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How Ghulam Haider brought Punjabi rhythms to Hindi films 

A composer whose fame has been brushed over, Ghulam Haider's key contributions to Indian cinema music was the popularising of Punjabi folk tunes and earthy rhythms that have become the backbone of contemporary film music. 

Shriram Iyengar

In an interview on her 84th birthday, India's very own nightingale, Lata Mangeshkar revealed, "Ghulam Haider is truly my Godfather. It was his confidence in me that he fought for me to tuck me into the Hindi film industry, which otherwise had rejected me." It might have been enough for history to praise Ghulam Haider for this sole contribution, but it was not his only one. Ghulam Haider was also the man who pioneered the use of Punjabi rhythms and melodies in film music. 

Ghulam Haider began his career in music in erstwhile Pakistan. Trained in Hindustani classical music by Babu Ganeshlal, he was also educated in the vocation of dentistry. However, the draw of music proved far too strong for him to abstain. He turned to Calcutta in 1920, then the capital of the Indian film industry, to work as a harmonium player with the Alfred Theatre Company. Once established, he found mentors in Roshan Lal Shorey and Roop Kishore Shorey who offered him a break in Swarg ki Sidhi (1935). His compositions were traditional, and carried with them the Punjabi lilt that are now the most popular form of musical fusion. 

Over the term of his short career, Haider delivered hits in the form of the Punjabi film Gul-e-Bakavli (1939), Khazanchi (1941), Khandan (1942), and the Ashok Kumar hit Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944). Khazanchi's free reined music that breathed fresh life into the industry while Gul-e-Bakavli stands out for its typical Punjabi folk music that played foundation to the serene voice of Shamshad Begum. But his greatest contribution remains the discovery of two gem of vocalists: Shamshad Begum and Lata Mangeshkar. 

The late 1940s saw some prolific work by Haider. The Dilip Kumar starrer Shaheed (1948) was one of his biggest hits. The film was also the first time the composer tried to introduce a Lata Mangeshkar to Hindi cinema. However, producer S Mukerji rejected her voice as being 'too thin'. Angered, Haider declared emphaticallyl that this 'thin voice' will soon put every other voice in India to shade, including that of Noorjehan. As documentary filmmaker and music afficianado Pavan Jha says, "Although Lata Mangeshkar's career was shaped by Khemchand Prakash in Mahal and Ziddi, but it was Majboor that was her first big break in Hindi films. Majboor was the first big hit, sadly it has not been documented at all. It was the first album where Lata Mangeshkar's voice was present in every song. Not even Ziddi or Mahal had so many songs in Lata's voice. That is why it was an important break for her." 

An important aspect of Ghulam Haider's work was his contribution to popularising rhythm and melodies in films. Jha says, "Punjabi music had a rhythm component, which was an inherent cultural aspect. Of this, Ghulam Haider was one of its greatest exponents. He started out with the significant films like Yamla Jat, which was Pran's debut, and Gul-e-Bakavli. The latter was the film which established Noorjehan in cinema, later Khandan established Shamshad Begum in Hindi cinema." The rhythm and melody which was to become a staple for composers like Naushad and OP Nayyar was brought to Bombay by Ghulam Haider. Jha points out that where other composers like RC Boral or Timir Baran had the foundation of orchestration to build on, Haider relied on the earthy, Punjabi tones for his compositions. "His films have music built around the rhythm of the dholak. Another example is 'Sawan Ke Nazare' from Khazanchi," Jha added. 

It is perhaps apt that both Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum found the perfect musical partnership with composers like Naushad and OP Nayyar, after the post-partition departure of Ghulam Haider to Pakistan. Jha points out that Naushad's later success with films like Mughal-e-Azam (1960), and Mother India (1957) could be traced to Ghulam Haider's departure. He says, "Haider was probably the highest paid music composers of his time. His return to Pakistan proved to be the turning point for composers, Naushad in particular. Directors like Mehboob Khan and K Asif, had actually started with Ghulam Haider. His departure to Pakistan ensured that films like Mother India and Mughal-e-Azam fell into Naushad's lap." 

It is sad that a composer who influenced heavyweights in Hindi film music like Husnlal-Bhagatram, Naushad, and OP Nayyar remains forgotten. His early death in 1953 at the age of 44 proved devastating. As Punjabi rhythms form the base for contemporary film music, its pioneer remains forgotten in the dusty pages of history. Jha says, "His death in 1953, a few years after Independence, otherwise he could have been a bigger name in Indian cinema. Sadly, the history of Indian cinema tends to start from 1950. His most significant work in the early 1940s is often ignored by people." Not many might remember Ghulam Haider, but his life's work and legacy continues to flourish.