Latest Articles


    Harjap Singh Aujla



     Punjab must be genuinely proud of its great son Mohammad Rafi, who was born in a non-descript hamlet in a remote rural area of Amritsar district. Starting from a humble and modest beginning, he rose to become the most prolific film playback singer of the movie industry, not only in India , but in the whole world.

     The Punjabis should be doubly proud that two of their sons have ruled over film singing for more than half a century. K.L. Saigal was the first Punjabi singing star, who dominated the Indian film industry for a decade and a half from 1933 to 1947. The Indian film industry switched over from silent movies to talkies in 1931, when film “Alam Ara” was made. But ever since actor singer Kundan Lal Saigal started his film career in the eastern metropolis of Calcutta in 1933, he did not look back and went from strength to strength, until death put a sudden end to his brilliant career as a singing leading actor in the dark year of 1947.

     When Saigal’s health was deteriorating, Mohammad Rafi was warming up to step into Saigal’s spikes. Mohammad Rafi’s success story is indeed a story of rags to riches. He was born in a village called “Kotla Sultan Singh” near the town of Majitha in the then Punjab ’s second largest district of Amritsar. Most of the land in his village was owned by Sikh farmers and the Muslim families were assisting them. The relations between the two communities were extremely cordial and the village was a happy community, unaffected by what was happening in Lahore and Amritsar . Most of the inhabitants had very few desires and aspirations and that precisely led to their contented lifestyle. The children of the village used to play “Chhattapoo”, “Pithoo”, “Kokla Chhapaki” “Gulel and target” as well as hide and seek. Mohammad Rafi’s childhood was not much different from other kids. In addition Mohammad Rafi liked to copy the folk singers in his amateur way.

     Mohammad Rafi was always falling in line with most of his villager folks. His education was confined basically to reading and writing in Urdu in Persian script. Cramming up of a little bit of multiplication tables was his other education. In his moments of leisure, he used to carry his family’s and friends’ cattle for grazing in  the fields. Intensive cultivation was alien to most of the villagers then and a lot of grassy fields were left untilled for the cattle to graze. As a child Mohammad Rafi always loved to graze cattle. He had heard some local “Mirasis” (Muslims, who’s profession was singing and acting as folk comedians) singing folk songs in semi-classical and other country tunes. He liked this art and his voice was suitable for it. He used to copy the “Mirasis” of his surrounding villages. While grazing cattle he used to sing popular Punjabi folk songs to all and sundry in the village.

     Mohammad Rafi was born in 1924 in his ancestral village Kotla Sultan Singh. Radio during those days was in its infancy in Europe and America . India did get some experimental radio in the four metros of Calcutta , Bombay , Madras and New Delhi in 1927. Lahore had a brief stint with amateur radio in 1928. But organized broadcasting came to Punjab in 1936 in the public sector. The newly constructed studio complex opened in Lahore in 1937. Thus up to the age of thirteen, Mohammad Rafi had practically no exposure to radio.

     Gramophone (in America phonograph) was already in great demand in the high-end “Bazaars” in the commercial city of Amritsar . Most of the wealthy people had already bought gramophones for their homes. Mohammad Rafi had also heard some music in the “Havelis” (imposing houses of the rich in Punjab ) of Majitha and the Bazaars of Amritsar. Born in Amritsar Indu Bala, was  the then leading most “Thumri” singer of India and Kamla Jharia was fast becoming the most prolific “Thumri” and “Ghazal” singer of India. These voices could be heard during those days in the music stores of “Hall Bazaar” in Amritsar . Mohammad Rafi certainly had some exposure to this music. His once in a blue moon visits to the historic “Hall Bazaar” always left behind sweet memories. Bhai Chhaila of Patiala was the most popular Punjabi folk singer of that time and Dina Qawwal of Jalandhar was becoming popular. Both these artists had some impact on Rafi. Agha Faiz of Amritsar was a great gramophone singer. Rafi had heard all these voices. Nevertheless he was happy and blissful in the dusty fields of his village. Every one in the village was his friend and none was his foe. What a life he had? 

     There was no one in his village to initiate Mohammad Rafi into the intricacies of classical music, which was and still is the mother of all music in India . Unaware of his handicap of not learning classical music, Mohammad Rafi kept singing to himself and to his simple village folks. His father wanted to create better living conditions for his family. One fine morning his father decided to leave for Lahore the capital of Punjab about fifty miles away from their village. Like several other Amritsaris, he was a very good cook and Amritsari cooks were in great demand not only in Lahore , but all over Northern India . His father opened a “Dhaba” (a no frills country style eating house) in Lahore . His food was invariably delicious and the customers both locals and outsiders started thronging to it. Well begun is half done, he sent a massage to his son Mohammad Rafi to come over to Lahore . Mohammad Rafi reached Lahore round about in 1941, at the age of seventeen.

     His father got Mohammad Rafi a job at a hair-dresser’s saloon. He used to shave the customers’ beards quite slowly but carefully. In order to keep his customers in good humour, while doing cuttings and shavings he used to keep singing some folk and country songs of Punjab . Rafi’s customers seldom took notice of his slowness, rather they enjoyed his music. One day Jiwan Lal Mattoo, the program executive of music at All India Radio Lahore passed by the hair cutting saloon and he faintly heard young Mohammad Rafi’s enchanting voice and he instantly liked its sweetness, range and tonal quality. He stopped and paused for a while and then entered the shop. He asked Mohammad Rafi if he was interested in becoming a radio singer. On hearing this unsolicited offer, Mohammad Rafi jumped in the air in happiness. In the month of March in 1943, Mohammad Rafi appeared in the audition test at the studios of All India Radio Lahore and to his utter surprise he passed the test. Thus from March 1943, Mohammad Rafi became a radio artist. This happened six months prior to the Nightingale of Punjab Surinder Kaur becoming a radio singer. At about the same time in 1943, after hearing his voice on the radio, a newly emerging film music director Shyam Sunder requested Mohammad Rafi to sing a song for his Punjabi film “Gul Baloch”. Mohammad Rafi did full justice to this film song and it opened the gates for his future entry into the field of Bombay ’s playback singing.



     Mohammad Rafi, a genius who rose to be the leading most film singer of the Indian subcontinent, had a modest and uneventful beginning. At the time of his arrival in Punjab ’s capital city of Lahore , from a small village of neighbouring Amritsar district, Mohammad Rafi had absolutely no idea or for that matter no expectation that some day he can be the leading film playback singer of his time. He was a saintly figure since childhood and was contented with his destiny. .

     Prior to moving to Lahore , he was married to the daughter of an uncle. Those were the days when child marriages were not uncommon in Northern India . He was less than fifteen when he entered into the wedlock, but he was told by his father-in-law to become self supporting before his wife could join him.

     For a couple of years, he was shaving the beards and cutting and dressing the hair of Lahorias. He kept enjoying even this profession thoroughly. He was not earning much money, but whatever he earned was more than enough to keep his soul satisfied and happy. Being a God fearing and honest young man, he had unique patience and bliss to live in whatever condition God desired him to exist. He never aspired to hop from one job to the other for better emoluments. Nature had blessed him with an uncanny unselfishness and utmost satisfaction in life. He never hankered after ill gotten wealth, power and pelf. Light music sprang naturally from his throat and he kept singing for his own pleasure and for the happiness of his customers. But his listeners saw something extraordinary in his sweet, melodious and soul inspiring voice. He was a God fearing person and a regular five times a day “Namazi”, but he was not the least bigoted. He could endear himself to any person who came in his contact even for a short-while.

     Jiwan Lal Mattoo of the music department of All India Radio Lahore spotted his musical talent in 1943 and after rigorous audition process, he trained Mohammad Rafi to develop into a folk and country singer. The knowledge, practice and appropriate application of classical music is essential for any singer. Jiwan Lal Mattoo imparted the requisite knowledge of the most commonly used classical Raagas in Punjab ’s folk music to Mohammad Rafi. Raga Pahadi was one such raga and Bhairavi was another. Basant and Malhar were some other commonly used ragas in Punjab . In addition to Jiwan Lal Mattoo, Master Inayat Hussain also gave Mohammad Rafi the finer point of folk singing. Mohammad Rafi also got along very well with another music teacher Budh Singh Taan, who also groomed Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur. Incidentally both Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur were making more money while in Lahore compared to Rafi.

     There were several known “Ustad” singers living in Lahore , who in age and years of experience were far more senior to Mohammad Rafi. He never tried to step on their shoes. Budh Singh Taan was also a light singer. Deen Mohammad used to sing as a solo folk singer, in addition to being a leading Qawaal. Agha Faiz of Amritsar was a very sophisticated folk and semi-classical singer. Another product of Amritsar , Shamshad Begum was senior to Mohammad Rafi by six years and born in Kasur child prodigy Noorjehan preceded Mohammad Rafi by four years. Both Umrao-Zia-Begum and Zeenat Begum were also senior to Mohammad Rafi. True to his quality of utter humility, Mohammad Rafi gave a lot of respect to all his seniors in profession. Mohammad Rafi was indeed a great learner. He won’t mind touching the feet of any “Ustad”, who was willing to teach him something new in music. That is why, “Ustad” maestros like Dilip Chander Vedi, a leading Dhrupad exponent of Punjab held Mohammad Rafi in high esteem.

     Mohammad Rafi had a lot of regards for Bhai Samund Singh ji of Sri Nankana Sahib and a colleague at All India Radio Lahore. Once he said Bhai Samund Singh is so much at home with classical music that he talks in classical music, which we can’t. About Bhai Santa Singh, he used to say “Bhai Santa Singh’s high-pitched calls to the “Guru” can never go unheard. On Bhai Santa Singh’s 1966 visit to Bombay, Mohammad Rafi made it a point to attend each one of his renditions scheduled at various Gurdwaras in the city Similarly when block-buster Punjabi film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” was made in 1969, both Mohammad Rafi and Bhai Samund Singh were its leading singers.    

