by: Harjap Singh Aujla
Southeast Asia Post
THERE is an old adage that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration. No matter how big a person grows, this saying comes true. Today Lata Mangeshkar rules the world. Young music directors touch her feet. But there was a time when Lata was desperately looking for work and a great discoverer of latent the Late Master Ghulam Haider gave her the break of her life.
Ghulam Haider introduced Lata to all the biggies of India’s film music direction including Anil Biswas, Khem Chand Prakash and Sajjad. But Shyam Sunder composed some of the earliest masterpiece tunes for her. It is true that none of the above mentioned music directors had the time to groom her as the master of playback singing. She had a great base of classical music, but playback singing was a different art and Lata needed to be groomed for its specific requirements.
My good friend Chiranjeev Singh, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer of the Karnataka Cadre is an ardent and discriminating lover of all kinds of music. He is a great fan of music directors Husnalal and Bhagatram, Sajjad and Anil Biswas. He has personally met Pandit Husnalal and some members of his family. With Anil Biswas, Chiranjeev had several meetings, including one in which I was also present. Since Anil Biswas and Pandit Husnalal were colleagues in Bombay, Anil Biswas could offer a treasure house of information on both Husnalal and Lata Mangeshkar. S. Mohinder lives in Virginia, he has been in touch with Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram. Late Sardul Kwatra was also an admirer of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, his phone calls have also been a source of my information. Late Mohammad Rafi had a lot of reverence for Pandit Husnalal. He himself admitted that whatever he is today, Pandit Husnalal has a lot to do with it. I am composing this story based on my interaction with these personalities.
Mohammad Rafi admitted that he used to be called to the residence of Pandit Husnalal along with his Tanpura sometimes at 4 in the morning. Pandit Husnalal will tell him “Alaap” of the Raga to be used in the song. So obedient was Rafi that he would rehearse the raga for several hours before getting lessons on the composed tune. Mohammad Rafi said even Lata Mangeshkar has undergone such intensive training under the same music director, but the venue used to be not the home of Pandit Husnalal, but the relevant sound recording studio.
In their first film “Chand”, Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram composed very good music and they used the voice of technically superb Zeenat Begum. But Noorjehan had set the trend of singing in shrill voices and the actresses started liking more feminine sounding voices. This virtually sealed the fate of singers like Zohra Bai of Ambala, Sitara Devi of Kanpur and Lalita Dawoodkar and Zeenat.
Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram developed a liking for the highly emotional voice of Suraiya. Since they all came to Bombay from Lahore, they had a linguistic affinity too. Suraiya had no formal training in classical music. That was a handicap. But she was a very hardworking character. Whenever Pandit Husnalal composed a tune, Suraiya rehearsed it time and again till it neared perfection. Pandit Husnalal and Bhagatram were perfectly at home with Suraiya’s final performances. Years 1949 and 1950 were the best professional years for Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram. In 1949 they had composed music for ten films and most of the films were musically hit. In 1950, they created music for nine more films and most succeeded as fine musicals. In both these years the voices of choice were Suraiya and Lata Mangeshkar, with Geeta Roy as the third choice.
When Raj Kapoor hired the duo of Shanker Jaikishan to compose the music for his production “Barsaat”, Shanker Jaikishan tried to emulate the style of Husnalal Bhagatram. Most of the songs of “Barsaat” became hit. For several more years Shanker Jaikishan worked under the shadow of Husnalal Bhagatram, but eventually they developed their own style which later became highly successful. In some songs even Vinod tried to copy the tunes of Husnalal Bhagatram.
Lata Mangeshkar’s grasp over classical music was her rallying point. Lata’s vocal chords were in fact more flexible and needed less tutoring. As the time passed Lata Mangeshkar, who was just a play-back singer, started getting more songs. Suraiya being an actress singer naturally had lesser opportunities at singing.
While rehearsing Pandit Husnalal will compose the tune on Harmonium and Lata will sing it. Violin played by Pandit Husnalal himself was used for making the interludes more intricate and emotional. Pandit Husnalal had developed an unconventional style of playing violin, which virtually died with him. Whenever Lata was given a very emotional sad tune, Pandit Husnalal the maestro with a sobbing violin will match the melody in the voice of Lata with his equally emotional rendition with violin. Such an intimate relationship between the tutor and the taught created hundreds of memorable melodies for Hindi cinema.
As far as Mohammed Rafi was concerned, his training at Pandit Husnalal’s residence was totally acceptable to the music director’s wife. But Lata’s rehearsals even at different recording studios became a bone of contention. There is no doubt that Pandit Husnalal used to return home quite late at night, primarily because he was extremely busy in tune-making and rehearsals. His wife resented his late arrivals at home and that led to a lot of domestic tension.
As the years passed, pressed by the circumstances at home, Pandit Husnalal started keeping a distance from Lata Mangeshkar. Lata did not expect this sudden change in Pandit Husnalal’s behaviour. Round about in 1957, the relationship between the two got severely strained. By that time Lata’s stature had grown into a superstar. She had perfected the art of playback singing. Every heroine wanted Lata to lend her voice to the songs picturized over her. Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhonsle became the second and third choices. The once powerful music directors started playing second fiddle to Lata. In fact Lata, during the mid fifties and sixties, could make or break any music director, big or small.
The producers, financers and directors of the movies started getting the hint very quickly. They started shunning Husnalal Bhagatram. The indifferent attitude of the film industry broke the heart of Pandit Husnalal. This duo still had several years of great music in them, when Pandit Husnalal had to pack up from Bombay and leave for Punjab and Delhi. Pandit Bhagatram stayed back in Bombay and kept playing drum instruments in the orchestras of other, of course, junior music directors. Pandit Husnalal started earning his livelihood by playing Violin and singing classical music at All India Radio Delhi. Occasionally he used to sing complete Khayal also at different radio stations. After the unfortunate break-up with Lata Mangeshkar, Pandit Husnalal composed music for just one or two films. The music composed was great, but there were no contracts forthcoming.
The tunes for the duo were most of the time composed by younger brother Pandit Husnalal. The older brother Bhagatram provided mostly the beat only as a drummer (tabla player). As long as they were together, there was complete unison between the two and their beat fascinated the lovers of good music.
On December 28, 1968, two years after his last film assignment and at a young age of 45 years, Pandit Husnalal died in New Delhi as a highly dejected man. Words can not describe how good a music composer he was. You have to listen especially to his sad music, which can drive you to tears. Poet Qamar Jalalabadi, hailing from village Jalalabad in Amritsar District composed most of the lyrics for Husnalal Bhagatram. Late singer Surinder Kaur, known as the nightingale of Punjab, called Pandit Husnalal as the soul of Punjab’s country-music. Pandit Bhagatram died five years later in 1973 in Bombay by and large un-honoured. Who can forget their soulful music in films like Chand, Pyar Ki Jeet, Balam, Bari Behan, Farmaish, Rakhi, Adhi Raat, Meena Bazaar, Afsana, Ansoo, Shama Parwana, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Adle-Jehangir to name a few?.
We offer our salute to Pandit Husnalal’s genius. Unfortunately the HMV (one of the EMI group of Companies), which possesses copy rights to the entire music of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, has not done justice to this great duo. Hardly two cassettes of their music are available in the market. They deserve a lot more. Some of their finest compositions are unavailable to the listeners. Efforts should be made to locate their finest melodies and put these on CDs.
[The author lives at 16 Junction Pond Lane, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey 08852 U.S.A.
phone: 732 329 firstname.lastname@example.org]