Master Ghulam Haider

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Article as posted by Afzal Khan in 2008 with some edits.

Written by Shri Harjap Singh Aujla as per Irfan Anwar.

PRIOR to his first film job, Ghulam Haider was a freelance music director for live music concerts for a few years. Janki Nath Kumar and brothers were a music-oriented business family in Lahore. They opened the first electrical music recording studio in the city and a records selling store in historic Anarkali Bazaar. In the company of my father,
I have seen this store, when it was renamed His Master’s Voice Shop by its new Muslim owners, after migration of the founding family to India.
Janki Nath Kumar and brothers were recording music on three minute a side 78 RPM discs under the brand name “Jenophone”. They employed Ghulam Haider as their music director. This company produced a lot of Punjabi and Urdu music, both film and non film. The records of film “Swarag Ki Seerhi” (1935) and “Majnu” (1935) under the
music direction of Ghulam Haider were produced and sold as “Jenophone Records”. Umrao Zia Begum was the female singer of Swarag Ki Seerhi”.
This film did not do too well at the box office and Ghulam Haider’s effort went by and large unnoticed. This was the time when Calcutta’s “New Theatres” was churning out hit movies and Rai Chandra Boral was the most famous music director. Legendary singer K. L. Saigal was the most celebrated male singer. Others included Pankaj Mullick and K.C. Dey.
Pankaj Mullick was a big-tag music director too, who composed tunes for K.L. Saigal too.

Lahore was not a big film production center and the next three years went without any film music contract for Ghulam Haider. But he did cut some hotly selling private discs in both Punjabi and Urdu.  Though the first ever Punjabi film was made in 1934, but, somehow, even its print is not available now.

All India Radio started its fifth radio station in Lahore in 1936. The studios were built in 1937, when broadcasts of live music started. Shamshad Begum started as a casual singer at the new radio station in 1939, but most of her tunes were composed by Master Inayat Hussain and Budh Singh Taan.  Ghulam Haider heard Shamshad Begum’s voice over the radio and liked it for Punjabi music.

Ghulam Haider’s first big break came in 1939. The famous Pancholi family headed by Roshan Lal Shorie made a Punjabi film. This family at that time also owned a film studio in Lahore. The film was “Gul – e -Bakavli”. It was a low budget film and could be released only in Punjab.
But this film recovered all its costs from Lahore and Amritsar only. It was in this film that famous actress-singer Noorjehan was discovered by Master Ghulam Haider, as Baby Noorjehan. It had a couple of very popular
songs. One of them was “Shava Jawanian Maaane, Akha Na Morhin Peele, Shala Jawannian Maane” sung in the voice of Noorjehan. The other song was “Pinjre de vich qaid Jawaji”. Connoisseurs of good musical voices all over India took notice of these songs and the singer’s voice. Around that very time Ghulam Haider decided to give chance to Shamshad Begum for playback singing. Some people attribute the discovery of versatile Punjabi singer Zeenat Begum to Ghulam Haider, but music director S. Mohinder firmly believes that Zeenat Begum was discovered by Pandit Amar
Nath, the elder brother of the famous duo of music directors Pandit Husn Lal Bhagat Ram. Zeenat’s earliest records bear testimony to S. Mohinder’s contention.

During the thirties and forties, the big name music directors kept their exclusive orchestras on their payrolls. Ghulam Haider won’t share his orchestra with Pandit Amarnath and Pandit Amarnath would not share his orchestra with Pandit Gobind Ram. As a result identification of music directors became possible from the sound of the orchestra. In addition
to the ancient Indian string instruments, Ghulam Haider introduced Piano, clarinet and Violin into his orchestra.

