The sudden and tragic demise of M. Ashraf on February 4, 2007 brought an end to an era of great music compositions. The 65-year-old musician entertained music lovers with his matchless tunes for 45 years and died of cardiac arrest, leaving behind countless fans to mourn the loss.
From Sangdil, Nadeem’s first musical hit in the then East Pakistan in 1968 to Babar Ali’s record-breaking debut, Munda Bigri Jaye in 1995, M. Ashraf had the distinction of creating the highest number of successful tunes in Pakistan, easily matching that of his contemporaries, Nisar Bazmi and Robin Ghosh.
He was born in Lahore inside Bhatti Gate in 1942 and belonged to a well-known family of musicians. His maternal uncles, Akhtar Hussain Sakhian and Master Inayat Hussain, were successful musicians of their time and it was under their tutelage that he began his career in 1961, as part of the dynamic duo of Manzoor-Ashraf.
The duo helped Ahmed Rushdi win his first two Nigar Awards with the song, Chaand Sa Mukhra Gora Badan, from their film Saperan in 1961, and Gol Gappay Wala from Mehtaab in 1962. Although they composed many hits such as Aaina (1966), Insaniyat (1967) and Mera Ghar Meri Jannat (1968), they split up, with M. Ashraf going solo with Sangdil (1968) and Manzoor’s career coming to a halt due to his involvement in the murder of actress Niggo in 1971.
Sangdil completed its golden jubilee and Nadeem became a star with Ahmed Rushdi’s Sun Le O Jaan-i-Wafa, making Ashraf a force to reckon with. In the ’60s his success continued, reaching a pinnacle in the ’70s when he won three Nigar Awards in four years — for Gharana (1973), Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat (1975) and Shabana (1976). Qurbani (1981) got him his last award for an Urdu film and although he continued to churn out brilliant songs with movies like Tarana, Dosti, Meherbani, Kamyabi, Faisla and Ustaadon Kay Ustaad, he was always looked over when it came to an award.
His worth can be judged by the fact that in 1975 alone he composed hit numbers for films such as Farz Aur Mamta, Mohabbat Zindagi Hai, Anari, Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat, Jab Jab Phool Khile and Naukar.
Ashraf won 13 Nigar Awards and 14 Graduate Awards as music director for various Urdu and Punjabi films during his illustrious career. He had the distinction of working with film directors such as S. Suleman, Nazrul Islam, M. Javed Fazil, Pervez Malik, Shamim Ara, Iqbal Akhtar, Jan Mohammad and Hasan Askari. And banking on his music, they all tasted success.
He composed songs for three generations of superstars — from Habib and Santosh Kumar to Nadeem, Mohammad Ali and Waheed Murad and finally for Shaan, Babar Ali and Afzal Khan giving opportunities to the finest playback singers to sing to the best of their abilities. These included Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Madam Noor Jehan, Mala, Runa Laila, Nayyara Noor, Naheed Akhtar, Naheed Niazi, Irene Perveen, Naseem Begum, Saleem Raza, Masood Rana, Rubina Badar, Mehnaz, Ikhlaq Ahmed, A. Nayyar, Asad Amaanat Ali Khan, Tehseen Javed, Ghulam Abbas, Anwar Rafi, Nadeem, Rangeela and Indian starlets Sonu Nigam, Shaan, Saadhna Sargam and Shreya Ghosal. M. Ashraf’s musical journey ended with Tere Bin Jiya Na Jaye (2005).
With over 400 Urdu and Punjabi films to favor his case as a seasoned musician, M. Ashraf left the world at a time when he was needed the most. In his early days, he copied many Indian songs from across the border with his film, Nazneen, having the most copied versions, but in the latter part of his career, mostly from 1970-1990, he was the lone champion of quality Urdu songs with Kamyabi, Mehrbani and Faisla releasing in the ’80s and being copied across the border.
After his son, M. Arshad, (Bulandi, Bandit Queen, Jeeva, Raja Sahib, Dopatta Jal Raha Hai, Dil To Pagal Hai, Salakhein) emerged as a formidable musician, Ashraf composed music whenever his heart desired. He helped launch Imran Malik, son of Ashraf’s favourite director, Pervez Malik, by composing songs for his film, Tere Bin Jiya Na Jaye.
With Mohammad Javed Fazil making a comeback in films after a decade, Ashraf’s presence would have done wonders. He left this world two years after Amjad Bobby, his most formidable contemporary of the ’80s, and the absence of both these giants has left the genre of film music all the more poor – Omair Alavi