Remembering a garrulous genius

Sajjad Hussain died today 26 years ago, in relative oblivion, forgotten by a heartless and cold industry that chose to focus on the warts rather than the beauty. There was a tribute paid to him on AIR Vividh Bharati today morning. As I was thinking about the man, I was reminded of his being referred to by none other than Lata Mangeshkar as her “Favourite composer” and “one she found most difficult to work with“. A man who was in the industry for nearly a third of a century, in the golden period of music, had loads of talent and pure class, but got less than 20 movies in the period. (17 to be precise in Bollywood and one Sinhala movie that was a superhit in Sri Lanka in the late 50s with his music still praised and remembered there). This is something of an enigma.

From the top of my head, I could remember Rustom Sohrab and Sangdil that he had composed music for. Rustom Sohrab would be surely the most outstanding one of all his (admittedly few) movies. Although there are a number of songs in the movie which are truly memorable, I chose this one, and for a reason.

The movie Rustom Sohrab, was made by , of all the people, F U Ramsay, who achieved fame (notoriety) for his monopoly of horror movies that were quite comic. He created and ran the genre of funny horror movies, later taken over by Ram Gopal Verma. It was directed by a big name in Marathi Literature, Vishram Bedekar. The director is much more famous in Marathi as a writer and even won a Sahitya Akademi award for his autobiographical novel. His debut novel, Ranangan created a storm in Marathi circles. He also wrote plays and his Tilak Ani Agarkar about intellectual conflict between the two contemporaries also was very acclaimed. He directed quite a few movies in Marathi and Hindi.

Rustom Sohrab is an Iranian fable culled from the epic poem Shahnameh by Firdausi. The story related to a Father and Son, both great warriors who find themselves at war with one other, not knowing who the other is. Suraiya, one of my all time favourite actresses and perhaps the best singer- actress on the silver screen sadly never acted (or sung) in movies after this one. In a sense, this song is literally her swansong.

Suraiya looks absolutely bewitching in the black clinging dress and her large expressive eyes and the transparent veil add to her appeal. The sad situation of her blighted love (which was nixed by a family elder on her side) got to her, and she quit films and singing altogether after this movie and song. Sad, because she undoubtedly had oodles of talent left in her when she did quit. This is her only song in the movie where she acts the role of Shehzadi Tehmina, the romantic attraction of the portly Rustom, (Prithviraj Kapoor in a typical bombastic, rather wooden performance with his loud typical dialogue delivery more suited to the theatre where he started his career, and he resembles Shammi Kapoor so much in appearance in the movie) the fighter with a fearsome reputation across Iran. Amazingly the legend from the 10th century has a young Rustom landing in a distant Kingdom searching for his runaway horse, becomes a guest of the King, and somehow the Princess (Shehzadi) Tehmina flips for him and approaches him with the strange request (for the time and culture from which the poem/ legend emanate, for such a thing to happen in the pre-10th century Iran is amazing). She admires Rustom and knows of his reputation. She goes into his room alone at night and asks if he will give her a child and in return, she will bring his horse. Rustom leaves after he impregnates Tehmina and his horse is returned. (Imagine, all you infertologists, you guys have clearly got it wrong- like in Roop Tera Mastanafrom Aradhana, it is so easy to get pregnant with just a single encounter) Before he leaves, he gives her two tokens. If she has a girl, she is to take the jewel and plait it in the girl’s hair. If she has a boy, she is to take the seal and bind it on the boy’s arm. Nine months later, she bears his child—a son, whom she later names Sohrab. Sohrab in the movie is acted by Premnath (who is probably one of the few men of the era who could match Prithviraj for his bombastic dialogue delivery) As luck would have it ( and I have my doubts if this Firdausi bloke foresaw Hindi Movies 10 centuries ago, because the central idea of father and son not knowing one other till they meet in mortal combat, one kills the other and then recognises him only by the amulet that has been given to him at birth is kinda patented by Bollywood) Rustom meets Sohrab on the battlefield, the two wrestle each other to the bitter end, when Rustom breaks Sohrab’s back and stabs him mortally, but not before the younger man shows the amulet his unknown father has given his mother and tells him his father will come and avenge his killing. The father realises his mistake rather late and can’t do much about it at the time. Shehzadi Tehmina, enraged at the son’s death, attacks and burns Rustom’s palace and gives his riches away to all and sundry in the legend.

This endearing Suraiya song has lyrics by Qamar Jalalabadi and is central to the seduction theme. Sajjad Hussain the music director was a highly regarded music maestro, despite being cursed with a really foul temper and being a perfectionist as well as hard taskmaster, and had a profound understanding of film song lyrics, instrumentation, classical music and the voice quality of his singers. He had learned and mastered all kinds of instruments, and is said to have actually survived as a man who could play the Mandolin as no one else could in the history of Hindi Film Music and is said to have played the instrument for more than some 22000 songs for multiple composers. His music compositions rank among the most complex scores of all the composers of the era.

An amazing story about the man sums up his immense talent (sadly gone waste due to his garrulous nature). Once, very deeply impressed by Sajjad Hussain’s Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandni (from Sangdil, Sajjad Hussain’s second best known film), the Ghazal King Madan Mohan created Tujhe kya sunaun mein dilruba, tere saamne mera haal hai( Aakhri Dao) on pretty much the same lines. At a concert when Madan Mohan walked past Sajjad, the miffed Sajjad acerbically taunted “Aaj kal toh parchaiyyan bhi ghoomne phirne lagi hain” . Madan Mohan to his credit responded that he could not find a better music director to copy. This reply made Sajjad Hussain speechless.

Sajjad Hussain will always remain one of the great “What If” stories in Bollywood. What if he had learnt to temper his anger? What if he had learnt to be more civil to others around him? Undoubtedly the result would have satiated us, the film music aficionados much more. As things stand listening to the small number of compositions we can get to hear always leaves a sense of wanting even more from the man. A genius, undoubtedly, sadly not expressed adequately due to his own foibles.

Have a great day ahead, folks, and enjoy the music of the man, undoubtedly one of the greats. The Bhishmapitamaha of Hindi Film Music, the great Anil Biswas once commented about him “By all standards Sajjad Hussain was an original, a genius music director, different from all others and each of his musical composition carried most difficult notations, which he himself used to create and took utmost pleasure out of it.”

Stay safe and healthy. Stay happy and away from harm’s way. Stay away from everything coming from the Chinese, today, tomorrow and forever

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

4 replies on “Remembering a garrulous genius”

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