 From 1939 to 1944, Ghulam Haider composed music for five Punjabi films including Gul – e – Bakawali (1939), Yamla Jatt (1940), Sassi Punnoon (1940), Chaudhry (1941), Sehti Murad (1942) and Gul Baloch with partial music (1943). All these Punjabi films made good money. Yamla Jatt was the most successful film. Its hero was Kapurthala born famous villain of Bollywood, Pran (full name Pran Nath Sikand). Noorjehan was one of the lady actresses. Its two songs, a solo “Kankan diyan faslan pakkiyan ne” and a duet “Aa dukhre phol laiye” based on famous folk Punjabi tune “Mahiya” were very popular. Film “Chaudhry” was also a great musical.
Its songs “Bus bus veh dholna, ki tere naal bolna”, “Chhum chhum ohdi kaisi sohni chaal”, “Ik duniya navin vasa laiye” and “Sajna tere bina jee nahiyon lagda” were all musical masterpieces. By this time Ghulam Haider had established himself as the master of prelude and interlude in music. If you listen carefully to the prelude of film “Yamla Jatt” song
“Aa Dukhre Fol Laye”, the orchestration appears very vibrant with the domination of piano. Without a good mastery over classical music, it is not possible to keep all the instruments of the orchestra in perfect “Sur”. Ghulam Haider’s orchestra was perfectly in “Sur”.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Bhai Santa Singh of Amritsar was the leading musician at the Golden Temple. He and Ghulam Haider were buddies from childhood. Bhai Santa Singh was famous for singing at very high notes and in very slow beat, a unique combination.
He used to sing Sikh religious music at All India Radio Lahore. Ghulam Haider persuaded Bhai Santa Singh to get some of his favourite Sikh musical numbers recorded for posterity. Bhai Santa Singh was initially opposed to this, but eventually he agreed to record. The tunes were Bhai Santa Singh’s own, or traditional, handed down from generation to generation. Ghulam Haider did not make any alteration, but only provided orchestration, which included preludes and interludes. The recordings came out so good that, even after more than six decades of recordings, the eight numbers featured on four 78 rpm records are to date considered the top musicians choice in Sikh circles. The Sikhs will always be indebted to Bhai Santa Singh and Ghulam Haider for giving them this invaluable gift of divine music in its finest form.

Late Master Madan was a musician par excellence and the pride of Punjab. He died an untimely death at the tender age of twelve. But before his death, he gave the gift of eight recordings, which included two evergreen “Ghazals”, two “Thumris”, two “Sikh Religious Numbers” and two “Punjabi Songs”. If you listen to his Punjabi folk numbers, you will
notice that the accompanying orchestra bears the distinct stamp of Ghulam Haider’s music. The same can be said about the religious numbers too. All this happened while Ghulam Haider was in Lahore.

While in Lahore, Ghulam Haider composed the music for a few more Hindi/Urdu films. These included “Khazanchi” (1941), “Zameendar” (1942), “Khandaan” (1942”) and “Poonji” (1943). That was the era of the domination of the Indian film scene by the music directors from Bengal.
The Bengali bigwigs included Rai Chandra Boral, Timir Baran and Anil Biswas. The Bengali music was considered highly melodious. The “Taal” identifying drum instruments like “Tabla” and “Dholak” were not accorded prominence; such instruments used to be kept in the background. India was exposed to this kind of music only. But when Ghulam Haider’s “Khandaan” was released all over india, it featured drums far more prominently and the people all over the nation fell in love with the “Taal” or the beat. Ghulam Haider’s instrumentation was also, in accordance with the Punjabi character, very vibrant and vigorous. His next two films in a row, ”Zameendar” and “Poonji”, went on to prove that
prominence of “Taal” had become the latest craze amongst the music buffs of not only the Punjab but also of the rest of India.

Most of the contemporary crops of music directors in India and Pakistan for their music compositions normally prefer mostly two common “Taals” i.e. “Dadra” and “Kehrwa” or at the most “Teen-taal”, but Ghulam Haider introduced a number of uncommon “Taals” also. This would not have been possible without a thorough knowledge of the classical music of India and the exotic “Taals” used by the tradition-bound Sikh religious musicians. The revolutionary step of giving prominence to a variety of uncommon “Taals” gave Ghulam Haider’s name household recognition in India.

K. L Saigal, during those days, was the leading-most male film singer in India. He hailed from Jullundur in Punjab, but it is a pity that Ghulam Haider could not have the opportunity to compose tunes for him. A second generation music director from Punjab Khurshid Anwar, was however luckier, he composed the music for a Saigal–Suraiya starrer “Parvana”, which became a very popular hit.

Rather than insisting on heavy classical compositions attempted by most of the other music directors, Ghulam Haider’s lighter style of applied classical music was better received by the cinema going public. This got him fame and a spate of invitations from Bombay, which by the mid - forties had replaced Calcutta as the leading film city of India.