     After Mohammad Rafi’s tough nut father-in-law discovered that his son-in-law has become a radio singer, he sent his daughter to join Mohammad Rafi. The couple was very simple, unassuming and very hospitable. Mohammad Rafi had a vast circle of friends and fans. They used to converge to his home to listen to his silken voice. Mohammad Rafi’s wife was never tired of being the hostess. Most Lahorias were fond of drinking, but Rafi had never touched hard liquor in life. His guests also respected his pious restraints and never insisted to drinking in his and his wife’s presence. His music was enough of an intoxicant to his friends.

     Several movies in Hindi and Punjabi were made in Lahore during Mohammad Rafi’s stay in that city, but somehow it did not occur to any of the music directors to feature his velvety voice in a song. The only exception was another genius maestro Shyam Sunder, who gave Mohammad Rafi a Punjabi song to record. This film was “Gul Baloch” made in 1943. However this Punjabi film was poorly made and was not going to be a hit and its songs also sank along with the film.

     A great music director Pandit Amar Nath liked Mohammad Rafi’s voice, but he had lined up other singers for his songs. Another great music director Master Ghulam Haider liked him too, but he was moving to Bombay . While packing up to leave for Bombay , he whispered in the ears of Mohammad Rafi to join him later on in Bombay . Ghulam Haider left for Bombay in the end of 1943. In his long and wide entourage were included his well known orchestra as well as Lahore ’s famous film singers like Shamshad Begum, Umrao-Zia-Begum and Noorjehan.

     On a second call from Master Ghulam Haider, Mohammad Rafi decided to move lock stock and barrel from Lahore to Bombay in 1945. All that he used to earn was mostly spent on entertaining his friends and fans. It should not come as a surprise that Mohammad Rafi had not enough money to buy tickets in economy class for the Frontier Mail to Bombay . On this occasion his long term pampered friends and relatives, including his elder brother, came to his rescue. After an emotional and  tearful send off at Lahore Junction, he dis-embarked in Bombay after two days of monotonous train journey. Bombay was the ultimate city of dreams for everyone connected with movies and it proved extremely fruitful for Mohammad Rafi too.



     Mohammad Rafi was not a part of Master Ghulam Haider’s contingent, when he moved from Lahore to Bombay in the end of 1943. But after receiving several calls from Bombay , Mohammad Rafi finally decided to leave Lahore for Bombay in 1945. While boarding the train in Lahore , he was seen off by hordes of hugging and emotionally charged friends and relatives, but in Bombay there was no such scene. Hardly anyone turned up to receive him. This was a big cultural shock, but Mohammad Rafi was too cool to be agitated by such incidents. He had come to Bombay with a promise, which he had to fulfill at any cost.

     Mohammad Rafi sang a couple of film songs in 1945 in Bombay , but due to poor name recognition, these songs did not help him much. However he was paid a lot better. All India Radio gave him rupees twenty five for a whole day of singing in Lahore, but in Bombay he was paid, during those days a whopping sum of rupees three hundred per film song. In order to make both ends meet, he sang privately too in “Mehfils”, among the Punjabi community of Bombay .

     Mohammad Rafi’s first big break came late in 1946. Shooting for a Dilip Kumar Noorjehan starrer block-buster film “Jugnu” was started in 1946. This film was directed by Sayyed Showqat Hussain Rizvi and its soul stirring music was composed by Feroze Nizami on the lyrics contributed by Tanvir Naqvi. All at one or the other time had moved from Lahore and other parts of Punjab to Bombay . By this time Noorjehan had already established herself as the leading female film singer. Her competitor was another actress singer Suraiya. Both hailed from Lahore district. Mohammad Rafi was from the neighboring district of Amritsar.

     Noorjehan was extremely jovial and witty. She was known to give tough time to her competitors and co-singers. Strongly built, but petite in height, Noorjehan was already in the sound recording studio for the recording of a duet. She was expecting G.M. Durrani to be the other singer. But Feroze Nizami had a better option. Feroze asked Mohammad Rafi to come for rehearsal. When short simply dressed Mohammad Rafi arrived in the studion, Noorjehan erupted into a loud laughter. Being still new in Bombay and pitted opposite a star singer Noorjehan, Mohammad Rafi got nervous. Noorjehan smilingly asked Mohammad Rafi “So little chap you have finally come to Bombay , welcome, welcome, how were things in Lahore ?”. A nervous Mohammad Rafi remarked “Things are not bad in Lahore , every one over there was missing their baby Noorjehan. On hearing this instant reply from otherwise a quiet man, everyone in the studio erupted into a loud laughter. Most of the members of the orchestra were of course Punjabis. Mohammad Rafi tried his best in rehearsals, but he was under a complex that he was singing opposite a star. When the recording of the duet song “Yahan badla wafa ka be wafayi ke siwa kya hai” was completed, Mohammad Rafi had doubts about his performance. He wanted a retake, but the music director said it is fine.

     When the film was released in 1947, this very duet became the best selling song. This gave the necessary break to Mohammad Rafi and from then on he never looked back and went from strength to strength.  Mohammad Rafi’s price tag per song recording jumped to rupees five hundred, the same as Noorjehan’s.

     After the release of film “Jugnu”, Mohammad Rafi became a much sought after playback singer. Ghulam Haider was composing music for another block-buster film “Shaheed”. Surinder Kaur was its leading female singer, but one song sung by Mohammad Rafi “Watan ki raah main watan ken au jawan shaheed ho” became so popular that Mohammad Rafi became a household name. This song was recorded in 1948 and released during the same year.

     Born on April 11, 1904 the reigning male singing star K.L. Saigal died on January 18, 1947 at the age of forty two. Like a “Banyan” tree K.L. Saigal was larger than life, no other singer could grow to potential under his shadow. Being trained in Calcutta , K.L. Saigal’s style of singing had the tinge of semi-classical musician with a Bengali finesse. But Mohammad Rafi’s style was a lot more flexible and suitable for every actor. G.M. Durrani was another Punjabi singer, who in years was senior to Mohammad Rafi. The top slot left open by K.L. Saigal’s demise  took some time to be filled.

    A lot of music directors came forward to groom and polish the singing skills of Mohammad Rafi.

    Pundit Husnalal Playing his favorite instrument violin

     Among the foremost were Shyam Sunder (an import from Lahore ), Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram (another import from lahore ), famous drummer Ustad Allah Rakha (originally of Gurdaspur district) Naushad Ali from U.P. and Sajjad Hussain. In fact once Sajjad Hussain asked Mohammad Rafi to sing “Heer Waris Shah” for him. Mohammad Rafi sang it with typical Amritsari slang. Sajjad composed its tune in his own inimitable style. With a lot of effort Mohammad Rafi mastered the new tune, but the end product was great.


    Pundit Husnalal rhearsing a tune with Mohammad rafi

    Pandit Husnalal offered to train Mohammad Rafi into a top notch film singer. When Husnalal Bhagatram started their career as a duo of music directors in 1944, they depended thoroughly on the seasoned voice of Zeenat Begum a discovery of their elder brother Pandit Amar Nath. But during the late forties much shriller female voices started dominating the film scene. Amongst men Mohammad Rafi was senior in years to Mukesh and Manna Dey. Talat Mahmood had started earier than Mohammad Rafi in 1941 in Calcutta . But in Bombay Talat Mahmood came a couple of years later than Mohammad Rafi.

     When the opportunities came Mohammad Rafi pounced on them. Then came August 15, 1947 . What Mohamad Rafi observed will be covered in the next issue?.



    By the middle of 1947, Mohamad Rafi had become a household name in Hindi speaking North India . His flexible, sweet and velvety voice suited most young actors including the brilliant rising star Dilip Kumar. Most of the finest music directors, spearheaded by the duo of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, were showing interest in grooming his raw talent further into the art of film playback singing.

     In his ancestral province of Punjab , the communal divide was on the rise. In March of 1947 some five hundred Sikhs and some Hindus were gruesomely murdered in Rawalpindi area, which was not too far away from his ancestral home in Amritsar district and his recent professional home Lahore . Even during those days such gruesome news was difficult to hide. Those ugly news slowly trickled into his new home city of Bombay . Mohammad Rafi had seen excellent communal relations in his ancestral village in rural Amritsar , this barbaric news came as an unbelievable shock to this God fearing and sensitive young-man.

     By August the matters had taken a turn for the worst in his home province. Entire Lahore division had exploded into communal frenzy of the worst kind. There were massacres of Sikhs and Hindus in Gujjranwala, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib, Sialkot , Lahore and Kasur. Soon afterwards, the Sikh frenzy erupted in Amritsar , Gurdaspur and Ferozepore. There was complete anarchy on both sides of the Radcliffe line and all districts of Punjab were engulfed in bitter communal riots.


    Sardul Kwatra - Amarjit Chandan's collection- Date unknown

    Renowned film producer Roop K. Shori and music director Vinod had arrived in Indian Punjab bereft of all their belongings from Lahore soon after the outbreak of communal riots. On arrival in Bombay , they were narrating many heart rending stories of cold blooded tyranny. The Shoris had not only lost their film studio in Lahore , they lost all their wealth and property. Vinod came to Amritsar in a penniless condition. Vinod had become a good friend of Mohammad Rafi. In a futile attempt to see the return of better days in Lahore , another music director Sardul Singh Kwatra had spent some days after partition in Lahore . He narrated to Mohamad Rafi some first hand accounts of uncontrolled massacres in Lahore and its vicinity. Sardul was very fair-minded in his description of the communal riots. He had seen tyranny on both sides of the communal divide. He narrated “Things were extremely bad in Gujjranwala, Sheikupura, Sialkot and Lahore , but the retribution seen in Amritsar was a lot more horrifying”. Sardul Kwatra, knew Mohammad Rafi since his days in Lahore . Later on Sardul became a collection agent and business representative of Mohammad Rafi. Mohammad Rafi had all along been a God fearing and righteous gentleman. He always bowed before the will of the most benevolent “Khuda”. At every available opportunity, he lent his sweet silken voice to every song composed for fostering communal harmony and brotherhood amongst the Hindus, Sikhs and the Muslims in all parts of India .

     Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram had composed several tunes for the lyrics penned to depict the horrors of the partition and the resultant bloodbath. One such song was “Is dil ke tukde hazaaar huye, koi yahan gira koi wahan gira, behte huye aansoo ruk na sake koi yahan gira koi wahan gira”. The literal meaning of this is that a heart was broken into thousands of pieces and the pieces were scattered all over the place, some here and some there. A truly hurt Mohammad Rafi gave his emotion filled voice to this song. This song became an instant hit on both sides of the border. The sad assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was also caused as a result of the bitterness generated between the Hindus and Muslims. Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram composed an emotional tune for a song describing the life story of Mahatma Gandhi. The wording was “Suno suno aye duniya walo baapu ki yeh amar kahani”. This song also became very popular in Northern India .

     From early 1948 Pandit Husnalal decided to groom two young voices for the film industry. Mohammad Rafi was his choice among the male singers and Lahore born actress singer Suraiya was his choice as a female singer. Pandit Husnalal used to call Mohammad Rafi, sometimes as early as at 4am , to his home along with his Tanpura. He used to give lessons in different “Raagas” and asked him to rehearse those “Raagas” in “Khayal” format. This basic training in classical music continued for several years and it went on to make Mohammad Rafi a high-class  versatile singer. It was difficult for a young beautiful lady like Suraiya to come to a music director’s place at odd hours to learn the basics of music. So Suraiya unfortunately did not learn classical music, but she was very persevering on light music and she always rehearsed her assignments in the studios to perfection. .

     By late 1948 Lata Mangeshkar came in contact with Pandit Husnalal. She was a very versatile singer. Her grasp and learning ability of classical music was very quick. Pandit Husnalal discovered that training of Lata Mangeshkar could be a lot more rewarding. So he slowly started preferring Lata Mangeshkar over a more emotional and sorrow filled voice of Suraiya. As far as the male artists were concerned, Mohammad Rafi has always been Pandit Huisnalal’s first preference. A lot of times, on the specific recommendations of the top lyricists of the day, Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram gave the best “Ghazals” to Talat Mahmood to render in his unmatched linguistic sophistication. Most of the “Ghazals” sung by Talat Mahmood also became very popular. Mohammad Rafi never entertained any jealousies with any singer whatsoever. He invariably admired Mukesh, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood and Hemant Kumar for the uniqueness of their voices.

    Music Director Vinod

     Mother language is a great bond that binds human-beings. This was more true In the case of Mohammad Rafi. His first ever film song was composed by a Punjabi music director Shyam Sunder and his first nationwide film hit was composed by another Punjabi music director Feroze Nizami. Since 1948, in Bombay , his voice was initially used by Punjabi music directors such as Master Ghulam Haider, Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, Vinod, Shyam Sunder, Allah Rakha Quraishi, Hans Raj Behl, S. Mohinder and Sardul Kwatra. After his songs became hits regularly, most other music directors including Naushad also started patronizing him.

     Master Ghulam Haider’s brilliant tune composed for film “Shaheed”, rendered by Mohammad Rafi for the patriotic song “Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujwan shaheed ho”, which became the signature tune for the movie, became overnight a nationwide hit. Even now on India ’s national days such as the independence- day and the republic day, this particular song is proudly played by All India Radio.

     Maverick music director Shyam Sunder’s tunes rendered by Mohammad Rafi for film “Bazaar” (1949) including a duet with Lata Mangeshkar entitled “Apni nazar se door voh, unki nazar se door hum, tum hi batao kya Karen, majboor tum majboor hum” caught the imagination of entire Hindi knowing India. Allah Rakha Qureishi used Mohammad Rafi’s and Surinder Kaurs’s voices in film “Sabak” with a fairly good response from the public. Vinod’s music for his 1949 film “Ek thi ladki” was a super-hit. Most of its songs were rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, but the Lata Rafi duet “Khamosh nigahein” reserved a proud place on the popularity charts. Hans Raj Behl’s song “Jugg wala mela yaaro thohri der daa, hassdiyan raat langhe pata nahin saver da” rendered by Mohammad Rafi for his Punjabi block-buster film “Lachhi” (1949) had appeal which transcended the boundaries of Punjab . On popular demand the same tune was used later on for a Hindi song too. Mohammad Rafi’s Punjabi duet with Lata Mangeshkar entitled “Kaali kanghi naal kale waal payi vaahuniyan, aa mil dhol janiyan” for film “Lachhi” also created waves among the lovers of Punjabi music in Northern India . Sardul Singh Kwatra composed soul inspiring music for a humorous Punjabi film “Posti”. Its music was recorded in 1949, but the film was released in 1950. One of its masterpiece duet songs rendered by Mohammad Rafi with debutant playback singer Asha Bhonsle entitled “Too peengh te mein parchhawan, tere naal hulare khawan, laalay dosti”, achieved a lot of popularity in Punjabi knowing India.

     Mohammad Rafi’s utmost devotion to his profession and hard work under the music direction of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram paid great dividends and he became India ’s leading duet singer in the company of Lata Mangeshkar. Some of his pre-1950 duets with Lata Mangeshkar are acclaimed as some of the finest in the history of film singing. I shall mention two of these. One was “Khushi kaa zamaaana gaya rone se ab kaam hai, pyaar jiskaa naam tha judayi uska naam hai” recorded for film “Chhoti Bhabi”, based on an old Punjabi folk tune, was the personal favourite of music director Sardul Kwatra. Sardul even used this tune for one of his later songs in Punjabi. Another Husnalal Bhagatram masterpiece duet was “Paas aake huye hum door, yehi tha qismat kaa dastoor” recorded for film “Meena Bazaar”, it became Mohammad Rafi’s favourite song. This film did not do too well in the cinema halls, but its music became the proud possession of the most discriminating collectors of music including Allahdad Khan of Peshawar .

     After 1950 most of the great music directors of India considered Mohammad Rafi a force in film music. When Naushad composed his masterly tunes for films like “Dulari” (1949) and “Deedar” (1951), Mohammad Rafi became the star that no one could afford to ignore. Film “Deedar” song entitled “Huye hum jin ke liye barbad” became an all time hit. Later on his high pitched numbers sung for films “Amar” and “Baiju Bawra” put him up at a very high pedestal. Mohammad Rafi was honest to the core, never greedy and success did not make him arrogant.

     When, after initial setbacks, O.P. Nayyar, as a music director, attained a place of prominence in the film world in 1953, Mohammad Rafi became his first choice as a male singer and the duets sung by Mohammad Rafi with Asha Bhansale as well as with Shamshad Begum became extraordinarily popular. Mohammad Rafi never charged a penny from music director Sardul Singh Kwatra for any song rendered on Sardul’s music. He did the same favour for several years to most of the music directors, who migrated from what is now Pakistan . He also helped a fellow Amritsari singer Mohinder Kapoor in becoming a playback singer. 

     In his religious life Mohammad Rafi was always a true five-time “Namazi” and a strict “Momen”. But in his professional life he has been a liberal secularist. He visited the “Gurdwaras” like a Sikh used to during his younger days. Even while living in Bombay he visited the “Gurdwaras” on special festive occasions and during the visits to Bombay of iconic Sikh  â€œRaagis” like Bhai Santa Singh ji and Bhai Samund Singh ji. He missed no opportunity to visit Bombay ’s famous annual Baisakhi Mela. Throughout his singing career Mohammad Rafi sang several memorable “Naats”, but he lent his voice equally well to extremely soulful “Bhajans” (on the tunes composed by icons like Naushad) and some melodious “Shabads” (on the tunes mostly composed by music director S. Mohinder).   

    What Mohammad Rafi did and achieved after 1952-53 has been recorded by several other historians and writers on film music and I shall not dwell on that period. My desire was to unfold his impressionist younger years and the years of his grim struggle to reach the pinnacle of success. My head will always bow in admiration before Mohammad Rafi the Great. May his soul, rest in piece for ever in his heavenly abode. Such pious individuals are rarely born on this earth.    

    Read more
  • Bhai Santa Singh – A Unique Exponent of Guru’s Hymns

    By: Harjap Singh Aujla

    AS a child I was used to waking up between 6 and 7am. But on one cold early winter morning of 1948, my mother woke me up at about 4:30am, gave me a bath and made my JooRa (a bun of combed and knotted hair worn by the Sikhs). After I put on new clothes, she took me to the family radio and asked me to operate it. I pushed the on-button and the light came on. Soon the sound appeared. The sign-on tune of All India Radio looked like a great achievement. Then a sweet voice announced the time 5:00am and the start of a special one hour morning service on the airwaves of All India Radio Jalandhar-Amritsar in honour of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

    The announcer told that we are taking you to the Golden Temple Amritsar for a direct transmission of the recitation of “Asa Di Vaar”. In a split second the beat of the drums (tabla), the sound of harmonium and high pitched voices of a group of musicians could be heard. It seemed that the musicians were emotionally calling Guru Nanak to once again bless this earth with his physical presence in human form. The special recitation of the hymns of the “Guru” sounded genuinely emotional and appeared rather impressive. At that young age I did not understand as to what was being sung, nevertheless, I felt highly impressed by the melody, tone and texture of the music. I had no knowledge as to who was singing, nor did anybody announce it especially. For a number of years the voices heard on that day were shrouded in mystery, but my curiosity was always there to unravel this mystery.
    Several years later, I had a chance meeting in America with Sardar Jodh Singh, the retired Assistant Station Director of All India Radio Jalandhar. Sardar Jodh Singh happened to be the announcer of the programme in the sanctum sancrorum of the Golden Temple on that auspicious day. He revealed for the first time that the group of musicians performing “Shabad Kirtan of Asa Di Vaar” at the Golden Temple during the first ever live transmission on the Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak was indeed led by Late Bhai Santa Singh, the then senior most musician of the Golden Temple. I knew it all along that it was somebody special, somebody highly accomplished. A number of “Shabads” recorded on 78 RPM gramophone records in the voices of Bhai Santa Singh Ragi and party were available in the market for decades and different stations of All India Radio including Delhi, Jalandhar, Jammu and Lucknow used to play these records.

