hindi films, it is because these compositions are beyond the ken of present-day music directors.

Composing a qawwali is by far most tricky and tough since it involves, sometimes, more than eight or nine singers – male and female. The tunes have to be intricately woven, meticulously coordinated and at the same time have to be aggressive and competitive with minimal instruments thrown in.

This Sufi tradition that originated several centuries ago, meandered through its devotional and popular mainstream forms but it touched its pinnacle in the black and white era only to lose its sheen in the colour era.

 

 

The credit for giving qawwali an exalted status should rightfully go to composer Roshan Lal Nagrath. He brought out the subtle features of a qawwali making it instant hit with the masses. His best came in Barsaat Ki Raat (1960) which had two most melodious qawwalis heard in the annals of Hindi cinema.


Although the best film qawwalis were composed in the sixties, the earliest hit was composed way back in 1945 in a film called Zeenat. This qawwali was path-breaking in the sense that women used to be excluded from traditional Muslim music because they could not be seen singing in the presence of men. Zeenat changed all that. The hit qawwali Aahe na bhari shikwe na kiye was an all-female affair in the then popular voices of Noorjahaan, Zohrabai Ambalewaali and Kalyani. I am not sure about the actors on whom the qawwali was picturised, but I guess one of them was Noorjahaan herself along with Shyama (then 9), who shot into fame in the late fifties and early sixties with films like Aar Paar and Bhabhi, Cuckoo (13) and a very young Shashikala.  In the credits, however, Shyama was mentioned as Khursheed Akhtar.

It was mainly because of the composers Hafiz Khan and Meer Saheb that females became regular fixtures in filmi qawwalis. Perhaps one compelling factor was most stories would require a male-female competition at a Jalsa or Mushaira.

The popularity and acceptance of female singers like Abida Parveen, notwithstanding, qawwali has remained a male preserve. There are still no mainstream female qawwals. Although Abida Parveen performs songs cast in the traditional qawwali repertoire, the chorus which repeats key verses as well as the hand-clapping is conspicuous by its absence.

 

Although the best film qawwalis were composed in the sixties, the earliest hit was composed way back in 1945 in a film called Zeenat. This qawwali was path-breaking in the sense that women used to be excluded from traditional Muslim music. Zeenat changed all that.
 

The credit for giving qawwali an exalted status should rightfully go to composer Roshan Lal Nagrath. He brought out the subtle and quintessential features of a qawwali in a manner that made it instant hit with the masses. His best came in Barsaat Ki Raat (1960) which had two most melodious qawwalis heard in the annals of Hindi cinema. As coincidence would have it these three also featured Shyama who had majored into an accomplished actress then. Had it not been for Roshan’s sublime music, the Bharat Bhushan-Madhubala starrer would have been a certain visual disaster.

Naa to caravan ki talaash hain was a qawwali that ran into two parts and had giants like Rafi, Manna Dey, SD Batish, Asha Bhosale and Sudha Malhotra, Balbeer, Bande Hasan and chorus vying for a share of the mike. The initial flourish by Manna Dey is taken to a spell-binding conclusion by Rafi in Yeh ishq ishq hai ishq ishq. Untill then the urban class sold out on soft romantic or pathos-laden songs, looked upon qawwali as some kind of a pedestrian entertainment despite its actual glorious tradition. Roshan gave qawwali a new-found respectability in films. For sheer qawwali trappings, the other one was even better. Nigaahen naaz ke maaron ka haal kya hoga had Shankar Shambhu, Asha Bhosale and Sudha Malhotra. The film had other popular songs like Rafi’s solo and (Lata) duet Zindagi bhar nahi bhulegi, Lata’s solo Mujhe mil gaya bahana teri but old-timers told stories of they repeatedly watched the film just to partake of the beautifully composed Nigaahen naaz ke.

Roshan proved that qawwali was child’s play for him. Taj Mahal (1963) had again songs that made waves but it also had a qawaali Chandi ka badan sone ki nazar (Rafi, Manna, Asha) that also grabbed your ears. Even a period film like Babar (1960), Roshan came up with an enduring performance in Agar hum na hote (Rafi, Manna).

 

Naa to caravan ki talaash hain was a qawwali that ran into two parts and had giants like Rafi, Manna Dey, SD Batish, Asha Bhosale and Sudha Malhotra, Balbeer, Bande Hasan and chorus vying for a share of the mike. Untill then the urban class looked upon qawwali as some kind of a pedestrian entertainment.


If you thought that qawwalis were all about singing in unison and hand-clapping, Roshan came up with another sterling performance in Dil Hi To Hai (1960) where he, assisted by the weighty lyric of Sahir Ludhianvi, composed the Asha-only gem in Nigaahen milane ko jee chahta hai and I recall the haughty Nutan going gaga over the fact that she got to essay it on the screen.

While Roshan was getting due credit for making qawwali almost a regular feature during that time, other composers were sitting up and taking notice. Even a classically-driven puritan like Naushad couldn’t resist the lure of qawwali. And he did that in his own style in Mughal-e-Azam – an all-female affair – where Shamshad Begum’s resonant nasals gave Lata’s tender tonals a run for their money in Teri mehfil mein kismat aajmakar. He experimented with another in Palki (1966) when he got Rafi, Manna and Asha to deliver Mai idhar jaoon ya udhar jaoon, to depict the dilemma in the heroine’s mind.

Naushad, however, didn’t really have the qawwali mindset and he did not attempt to compose more of those. “I didn’t have the heart and mind for it,” he told me during a chat but he was honest in his admiration of Roshan who according to him was a 'master of that genre'. He even shocked me by praising his bete noire Sajjad Hussein by singling out Phir tumhari yaad aayee ae sanam (Rustom Sohrab-1962 - Rafi, Manna and Sadat Khan) as among all-time best compositions. For some reasons Sajjad was always contemptuously dismissive of Naushad and his work. So much so that there were stories doing rounds about Sajjad naming his pet dog after Naushad.


PSP / YS

Raju Korti

Raju Korti

 

(The author is a Mumbai-based senior journalist and a passionate music-lover and cine-buff. In this column, he draws upon his own numerous personal encounters with great composers, musicians and lyricists who strode the Hindi film music's golden era (1950s & 1960s), and provides the readers with fascinating vignettes.)
 
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(નોંધ – ઉપરોકત વિચારો લેખકના પોતાના છે જીજીએન તેની સાથે સહમત છે એમ માની લેવું નહીં.)

 

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