Tribute to Sajjad Hussain, one of the most innovative and unique music directors in Hindi cinema, on his 23rd death anniversary.

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Sajjad was born on June 15, 1917 in a village Sitamau in Madhya Pradesh, India. As a child, he learnt the sitar from his father; he was also very proficient on the mandolin. In addition, he learnt to play a plethora of musical instruments like Veena, Violin, Flute and Piano.

In 1937, the young lad came to Bombay to try his luck in Hindi films — not as an actor, but as a composer. The Hindi film industry was ruled by studios then, and young Sajjad first found a job in Sohrab Modi’s Minerva Movietone. From there, he moved to Wadia Movietone. Thereafter, he worked assisted several music directors, Meer Saheb, Rafiq Ghaznavi and Master Ali Baksh amongst others. It was while he was working as Pandit Hanuman Prasad’s assistant that he got his first break, to compose three of the songs for Gaali (1944).

Soon, he was composing for Dost (1944), a film made by Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, starring the upcoming songstress Noor Jehan (Rizvi’s wife). This was his first film as an independent composer. Sajjad’s introduction to Lata Mangeshkar came a few years later. According to him, he was recording the songs for 1857 (Gaddar) (1946) when he ran into Amanat Khan Devaswale, who sang praises of one of his disciples. Sajjad was intrigued. Amanat Khan, a noted singer himself, never praised anyone, and certainly never to this extent. Sajjad made up his mind that he would, one day, ask Amanat Khan’s disciple to sing for him. And so he did, for Hulchul (1951). The first song that Lata Mangeshkar recorded for Sajjad was Aaj mere naseeb ne. Unfortunately, it was deleted from the film. And Sajjad never completed Hulchul. (Mohammed Shafi composed the other songs.) But Sajjad retained his fondness for Lata Mangeshkar, even stipulating that he would compose only if she sang his songs.

In 1952, he would begin composing for his biggest film yet. Sangdil, an uncredited adaptation of Jane Eyre. It would be the pinnacle of his career. Unfortunately, despite the songs becoming hits, and the background score (also by Sajjad) much appreciated, his career would never reach these heights again. It is said that the temperamental composer had a falling out with the male lead, Dilip Kumar, during the making of this film, and swore never to work with him again.
Assignments became fewer and far between for the composer, and his next release was Rukhsana (1955). After this, another long gap intervened before he composed a handfull of wonderful melodies for Rustom Sohrab (1963). Suraiyya’s Ye kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai would be her swansong. And Lata’s Ae dilruba nazrein mila (which she stated was her favourite Sajjad composition) would be the last released solo she recorded for this very talented composer.

He teased Talat Mahmood as ‘Galat Mahmood’, Kishore Kumar as ‘Shor Kumar’ and even commented adversly on Lata Mangeshkar once. As a result of which he had problems with Lata for some time. It was his rude behaviour that he got few chances. He also rejected an offer by S. Mukherjee of Filmistaan. The result of his tussles and controversies was that he has just 14 films and less than 100 songs to his name in his 20 years long film career spanning from Dost (1944) to Rustam Sohraab (1963). Most of his songs were hits and are memorable but his behaviour kept him from a rich film career and us from many more good songs. Anil Biswas’ compliment gives us the insight of the capabilities of this great composer, according to Anil Biswas, Sajjad Hussain was the only original composer of Hindi cinema. Every note of his was an original.

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