Another brilliant Punjabi music director Shyam Sunder, with his unique style of compositions, arrived in Bombay in 1943. One of his earliest movies “Gaon Ki Gori”, featuring Noorjehan’s voice, became a musical hit. In 1944, Ghulam Haider also moved to Bombay, lock stock and barrel, leaving behind all the glorious memories of his youth in Lahore and childhood in Amritsar.

Before settling down to the rough and tumble of film music in Bombay, he invited a fellow Lahori actress - singer Suraiya, who was racing fast towards the top, to record a couple of “Naats” in Punjabi. I (the writer) am in proud possession of this music. These perhaps are the only Punjabi numbers ever sung by Suraiya.

Ghulam Haider did music for two films in 1944. These were “Chal Chal Re Naujawan”, a big ticket film and “Phool”. “Bhai” was the next venture.
Then came Mehboob Khan’s famous film “Humayun” in 1945. “Shama” (1946) was a great musical. Just like the USA, where all diverse nationalities get into the grand melting pot and become Americans, Bombay creates a unique amalgam of film and music makers that make it Bollywood. If Ghulam Haider gave a new style to Bombay, he in turn gained a lot from the grand melting pot experience of the city. As music director S. Mohinder puts it, “Every music director hailing from any part of India and arriving in Bombay, gains immensely from the music directors representing other cultures and participates in the creation of a new amalgam called the composite music of India”. Ghulam Haider’s style also underwent a sea change --- it happened especially after most of the members of his orchestra went back to Lahore after an explosion in Bombay.

In 1947, Ghulam Haider did the music for “Mehndi” and composed some music for film “Majboor”. Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947.
Surinder Kaur and her elder sister Parkash Kaur had to leave Lahore virtually penniless. Parkash Kaur quickly moved from Amritsar to New Delhi, but Surinder Kaur stayed put in Ferozepore. Ghulam Haider had heard both sisters, while they were still in Lahore. From Bombay he sent a message to Surinder Kaur to come to the film city. By early 1948,
Surinder Kaur arrived in Bombay.

Ghulam Haider had the intention to make Surinder Kaur a playback singer for film “Shaheed”. Surinder Kaur did sing a few very popular songs for “Shaheed”, but before that Husn Lal Bhagat Ram got her voice recorded for a Suraiya starrer film “Pyaar Ki Jeet”. Surinder Kaur’s first song became a hit. Soon music director Shaukat Dehlavi used Surinder Kaur’s voice for a solo and a duet with Mukesh. Surinder Kaur sang five songs for Khurshid Anwar too in Madhubala starrer film “Singhaar”. But the credit for unearthing the singing stars and making playback singers out
of Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum, Mohammad Rafi, Surinder Kaur and Lata Mangeshkar goes legitimately to Ghulam Haider only.

India’s independence in 1947 came with the painful partition of the country. The most disturbing communal rioting was witnessed by Ghulam Haider’s own province Punjab. Other worst hit areas included North West Frontier Province, Balochistan, the Presidency of Bengal and Delhi.
Surprisingly the Presidency of Bombay, where Ghulam Haider lived experienced complete communal harmony. Some of the Hindu and Sikh instrument players, who left Bombay for Lahore in 1945, rejoined Ghulam Haider’s Orchestra in late 1947 and early 1948. Once again it was a happy family and Ghulam Haider got his soul back.

A rather curious incident happened on a local electric train in Bombay in 1947. Just like most Bombayites, Ghulam Haider was also traveling from one recording studio to another in a local train. The trains were not crowded during those days. Ghulam Haider noticed an anaemic looking small framed girl in her teens singing something. Her voice appeared very shrill and sweet. Ghulam Haider asked her to come close to his seat. He asked “Would you sing if I make a tune right now”. He used a plate and a stick to create the “”Taal” and improvised a tune. Ghulam Haider sang the song and the girl followed him. Ghulam Haider was impressed. He asked her to come on a certain date to a studio for audition in front of a mike and orchestra. The girl agreed and reached the studio well before the appointed time. Ghulam Haider conducted the audition. Her voice was feeble, but closer to the mike it sounded very impressive. She passed the audition. The girl was none other than today’s superstar Lata Mangeshkar, Ghulam Haider’s latest find.

