Music director Roshan was in the habit of consulting his wife Ira, a former student of his, before finalising his new compositions. While creating music for Barsat Ki Raat in 1960, he played the tune of a qawwali to her. Those were the days of gramophone records, with one side playing for two-and-a-half minutes. If the song was longer, one had to change the side. The qawwali was to be recorded on two separate gramophone records. While approving the tune, Ira was of the opinion that a 10-minute long qawwali would bore the public.
But Roshan was unrelenting. To quote his own words, once the song was released, log chirag le ke dhoodhenge ki Roshan kahan hai. No idle boast this. Sure enough, the qawwali, Na to qarwan ki talash hai, na to humsafar ki talash hai, is considered to be the last word among all qawwalis, sung before or later in Hindi cinema.
Roshan Lal Nagrath was born in Gujranwala, now in Pakistani Punjab, on July 14, 1917. After receiving formal training in classical music, he came to Lucknow for college, where he imbibed the folk music of Uttar Pradesh, which he blended skilfully with semi-classical compositions in his songs much later. In 1940, he joined All India Radio as a composer, a job which he chucked in 1948 to try and become a music director. He got his big break for Kidar Sharma’s Neki Aur Badi in 1949. The film flopped, but Kidar Sharma did not dump Roshan and engaged him again for Baawre Nain (1950). The songs did astounding business. Khayalon mein kisi ke by Geeta Dutt and Mukesh and Ab kya hoga by Rajkumari stand out. Malhar (1951), Shisham (1952) and Chandni Chowk (1955) followed.
Playback singer Mukesh helped Roshan initially by getting him introduced to well-known producers. A close friendship developed between the two, which lasted through Roshan’s lifetime.
Much before success came Roshan’s way, the late Sachin Dev Burman paid him a great compliment by advising him to stick to his style. He assured Roshan that if he did not abandon his originality, success was only a matter of time.
Like Madan Mohan, Roshan too always drew out the best from Lata Mangeshkar. She never sounded shrill in his compositions, which she occasionally could in songs of certain other composers. In Naubahar (1952), Roshan got her to sing Dekho ji mora jiya churaye liye jaye in such a soft voice that the song lingers in one’s mind over half a century later. Lata has sung excellent ghazals for Roshan like Zulme ulfat ki hame log saza in Taj Mahal (1963), Duniya kare sawal in Bahu Begum (1967), Raat ki mehfil sooni sooni in Noor Jahan (1967) and Rahte the kabhi jinke dil mein in Mamta (1966).
Lata also excelled in Zindagi bhar nahi bhoolegi and Mujhe mil gaya bahana teri deed ka in Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), Sansar se bhage phirte ho in Chitralekha (1964), Duniya me aisa kahan sab ka nasib hai in Devar (1966) and Mahlon ka raja mila in Anokhi Raat (1968).
Barsaat Ki Raat, released in 1960, had no less than ten songs, but it is due to the genius of Roshan that all of them were splendid. While the two solos of Mohd Rafi, Maine shayad tumhe pahle bhi and Zindagi bhar nahi are truly unforgettable and probably defined the romantic dreams of at least an entire generation, Garajat barsat sawan ayo re sung by Suman Kalyanpur and Kamal Barot makes each note of sarod sound like a rain drop. Baabar, released in 1960, had an excellent ghazal — Salame hasrat kabool kar lo, rendered by Sudha Malhotra.
Hereafter, every film of Roshan brought its own fresh blossoms. Aarti (1962) had enchanting songs like Ab kya misal dun mein tumhare shabab ki by Rafi, Baharon ki manzil raahi by Lata and Bar bar tohe kya samjhayen by Lata and Rafi. The year 1963 unfolded the enthralling music of Taj Mahal. Two Lata-Rafi duets were just superb — Paon chhu lene do in a semi-classical mould and Jo vada kiya with its echo effect. Jo baat tujh mein hai by Rafi is also popular to this day.
Chitralekha (1964) was a philosophical period film pertaining to the early medieval times. With songs like Man re tu kahe na dheer dhare by Rafi and Chha gaye badal neel gagan par by Rafi and Asha, Roshan takes us back to those times.
Roshan also made use of Manna Dey’s talent in classical music with Laga chunri mein daag in Dil Hi To Hai (1963) and in tomfoolery for Bedaag (1965) with Hai re mein to prem diwana. Roshan’s penchant for qawwali kept resurfacing intermittently with Chandi ka badan sone ki nazar, Muhabbat se tum log anjan and the marvellous Asha number Nigahen milane ko jee chahta hai from Jee Chahta Hai.
Mukesh’s heart-rending voice was exploited by Roshan with such masterpieces like Bahaut diya dene wale ne tujhko in Surat Aur Sirat (1962), Aya hai mujhe phir yaad wo zalim and Baharon ne mera chaman loot kar in Devar.
Instruments used in Roshan’s music always seemed
to be closely interacting with the singer’s voice like in
the following Mukesh numbers — Dekhti hi raho aaj darpan na tum in Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal, Tum agar mujhko na chaho and Dil jo bhi kahega in Dil Hi To Hai (1963) and Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein in Anokhi Raat (1968).
Tanuja, the heroine of Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal (1965), considers the composer of the film, Roshan, to be a perfectionist. The film would not have made such an impact but for the background score, Qarwan ghuzar gaya gubar dekhte rahe in the powerful voice of Rafi, depicting a defeated protagonist, disillusioned with student politics. Aaj ki raat badi shokh badi natkhat hai by Rafi and Asha is quite charming.
Mamta (1966) had memorable songs written by the eminent lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri like the haunting Rahen na rahen hum by Lata and In baharon me akele na phiro by Rafi and Asha. The duet by Hemant Kumar and Lata, Chhupa lo yun dil me pyar mera is almost spiritual. The lyrics, the tune, the voices and the instruments are in perfect harmony. In the same year, Mahendra Kapoor and Bhupendra pleased the music lovers with Tujh ko nahi dekha hamne kabhi in Dadi Ma.
Asha and Rafi lent beauty to Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry with Hum intezar karenge tera qayamat tak in Bahu Begum (1967). In the same film, Roshan displayed his customary skill in the use of folk music with Pad gaye jhoole sawan rut ayi re, just as he had done in Heera Moti (1959) with Konne rang moongwa. Roshan also used Suman Kalyanpur’s voice effectively for Sharabi sharabi ye sawan ka mausam in Noor Jahan (1967) and Dil jo na kah saka in Bheegi Raat (1965), also sung solo by the inimitable Rafi.
Anokhi Raat (1968) was Roshan’s swan song. He passed away due heart failure on November 16, 1967, well before the release of the film. Even after his untimely death, the songs Meri beri ke ber mat todo by Asha and Mile na phool to kanto se dosti, continued to delight millions across the globe.
Though Roshan hasn’t been with us since the last forty years, his work seems so contemporary. True to his name, Roshan’s rich legacy continues to light up the world of music.
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(The writer is a statistician and a music buff)