Article Hindi Malayalam

Dhwani – Naushad's only tryst with Malayalam cinema

Naushad Ali reigned supreme in Hindi cine music for over five decades. In 1988, he composed music for the last film of another legend, Malayalam cinema's Prem Nazir. On Naushad's 11th death anniversary (he died on 5 May 2006), we revisit Dhwani, his sole tryst with Malayalam cinema.

Shriram Iyengar

In October 2016, while the cine world was fretting under the tension of Karan Johar's unreleased Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and its Pakistani connection, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju tweeted a song, 'Janaki Jaane Rama', as an example of Hindu-Muslim secularism in cinema.

Interestingly, Katju had picked a film that marked more than simply Hindu-Muslim secularism. It was part of legendary Mughal-e-Azam (1960) composer Naushad Ali's only tryst with Malayalam cinema, and a colossal musical hit.

While Dhwani (1988) was Naushad's first and last work in Malayalam cinema, it was also the last work of Prem Nazir. An actor who held the Guinness record for playing the lead in the most number of films (725), Prem Nazir was the evergreen hero for Malayalam cinema.

By the early 1980s, Naushad had been more or less sidelined by the rise of a new generation of music composers. Having led the music industry in Hindi cinema for a good part of four decades since his debut in 1940, he was being edged out by the rising talents of RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Rajesh Roshan. However, Naushad's strength lay in his deep understanding of classical music.

Having learnt classical music under Ustad Ghurbat Ali, Ustad Yusuf Ali and Ustad Babban Saheb, the composer charted a path in the film industry with his uniquely classical compositions that catered to different storylines. It was this ability that put him in direct competition with C Ramchandra. In Naushadnama: The Life and Music of Naushad, film historian Raju Bharatan describes how the two composers led a battle of wits over the use of Western orchestration in film music during the 1950s.

Raju Bharatan quotes Naushad saying, "...Western instruments have to be used discriminatingly and creatively. Wholesale adoption of Western modes is what I am inveighing against. Let's not Westernize for the sake of sounding Western — that way what we get is not musical concord but musical cacophony." (Ch 2, Pg 37)

The best example of his control of classical music was the soundtrack for Baiju Bawra (1952). Incidentally, Katju might as well have tweeted about Baiju Bawra. For it was Baiju Bawra that was the perfect example of Hindu-Muslim secularism in the form of 'Man Tadpat Hari Darshan Ko', composed in raga Malkauns. The bhajan was written by Shakeel Badayuni, composed by Naushad, and sung by Mohammed Rafi. The music of Baiju Bawra is also known for its classical purity. The album saw Naushad collaborate with Hindustani classical legends like Ustad Aamir Khan and Pandit DV Paluskar.

By the time the composer signed for Dhwani (1988), Mohammed Rafi was no more. Even Kishore Kumar had passed away the previous year. It was then that Naushad chose KJ Yesudas to be the voice of his hero. The singer, unsurprisingly, features in every song in the soundtrack.

The soundtrack of Dhwani attained popular status in Malayalam cinema owing to its simplistic tones, and a natural Carnatic underlay. The composer's natural understanding of instruments that synced with the ambience and ethos of the film reaffirmed his legendary status.

Written by Malayalam poet Yusuf Ali Kechery, the songs ranged from elated to romantic to sombre ballads. Each was underscored by the choice of the right raga to match the mood (rasa) of its lyrics. It is here that Naushad's greatness shines through.

One of the most popular songs of the film is 'Anuragalola Gathri'. Sung by Yesudas and P Susheela, the composition is set to raga Gowri Manohari. A favourite of Carnatic composers like Thyagaraja and Swati Thirunal, the raga is unique as it has no equivalent in Hindustani music. Naushad's manipulation of this beautiful raga, which is romantic in its rasa, is proof of his genius.

Another beautiful song from the album is 'Janaki Jaane', the bhajan that arrives at a crucial moment of the plot. As the mute girl, played by Shobhana, struggles with her inability to express her love, Naushad uses the simple raga Yamuna Kalyani to depict her pathos. Incidentally, the song is entirely in Hindi.

Another wonderful composition is 'Maanasa Nilayil' composed in raga Abheri, a particular favourite of opera composers and writers, including a certain Ilayaraja. The song, a romantic ballad, changes tune from peaceful to elated through a simple progression.

The only light classical number in Dhwani is perhaps 'Rathisukha Saaramayi', a romantic ballad set to raga Sindhu Bhairavi. The raga, used by traditionalists for light bhajans, is believed to have originated from Arabian musicians.

The incongruous presence of a North Indian composer, setting aside his legendary status, did not deter fans from lapping up the music of Dhwani. The soundtrack still earns applause among traditionalist fans for its brilliant mix of semi-classical and classical music.

Naushad would not compose again till Akbar Khan's Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story (2005). In an interview before his final project, the great man said, "We used to agonize over every tune and phrase in music, spend sleepless nights over a song, and work on it until it was perfected. And I am still looking for perfection."

Naushad died in 2006. He was a winner of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Dadasaheb Phalke award, and the Padma Bhushan. His contribution to Indian cinema, immeasurable as it is, can be glimpsed in his work for films like Baiju Bawra (1952), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Mere Mehboob (1963) and Ram Aur Shyam (1967). Somewhere in that list is a Malayalam film that deserves mention. After all, it contains the Dhwani of the great Naushad Ali.