Ghulam Haider at that time was composing the music for film “Majboor”.
The song “Dil Mera ToRa, Ho Mujhe Kisika Na ChhoRa, Tere Pyar Ne, Haye Tere Pyaar Ne” became Lata Mangeshkar’s first ever hit solo. It was recorded in 1947, but the film was released in 1948. After that Ghulam Haider recorded Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in film “Aabshaar” also in 1948. Her “Aabshaar” numbers became very popular and Lata became an established singer. About that very time Noorjehan left for Lahore and later on became “Malika-e-Tarannum of Pakistan”. Lata, however, kept copying the style of Noorjehan for a long time.

Ghulam Haider was so much excited about his new find Lata Mangeshkar that he boasted about it to the other contemporary biggies like Anil Biswas and Khem Chand Prakash. But it was Shyam Sunder, another Punjabi
music director, who recorded Lata’s earliest super hits in film “Bazaar” (1949). Shyam Sunder used Raga Pahari to compose Lata’s first ever super hit song “Sawan Ki Galiyan Chhod Chale, Dil Roya Ansoo Beh Na Sake”.
Lata herself admits that her one song “Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi, Magar Hum Tum Juda Honge” recorded for film “Lahore” in 1949, in the music direction of Shyam Sunder is one of her life’s finest songs. Lata takes pride in giving full credit to Ghulam Haider for making her a film playback singer. She says Ghulam Haider taught her as to which word
deserved more stress and which one needed a soft touch for optimum impact. Lata regrets that she could not sing for another great Punjabi music director Khushid Anwar, who left for Lahore soon after composing music of “Singaar”.

One day in a recording studio Lata was rehearsing a Ghulam Haider tune. Being raw she was making one crucial mistake again and again. The perfectionist in Ghulam Haider got so much infuriated that he planted a slap on her face. Every member of the orchestra was stunned. One of Ghulam Haider’s most trusted harmonium players was Kartar Singh. Ghulam Haider used to make the tunes using a piano and Kartar Singh used to replicate those tunes on harmonium. Kartar Singh remarked ”Khan Sahib, why did you slap this frail little girl?  Look at her face, she can’t
even cry, she is totally dumbfoundded”.  Ghulam Haider retorted back “Look Kartar Singh, I used to slap Noorjehan and see how high a pedestal she has reached, she is on top in her profession. This slap is going to catapult Lata Mangeshkar into a great singer, who will rule the world of music”. Ghulam Haider’s prophecy proved right and today Lata Mangeshkar is India’s most celebrated female playback singer and one of the most recorded female voices in the World.

Between 1947 and 1949, Ghulam Haider composed music for films “Majboor”,“Padmini”, “Barsaat Ki Ek Raat”, “Aabshaar”, “Patjhar”, “Shaheed” and “Kaneez”. Film “Kaneez” had songs sung by the inimitable Zeenat Begum
too and Ghulam Haider gave a chance to O.P. Nayyar to compose its background music.

Ghulam Haider left Bombay for good and arrived back in Lahore towards the end of 1949. Although staying in Bombay could have been professionally a lot more satisfying, but out of sheer patriotism for the newly created nation of Pakistan, he left a very promising career as a music director in India’s leading film production center. Others who
returned to Lahore included music directors Firoze Nizami, Khurshid Anwar and Rashid Atre. But Ghulam Haider had the satisfaction of leaving Bombay filmland’s music direction in the hands of a brilliant duo of fellow Punjabi music directors Pandit Husn Lal Bhagat Ram, who had ten film contracts in 1949 and nine in 1950. Even the field of lyric writing was dominated by Punjabi poets including Rajinder Krishan,  Qamar Jalalabadi and D. N. Madhok. Naqsh Lyallpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi would join them soon too

. After the death of the doyen among male film singers K.L. Saigal in 1947, the crown of being the number one male playback singer was inherited by another Punjabi singer Mohammad Rafi. Prior to Rafi’s meteoric rise another Punjabi G.M. Durrani was briefly on top, but he was seriously challenged by Mukesh of Delhi and Talat Mahmood of Lucknow.