    Bhai Santa Singh had the God given unique capability to sing in very high notes, which most other musicians could not replicate. His exact date of birth is not known, but according to recorded information he was born in the walled city of Amritsar in 1904. During those days very few Sikhs used to sing even in the gurdwaras and those who did sing had to hone their skills at classical music under the strict guidance of Muslim or Pandit professional classical teachers. Bhai Santa Singh was no exception, he enrolled at a very young age as a learner of Sikh classical music in the music department of the famous “Yateemkhana” (orphanage) in Amritsar. The head teacher was a renowned trainer in classical music Bhai Sain Ditta. Several of Sain Ditta’s students served as the “Huzoori Ragis” at the Golden Temple. Other famous students of Sain Ditta included Bhai Taba, Bhai Naseera, Bhai Darshan Singh Komal and Sain Ditta’s own son Bhai Desa. But Bhai Santa Singh was exceptional among them all. Soon after completing his education at the Yateemkhana Bhai Santa Singh was employed as a “Hazoori Ragi” at the Golden Temple during early twenties. His group included among others another famous personality Late Bhai Surjan Singh also. Both were bestowed with very sharp and melodious voices and could sing in unison. The democratically elected governing body for the Sikh shrines the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), replacing the old institution of “Mahanthood” took control of all the historic Sikh shrines in Punjab and North West Frontier Province in 1925, but still a very high standard of “Gurmat Sangeet” (traditional Sikh religious music) was maintained at most of its Gurdwaras at least during the first three decades of the inception of the SGPC.

    During those days the Golden Temple Amritsar was known for employing highly accomplished musicians for performing “Chawnkis of Shabad Kirtan” in its sanctum sanctorum. Recommendations by the influential and the powerful were never considered for recruitment of staff. Other great musicians in the service of the Golden Temple included legendry Bhai Lal, Bhai Chand, Bhai Chanan, Bhai Hira Singh etc. Soon Bhai Santa Singh carved a nitch for himself. He was very hard-working. As a first step he used to grasp the meaning of the “Shabad” to be sung. He modulated his voice to convey the true meaning of the “Shabad” without the need of explaining it through a speech or a discourse. At times he used to slow down the beat so much that the meaning of each word of the “Guru” was understood clearly even by the layman. While reciting the “Bir Rus Bani” (martial music) of the tenth master Guru Gobind Singh, he used to convey the message of war by increasing the pace of the musical composition.

    On special occasions, the Golden Temple and Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Nankana Sahib, the two most sacred Gurdwaras, used to exchange their leading musicians. Bhai Santa Singh used to go to Nankana Sahib on those occasions.

    All India Radio Lahore came into being in 1936, but the full fledged production facilities were added in 1937. That was the year when Bhai Santa Singh was also approved as a casual radio artist. During those days the line up of the classical vocal radio artists of All India Lahore included among others Dalip Chander Vedi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Master Rattan of Phagwara, Master Madan, Dina Qawaal of Jullundur, Mubarik Ali Fateh Ali of Jullundur and Harish Chander Bali. The leading Sikh religious musicians included Bhai Santa Singh of the Golden Temple and Bhai Samund Singh of Gurdwara Janam Asthan Nankana Sahib. Malika Pukhraj, Bhai Chhaila of Patiala, Mohammad Rafi, Noorjehan, Zeenat Begum, Shamshad Begum, Dilshad Begum, Mukhtar Begum, Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur were considered much junior Punjabi song and “Ghazal” singers.
    Casual singing at All India Radio Lahore made Bhai Santa Singh very famous. During those days Genophone Recording Company opened its modern recording studio in Lahore. Master Ghulam Haider was hired as its music director. Master Ghulam Haider developed a special liking for the voice of Bhai Santa Singh. He persuaded Bhai Santa Singh to record some “Shabads”. The tunes were either traditional Sikh religious “Reets” handed down from generation to generation or Bhai Santa Singh’s own highly melodious creations. The orchestra with special preludes and interludes was of course Ghulam Haider’s. Eight “Shabads” were recorded on four discs of three minutes each and each became very popular. These recordings were made in 1941-42, but their 45RPM extended play discs were available till 1970s. Other Sikh musician whose recordings of Sikh religious music are among the earliest available on records include Bhai Budh Singh Taan, whose rendering of “As Di Vaar” was available on 12 discs in 78RPM.

    “Asa Di Vaar” by the group of Bhai Sudh Singh Pardhan Singh was also recorded during the forties. One or two records of “Shabad Gayan” in the voices of Bhai Gurmukh Singh Sarmukh Singh Fakkar of Nankana Sahib were also available in the market. In addition one disc of “Shabad Gayan” in the voice of child prodigy Master Madan was also recorded during the nineteen forties. This recording after disappearing from the market for several decades is once again available. Some “Shabads” sung by Bhai Budh Singh Taan and Surinder Kaur were also available in the market during the forties. Bhai Samund Singh, although sang regularly for the radio, but did not record his “Shabad Gayan” on discs until the nineteen sixties, when during the Quin Centennial celebrations of the birth of Guru Nanak a set of five long playing records was published.

    AFTER the creation of Pakistan, Bhai Samund Singh also joined Bhai Santa Singh in the service of the Golden Temple. They had very different styles of performing “Shabad Kirtan”. Bhai Samund Singh used to perform a modified version of “Khayal Gayaki”. He used to leave the “Alaap”, “Jorh Alaap” and the “Vilambhat Lai” as well as the climax “Dhrut Lai” and sing the entire “Shabad” in “Madh Lai”. On the other hand Bhai Santa Singh either sang in the traditional “Reets” handed down from generation to generation or he created his own “Reets” by improvising new tunes from the source “Ragas” and “Raginis”. Bhai Santa Singh used to rehearse the tunes for hours at a stretch to the accompaniment of “Taan Pura”.

    Bhai Santa Singh lived a simple life. He used to ride a bicycle on his way to perform “Shabad Kirtan”. One day an admirer presented a car to him, which he retained for a few days before giving it back to him. The reason given for spurning the offer was that he used to recite a path while riding a cycle and he used to complete the path while riding the bike. But when he started being driven in the car the same distance was traveled in 5 minutes and he could not complete the path. Such was the simplicity and lack of greed in Bhai Santa Singh. Once the famous Bhai Chand was supposed to perform last of all in a special “Kirtan Diwan” in pre-partition Lahore and Bhai Santa Singh was the penultimate singer. But Bhai Chand got so much impressed with the “Shabad Gayan” by Bhai Santa Singh, that he requested to skip his own turn and requested Bhai Santa Singh to finish the “Diwan” by singing “Raga Darbari Kanra”. Bhai Santa Singh completely mesmerized the audience with his soulful rendition of “Raga Darbari Kanra”. This story was narrated to me by Bhai Gurdip Singh ji, the head priest of New York’s famous Richmond Hill Gurdwara.

    Round about in 1949, Bhai Santa Singh abruptly left the service of the SGPC and temporarily moved to New Delhi. Soon he tried his hand at becoming a building contractor in Assam, but contractorship did not suit his temperament and he took employment in Gurdwara Sis Ganj Old Delhi. Delhi was fast becoming a city of refugees from West Pakistan. Some of his most ardent admirers had moved from Lahore, Gujjranwala, Lyallpur, Montgomery, Sialkot and Sheikhupura to Delhi. For them it was a pleasure to listen to the “Shabad Gayan” by Bhai Santa Singh. On hearing about Bhai Santa Singh’s joining the service of Gurdwara Sis Ganj Delhi, the crowds at that historic gurdwara started swelling each morning.

    The refugee “Sangat” of Delhi got so much hooked to listening to Bhai Santa Singh’s “Shabad Kirtan” at Gurdwara Sis Ganj Chandni Chowk that they insisted that the early morning “Chawnki of Asa Di Vaar” must always be performed by the group of Bhai Santa Singh. The only other group allowed to perform “Asa Di Vaar” in the absence of Bhai Santa Singh was Bhai Avtar Singh Gurcharan Singh and Swaran Singh, formerly of Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala District.

    While in Delhi Bhai Santa Singh became the staff artist of All India Radio Delhi and his live performance of “Shabad Kirtan” became a regular feature of its Punjabi Program. Some years after 1947, one of the most important members of his group Bhai Surjan Singh parted company and formed his own group. This incident affected him badly, but he trained his brother Bhai Shamsher Singh to sing alongside him. This did not diminish the popularity of his group. In the meanwhile Bhai Surjan Singh’s newly created group also became very popular. To this day the best selling records of “Asa Di Vaar” are Bhai Surjan Singh’s.

    On the death of India’s First Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1964, Bhai Santa Singh was the only Sikh religious musician, who was especially invited to perform “Shabad Kirtan” during the period of mourning at All India Radio Delhi. Some of these recordings are still preserved in the archives of the Delhi Station of All India Radio. At one time or the other every great maestro, be it a vocalist or an instrumentalist of India, had the honour of singing at one or the other stations of All India Radio. Some of those artists were recorded and many others were not. Even those who’s performances were recorded, their recordings were destroyed later on due to the callousness of the authorities. If all the recordings of Bhai Santa Singh and Bhai Samund Singh would have been preserved, we would have had at least 300 hours of recordings of each. Such musicians are not born every day. We are sorry to lose their historic moments.

