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10 unforgettable songs by the great Naushad

Among the greatest composers in Hindi cinema, Naushad Ali reigned over the billboards for a magical three decades. From writing KL Saigal's favourite song to mentoring Lata Mangeshkar, the composer left his mark on the film music. On his 97th birth anniversary (26 December), we look at 10 unforgettable songs by the legend.

Shriram Iyengar

When he arrived in Bombay as a broke young man, Naushad Ali would spend nights outside the footpath of Broadway theatre at Dadar TT. By the mid-1950s, he was one of the more sought-after composers in the Hindi film industry. From KL Saigal to Lata Mangeshkar, singers have sung the praises of the man who redefined Indian film music with his ouevre and nuance. Here are 10 songs from his limitless collection. 

Also see: 5 instances of Naushad's creative genius

1. 'Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya' (Shahjehan, 1946)
One of his earliest compositions was for AR Kardar's Shahjehan (1946). Starring the singing star KL Saigal, the film had Naushad composing some memorable tunes. One of the most iconic compositions in the film was 'Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya'. So touching was the tune to Saigal that he ordered it to be played at his funeral as his last wish. No greater praise could the great singer accord the composer, Naushad. 

2. 'Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki' (Dulari, 1949) 
This was a very different composition for Naushad. Known for his traditional compositions with high-end classical notes, he delivered a wonderfully light but soulful love ballad for Dulari (1949). Another Kardar film, another hit. The song established the composer as a versatile talent in his time.

3. 'Hue Hum Jinke Liye Barbad' (Deedar, 1951)
In many ways, it was this film, and Naushad's tragic compositions, that led to Dilip Kumar's evolution as the 'King of Tragedy'. In this heartrending song, the actor's portrayal of a blind, lovestruck musician on the streets is exemplary. Naushad's composition adds the subtext of heavy tragedy to an acting performance that is already powerful and emotional. 

4. 'Aaj Gawat Man Mero' (Baiju Bawra, 1952)
It was not just the film industry that respected Naushad. He evoked admiration even from legends of Hindustani and classical music. In the musical superhit Baiju Bawra (1952), Naushad achieved a miracle by bringing together two legends of Hindustani classical music to the playback studio. DV Paluskar and Ustad Amir Khan voiced this jugalbandi between the characters of Baiju Bawra and Tansen. It is said that the ustad, a critic of film music, heard Naushad's composition for the first time and agreed immediately.

5. 'Mohe Panghat Pe' (Mughal-e-Azam, 1958)
When K Asif decided on the cast and crew for his magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam, he had an obvious choice for music director, Naushad. The director could think of no other composer who could imbue the larger-than-life story with musical heft. Naushad proved to be equal to the task. From using a 100-member chorus for the 'Zindabad zindabad' track to making Lata Mangeshkar sing in a bathrooom to catch the echo for 'Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya', he used technical innovations to add a whole new dimension to his music. This is a charming number that reminds audiences that regardless of all these technical gifts, the composer could deliver a simple, playful bhajan with equal artistic ease. 

6. 'Nain Lad Jayi Hain' (Gunga Jumna, 1961)
Ganga Jumna is rightfully hailed by many as the pinnacle of Dilip Kumar's acting skill. The only method actor, as Satyajit Ray called him, wore the role of a rustic bumpkin-turned-dacoit magnificently. Yet, it was the ability of Naushad to bring in the flavours of folk music, rhythms, and songs to the screen that made a brilliant impact. This high-tempo number became a chartbuster for its connection with the masses as much as the classes.

7. 'Mere Mehboob' (Mere Mehboob, 1963)
Just when you thought the composer was turning populistic, Naushad would return to deliver a masterclass of the highest order. In 1963, 'Mere Mehboob' established Rajendra Kumar as the delicate, gentleman lover of Hindi cinema. With extraordinary verse by Shakeel Badayuni, the music contained the salt of Lucknow, a city Naushad knew like the back of his hand. 

8. 'Apni Azadi Ko Hum' (Leader, 1964)
The 1960s saw the composer run away from the rest of the pack with his compositions. This rousing anthem became one of the most popular songs of the day with its nationalistic undertone. With Leader, Naushad evolved into a more urbane composer with the ability to bring a Westernised orchestral background to his more classical Hindustani base. Though it was not his finest work, it was certainly a watershed moment for him as a composer. 

9. 'Aaj Ki Raat Mere Dil Ki Salami' (Ram Aur Shyam, 1964)
There was something about the sedate ghazal that touched a chord with the composer, Naushad's affinity for ghazals stretched back to his days as a young boy in Lucknow, when he would visit mushairas. This touch continued through his work in the industry, where he delivered scores for some truly memorable film ghazals, one of which is this nostalgic ode to love picturised on Waheeda Rehman and Dilip Kumar. 

10. 'Nazariya Ki Maari' (Pakeezah, 1972)
Naushad never considered his compositions for Pakeezah as his own. The film was the child of his friend and colleague for a long time, Ghulam Mohammed. When Ghulam Mohammed tragically passed away in the midst of his work, Naushad stepped in to help out. He composed two tracks for the film but never accepted any praise or credit for the work. It was a sign of humility and friendship that defined the great man.