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Khurshid Anwar

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Khurshid Anwar


The cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore has contributed much to the flowering of cinematic arts, and the melodic culture of the Sub-continent. It has groomed a large number of film-makers, actors-actresses and melodists, whose invaluable contributions to cinema, before and after the partition of the Sub-continent, will forever remain enshrined in the cultural history of South Asia.

Included in the list of illustrious Lahoris is composer Khurshid Anwar (died: 30th October 1984) who was respectfully known as Khawaja Sahib in the film-world. Born on March 21, 1912, with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, Khurshid Anwar inherited a truly congenial environment which was conducive to the fruitition of his natural talent in music.

Since his early childhood, KA was a student of uncommon brilliance who would not stop short of winning the first position in any examination. He topped the Punjab University examination in 1935 for his master’s degree in philosophy. He appeared in the written ICS examination and again topped the list of successful candidates. However, he did not appear in the viva voce and preferred to join All India Radio as a program producer. How poor the world of music would have been, if he had joined the fraternity of servile bureaucrats to serve His Majesty’s government in India!

Though he early showed a strong proclivity for music and was encouraged, both by his father and grandfather, Khurshid Anwar received virtually no formal instruction in this performing art until he reached the age of maturity. Before he met and became a pupil of Ustad Tawakkal Hussain Khan, he was already a musician brimming with abundant natural gift. That was the consequence of his attendance in the twice-a-week soiree held at his father’s residence in Lahore where melodists of All-India repute used to participate.

KA joined All India Radio in the late 30s where he produced a number of popular music programs. Learning about his potential, the late Mian Abdur Rashid Kardar, once the doyen of Sub-continental filmworld, entrusted him with the responsibility of providing musical scores for his Punjabi movie Kurmai. Khurshid Anwar’s tunes won wide popularity. Soon thereafter, as a result of his lilting tunes for J K Nanda’s Ishaara and Sohrab Modi’s Parakh, Khurshid Anwar emerged as one of the influential composers of undivided India.

Khurshid Anwar was one among the new clan of young and dedicated composers who joined the world of showbiz in the early 40s, when an injection of fresh blood was so direly needed into the ageing veins of film industry. Also included in that group were Rafiq Ghazanvi, Feroze Nizami, Shayam Sundar, Naushad and Rashid Attray. This talented lot was not only highly educated (except Naushad and Attray), with brilliant academic records, but had an immensely demonstrable flair for creative inventiveness which excelled their (professional) contemporaries’ abilities.

To the art of composition Khurshid Anwar brought the same trenchant and restless intellect which made him so fine a scholar, poet, producer-director and one of the most erudite interpreters of classical music of the Sub-continent which underwent a complete metamorphosis during the 800-year-old Muslim rule. He believed that music, in the long accepted classical or romantic tradition, had come to the end of its tether, and the contemporary composer must seek out new forms, and new avenues of expression. He also felt that the film was the only fruitful medium of artistic self-expression left to contemporary composers.

His melodic thinking was profound (sometimes abstruse and esoteric) as perhaps only those who listened to his discourses on the history and evolution of music could best appreciate. Though he was disillusioned of and dissatisfied with the prevailing chaos in Pakistani film music, he did not altogether break away with it, but persisted in his indefatigable search for new musical idioms and expressions.

Shy, modest and introvert, Khurshid Anwar lived his life quietly and unceremoniously, devoting himself to compositions, and at the fag and of his life, to unfolding mysteries of music on to budding musicians. Of his many admirable qualities – his fine sense of musical designs, the economy of his means, the inexorable logic of his melodic thinking – the most significant was his highly refined lyricism. He had the gift of composing sustained melodies of expressiveness. This melodic gift became evident even with his earliest efforts at composition.

A composer with solid grooming in classical music, Khurshid Anwar was also influenced by the folk songs of Hariana which he admired and learned during his stay in early childhood in Rohtak, where his grandfather served as Deputy Commissioner. Indeed, some of his earlier compositions including J K Nanda’s box-office hit Ishaara (1943) and Singaar (1949) smacked of refined varieties of Hariana folk melodies.

The constant refining, the absence of everything unessential and commonplace, the simple presentation of difficult and complicated problems, gave his style a certain exclusiveness. His songs had the irresistible appeal of the sentiment of love and tender pathos. They also radiated matchless beauty of music, true to nature and daring in invention, were and still are as captivating to a child as to sophisticated adults. The more often one listens to his songs, the more meaning he reads into their melodies. Because they have simplicity of artfulness, his tunes grow richer on rehearing. The immortal composer died on October 30, 1984 but his immortal melodies will live for ever as the force of his mighty and soulful personality will continue to breathe through his compositions as long as these are played and replayed. His varied pieces are original in all respects and exhibit a marked individuality of style distinct from those of his illustrious contemporaries in Pakistan and India.

