Great Masters: Master Ghulam Haider

Master Ghulam Haider (1906-1953)

If there is one name in the realm of the subcontinent’s film music that can be equally credited with producing music with great mass appeal as well creating a whole battery of mega stars, it is that of Master Ghulam Haider. The list of his hit songs is long and varied and that of his star singers illustrious and impressive.

The great music composer was born in Hyderabad, Sindh, while his family originally hailed from Amritsar. His father was a dentist who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. The young Haider, though having learnt dentistry, showed a keen interest in music, particularly in playing the harmonium. His mastery over the instrument later helped him find a job as a harmonium and organ player with a touring theatrical company in Lahore. It was during his association with theatre in the late twenties and thirties that Ghulam Haider was able to learn music from a number of people. He acquired a formidable knowledge of both classical and Punjabi folk music.

Master Ghulam HaiderThe second phase of his musical career began in 1932 when he joined the Jien-o-Phone Recording Company in Lahore as one of their in-house composers. His colleagues were (Ustad) Jhandey Khan, (Pandit) Amarnaath and G.A Chishti. It is said that before becoming a full fledged composer Masterji (as Ghulam Haider had by then come to be fondly and respectfully called) had also assisted Jhandey Khan for a short while.

From the very beginning his compositions, based on Punjabi folk or ragas but with a distinctive touch of his own, became immensely popular. He used to his best advantage the voice of the already well-known singer Umrao Zia Begum (whom he later married) and also introduced Zeenat Begum, Shamshad Begum and the then Baby Noor Jehan. All these women made it big as singers in the years to follow. Many years later he groomed Lata Mangeshkar while composing music for Padmini and Majboor.

The popularity of Ghulam Haider’s non-film Urdu and Punjabi compositions had made the film industry in Lahore take notice of the young music director and in 1933 he was signed by A.R Kardar to score music for Sawarg Ki Seedhi which flopped miserably. His next assignment Majnu in 1935, though a commercial success, also failed to establish him as a film composer. However, he got another opportunity to prove his talent when in 1938, producer-director Dalsukh M. Pancholi assigned him the music direction of his Punjabi film Gul Bakawli. This film created new records at the box office and was followed by other successful Punjabi films like Yamla Jatt and Chaudhry. However, the genius of (Master) Ghulam Haider was truly acknowledged when Pancholi’s Urdu productions Khazanchi and Khaandan were released in 1941 and 1942, respectively. The songs from these two films attained unprecedented popularity and became a rage all over the subcontinent. Masterji’s off-the-beaten-track rhythm-based tunes and unusual orchestral arrangements became the cause of envy for his contemporaries, a source of inspiration for many of his juniors and a feast of delightful melodies for movie goers.

On the invitation of producer-director Kebob Khan, in 1944, Masterji who had by then fallen out with Pancholi, shifted to Bombay. He demanded and was paid an incredible fee of Rest. One lakh for scoring music for Mehboob’s Humayun released in 1945. Basking in the commercial success of Humayun which dispelled the failure of Filmstan’s Chal Chal Re Naujavaan, Ghulam Haider went on contributing to the musical success of many more films during the period from 1945 to 48. Notable among them were Bairam Khan (1946), Jag Beeti (1946), Shama (1946), Mehndi (1947), Majboor (1948) and Shaheed (1948).

According to Haider, much of the popularity of a song would depend on its lyrics as well as the skill and style of the singer. As soon as he heard the voice of a singer, he composed a tune suited to that voice. It was essential to him that the singer conveys emotion enough to create the situation the scene demanded.

Music aside, Ghulam Haider was also responsible for raising the status of music directors. In those days he demanded and got Rs 25,000 a film! It was a result of his efforts that musicians were given their due and paid better wages.

The last phase of Master Ghulam Haider’s career began when in 1948 he left his work unfinished in films like Manjhdhar, Patt Jhar, Kaneez Putli and Aabshar and returned to Lahore which had by then become a part of Pakistan. Here he started Filmsaz with director S. Nazir Ajmeri and actor S.Gul. Gulnar (1953) and Laila reunited him with Noorjehan but he could never taste the kind of success that he had in India.

Shahida was Masterji’s first film in Pakistan. His other notable movies from 1948 to 1953 were Beqarar, Akeli and Ghulam. Gulnar turned out to be his swan song and was the only other film after Khandan in which Noor Jehan sang after a gap of 11 years under Ghulaam Haider’s baton.

Ghulam Haider’s success encouraged other Punjabi music directors to enter films. These included Shyam Sunder, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Feroz Nizami and Hansraj Behl. Today Ghulam Haider’s name is almost forgotten. What remain are remnants of his work and the works of others influenced by him.