When Melody Was King
By Siraj Khan
Boston

A great composer merges his soul with the music he creates. By the time Moslehuddin left this world on August 6, 2003, he had demonstrated this belief for music-lovers anywhere.

From the aromatic loamy soil of what was then East Pakistan, Moslehuddin took a decision to relocate to West Pakistan in 1956. A master's degree in commerce and economics was perhaps good enough to get a managerial job for most, but here was a young man whose life was infused with music.

A creative genius is always self-made. Moslehuddin was one such person who could play the harmonium, accordion and piano, and could conjure up tunes in minutes. He had a good ear for both Eastern and Western beats and their nuances. Not surprisingly, he created quite a stir as a music director in his debut film itself. Aadmi penned by Sarwar Ayub, brother of Dilip Kumar and released in 1958, was a megahit and its music played a major role in its success. Nahid Niazi, whom he was to marry later, sang seven songs, most of which became household names. Jaag taqdeer to jaga loongi, Zamana pyar ka itna hi kam hai, and the swinging club song Mera kaha kabhi maan lo, among others.

Hardly sated by his first triumph, Moslehuddin unleashed a string of super hit melodies in Humsafar and Rahguzar in 1960. Humsafar’s music created a sensation at the time, where Moslehuddin recorded songs in two prominent voices from across the border. Hemant Kumar’s Raat Sohani Hai Khoya Khoya Chand Hai, casts a spell even today with old music buffs. With Sandhya Mukherjee’s Ankhian Chalkein, he adroitly exploited Bengali folk overtones with Western orchestra. As if those were not enough, Saleem Raza’s Zindagi Mein Ek Pahal Bhi ended up becoming one of the singer’s most popular and memorable songs. Not surprisingly, Moslehuddin bagged the prestigious 1960 Nigar Award for Best Music. Saleem Raza’s Magar ai Haseenae Nazneen for Rahguzar, was crafted, using only the harmonium and the accordion. The film had another beautifully composed tragic duet Tere Jahan Mein Hamein Mila Kya, which one could easily hum even in the happiest of spirits. Indeed, his music was able to heighten any given emotion on the big screen.

It was at this time that prolific producer/director Iqbal Yousuf, having seen Moslehuddin’s brilliance, signed him up for a string of films, and Zamana Kia Kahega, Dal Mein Kala, Nehle Pe Dehla followed, each with its own set of unusual melodies in different moods, using diverse instruments where even utensils joined the orchestration. Raat Saloni Ayee (Nahid/Rushdi), Samajh Na Aye (Nahid) and the title song of Dil Ne Tujhe Maan Liya, were all breezy and catchy tunes which entirely captured the romantic spirit. Mosleh made another unique experiment in this film. An Arabic tune with Arabic lines, Ra-aetus Sabihan Ala Qasrin Mutafazzilan Badrun Wahilala, incorporating African bongo drums’ beats, was rendered brilliantly by Najma Niazi. Yet another initiative in crossing borders was having Indian diva Asha Bhosle sing Kia khabar kal ye saman for Yahudi ki Larki in 1963. By now, his name and his mellifluous melodies had become synonymous with box-office success.

It was around that time he tied the knot and his heart-strings with Nahid Niazi, the promising young singer who had lent her voice to so many of his hit songs, thereby musically connecting the east and west wings of Pakistan. In that context, this marriage remains unique to this day. Deewana followed next with some amazing songs by Madam Noor Jehan. One, the lilting Chupke Chupke Sab Se Chhupke, and another, the soulful Mujhe Apni Dunya Mein Wapas Bulale, wherein he used the voices of Nahid Niazi and her four sisters to provide the haunting chorus support to Noor Jehan. This rare gem could very well go down as the first, last and only pure choir in a Pakistani film song, which featured the convent-trained voices of five sisters from the same family.

In 1966 came actor Kamal’s Joker, again directed by Iqbal Yousuf. Fabulous hits like Ahmad Rushdi’s Shauq-e-Awargi and Pyar Mein Hum Ne Khai Hai Thokar were the highlight of this circus-based film. In Iqbal Yousuf’s star-studded Josh, while Tujh Ko Bhi Banaya Allah Ne by Rushdi gained reasonable popularity, his best creation was Raat Chali Hai Jhoom Ke by Ahmad Rushdi and Nahid Niazi, a rhapsodic serenade with heavy influence of Spanish harmony. With Jaan Pehchan, he also became the first music director to use a hundred piece orchestra in a Pakistani film.

That was just one part of the brilliant composer’s life. On PTV, Moslehuddin along with his charming wife Nahid Niazi, was equally prolific. Together, on special directive of President Ayub Khan, whose major focus and goal was to promote the national integration of the East and West wings of Pakistan through their two languages, the duo conceptualized and commenced a children’s music program. Initially titled Padma Ki Mauj, music and the two languages were taught with verses translated in Urdu from Bengali and vice versa and sung in both languages in the same tune. This program was televised in both wings. Later, the program was renamed Kaliyon ki Mala, a line from the hit song of the program Saras Ke Par Resham Ke, which one can watch even today on YouTube. In recognition of his distinguished services to music, he was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz in 1969 and later the President’s Medal for Pride of Performance in 1970.

The 1971 war, however, caused greater turbulence to this family, than what may have done to many others. Moslehuddin, with his East Pakistan origins was married to somebody who hailed from West Pakistan. His family was in the UK when Bangladesh came into existence. Moslehuddin was compelled to stay in the UK, where he and Nahid were already performing. They continued their musical journey with stage performances and carried on contributing to the BBC, other media and cultural avenues. Living in Birmingham, Moslehuddin’s musical creativity overflowed into the culinary. He is credited with inventing the Chicken Tikka Masala, now an integral part of British gastronomy.

It has been 10 years since this gentle friendly soul left us at age 70 due to cardiac failure, leaving behind his dazzling repertoire and an unforgettable musical legacy to remember him by. Dust may have settled on Pakistan’s once-vibrant film industry, but Moslehuddin’s melodies, crystalline orchestra and his background musical scores still echo in our hearts and minds. Here was a musical genius and a composer, par excellence.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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