The popularity of music concerts of famous singers, like, say, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Atif Aslam, may be judged by the fact that they are attended by thousands of people. The fabulous amounts of several millions that they charge are conveniently recovered from the sale of tickets, and the organisers go back home with their own pockets overflowing with good money. All this happens in the course of one evening.
A connoisseur of music myself, it gives me pleasure to know about the popularity of these concerts and other entertainment programmes. At the same time, it reminds me of the painful conditions under which Pakistani film industry’s renowned playback singers of yesteryear had spent the last years of their lives. Today, as we celebrate Eid, let us pay a tribute to some of the legends who graced our world.
Pakistan’s first feature film Teri Yaad was released in August 1948 and contained songs as per the prevailing tradition. Songs by the first male playback singer Ali Buksh Zahoor, who would later run a tailoring shop in Lahore, and the already known Munawar Sultana are still listened to with interest by the music lovers.
In the 1950s, male playback singing was dominated by Inayat Hussain Bhatti, Saleem Raza and Munir Hussain. There are many hit songs to their credit, such as Bhagan waleo, naam japo from the film Shehri Babu by Inayat Hussain, and innumerable songs by the other two.
Saleem Raza’s popular songs include Yaro mujhe, muaaf rakho from the film Saat Lakh; Jaan-e-baharan, rashke chaman from Azra, and Kaheen do dil jo mil jatey from Saheli.
Munir Hussain’s hits include Saifuddin Saif’s famous poem from the film Saat Lakh, Qarar lutne wale, tu pyar ko tarse. This unique song, in which the lover consistently curses his beloved, had become superhit across the subcontinent and was played frequently by Radio Ceylon.
Besides, he beautifully rendered Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem Nisar mein tere galion pe, aay watan ke jahan from the film Shaheed and Aye meri zindagi, aye haseen nazneen from Tauba.
Both these singers belonged to Lahore and their careers in the film industry came to almost an abrupt end with the arrival of Mehdi Hasan on the scene. However, another singer from Karachi, Mujeeb Alam, possessing a mellifluous voice, emerged on the landscape of Lahore’s film industry despite tough competition from Mehdi Hasan and the evergreen Ahmed Rushdi. His songs Woh mere samne, tasveer banay baithay haen from Chakori and Mein tere ajnabi shehr mein from Shama Aur Parwana were picturised on the then top hero Nadeem. Another song Mein khushi se kyon na gayoon from Lori was picturised on another great actor, Muhammad Ali.
During the 1970s, Saleem Raza would get some work from Lahore’s radio and television stations, but his income was not enough for him to manage the household. I had the privilege of learning from him a few ghazals and geets that he had composed for Pakistan Television. Being disappointed with his fallen status in the industry, Saleem migrated to Canada in the early 1980s and died there after a few years.
Munir Hussain faced utter poverty and once wept bitterly before me, complaining that he did not have money even to pay the tonga fare. During his glorious days in the industry, Mujeeb Alam had rented the motor garage of a house in Model Town’s Block B. He would often walk down for around a kilometre to come to my residence in Block H for singing sessions. Towards the end of his singing career in Lahore, he returned to Karachi and died in relative distress.
It is amazing how times have changed, and it is rather heartening to know that popular singers of the present era will not have to face such depressing circumstances. They will always owe their status to the legends who kept the music scene alive with their heart and soul even in tough times.