Sajjad Husain – A Music Director from whom even Madan Mohan copied!

Sajjad Husain – A Music Director from whom even Madan Mohan copied!

Sajjad Husain was one of the most interesting music director in the Indian Cinema. His contemporaries agreed that he was the best of the best! So great was he that even Madan Mohan lifted a tune from Husain’s old song, and that Madan Mohan song went onto to become a great hit!

He was no ordinary talent. Such people come rarely and show flashes of genius before they become victims of their own eccentricity. Ghulam Mohammad, Pakeezah’s Music Director was another – about him, I will write on another day. The text below is taken from this page, with a view to popularize the story and the genius of Sajjad Husain – the only Original music director that Bollywood ever saw!!

Two incidents which best explain Husain’s personality and genius:

One: how, during a recording, he called out tartly to Lata Mangeshkar struggling at the mike with one of his intricate compositions, “Yeh Naushad miyan ka gaana nahin hai, aap ko mehnat karni padegi.”

Two: how at a music directors’ meet, eschewing the customary diplomacy of that era, he walked up to Madan Mohan and demanded belligerently, “What do you mean by stealing my song ?” (“Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandani” from his ‘Sangdil’ had just found a new avatar as “Tujhe kya sunaoon main dilruba” in Madan Mohan’s ‘Aakhri Dao’.)

This is the original from Sajjad Husain in Talat Mehmood’s voice.

And this is Madan Mohan’s version in Mohd Rafi’s voice.

These two hallmarks of Sajjad’s identity — his penchant for complex, many– layered compositions and his singularly forthright nature — stuck to him like a second skin throughout his life. And they combined in a rather unfortunate manner to diminish the potential brilliance of a career that could have ranked among the most celebrated.

It was not the intricacy of his compositions that put Sajjad at a disadvantage — he worked, after all, in an era that belonged to music directors with erudition and firm classical foundations. Where he lost out was in his handling of producers and directors, sometimes musical illiterates, who sought to simplify or alter his tunes — his contemporaries dealt with such “suggestions” rather more tactfully than Sajjad, who would immediately [get] up and walk out of the film.

“He was an extremely talented man, very knowledgeable about music, but his temperament was his undoing,” says Naushad. “Even if someone made a minor suggestion, he’d turn on him and say, ‘What do you know about music ?’ He fought with almost everyone. Because of this, he sat at home most of his life and wasted his talent. But the body of work he has produced, small as it might be, ranks among the best in Hindi film music.”

Music historian Raju Bharatan, whose interaction with Sajjad goes back a long way, has a somewhat different insight into the man. “It’s true he wouldn’t let musically unqualified people interfere with his work,but the popular perception of him being stubborn is not right,” he says. “Sajjad had a rational explanation for every action of his. You had to know him to recognise his tremendous erudition, the fact that he was far superior to every other music director in the industry.”

This erudition, the cornerstone of Sajjad’s work, is recalled affectionately by Naushad.

“He took pride in his ustaadi,” he says. “He’d tell the producer, ‘I’ve created a tune which even Lata can’t sing.’ And the producer would say, ‘If Lata can’t sing it, how do you expect the common man to sing it ?’ But at the same time he did create simple, yet extraordinary, compositions — for example, “Yeh kaisi ajab daastaan ho gayi hai” from ‘Rustam Sohrab’.”

Indeed, as far as Sajjad’s formidable talent goes, there are no two opinions. Madan Mohan, when confronted with the charge of plagiarism, reportedly told him, “I take pride in the fact that I lifted your tune, not that of some second- or third-rater.” Anil Biswas, himself hailed as a creative genius, declared in an interview that Sajjad was the only original composer in Hindi films. “All of us, including myself, turned to some source for inspiration,” he said. “This, Sajjad never needed to do. Each note of the music he composed was his own.” If Sajjad was known primarily for his film scores, there was also another facet to his art — he was an accomplished albeit self-taught mandolin player who could stun even purists with his ability to play Hindustani classical music on this rather uninspiring western instrument.

His performances at concerts alongside the biggest names in classical music spurred rave reviews, and connoisseurs would be agog at his ability to coax the meend, for instance, out of the instrument of play entire ragas with the help of the tuning key. “In the hands of Ustad Sajjad Husain,” said a review of a Madras concert in 1982, “the mandolin bore the halo of a Ravi Shankar sitar or [an] Ali Akbar sarod. His playing is that of a mighty maestro.”

On July 21, the 79-year-old composer breathed his last. The leitmotif of his lifetime, isolation, cast its shadow over his death too, when, with the notable exception of Khayyam and Pankaj Udhas, nobody else from the film industry bothered to turn up to pay him their last respects. “It hurt,” admits his son, “but what is far more important is that to the last day of his life, my father was happy. There was no bitterness, no regrets. He could have been hugely successful, made piles of money, but the only thing he wanted was to be acknowledged as a great musician, and to live life on his own terms. And I think he achieved that.”

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