Other composers might have occasionally equaled him in the technical excellence of the art, or in the touching appeal of the sentiment, but none seemed to have succeeded in excelling Khurshid Anwar in the simultaneous presentation of both these qualities in the same measure. The commingling of sense and sound attains its perfection in his compositions which are at once the acme of poetic beauty and melodic wealth.

Few composers of film music possessed the charm and grace of Khurshid Anwar. From his first composition in Kurmai in 1941 to his last in Mirza Jatt in 1983 (both in Punjabi language) his melodies glowed with a special liveliness that was characteristically his alone. A KA composition is almost always recognizable, even to the untrained ears. It has a feel, a sound that is distinct and unique. The composition has an enduring freshness. His melody is usually simple, but inventive, eventful, gracefully clear and full of air. Each phrase grows out of the preceding one. Khurshid Anwar knew the technique of small-form compositions so well that he was able to utilize it unconsciously.

In terms of quantity, Khurshid Anwar trailed behind many of his contemporaries, but qualitatively few could match his talent. During the forty-year long association with the film-world, he scored music only for 28 movies – eight at Bombay (five before 1947 and three thereafter) and 20 at Lahore (two before independence and 18 after 1952). Of these, 15 were tumultuously successful at the box office, primarily because of their tantalizing compositions, four were moderately successful, and of the rest several songs from each became extremely popular.

In addition to inventing new tunes, Khurshid Anwar was very meticulous in creating background music to high pitch the impact of a certain scene in a movie. He would think hard, even meditate a lot, about the scene for which sound effects were needed. It was after such deep mental exercise that he composed music for background effects which to many appeared impromptu. Several times during his eventful career, KA was acclaimed as the best composer of the year, both on Sub-continental as well as Pakistan level. In 1980, he was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan for his excellence in the melodic arts.

The All India Music Directors’ Association on the occasion of the golden jubilee celebrations of Indian film industry in 1982, unanimously awarded a plaque to this genius from Pakistan which read:

“Khurshid Anwar – Mortal Man, Immortal Melodies”.

So great has been his contributions to the refinement of film music that he achieved the rare distinction of becoming a legend during his life time. So powerful was the impact of his creative endeavors that millions of people thought as if they new Khurshid Anwar personally, although they never had an occasion to meet the maestro. For them, his soul-stirring melodies were enough to establish a spiritual rapport with him.

To some, because of his excellent educational background and rich ancestry, Khurshid Anwar was a dry, terse and an arrogant individual. But to those (like Majid Hussain) who remained close to him, an affable, kind and understanding person lay beneath the thin veneer of his personality. Like all other creative individuals, he, too, had an uncommon tangent to his personality which distinguished him from ordinary people. This scribe met him on many occasions, especially during the evening of his life when he used to reminisce about his eventful career and talked nostalgically about a number of his contemporaries. He was especially kindly disposed towards singing actor K.L. Saigal and singing actress Suraiya, both of whom (during their days) had captured the imagination of cine-goers in the Sub-continent.

He was also full of praise for composers Anil Biswas, S D Burman and Salil Chaudhry – all of whom were from Sonar Bengla-whose compositions, as he put it, reached the deep recesses of the hearts of millions of music buff. Among Pakistani composers, he would single out Master Ghulam Haider and Master Inayat Hussain for the originality of their compositions, which he called stylistic and distinctive.

Poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who remained a life-long friend of Khurshid Anwar, aptly called him the musical spokesman of Pakistan.

Noor Jehan, the melody queen, who had long practical association with Khurshid Anwar, epitomized his rare qualities by calling him “The Composers’ Composer, who appear on the melodic firmament only after centuries”.

Dilating on his compositional technique, another longtime colleague of the maestro, producer-director Masud Parvez, restated the fact that Khawaja Sahib never relied on any musical instrument while composing a song. According to Khurshid Anwar “melodies simply sprang up from the depth of his heart”.

Even all these years after K.A’s death, on hearing his songs one feels his strong melodic personality pulsating through these compositions, prompting the listeners to wonder as if the maestro is still in their midst, acknowledging the ebullient praises his fans used to shower at him. There are certain aspects of man’s sojourn on planet Earth which even death cannot totally obscure from our thoughts and feelings. Musical compositions rendered in mellifluous voices of singers are an example worth quoting – By Saeed Malik

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