    Late Yogi Harbhajan Singh was a great admirer of the “Kirtan Shelley” of Bhai Santa Singh. In order to train his followers, the American Sikhs, in the art of performing “Shabad Gayan” he wanted to bring one of the students of Bhai Santa Singh’s school of music to America. Bibi Amarjit Kaur, who had honed her skills under the guidance of Bhai Santa Singh was brought from India to America for the purpose. She now works in the World Bank and lives in Northern Virginia, in one of the suburbs of the American Capital Washington D.C. By listening to her you can get a glimpse of her great mentor. The way she modulates her voice, it appears that she is coming true on the teachings of her great mentor.

    In 1965, Bhai Santa Singh’s former companion Bhai Surjan Singh suddenly left for his heavenly abode. Although they had parted company years ago, but still Bhai Santa Singh took this loss to heart. For several days he felt very much dejected. But according to the “Gurus” message the life must go on and Bhai Santa Singh did not miss his “Kirtan” schedules.

    Bhai Santa Singh’s few shabad compositions were used in an All India Radio programme produced in 1969 by Professor Harbhajan Singh, the poet, on the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

    According to Dr Madan Gopal Singh, the singer and son of Professor Harbhajan Singh, the recording is in the archive of Manjit Bawa, the painter. He has to say further on this:

    1. The nearly one-hour long feature, broadcast on the National programme, was written in Hindi as a tribute to Guru Nanak and was part of the year long focus to mark his 500 birth anniversary. The feature was subsequently published in Punjabi as a booklet by M/S Faqir Singh & Sons, Amritsar.

    2. Some of the compositions which I remember distinctly (their melody is permanently etched in my memory and I can reproduce at least the skeletal version)
    i) Suni Pukar daatar/miti dhundh ii) Saajan mainde rangle iii) Gagan mai thal iv) jagad jalanda rakh lai...

    3. I have no idea if Bhai Saheb was specially commissioned (if it was 1969 this couldn't have been possible) to do these recordings or these were excavated from the AIR archives. In case these recordings were taken from the AIR archives, it does indicate that the AIR has possibly a rich collection of Bhai Saheb's renditions.

    4. Bulk of the Gurbani rendition in the feature was in the voice of Bhai Santa Singh ji. There were two other raagis and if I am not mistaken, these two were Bhai Avtar Singh and Bhai Amrik Singh.

    5. Bhai Sumand Singh ji was not part of the programme. His rendition of "Bhujbal Deejai" is part of the achival material that existed on the spool I had handed over to my painter friend Manjeet Bawa. Bhai Saheb had come to the main Gurudwara in Karol Bagh, New Delhi and had participated in a Kirtan Darbar (attended by many other luminaries). The recording was made by my second cousin and a sound-technician with the AIR, the late Santokh Singh, and subsequently transferred onto our spool.

    Bhai Santa Singh was in great demand for his unique style of “Shabad Kirtan” all over India, but he seldom stepped out of Delhi. Once in 1966, on the persistent request of the “Sangat” of Bombay he was allowed to go to Bombay for a couple of weeks. On hearing this welcome news, the knowledgeable “Sadh Sangat” of Bombay was electrified. They had the once in a lifetime experience of listening to Bhai Santa Singh live. They requested for more of his time, but the management of Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Delhi refused to extend his stay, because the “Sangat” in Delhi also wanted to listen to his “Shabad Kirtan”. On the day of his departure for Delhi big crowds gave him a tearful sendoff in Bombay. On his way back to Delhi, while still in train, he suffered a massive heart attack. Before any medical care could be administered, he had already left for his heavenly abode, in the feet of his divine master. Bhai Santa Singh’s funeral saw the community in deep mourning. This story was narrated to me by his pupil Bibi Amarjit Kaur.

    After Bhai Santa Singh’s death, his brother Bhai Shamsher Singh took over his group. Bhai Shamsher Singh could sing in all the tunes of Bhai Santa Singh, but he lacked the range and modulation. After the death of Bhai Shamsher Singh about two decades ago, Bhai Santa Singh’s nephews Bhai Harjit Singh and Bhai Gurdip Singh are keeping his tradition alive. They can not match the dexterity of Bhai Santa Singh, but they have kept all his “Reets” alive. Today they are the leading musicians of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee are held in a high esteem. The life may not be perfect but it is, nevertheless, going on.

    Further information:

    To listen to Bhai Santa Singh’s rare recordings visit:

    Read more

    Harjap Singh Aujla




    A yesteryears popular music director of Punjabi films Sardul Singh Kwatra once, who is no more us, once painfully remarked that the Bombay film industry can swing in extremes, at times it can be very generous and at others very cruel. It bows its head before you, if you have a big nametag or a big name God-father is solidly behind you and more often it denies respect your genius. Perhaps Sardul also meant that even he was not given his due by the Bombay film World. According to Sardul, the Bombay film industry certainly did not give what was due to some brilliant music directors like Shyam Sunder, Vinod, Sajjad Hussain, Alla Rakha, Khursheed Anwar, Hans Raj Behl and Sardar Malik to name a few.


    According to Sardul, the Bombay film industry deserted Husan Lal and Bhagat Ram, when they were at their creative best. Even the acclaimed greats like Anil Biswas and Madan Mahan did not get their rightful due, compared to some much pampered mediocres. Sardul would have been a very happy man, had he been alive when film “Veer Zara” became a box office and musical success and Madan Mahan got a lot of public support and several top awards for his 1972 musical compositions in 2005. About music director Vinod, whom Sardul knew since his childhood, Sardul believed that he was very creative, who produced some of the most soul stirring tunes, but he never got what he deserved in life and in death.


    Music Director Vinod’s real name was Eric Roberts, but for film industry he chose a more familiar and shorter name “Vinod”. This was revealed to me by one of his sons-in-law Kelly Mistry, who is married to his daughter Veera Roberts. His other daughter’s name is Veena Roberts (after marriage Veena Solomon).   


    Sardul was feeling very dejected about the plight of music director Vinod, who died at a young age and in poverty

     on the Christmas day in 1959. Sardul Kwatra knew Vinod since his days in Lahore and from a time when Sardul himself was a child, quite ignorant about his destiny. Vinod hailed from a Christian family of Lahore , who were converted from Hindus. Vinod had his family tree connected to Gurdaspur and Amritsar . As a child Vinod was fascinated by the band music which was prominently played during Lahore ’s colorful Hindu weddings. Vinod also listened carefully for hours to the Rababi musicians performing “Shabad Kirtan” at Gurdwara Dehra Sabib Lahore and other shrines. Sardul said Vinod became a student of Lahore ’s famous music director Pandit Amar Nath and learnt the fundamentals of ragas and tune making with the help of a harmonium from the great maestro. He started making tunes while being in Lahore prior to 1947 and after the death of Pandit Amar Nath, he got the contract of composing the music for a number of films including Punjabi film “Chaman”. But the film could not be taken up due to tense communal atmosphere in Lahore . It was made much later on in India after 1947. Pushpa Hans and Shamshad Begum lent their voices to the songs in this film. Lata Mangeshkar was a new find, looking for work and Vinod gave her three songs to sing. Incidentally Lata’s all three numbers became landmark songs not only for this film, but for other Punjabi films to follow. Those were the days of extreme communal tension on both sides of the Radcliffe line in Punjab , as a consequence after its release the film did not do well in Pakistani Punjab. But the selling of its music even in Pakistan did quite a decent business.


    According to some historians Vinod’s mentor Pandit Amar Nath died in 1946. Some other historians say that Pandit Amar Nath died in February of 1947. But  by 1944 most of the Lahore based music directors like Khurshid Anwar (in 1941), Shyam Sunder (in 1943), Hans Raj Behl (in 1944) , Rashid Atre, Feroze Nizami, Ghulam Haider, Pandit Husna Lal Bhagat Ram shifted their base to Bombay . Pandit Amar Nath and Pandit Gobind Ram were the only ones left in Lahore . After Pandit Amar Nath’s health deteriorated in 1946, Vinod inherited some of his contracts. “Khamosh Nigahein”, “Paraye Bas Main” and “Kamini” were some of the movies which fell into Vinod’s kitty. None of these 1946 movies did well at the box office and Vinod did not get any milage either.


    Lata (1950-color added)

    Vinod got the best break in life in 1949, when he got the contract to compose the music for Hindi film “Ek Thi Ladki”. The film became a hit and its Lata song “Lara lappa lara lappa layi rakhda, addi tappa addi tappa layi rakhda” became a nation-wide hit. The tune of this song was based on an old Pahadi Punjabi folk tune of Kangra district. While listening to his other songs for this film, a similarity with the tunes of film “Mirza Sahiban” composed by his mentor Pandit Amar Nath could be clearly established. This goes to prove that Vinod, in letter and spirit, learnt the art of tune making from his teacher. This earned him contract for another Punjabi film “Bhaiya Ji” made in 1950. Lata sang several memorable songs for this movie. One of its sad songs “Ajj mera mahi nall tutt gaya pyar ve akhiyan na maar ve” was acclaimed to be a landmark song. Even Sardul Kwatra had a great admiration for this song. This song later on inspired the tunes of several Hindi songs. In 1949 Vinod composed music for another Hindi film “Taara”, which did not create any waves.


    Talat Mahmood and Mohammad Rafi were the favourite male singers of Vinod, who always did full justice to his tunes. According to Sardul Kwatra Vinod had no God-father like Shanker and Jaikishan had in producer actor Raj Kapoor and producer Amiya Chakravarty and Naushad had in a very popular producer Mehboob Khan. Roop K. Shori, who gave Vinod music composition contracts for his films, somehow did not belong to the big league of Bombay based film producers like Sohrab Modi, K.A. Abbas, V. Shantaram, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor etc.


