RMIM Archive Article "116".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: The unparalleled talent of Sajjad
# Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ajay P Nerurkar)
# Source: Times of India
# Author: Radha Rajadhyaksha
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Arrogant, stubborn, idiosyncratic, all these adjectives fit
Sajjad Hussain remarkably well, but so did another -- gifted.
This obituary piece, culled from the pages of the Times of India,
tells the story of a man who wouldn't compromise his art for the
sake of his career. On a more mundane note, it also places his
age at death at a more reasonable 79 years and reveals the fact
that "Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandani" required 17 re-takes before
being approved. I wonder how Talat's teetering voice stood the
The unsung genius
-- Radha Rajadhyaksha
They could be apocryphal or they could be true, but two anecdotes
about the late Sajjad Hussain are now virtually part of Hindi
film music lore. One: how, during a recording, he called out
tartly to Lata Mangeshkar struggling at the mike with one of his
intricate compositions, "Yeh Naushad miyan ka gaana nahin hai,
aap ko mehnat karni padegi." Two: how at a music directors' meet,
eschewing the customary diplomacy of that era, he walked up to
Madan Mohan and demanded belligerently, "What do you mean by
stealing my song ?" ("Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandani" from his
'Sangdil' had just found a new avatar as "Tujhe kya sunaoon main
dilruba" in Madan Mohan's 'Aakhri Dao'.)
These two hallmarks of Sajjad's identity -- his penchant for com-
plex, many-- layered compositions and his singularly forthright
nature -- stuck to him like a second skin throughout his life.
And they combined in a rather unfortunate manner to diminish the
potential brilliance of a career that could have ranked among the
It was not the intricacy of his compositions that put Sajjad at a
disadvantage -- he worked, after all, in an era that belonged to
music directors with erudition and firm classical foundations.
Where he lost out was in his handling of producers and directors,
sometimes musical illiterates, who sought to simplify or alter
his tunes -- his contemporaries dealt with such "suggestions"
rather more tactfully than Sajjad, who would immediately [get] up
and walk out of the film. "He was an extremely talented man, very
knowledgeable about music, but his temperament was his undoing,"
says Naushad. "Even if someone made a minor suggestion, he'd turn
on him and say, 'What do you know about music ?' He fought with
almost everyone. Because of this, he sat at home most of his life
and wasted his talent. But the body of work he has produced,
small as it might be, ranks among the best in Hindi film music."
Music historian Raju Bharatan, whose interaction with Sajjad goes
back a long way, has a somewhat different insight into the man.
"It's true he wouldn't let musically unqualified people interfere
with his work,but the popular perception of him being stubborn is
not right," he says. "Sajjad had a rational explanation for every
action of his. You had to know him to recognise his tremendous
erudition, the fact that he was far superior to every other music
director in the industry."
This erudition, the cornerstone of Sajjad's work, is recalled af-
fectionately by Naushad. "He took pride in his ustaadi," he says.
"He'd tell the producer, the same time he did create simple, yet
extraordinary, compositions -- for example, "Yeh kaisi ajab daas-
taan ho gayi hai" from 'Rustom Sohraab'."
Indeed, as far as Sajjad's formidable talent goes, there are no
two opinions. Madan Mohan, when confronted with the charge of
plagiarism, reportedly told him, "I take pride in the fact that I
lifted your tune, not that of some second- or third-rater." Anil
Biswas, himself hailed as a creative genius, declared in an in-
terview that Sajjad was the only original composer in Hindi
films. "All of us, including myself, turned to some source for
inspiration," he said. "This, Sajjad never needed to do. Each
note of the music he composed was his own."
Sajjad's rather chequered career began in 1944 with Shaukar
Husain Rizvi's favoured over those of Bux -- indeed, his "Badnaam
mohabbat kaun kare, dil ko ruswa kaun kare", rendered by Noor-
jehan, is remembered to this day by connoisseurs. His range was
noteworthy -- if the music of 'Dost' had the "Punjabiat" that
Rizvi demanded, Sajjad could also come up with lilting Arabic
melodies as in 'Rustom Sohraab' or classical Hindustani tunes.
All this from a man whose only formal training in music was a
stint on the sitar under his father.
Sajjad's talent was only matched by his almost compulsive perfec-
tionism. He was perhaps the only music director who had no assis-
tants and did everything himself, from the initial tuning of the
lyrics to the orchestration. "He would even write down the bols
for the tabla player," says his son Nasir Ahmed. "It was not like
he'd begin the song and accept any theka the tabalchi chose to
strike; everything had to be done according to his dictates."
"He was very particular," recalls Lata Mangeshkar, who was known
to be almost apprehensive of a Sajjad recording. "If even a minor
instrument went slightly out of sur, he'd stop the whole record-
ing and begin again." This perfectionism necessitated 17 re-takes
for "Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandani", but Sajjad still remained
unsatisfied with an interlude piece in the song -- played by a
sitar and a sarangi maestro who are among the top names in clas-
sical music today. "Till the day he died, whenever he heard the
piece he'd sigh, "They didn't play it like I told them to," re-
calls his son amusedly.
This perfectionism extended to his own scores as well. "Sajjad is
the only composer I know who used to rethink his own work," says
Bharatan, "and that is a measure of growth. For instance, he used
to say that Lata's "Aaj mere naseeb mein" from 'Hulchul' was his
best work, but later began to feel it could have been much
better. He'd also dismiss his compositions like "Phir tumhari
yaad ayi ay sanam" and "Dil mein sama gaye sajan" out of hand.
"They're perfectly ordinary compositions," he told me. "Why are
you making such a big deal of them ?"
If Sajjad was known primarily for his film scores, there was also
another facet to his art -- he was an accomplished albeit self-
taught mandolin player who could stun even purists with his abil-
ity to play Hindustani classical music on this rather uninspiring
western instrument. His performances at concerts alongside the
biggest names in classical music spurred rave reviews, and con-
noisseurs would be agog at his ability to coax the meend, for in-
stance, out of the instrument of play entire ragas with the help
of the tuning key. "In the hands of Ustad Sajjad Husain," said a
review of a Madras concert in 1982, "the mandolin bore the halo
of a Ravi Shankar sitar or [an] Ali Akbar sarod. His playing is
that of a mighty maestro."
The genius of the man, however, was destined to remain unsung.
His uncompromising nature and marked indifference to material
comforts pushed him further and further into oblivion. But even
in the last years of his life, he retained his imperial pride --
Lata Mangeshkar, the one person in the film industry he was very
close to, recalls how, when she offered to arrange his mandolin
concerts, he retorted, "If you want to hear the mandolin, I'll
come and play for you at home, but I don't want you arranging
anything for me."
On July 21, the 79-year-old composer breathed his last. The leit-
motif of his lifetime, isolation, cast its shadow over his death
too, when, with the notable exception of Khayyam and Pankaj
Udhas, nobody else from the film industry bothered to turn up to
pay him their last respects. "It hurt," admits his son, "but what
is far more important is that to the last day of his life, my fa-
ther was happy. There was no bitterness, no regrets. He could
have been hugely successful, made piles of money, but the only
thing he wanted was to be acknowledged as a great musician, and
to live life on his own terms. And I think he achieved that."