The story goes that it was Khayyam who had originally been signed on to compose the music for Barsaat Ki Raat (1960). But when R Chandra, the film’s producer and elder brother of its leading man Bharat Bhushan, insisted that the composer use the tune of the qawwali Na Toh But-Kade Ki Talab Mujhe, sung by the famed Pakistani duo of Mubarak Ali Khan and Fateh Ali Khan, Khayyam put his foot down.
He was promptly shown the door, and Roshan was brought in. As the producer had the singers’ permission, Roshan had no qualms about using the tune. The resulting song Na Toh Carvaan Ki Talaash Hai, an epic 12-min qawwali that took almost 24 hours to record, became a rage and is perhaps the first song that comes to mind when we think of great film qawwalis. The other songs of the film, especially the romantic title track Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi, too hit their mark.
The film’s success rescued Roshan’s flagging career and in the next few years, till his untimely death in 1967, he had a golden run with films like Aarti (1962), Dil Hi To Hai (1963), Taj Mahal (1963), Chitralekha (1964), Mamta (1966) and Bahu Begum (1967). But Roshan had already been working as an independent composer for more than a decade before Barsaat Ki Raat happened. His birth centenary is as good an occasion as any to look back at those early years.
Any list made of artistes and technicians who got their first break in films through the multi-faceted Kidar Sharma would be a formidable one. Roshanlal Nagrath made his debut as an independent music director in Sharma’s Neki Aur Badi (1949). It had two noteworthy female solos – Rajkumari’s Humein Bhane Lage and Amirbai Karnataki’s Chand Hansa Aakash Pe – but it is with his next release that Roshan scored his first major hit.
Bawre Nain (1950) is today remembered for the lilting Mukesh-Rajkumari duet Khayalon Mein Kisi Ke and the delectable Rajkumari solo Sun Bairi Balam. The latter got a fresh lease of life in the nineties after a memorable exchange between Dubey and composer Anil Biswas during an episode of a popular television reality show.
The first song on our list is a much underrated one from Bawre Nain. The delightful Ghir Ghir Ke, with its upbeat rhythm, tempered by a subterranean sadness, remains the least-known of what can be described as Roshan’s rain songs.
Lata Mangeshkar marks her presence on a Roshan soundtrack with Hum Log (1951), directed by the Marxist Zia Sarhady. Bahey Ankhiyon Se Dhaar is a propitious beginning of a working relationship that would yield many a classic song down the years.
In fact, the very next year, the duo serves up a feast with Nau Bahar (1952), arguably Roshan’s best work in the ’50s. We are spoilt for choice here – the much-played Aeri Main Toh Prem Diwani, and the lesser-known but very soulful Who Paas Nahin could have both made the cut. But we’re going with the rather delicate Dekho Ji Mera Jiya.
In his early films, it was not Mohammed Rafi but Mukesh who was Roshan’s voice of choice. The singer reciprocated Roshan’s faith in him by getting him on board as music director when he decided to turn producer. Malhar (made under the banner Darling Films) is today remembered chiefly for the immensely catchy Bade Armanon Se Rakha Hai.
However, our next pick is the stunning Garjat Barsat Bheejat Ailo, with Indeewar providing the words to a traditional bandish in raag Goud-Malhar. Incidentally, Roshan would repeat this bandish in Barsaat Ki Raat (Garjat Barsat Sawan Aayo Re). Both songs are used over the opening credits.
Gven Roshan’s fondness for Mukesh, and the fact that KA Abbas’s Anhonee (1952) starred Raj Kapoor (it also had Nargis in a famous double role), it is doubly surprising that the composer opted for Talat Mahmood for Main Dil Hoon Ek Armaan Bhara. But it’s an inspired choice. (Incidentally, the song was among the few that were written by Satyendra Athaiya, who was married to the legendary costume designer and India’s first Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya.)
One of Roshan’s most memorable songs from the 1960s is Rahein Na Rahein Hum (Mamta, 1966). It was a reworking of another Lata Mangeshkar song Thandi Hawayein, composed by SD Burman for the film Naujawan (1951). RD Burman claims that his father was unaware of the similarities between the songs and it was Roshan who came up to him and told him about his inspiration.
This is fascinating because of various reasons: one, RD Burman himself reworked the tune for one of his famous songs (Sagar Kinare); two, SD Burman himself is said to have been inspired by a tune he had heard being played on the piano in a Juhu hotel; three, Roshan used the tune way back in 1954 in a little-known film called Chandni Chowk.
Even after Mangeshkar arrived on the scene, Roshan never really abandoned Rajkumari Dubey. In fact, with her rendition of Kajrari Matwari Madbhari Do Ankhiyan, she holds her own in Nau Bahar, which is studded with several Mangeshkar gems. But then inexplicably, Rajkumari went off the radar.
And then, in a little-known 1957 film titled Taksaal, we heard her voice again. Or so we thought. But it was not Rajkumari; the singer is Ratna Gupta, who seems to have sung only a handful of songs in films and about whom not much is known.
The final song on our list has to be a Mangeshkar solo, though the thought of going for the Lata-Rafi duet Falak Milega Tujhe (Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali, 1955) is quite tempting. Through the ’50s, Mangeshkar, under Roshan’s baton, gave us a string of lesser-known gems – Yehi Bahaar Hai (Raag Rang, 1952), Dard-e-dil Tu Hi Bata De (Jashan, 1955), the quirky Yeh Surkhi Aur Yeh Shaam (Chhora Chhori, 1955), Kahaan Kho Gayi Hai (Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali, 1955) – apart from more well-known ones like Saari Saari Raat (Aji Bas Shukriya, 1958).
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