Sajjad Husain was a priceless asset to Hindi film music but could not get the recognition that was his due, despite his prodigious talent. A tribute.
Sajjad Husain was a composer par excellence who was active in the Hindi film music world from the 1940s. Born in 1917 in Sitamau in the present Madhya Pradesh, he learned to play the Sitar when very young, tutored by his father and grew to be quite proficient in playing it. He moved to Bombay when only 20, and worked as an instrument player for composers for a few years. Besides the Sitar, he acquired the skills of playing the Veena, Piano, Violin, Flute, Jal tarang, Clarinet, Accordion, Spanish and Hawaiian Guitars, Banjo and Mandolin (and many other instruments besides these) with dexterity.
Sajjad specialised in playing the mandolin, which had evolved from being a humble serenading string instrument in Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to take its place with more sophisticated pieces in the orchestra and songs (remember that famous Dean Martin number The man who plays the mandolino?). Sajjad became practically a mandolin virtuoso, adapting the instrument which was hitherto not very popular in India to Indian film music and even fashioning a few changes to the instrument, to suit his own compositions. The mandolin thus became an integral part of many film composer’s orchestra. It was Sajjad who introduced the sound of Arabic music and instruments to Hindi film songs through his compositions.
“The peculiarity of Sajjad’s music,” said Aziz Ashraf (Sajjad’s son), “rests on an integrated fusion of two disparate musical traditions – the Hindustani and the mid-Eastern.”(1)
His first film as an independent composer was the movie Dost for which he composed nine tunes:
But the very success of these songs of Dost led Sajjad to an altercation with the film’s director Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, under whom Sajjad had earlier worked as his assistant. Rizvi, who was to marry Noor Jehan shortly after this movie was released, publicly ascribed the film’s success to Noor Jehan’s singing. Sajjad felt very offended at this and, besides openly repudiating the claim, also swore never to work with Noor Jehan again.
In 1952, he composed the benchmark setting music for Sangdil which had beautiful solos by Lata; such as Dil mein sama gaye sajan and Woh toh chale gaye ae dil, apart from the unforgettable haunting ghazal, Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandni, which also considerably helped to catapult a rising Talat Mahmood to take his well-deserved place among the top singers of the time. The eminent musicologist Ashok Ranade described the song Yeh hawa yeh raat as a ‘tantalising composition’. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely either), Sajjad fell out with Dilip Kumar, the principal actor of Sangdil, and was never to again compose for any film featuring Dilip Kumar.
Sajjad Husain was a sensitive artist (as most artists are), very conscious of his genius, and was always quick to take offense, especially when he perceived that his genius was either not given its due, which was often, or when someone else’s work was recognised beyond its proper place, as ‘he’ assessed it. Sadly, he also was so proud about this genius that he managed to get on the wrong side of just about everyone in the Hindi film music scene. Among his fellow composers, he had a high regard only for Anil Biswas. Though he was a contemporary of Naushad, he was unimpressed by Naushad’s abilities and reportedly, once strongly admonished Lata during a rehearsal saying, “Yeh Naushad miyaan ka gaana nahin hai. Aapko mehnat karni hogi.” Lata herself has mentioned that Husain was one music director whose compositions gave her the jitters.
Sajjad was a perfectionist and was very exacting in getting what he wanted out of his singers and instrumentalists. He had high regard for Lata’s singing and gave Lata some of his best songs – Ae dilruba nazrein mila (Rustam Sohrab, 1963), Jaate ho toh jao (Khel, 1950), Aaj mere naseeb ne (Hulchul, 1951), Woh toh chale gaye aye dil (Sangdil). The 1951 movie Saiyyan, composed by Sajjad, has six outstanding solos by Lata. Yet, in his book, Lata Mangeshkar, A Biography, Raju Bharatan, the noted film historian and Hindi film music critic, states that when he asked Sajjad Husain if he could recall a number sung by Lata composed by any music director other than himself, he could, after long persuasion, only mention one composition by S.D. Burman, Megha chhaye aadhi raat, from Sharmilee (1971), while simultaneously qualifying the compliment by adding that ‘the composition was not great; it was Lata’s rendition that enhanced it’. Interestingly however, legendary composer Naushad, while commenting on Sajjad said: “He (Sajjad) was an extremely talented artiste, very knowledgeable about music, but his temperament was his undoing. Even if someone made a minor suggestion, he’d turn on him and say: ‘What do you know about music?’ It means he was not prepared to consider anyone a cognoscenti in the matter of music composition.”(2) In consequence, the unfortunate outcome was that his quantitative output was considerably disproportionate to his genius and the quality of his compositions.
In 1951, Sajjad Husain composed music for the movie Hulchul, which had an outstanding Lata rendition, Aaj mere nasib nein, mujhko rula rula diya. But his best work was in 1963, almost towards the end of his composing career, for the movie Rustom Sohrab, which features a qawwali sung by Mohmmad Rafi, Manna Dey and Sadat Khan, Phir tumhari yaad aayi ae sanam, ae sanam. Hum na bhoolenge tumhen Allah kasam. Readers may note that though the tunes of the three stanzas of this qawwali ‘sound’ similar, there are subtle differences in their composition. Sung by Rafi in the softer version of his voice, this is a very catchy and unforgettable tune that any listener would like to hum. But, equally captivating are the lyrics by Qamar Jalalabadi (an Amritsari Punjabi Hindu, born as Om Prakash Bhandari, highly religious and very well versed in Bhagavad Gita and Transcendental Meditation).
Rustom Sohrab had other musical gems, one a typically difficult Sajjad composition sung beautifully by Lata: Ae dilruba, nazrein mila“, besides a classic Yeh kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai’, sung by Suraiya, who was a singing artiste second only to Noor Jehan.
“Husain received many invitations to play the mandolin in films, Mustafa (another son of Sajjad) said his father accepted only two such assignments. The first was from his close friend, the composer Vasant Desai, to play on the title music track of the film Do Behnen (1963). The second invitation came from director Bapu and music director KV Mahadevan for the Telugu film Muthyala Muggu (1975) for which Hussain composed and recorded a stunning five-minute solo piece.”(3)
Sajjad Husain was a priceless asset to Hindi film music but could not get the recognition that was his due, despite his prodigious talent. Anil Biswas, the music maestro, paid him the ultimate homage saying, “He was the most original composer of our industry. All of us at some point have been inspired by something or the other of Sajjad Husain.”
(1) and (3) Sajjad Hussain, the composer whose music has endured ‘with a tenacity that defies reason’ (Rudradeep Bhattacharjee, Scroll.in, Jun 15, 2017
(2) Sajjad Husain, Bollywood’s Loss (DP Rangan, Songs of Yore, July 21, 2018)
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