On arrival in Lahore, Ghulam Haider in association with director S.Nazeer Ajmeri founded “FilmSaaz”, a music dominated company. While in Lahore, Ghulam Haider composed the music for films “Beqarar”, “Akeli”, “Bheegi Palkein”, “Ghulam” and “Gulnar”. Somehow the music of these films, with the exception of “Gulnar” did not do too well and the market in Pakistan was too small. The Noorjehan number for Film “Gulnar”, with starting lyrics “Lo Chal Diye Voh Hamko Tassalli Diye Baghair, Ik Chand Chhup Gaya Hai Ujala Kiye Baghair” became a hit. This song was played again and again by different stations of Radio Pakistan as an obituary on the death of Master Ghulam Haider.

Ghulam Haider’s lifelong inspiration was his beautiful, talented and intelligent wife Umrao Zia Begum. It is a pity that Ghulam Haider left this world for his heavenly abode in November 1953. As long as the music of the Indian sub-continent is alive in this world, Ghulam Haider’s name will stay alive. Among other things that he did, he will be remembered for discovering a number of playback singing sensations including Umrao Zia Begum, Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum, Ali Bakhsh Zahoor,  Mohammad Rafi,Surinder Kaur and Lata Mangeshkar.

In his lifetime, Ghulam Haider composed the music for about two dozen movies, a quarter of them being Punjabi films. Many others have composed music for a lot more movies. But it is not sheer numbers that matter in this World, it is the quality of work that matters the most. In terms of quality of music Ghulam Haider never made any shortcuts or compromises.
That is why he went to the extent of slapping Noorjehan and Lata Mangeshkar when they were both debutant singers. As another example,  master composer Sajjad Hussain created music for only a dozen movies, but all his music became hit and top notch musicians like Lata  Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood and Suraiya acclaimed his tunes as some of the finest ever made in the twentieth century.

Music directors, like other competing professionals, are generally quite jealous of each other. But contrary to that, on hearing about the demise of Master Ghulam Haider, one of his contemporaries and a highly acclaimed music director C. Ramchandra started crying. When asked about the reason, C. Ramchandra said “Ghulam Haider used to compose the tunes, I used to steal those and after making minor alterations and after changing the “Taal”, I used to create hit music under my own banner. Now that fountainhead of tunes has gone dry. I have been deprived of my source of ideas. I am the person who has been hit the hardest”. Such honest admissions from a fellow music director can be the finest tribute
to the departed genius. This fact was narrated to me by another music director Sardul Singh Kwatra, who admitted that Ghulam Haider and Hans Raj Behl were his (Sardul’s) sources of inspiration too.

Extra points as shared by K C Pingle:-


1) Ghulaam Haider studied Dentistry and also worked briefly under a dentist. He made Pancholi hear harmonium ( to kill Pancholi's severe pain ) and then immediately Pancholi hired him at Rs 150 per month !
2) His main guru was one Babu Ganeshlal. Harmonium guru - Haridasji, Tabla guru - Bhai Meher Baksh & Ustad Gaman Khan
3) GH was a "Mirasi" - a caste known for the skills in playing various instruments.
4) Keherwa/Khemta was made famous in Hindi film music by GH ( more the dholak versions :-) )
7) His meaningless syllables lile "La La La" etc were famous and are continued till today

Other points as told by Irfan Anwar

Last year I  talked to Harjap Singh ji. I also gave him the link to
 Dr. Surjit's w/site. I think he contacted Dr. Saheb as well.
 Some Ghulam Haider's companions:
 1. Bhai Lal Amritsari (Father of Ustad Ghulam Husain Shaggan)      Bhai Lal used to accompany Ghulam Haider on Harmoniam. He was a great Classical siger as well.
 2. Ustad Sohni Khan who used to play Clarinet. Just listen to his Clarinet in Khurshid Anwar's song in film Kudmai - dil enj enj karda / G.M.Durrani
 3. Ustad Manzoor on Tabla. He was childhood friend of Khurshid Anwar and played Tabla in all his songs.
 4. Tufail Farooqi: He composed music in a couple of films in Bombay. He did about 30 films in Pakistan.
     Tufail was used to work as arranger. He was brother-in-law (Sala)of Ghulam Haider.

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