The men hovering around that brilliant playback singer, Ahmed Rushdi, who played such important cameos in his career, like Parvez Malik, Waheed Murad, Suhail Rana and Masroor Anwar were all greats in their own capacity. They had all brought about a sort of revolution in our films, which could be called neo-romanticism in our cinema of the 60s, with films like Heera Aur Patthar, Arman, Ehsan and Doraha. Rushdi was inspired by such men. He was a world class singer, who is recognized as one of the most popular male playbacks of the sub-continent in the last 50 years, along with Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Mehdi Hasan and Saleem Raza. Once Nisar Bazmi told me that “Rafi and Rushdi are amongst those few singers in the sub-continent, whose voices did not form ‘cones’, as they rose up to touch the upper notes. Their volumes rose up without getting squeaky!” This is no small compliment from the best in the game.
Rushdi, a master of all moods, was adept at singing all styles, be it happy, comedy, tragedy, qawwali, lullaby, and patriotic, pop, revolutionary or folk numbers. Literally, he did justice to all music directors, whether they wanted him to become mellow in Bengal or emotionally unrestrained in Punjab, or an all purpose man in Karachi films. Everywhere he ventured, he stunned people with his brilliance and versatility.
Syed Ahmed Rushdi was born in 1935, to a well respected Hyderabad Dekkan family of Maulana Hafiz Qari Syed Manzoor Mohammad, a revered religious scholar. Singing was strictly disallowed in his household, but Rushdi was crazy about music and wanted to sing all sorts of songs. In this context, he met many talented seniors, and took admission in a small music school by another name. According to my statistician friend, Shahenshah, the first film he sang for was Ibrat, in 1954, in India, although generally it was held that Rushdi sang his first number for Karnama (1956). He was just 16 then. Ibrat, which had in its cast one called Arsalan, Rushdi’s elder brother, turned out to be a flop, but very soon, in 1954, he came to Karachi with his family, and gave an audition at Radio Pakistan. He first sang Himayat Ali Shaer’s poem, Clifton Kee Ik Shaam, which was appreciated. Soon followed another hit, Bandar Road se Kemari, which was a mega-hit of the times.
Recognition of Rushdi’s services to radio, television, cinema and overall to the nation, 20 years after his death, could be summed up in the adage ‘better late than never!’ He has been decorated with a Pride of Performance posthumously, but it is less than what he deserved. He served the country distinctively, and the least our government could have done for him was to take care of his family, and look after their well being. But in a country that doesn’t even declare its cultural policy, what can you demand from the government?
Rushdi came to the fore through one of the most popular numbers ever fashioned in Karachi, Bandar road se Kemari meri chali re ghora gari, which was supposed to be written and composed by a superlative musician, Mehdi Zaheer. But, actually, it was just written by him, while the composition was a re-hash of Lata’s famous number, Bahey ankhiyon se dhaar, jia mora beqarar! If you know both tunes, you will note how similar the songs are. Yet, it was a case of the copy being more popular than the original. The tune fitted the wordings like a hand in a glove. It was such a huge hit that people do not even remember Lata’s song.
Rushdi’s first film song in Pakistan was recorded for Karnama, which was a duet with Nazeer Begum, and was titled Chamkein seep ke moti jaise. He had three other duets in the film.
Rushdi is known for his songs with all the master tunesmiths, and he did justice to all of them – Zulqarnain Shahid