    Roop K. Shori of course was a very famous film producer in Lahore , who while moving to Bombay , took his entire

    Vinod with his daughters

     team with him. Music director Vinod and lyricist Aziz Kashmiri were members of his group. Vinod composed the music for most of Roop K. Shori films. In all Vinod composed music for 27 Hindi films, out of which he shared music with other music directors for at least six films. Some of his films were not completed and some were not released even after completion. Among some of Vinod’s best known creations were the musical compositions of films “Anmol Rattan” (1950), “Wafaa” (1950) “Sabaz Bagh” (1951) “Aag ka Dariya” (1953), “Laadla” (1954) and “Makhi Choos” (1956). For a while Roop K. Shori got Vinod a salaried job as a music director in “Filmistan Studios”. One characteristic of Vinod was that in Punjabi films he inserted Hindi songs and in Hindi film songs he inserted some Punjabi wording. This trend was discontinued later on, but since the nineties once again Punjabi songs are becoming a part of most Hindi films and these songs are proving big hits.


    According to Vonod’s son-in-law Kelly Mistry, Vinod was born on May 28, 1922. On the average Vinod was doing one or two successful films a year from 1948 to 1957, but one or two hit films in a year are not enough to ensure a decent standard of living in a city like Bombay . Husan Lal Bhagat Ram gave the music for 19 films in 1949 and 1950 and Shanker Jaikishan were composing the music for on the average 3 to 4 hit films every year during the fifties and sixties. Such busy schedules made both duos financially quite well off. O.P. Nayyar was also doing 3 to 4 successful films a year during the fifties, but somehow he did not manage his finances well. On the other hand Naushad was professionally quite creative and he always managed his finances well and lived in style.


    Vinod with his family

    Both Shyam Sunder and Vinod, in spite of being thoroughly professional, were never financially well off. They both died during the fifties. After Vinod’s untimely death at a young age of thirty seven on December 25, 1959, his wife Sheela had great difficulty in bringing up his children. Vinod loved his childhood city of Lahore and did not want to leave that great cultural centre, but the unfortunate partition of Punjab and the resultant bloodshed and its trauma left no option of going back to Lahore . Vinod was every inch a Punjabi and he longed to compose music for the Punjabi films, but after 1951 mostly two music directors ended up getting all the music direction contracts. They were Master Hans Raj Behl and Sardul Kwatra. Vinod composed music for only five Punjabi movies. These are “Chaman” (1948), “Bhaiya Jee” (1950), “Mitiar” (1950), “Ashtalli” (1954) and “Nikki” (1958). Vinod died a frustrated man, who’s professional genius was always shortchanged.


    Although Vinod composed music for thirty two films, but most of these films were under small banners and the music of many was let down by the film’s poor showing at the box office. The following is the complete list of his films:


    1.      KHAMOSH NIGAHEIN                          1946   

    2.      PARAYE BUS MAIN                            1946       (with Niaz Husain)

    3.      KAMINI                                                   1946

    4.      CHAMAN (PUNJABI)                             1948

    5.      EK THI LADKI                                         1949

    6.      TAARA                                                     1949

    7.      ANMOL RATTAN                                   1950

    8.      BHAIYA JI (PUNJABI)                            1950

    9.      WAFFA                                                    1950    (with Bulo C. Rani)

    10.  MUTIAR (PUNJABI)                                1950

    11.  FOR LADIES ONLY                                1951

    12.  MUKHRHA                                              1951

    13.  SABZ BAGH                                             1951    (with Gulshan Sufi)

    14.  AAG KA DARYA                                     1953

    15.  EK DO TEEN                                           1953

    16.  ASHTALLI (PUNJABI)                            1954

    17.  LAADLA                                                   1954

    18.  RAMMAN                                                            1954

    19.  HAA HAA HII HII HOO HOO                 1954

    20.  JALWA                                                     1955

    21.  OOT PATANG                                         1955

    22.  SHRI NAQAD NARAIN                          1955

    23.  MAKHI CHOOS                                      1956

    24.  AMAR SHAHEED (with Vasant Desai) YEAR UN-KNOWN

    25.  SHEIKH CHILLI                                      1956

    26.  GARMA GARAM                         1957

    27.  MUMTAZ MAHAL                                  1957

    28.  NIKKI (PUNJABI)                                   1958

    29.  MISS HUNTERWALI                              1959

    30.  DEKHI TERI BUMBAI                             1961

    31.  EK LADKI SAAT LADKE (with S. Mohinder )     1961

    32.  RANG RALIYAN (with Lachhi Ram and Mukherjee)        1962


    Note:    Last three films were released after his death at the age of thirty seven in 1959.                                



    Had Vinod remained busy under big banner movie makers, he may not have died at the prime of his youth. One of Vinod’s masterpiece creations is the music for the Punjabi film “Mutiar” (1951). One of its Urdu Ghazals “Aye dil mujhe jaane de, jis raah pe jaata hoon” recorded in the silken voice of Talat Mahmood is simply outstanding. Its Punjabi version was never recorded. The lovers of Punjab and Punjabi language, bow their heads before Vinod for all the great musical compositions he has given to his mother-tongue.




    1.      Dr. Har Mandir Singh Hamraaz of Kanpur U.P., the author of “Hindi Geet Kosh from 1931 to date, for painstakingly digging up and supplying complete list of Vinod’s films.

    2.      Dr. Surjit Singh of San Diego California USA, for enabling me to access his veb-site for listening to Late Allahdad Khan of Peshawar Pakistan’s great collection of vintage Hindi and Punjabi film music.

    3.      Shri Harish Raghuvanshi, a film music historian of Surat Gujarat, the compiler of “Mukesh Geet Kosh”, “Gujarati Film Geet Kosh” and the writer of “Inhe Na Bhulana” for digging up information about music director Vinod’s forgotten Hindi and Punjabi film songs.

    4.      Late Sardar Sardul Singh Kwatra, Music Director of yesteryears for sharing his Vinod related precious memories with me.

    5.      Music Director S. Mohinder (Mohinder Singh Sarna) for sharing his memories of Vinod with me.

    6.      Vinod’s son-in-law Kelly Mistry for sharing thoughts and photos with me.



    Harjap Singh Aujla   E-MAIL Address       

    Read more
  • S. Mohinder: the Soulful Musician

    Harjap Singh Aujla

    South Asia Post: Issue 30 Vol II, December 31, 2006

    IT was the year 1956, a soulful melody in the voice of Lata Mangeshkar, “Guzra Hua Zamana Ata Nahin Dobara… Hafiz Khuda Tumhara, virtually everyday on the airwaves of All India Radio, Radio Pakistan and Radio Ceylon. It was a song of the sub continent, soulful and haunting. It was a song from a Madhubala film “Shireen Farhad”. Its composer was the memorable S. Mohinder. Born and brought up in Pakistani Punjab, this budding music director Mohinder Singh Sarna or S.Mohinder or as some called him Mohinder Singh Bakhshi  was a young rising star of Hindi films. The lyrics for his music were composed by poet Tanvir Naqvi, an import from Lahore.

    1956 was a great year for film music. Several musically hit films were released including “Shama Parvana” and Adl-e-Jehangir” with music score by Husna Lal Bhagat Ram, “Patrani” “Rajhath” and “Chori Chori” with music composed by Shanker Jaikishan and Uran Khatola of Naushad. But the music of “Shireen Farhad” held its own. Earlier S. Mohinder had composed music for several films including Sehra, Jeevan Saathi, Shadi Ki Raat, Neeli, Bahadur, Shahzada and Paapi. But the name and fame he got with his music in “Sheereen Farhad” was consummate.

    The prime female Bollywood superstar of those days Madhubala, a leading actress in the film, was so impressed with the music of “Sheereen Farhad” that, while coming home after a hectic shooting session, she herself visited the residence of S. Mohinder, to thank him for the special music he had created. This film had nine songs, all were great hits. Big playback names like Talat Mehmood, Hemant Kumar and Mohammad Rafi gave their voices to the songs.

    S. Mohinder had to wait for 14 years to get the Presidential Annual Award for the best music for his musical score for the superhit Punjabi Sikh religion based movie “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” in 1970.  Studded with great musical compositions and sung in the voices of revered Bhai Samund Singh, Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhonsale, this movie elated the cinema buffs.

    Born in 1925 in a small town called Silanwala in Montgomery District of un-divided Punjab.S.Mohinder’s father Sujan Singh Bakhshi was a sub-inspector in police. Soon the family moved to a comparatively larger city Lyallpur, where young Mohinder around 1935 came in contact with an accomplished Sikh religious vocalist Sant Sujan Singh. He honed his skills for several years in classical music in the tutelage of Sant Sujan Singh. Initially he wanted to be a singer.  The family moved to Sheikhupura , close  to Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak and S. Mohinder got his further training in classical music from legendry Sikh religious musician Bhai Samund Singh. Frequent transfers of his father kept the family on the move. Since S. Mohinder’s education was suffering badly, durIng early forties, he was enrolled in Khalsa High School in village Kairon in Amritsar District.

    In 1947, the rest of the family too moved to East Punjab in India. The love for classical music brought S. Mohinder to Benares. After a couple of years of grooming in classical music in Benares, the Mecca of Indian classical music, S. Mohinder, came to Bombay, the leading center of film industry ,.His first successful film was Neeli, which was musically a hit but  a mediocre . S. Mohinder took a regular job of music director in “Filmistan Studio”, which was churning out movies like a mint producing coins. S. Mohinder composed music for “Filmistan” for half a decade. It was a great experience.

