The Tragedy of Salim Raza
By Dr Asif Javed
The other day, this writer came across a piece in Pakistan Link about the Lollywood Tragedies. The article had some information about the famous actors, Sultan Rahi, Waheed Murad and Nanha among others, who died relatively young. While reading that article, I started to reminisce about Salim Raza who was one of the most popular playback singers in the 60’s when I was growing up.
Salim Raza, whose voice had an uncanny resemblance to that of Talat Mahmood, then suddenly vanished from Pakistan. I recall that my late brother had once heard Salim Raza in an interview on Radio Pakistan; Salim Raza said that he was fed up with the film industry and that he was considering going abroad. Despite my intense curiosity at the time, I was not able to figure out exactly what drove him away from Pakistan. And then, I got busy with life and almost forgot about him; that is until late Qatil Shifai’s autobiography solved this mystery for me. For the music lovers who have been wondering about this over the years, herein lies the answer:
In the early fifties, while struggling to be noticed by music directors, Salim Raza had sought help from Qatil Shifai who was then the leading poet in the Lahore film industry. Qatil introduced Salim Raza to Madam Noor Jahan and also wrote favorable remarks about him in Adakar, a popular weekly film magazine of its day that Qatil Shifai used to edit. Salim Raza had a good voice, was trained in classical music and became popular in a short time. And then, sometime in the 70’s, he left Pakistan for good. So what drove him away?
I tried to google Salim Raza the other day and saw the same old story written all over: Salim Raza could not compete with new singers; he could not adjust to the new recording techniques; his voice was not suited to the new trends in music and stuff like that. But the real reason was something else.
It turns out that Salim Raza who hailed from Amratsar, was not a Muslim: he was of Christian faith. His real name was Noel Dias. He moved to Pakistan after Partition. In Pakistan, his religion created no difficulty for him in his chosen profession of playback singing until he crossed the line. Qatil reports that Salim Raza had developed a relationship with Kausar Perveen, a female playback singer of the time. Kausar Perveen was a Muslim. Salim Raza’s Christian faith then suddenly became a liability for him. Most of the music directors were Muslim and took offense at the Christian singer who was trying to woo a Muslim woman. They started to boycott Salim Raza.
“I have hardly any work,” he told Qatil Shifai who found him back at the radio station one day. Almost overnight, one of the most popular singers became a persona non grata in the film industry. In desperation, Salim Raza turned back to Radio Pakistan. But the die had been cast: Salim Raza knew full well that he had no future in the film industry. Kausar Perveen in the meantime, was coaxed into marriage with music director Akhtar Hussain Akhian and resurrected her career but not Salim Raza. It must be during this lean patch that my brother, who was a fan of Salim Raza, heard the above mentioned statement in that interview. Salim Raza was forced out of his profession and livelihood in Pakistan, a country founded by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a non-practicing Muslim who himself had married a Parsi’s daughter.
Salim Raza moved to Vancouver in Canada. Sometime later, Qatil Shifai, while on a visit to Canada, met him. Salim Raza had not forgotten the favor that Qatil had done to him years earlier. He received his benefactor warmly and went out of the way to help Qatil and his fellow poets in Canada. Qatil was shocked to find Salim Raza in poor health: he had developed kidney failure by then and was already on dialysis. Despite poor health, he was trying to run a music school to survive financially. Soon afterwards, in 1983, Salim Raza died, thousands of miles away from Pakistan, almost forgotten and abandoned by the notoriously treacherous and cut-throat film industry. Understandably, he was a bitter man: his last years in this world were marred by poor health and financial problems. He was only fifty-one at the time of his death.
And so it came to pass that the singer of Shah-e-Madina, Yasrab kay walee, arguably the most popular filmi naats of my generation, was almost hounded out of Jinnah’s Pakistan. The bigots who had forced him out of Jinnah’s Pakistan had perhaps forgotten the commitment given to the religious minorities by the founding father. In 1947, Jinnah had given them reassurance that they were free to practice their religion and go to their temples. Salim Raza was an unfortunate victim of the religious fanaticism that was always lurking under the surface that has since become a menace and a shame for our country.
Salim Raza’s contemporary singer, Talat Mahmood, also had a sad and unexpected exit from Bollywood; the reasons were somewhat different. But that is a story for another time.
(The writer is a physician in Williamsport, PA and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)