Unheard but Unforgettable
By Siraj Khan

I was in St. Patrick's High School, Karachi and was working towards my Senior Cambridge. So this must be sometime in the year 1967. I had dropped by at the home of my friend/class-mate Saeed Shiraz in Sindhi Muslim Society, whose family had a film distribution business. I was on my bike and had to just pick up some class notes and then run. I usually would enter Saeed's place unannounced and as usual barged in and encountered a sight in the family room, which I have not forgotten to this day.

I was looking at a stunningly beautiful woman, sitting elegantly on a sofa. I may have seen more gorgeous women in pictures, movies, magazines, but even forty years and 60+ countries later, I have yet to set my eyes on a lady in person where I have stopped, my feet frozen and unable to move. I was so stunned that I probably was unable to even greet her. That lady was Zeba. Sprawled on a separate sofa, was the huge figure of Lala Sudhir. I believe they were there for the premier of Mafroor. Sitting with them was a pleasant-looking young man in jeans and a t-shirt, who I initially thought was also some actor. I later found out that he was Mafroor's music director M. Ilyas -- apparently Sudhir's discovery who, interestingly, himself had sung just a handful of songs in his entire film career.

When I heard Mafroor's songs on the radio, I could notice immediately that the orchestra was very rich, the style was perhaps a cross between Master Inayat Hussain and A.Hameed's. But there was something very unique in their composition, especially the use of Western instruments, but with absolutely no Western influence in the tune and composition itself. To have the Malika-e-Tarannum sing in your very first film was something

Nigahon ke sawal ka, nigahon se jawab do and Arman to bohat se hein dil mein, par arze tamanna kaise ho Dekha jo hamien mun pher liya, itna bhi na poocha kaise ho

On the heels of Mafroor, came several other films including Kafir and Lahu Pukare Ga, probably the only film which had Santosh Kumar and Firdous in the lead. I believe that Lahu Pukare Ga came to be known more for its photography than anything else, not surprisingly, as it was a production from the Burki brothers - Azhar and Muzaffar.

Like Mafroor, it was only a moderate success. I remember bunking class to watch the movie only for its songs (most of them with Noor Jahan) and some incredible background score by M. Ilyas. He made Madam do some amazing voice variations. I thought this guy was going to go places. But as time would tell, I was totally wrong.

To this day, I am surprised as to what happened to M.Ilyas, for I never heard new songs after that or his name associated with any films again. I have yet to see that style in any other composer since. How did he drop from the radar, as quickly as he came on it? Where did he disappear? Is he still alive and if yes where does he live? I am unable to confirm anything except that I am told that even Madam liked him immensely and that in itself says a lot. What a mystery!

Many years later when I was working in the UAE, I remember attending Madam's live concert in Sharjah in the early 1980s. She sang many of her songs that evening, but there was just one film in her repertoire of which she sang two songs and that was Lahu Pukare Ga.

Anyway, turn up your volume and enjoy the two songs that I heard Madam at the concert that pleasant evening on the YouTube links below:



(They are just audios).

They are very different in composition, but equally mind-blowing. Notice how the pitch swings from low to high and then low again. Lovely lyrics turned even more beautiful through blending with some very creative and deep orchestration. Madam's voice modulation stands unparalleled while Ilyas has been blown away by the winds of oblivion.




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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