    S. Mohinder believes that just like the USA, which is considered a great melting pot of all the cultural groups in the World, Bombay is the melting pot of all the film making cultural groups of India. Bombay had attracted the best music composers of Bengal including Anil Biswas, Sachin Dev Burman and Hemant Kumar who influenced other music directors. There were great maestros from Maharashtra including C. Ramchandra and Shanker Jaikishan. Central India was represented by Sajjad Hussain and Ghulam Mohammad. Vasant Desai of Gujarat and Khem Chand Prakash represented the best from Rajasthan.

    The biggest contingent of music directors was from Punjab.  Big names like Jhande Khan, Rafique Ghaznavi B.A., Shyam Sunder, Khurshid Anwar, Ghulam Haider, Firoze Nizami, Pandit Gobind Ram, Pandit Husna Lal Bhagatram, Hans Raj Behl, Vinod, Alla Rakha, Sardar Malik, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Ravi and O.P. Nayyar shined all over.  S. Mohinder learnt immensely from his seniors. His original style was Punjabi centric, but Benares groomed him into the classical traditions of Uttar Pradesh and Bombay gave him an all Indian grooming in music.

    After a successful relationship as a music director with “Filmistan Studios”, S. Mohinder composed music for Chandu Lal Shah’s (Ranjit Movietone) film “Zamin ke Taare”. It became a hit. After that he composed the music for Wadia Brothers film “Reporter Raju”. S. Mohinder composed the music for producer Roop K. Shori’s film “Saat Ladke Saat Ladkian”. He gave music for film “Do Dost” also.

    S. Mohinder says that during the sixties, when only Hans Raj Behl and Sardul Singh Kwatra were left in the field of composing music for Punjabi films, he also tried his hand at Punjab films. The response was good. His music for his first Punjabi film “Pardesi Dhola” was a hit. After that he mainly devoted his attention on composing music for Punjabi films only. His music for “Chambe Di Kali” also became a hit. Inderjit Hassanpuri, a friend of S. Mohinder, made a Punjabi film “Daaj” in which S. Mohinder composed very emotional tunes. Later on during the late seventies S. Mohinder composed music for some non-film Punjabi albums too and the singers included the best in the Punjabi music business, Surinder Kaur and Asa Singh Mastana. These private albums were also instant hits.

    Shaminder Singh, a friend of S. Mohinder, was a landlord of Muktsar  in Punjab was a  gifted singer. His voice was similar to that of Talat Mahmood, a superstar singer of the nineteen fifties and sixties. Shaminder wanted to try his hand at producing Punjabi films and that desire brought him to Bombay. In partnership with music director Sardul Kwatra, he made several movies including “Vanjara”. Shaminder had a desire to sing duets with Lata Mangeshkar. His wish came true in “Vanjara” when he was given an opportunity to sing two duet songs with Lata Mangeshkar.

    S. Mohinder’s last Hindi film was “Mehlon Ke Khwaab” produced by Madhubala in 1967. The film did quite well at the box office and its music became a hit. The untimely death of Madhubala, during the prime of her youth deeply saddened S. Mohinder. He came to the conclusion that the field of composing music for Hindi films was getting a lot of new players and the melody was slowly yielding place to noisy heavy metal music. So he decided to go back to his roots and switch to composing music for Punjabi movies.

    A very interesting incident happened during early sixties. It was narrated to me by none other than S. Mohinder himself. In order to become an actor, Shaminder Singh shaved off his blonde beard and moustache. Lata Mangeshkar had seen him as a practicing Sikh. One day in the company of S. Mohinder, Shaminder Singh ran into Lata Mangeshkar. Lata could not recognize him. When Lata asked as to who this gentleman was? S. Mohinder said “He is Shaminder Singh”. Lata retorted “You looked so good in your blonde beard, moustache and turban, why did you do this to yourself”. Shaminder had no answer. Shaminder Singh later acted as the hero in film “Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam” and S. Mohinder composed the music for it. This film also did roaring business, so did its music.

    In 1966, legendry Sikh religious musician Bhai Santa Singh visited Bombay. Mohammad Rafi attended one of his programmes. Mohammad Rafi, who was Bhai Santa Singh’s fan since their days as casual radio artists in Lahore, liked his voice quality so much that he proposed him to sing in a forthcoming Punjabi religious film, which was being planned. But Bhai Santa Singh flatly refused to sing in a film. This was the same trip at the end of which, while traveling back to Delhi in a train, Bhai Santa Singh had a massive heart attack that took his life.

    Mohammad Rafi’s dream got fulfilled in 1969. Ram Maheshwari and Panna Lal Maheshwari, originally from Amritsar, decided to make a movie in Punjabi based on Sikh religious sentiments. The film was titled “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai”. S. Mohinder got the contract to compose the music. The story of the film required some scenes to be picturized in the Golden Temple. S. Mohinder thought that the music for those scenes was a very sensitive subject and must be performed by the finest exponent of Sikh Religious classical music. So he requested Bhai Samund Singh to sing the Shabads. Bhai Samund Singh was also the mentor of S. Mohinder during his early training in classical music. Initially Bhai Samund Singh also hesitated, but eventually he agreed to sing for the movie. S. Mohinder believes that what Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s singings were to the great movie “Mughal -e- Azam”, the Shabads sung by Bhai Samund Singh are to Punjabi film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai”. As we all know film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” has been an all time hit Punjabi movie. Its music was also as big a success.

    The runaway success of film “Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai” ushered in an era of for making well meaning movies based on Sikh religious stories.

    S. Mohinder composed the music for most of these Sikh religious movies. “Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam” featuring Shaminder Singh as the hero was the next film, it was also quite successful. Then came two more namely “Man Jeete Jug Jeet” and “Paapi Tare Anek”. Both were successful at the box office. All these movies were made during the decade of seventies. S. Mohinder also composed some of his most memorable music for these movies.

    During the decade of nineteen seventies, S. Mohinder composed music for some private albums also including some featuring Sikh devotional music and some featuring the folk music of Punjab. Legendry Punjabi singer Surinder Kaur was prominently featured on some of these albums.

    S. Mohinder left India for the USA in 1982, when he was at the peak of his career as a music composer. The last film featuring his music was named “Maula Jatt”, with Dara Singh in the male lead role.

    While in America, S. Mohinder composed music for some private devotional and romantic albums, including one featuring Ghazals of Roshan Pukhraj on behalf of Iqbal Mahal of Canada, another in the voice of Mrs Kavelle Bajaj of Northern Virginia. One album of Shabads in the voice of Asha Bhonsle is a musical masterpiece. S. Mohinder is also interested in producing a CD or more of Shabads in the ethereal voice of Bibi Amarjit Kaur of Northern Virginia. But travel by air to Bombay is becoming difficult for him. Every year he keeps postponing this highly creative project. Hopefully some day he may pick up enough courage to complete this recording in Bombay.

    S. Mohinder considers himself is married to a charming woman Davinder Kaur Sarna, of Gujarat District in Pakistan’s Punjab. He has two daughters and two sons, all are married. His eldest daughter is Nareen Kaur Chopra, his second child is Kanwarpal Singh Sarna based in Bombay but he keeps travelling throughout the World. His third child is Risham Kaur Sethi who lives in California. The fourth child is a son Satinder Pal Singh Sarna, who lives close to S. Mohinder in Northern Virginia.

    Iqbal Singh Mahal of Toronto (Ontario) in his critically acclaimed Punjabi book “Suran De Saudagar” describes S. Mohinder as the tall handsome doyen whom once the famed actresses Madhubala had proposed though she knew it well that he was a happily married man. But she also knew that strange things do happen in Bollywood and since the proposal had come from a stunning beauty and the leading most actress, no one including S. Mohinder could reject it. S. Mohinder kept pondering over this for several days. Madhubala also proposed to provide a hefty amount of financial aid every month to S. Mohinder’s wife for her own subsistence and the education of her kids. In the most crucial decision in his life, S. Mohinder finally picked up the courage to say no. To this day S. Mohinder has been living happily with his wife for a period that exceeds half a century. Bombay  where, at least in the business of acting and music a lot of fairy tale marriages do take place to break up eventually, but S. Mohinder’s marriage has withstood all such temptations and tribulations.

    [Harjap Singh Aujla, 16 Junction Pond Lane, Monmouth Junction N.J. 08852 USA   732 329]

    Read more
  • Sardul Kwatra and his Soulful Music

    Harjap Singh Aujla

    (Photo Courtesy: Amarjit Chandan)

    Southasia Post: Issue 32 Vol II, January 31, 200


    KhayyamSometimes I feel that there are several important aspects of the history of Punjab, which have gone unrecorded. Although Punjabi pop music is currently dominating the musical scene of India, yet no one has taken pains to discover the pioneering times of its mother, the folk and light Punjabi music. I have hardly seen any material on the history of Punjabi cinema. This article is an attempt to record whatever I know about the history of Punjabi film music.

    O P NayyarHistory of Punjabi films is almost as old as that of Hindi cinema. The first talkie in Hindi Alam Ara was made in 1931 and the first Punjabi film was made in 1934, its print is unfortunately lost to our callous indifference towards our heritage. It is never too late to start preservation, I think it is time we should establish an archive of our old films and their music.

    Feroze NizamiBased on my research, I shall divide Punjabi music directors into three distinct generations. The first being the generation of pioneering music directors, who had no role models to follow? The second generation being that of the trendsetters and the third is the post 1980 period of pop music and innovations in folk. I shall not attempt to write about the contemporary music directors, who are currently composing the Punjabi music and making big bucks. I think it will be more appropriate to write about the strugglers of 1934 to 1979 period, who’s memories are already fading and very soon the people will start forgetting them.

    The first Punjabi music director was Ustad Jhande Khan. The second was Rafique Ghaznavi B.A. The third fourth and fifth music directors were Ghulam Haider, Pandit Amarnath and Pandit Gobind Ram. They all attained their peaks prior to 1950. Two more music directors Dalip Chander Vedi and Harish Chander Bali also fall into this category, but they did very little work.

