Naushad the Perfectionist by Manna Dey
This article appeared in the Bengali daily Anandabazaar Patrika on May 13, 2006; translated from the original Bengali article by Mr. Pocha Haldar.
Whenever I get the time, I listen to Naushadâ€™s songs sung by Mohammed Rafi. Over and over again. Everytime I get the same feeling. The joy of realising that this is what is perhaps called the perfect jugalbandi, something that cannot be surpassed.
In our country, the ideal male voice for touching your heart was Rafi. And Naushad could get the best out of Rafi. If I have to list all of their songs, even at this age, I will have to go on and on. Suhani raat dhal chuki; O duniya ke rakhwale; Man tarpat hari darshan; Madhuban mein radhika; O door ke musafir; Koi sagar dil ko bahalata nahi. So many songs, which ones should I talk about? If I leave out one, everyone will say why Manna Dey did not include that song.
I can go on talking about Rafi as a singer and as a human being. He is such a favourite of mine. And I am deeply indebted to Naushad for elevating Rafi to a different level. In my opinion, Khayyam and O. P. Nayyar are the two other directors who made excellent use of Rafiâ€™s voice. But Naushad was ahead of everyone. Naushad gave some memorable tunes to Lata too, but I am totally enthralled by Naushad-Rafi.
I have also sung a few songs for Naushad. Compared to Rafi, it is much less. But even now people ask me to sing Chuneriya katri jaye re or Dukh bhare din bitare bhaiya from Mother India and Mere ghar ke samne palki chali gayi from Palki during my concerts. I receive requests to sing the bhajan Sangeet hai shakti ishwar ki many, many times. This bhajan was composed for the film Shabab 52 years ago. What a feeling to be singing a bhajan written by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by Naushad! Anyone who listens to these songs would know how deftly Naushad saab infused Hindustani classical music into his songs. Take Rafiâ€™s Madhuban mein radhika for instance. Whenever you hear it, you think of Naushad saab. How easily he could touch peopleâ€™s hearts with his raga-based music!
How good was Naushad saab as a music director? The whole world was thrilled by his music. What can I say? But I want to point out two things that really impressed me. First, he was a total perfectionist. Second, he was totally Indian. This Indianness made him different from everyone else. I remember two assistants that he had: Sebastian and Joe. But while arranging the music, Naushad would have at least twenty violins and three cellos, and the music arrangement would reach a different level. Apart from giving Rafiâ€™s voice an extra dimension, I deeply respect Naushad for incorporating western musical instruments in his songs. But he never deviated from his Indianness and was never influenced by other musical traditions. He could easily use legendary classical singers like Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and D. V. Paluskar as playback singers in his films.
Naushad saabâ€™s rehearsal style was spontaneous. He would make changes while chatting without the singers being aware. There was no question of showing any displeasure. He could not stand even the smallest of defects. Before recording, he would rehearse a song at least five-six times. Sometimes even that was not enough.
I remember rehearsing for one song in Palki with Rafi and Asha. We had already rehearsed before the recording. Before the recording, we sang it once again and Naushad saab praised us profusely. We were in a good mood, thinking that the recording would be over soon. Then he told me gently, â€œManna saab, the way you sang it here, why donâ€™t you do it again?â€ I did. After twenty minutes, it was okayed. In a similar way, he asked Rafi and Asha to make changes. Then he asked his arrangers to make changes to how some musical instrument should be played. By the time the final version was recorded, we had done so many retakes!
That is Naushad Ali. Could not stand even the minutest defect. No changes in the tune. He would not give you any freedom to make changes to his tunes. The music arrangers would be at their feet all the time.
There was one exception. That was when he left much of the song to me. It was around 1985 when I was singing under his direction for a Bhojpuri film called Rajpati. After hearing me sing, he said, â€œYou can speak Bhojpouri so well. Such good pronunciation! Why donâ€™t you do the song yourself?â€
Once some of my acquaintances from Kannada Radio wanted to interview Naushad saab and they asked me for my help. Naushad saab immediately agreed to my request. But the condition was that I would have to go to his house and have lunch with him. When I went, I found that lavish arrangements had been made; Muslims are famous for their hospitality. We chatted for a long time. With a smile on his face, he said, â€œEveryone asks me, who is a greater singer? Mohammed Rafi or Manna Dey?â€ I smiled and replied, â€œWhy donâ€™t you tell them Rafi is a much better singer? I say that myself. Thatâ€™s what I believe in my mind.â€
I am saying it again, our and everyone’s favourite Rafi, Indiaâ€™s best male voice of all time, could transcend to a different level because of the magic in Naushadâ€™s tunes. I do not have the words to express my gratitude and respect to Naushad for that.