    Master Inayat HussainThe second generation consists of among others Khurshid Anwar, Feroze Nizami, Rashid Atre, Master Inayat Hussain, Shyam Sunder, Pandit Husna Lal, Bhagat Ram, Hans Raj Behl, Vinod, Alla Rakha Qureishi, Shiv Dayal Batish, Madan Mohan, Sardul Kwatra, S. Mohinder, Roshan, Ravi, Khayyam, K. Panna Lal, Pandit Amarnath Second, O.P. Nayyar and Usha Khanna. Some of them did not compose music for Punjabi films, but by origin all of them were Punjabis.

    Hans Raj BehlOut of all these, the ones I know intimately are S. Mohinder and Late Sardul Singh Kwatra. This article is about the life and works of Sardul Kwatra (1928 – 2005). Sardul Singh Kwatra was born and brought up in Punjab’s capital Lahore. Since childhood Sardul was fond of music. Lahore was a place where Punjab’s finest maestros attained name and fame. Sardul while studying in school got the initial training in classical music from Sardar Avtar Singh. Sardar Avtar Singh possessed good knowledge of most of the Ragas mentioned in Sri Guru Granth Sahib as well as those Ragas, upon which the folk tunes of Punjab are based. Among the male voices Sardul was a great admirer of Agha Faiz of Amritsar and among the females he was especially fond of the silken voice of Zeenat Begum.

    Shiv Dayal BatishSardul thought that Zeenat’s voice was culturally very well marinated into music.  He was also a great admirer of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his brother Barqat Ali Khan. Since his childhood Sardul Kwatra had a fairly good knowledge of the basic tunes of Central Punjab’s folk songs like “Heer”, “Mirza”, “Tappe”, “Bolian”, “Jugni”, “Dhola”, “Mahiya”, “Multani Kafi” and “Saiful Malook”. Such knowledge came in handy when later on Sardul became a film music director.

    Shyam SunderI had my first exposure to his film music, when I saw the first “Kwatra Production” a Punjabi film “Posti” in 1950 in New Delhi. Being a child I could not understand the story, but I certainly enjoyed the music and still remember its songs and tunes. In person, I saw him in 1957 in Amritsar, when he came there to accompany Mohammad Rafi in a mixed Hindi Punjabi film song concert. He was playing piano accordion and serving as the master of ceremony.

    Usha KhannaThe second opportunity came my way when I met Sardul Kwatra in the Madhya Marg shopping center in Sector 7, Chandigarh. It was a surprise meeting. I saw someone resembling Sardul Kwatra that I had seen in 1957. On asking he said that he indeed is Sardul Kwatra and has shifted from Bombay to Chandigarh. He said he is rediscovering his roots and wants to open a film institute in this city, where he will impart training in acting, direction, singing, dancing and tune making. I was thrilled to hear all that. From that chance meeting on we used to meet often in his “Chandigarh Film Institute” located in a sprawling Sector 5 house only a stone’s throw away from Sukhna Lake. There were chatting sessions in this building, the adjoining lake and at my house in Sector 11 that gave me a peep into his achievements and failures.

    Pandit Husna LalI was fascinated by Sardul Kwatra’s brilliance as a music director of Punjabi films. His tunes reflected the real folk music of Punjab, the music of Lahore and Central Punjab of pre-partition era. His musical score for some Hindi films is also at par with that composed by some of the stalwarts of Hindi film music. Sardul disclosed that he has always been a highly romantic person and his best tunes were composed during various episodes of romancing.

    Bhagat RamThe first production of the Kwatra family was film “Posti”. The idea took shape while the family was still in Lahore, but the partition of Punjab left the family high and dry. After a short duration in Amritsar, the family moved to Bombay virtually penniless. Most of the cast of the film had also arrived in Bombay. Majnu, a Christian stage and film artist of Lahore performed the leading male’s role as Posti. Bhag Singh performed his father’s role. The heroine’s father was a very popular actor Ramesh Thakur. The lady for the role of the heroine was still being searched. Sardul Kwatra took it upon himself to choose a heroine.

    In Shyama, a seventeen year old budding actress Sardul found the heroine of the movie. Shyama, an athletically built charming girl hails from a Punjabi family. She was conversing in chaste Punjabi. Sardul’s choice received the final nod from the senior member of the family the elder brother of Sardul Singh and the producer of the film Harcharan Singh Kwatra. After initial hiccups financing was also arranged. The film was completed in 1949. It was an instant hit. The music was brilliant. Shamshad Begum and Mohammed Rafi were the leading female and male singers. A famous Hindi playback singer Rajkumari sang for the first time for a Punjabi film. Asha Bhonsle made her debut in film “Posti”.

    Madan MohanSardul Kwatra said that he was a great admirer of the femininity and beauty of “Shyama” and Shyama was a natural dancer, who will instantly start dancing to the tune composed. Sardul never touched Shyama, but being a silent admirer, he created some of the most everlasting Punjabi tunes.

    The Kwatra family was so much impressed with Shyama’s fluent Lahori Punjabi and her natural gift of dancing and acting that it engaged her as the heroine for their second Punjabi film “Kaude Shah” made in 1952. Sardul Singh composed the music of this film too. Like “Posti”, “Kaude Shah” also became a hit movie. Its music reached newer heights in popularity. Shamshad Begum excelled as the female Punjabi film singer. Hindi cinema’s most romantic male singer Talat Mahmood also sang a Punjabi duet with Rajkumari for this movie. This soulful song “Zulfan Ne Khul Gaiyan, Akhian Ne Rul Gaiyan, Ki Khattia e Dil Laa Ke” is one of the evergreen Punjabi film songs.

    Ghulam HaiderThe Kwatra family shortly there after made a Hindi film “Mirza Sahiban” also in 1953. The hero was Shammi Kapoor, but the heroine once again was Shyama. This film did not do too much business, but it launched Sardul Kwatra as a music director for the mainstream Hindi cinema. Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi sang most of its songs. The music became more popular than the movie. One Punjabi song in Rafi’s voice “Nahin Rees Punjab Di, Kehndi e Lehar Charab Di” became very popular all over Punjab.

    During the mid fifties, Shaminder Singh, a landlord from Muktsar in Ferozepore District reached Bombay with a hope to produce a Punjabi film and desire to have an opportunity to sing a song or two with Lata Mangeshkar. Shaminder with the collaboration of Kwatra Brothers produced a Punjabi film “Vanjara”. Lata was the leading female singer. Shaminder did sing a couple of duets with Lata. Sardul Kwatra scored the music. The film was not a big success, but Sardul Kwatra’s music attained new heights in excellence.

    RaviSardul Kwatra scored the music for a Hindi film “Pilpli Sahib”. Its songs are great pieces of art. Sardul did not hide his admiration for actress singer Suraiya. He always longed to compose tunes for her. Suraiya was a real star. She was rich and classy. She used to travel in a shoffer driven long black Cadillac Sedan. It was a treat to watch this VIP. In 1957, Suraiya accepted Sardul Kwatra’s request.

    The Kwatra family made a Hindi film “Goonj” in 1957. Sardul Kwatra himself composed the music. Suraiya became the lead singer and heroine. Sardul composed all the tunes by sitting in front of Suraiya. To Sardul, Suraiya was such a celebrity that out of reverence he will start sweating in front of her. Suraiya was fond of the finest perfumes, but French cosmetics were her first love. Sardul was aspiring to compose tunes that could match the scents radiating from Suraiya. This is how, according to Sardul’s own admission, he composed the memorable tunes of film “Goonj”. Some of the songs of “Goonj” are featured on the four cassette set of Suraiya’s songs as well as a two CD set released recently. Sardul used to admit that he did not have the courage to even formally shake hands with Suraiya. His romanticism revolved around secret admiration of Suraiya and that was enough to induce him into composing soulful tunes to be sung by Suraiya. On the day of the demise of Suraiya, Sardul was in uncontrollable tears. He was recollecting the precious moments he spent in her company in Bombay.

    Sardul and Mohammad Rafi used to be good friends. Rafi suspected that Sardul had cheated him of a sizable amount of money. Sardul denied it, but the industry had more faith in Rafi. That was one of the reasons of Sardul Kwatra leaving Bombay and initially settling in Punjab and later on moving to the United States. He had a wife and children, they were all nice folks. Somehow Sardul’s excessive romanticism became a bone of contention. He left his family behind in India and moved to the United States, in the company of a much younger girl, who aspired to be an actress and a dancer. There were two sons from this relationship, but some irreconcilable differences led to a divorce.

    While in the U.S. Sardul tried to stay in the profession of composing music, but California was no Bombay. In Bombay he could get the finest instrument players without much efforts, in California Indian style musicians were hard to find. Thus his film career came to an abrupt end. While in India Sardul Kwatra composed music for about two dozen movies, mostly Punjabi movies. “Billow” was another great musical, but it failed at the box office. He composed music for the first Punjabi version of “Shaheed Udham Singh”; this film was also called “Sarfrosh”. This movie was not a bad failure. Sardul’s last movie was “Anthelia Métier” made in 1979. He had composed several tunes in America, but there were no takers.

    In America Sardul was a frustrated man. Several times, when he was in a pensive mood, he called me from California, we used to have long talks and from those conversations, I could extract a lot of material for this article. There are stories or rumours that Sardul wanted to romantically involve with some women in America too, but things here are not as easy as those could be in India. Plus age was not on his side. This led to, at times, heavy drinking on his part. He was diabetic and developed hypertension too. He died in 2005 as a financially uncomfortable and professionally frustrated man. I am firmly of the opinion that Sardul Kwatra was a genius, but his brilliance was at best under used. Staying in Bombay, during the years of his creative best, would have been best for music.

    Read more

Latest Articles

Most Popular