Way back in 1969 when Begum Akhtar was visiting Karachi, the Gramophone Company of Pakistan (later EMI), arranged a music evening with her on their sprawling lawns.
Only hardcore lovers of ghazal and semi-classical music were glued to their seats in the post-dinner session. Faiz was sitting in the first row and Begum Akhtar, noticing his presence, enthused “Faiz Saheb hamare Hindustan mein, khas taur par shumali Hindustan mein aapka kalaam barre shauq se suna jaata hai” (In India, particularly in northern India, your poetry is listened to with great enthusiasm). The next moment she burst into Sham-i-firaaq ab na poochh.
It was, and still is, an honour for any singer to render Faiz, just as it is to sing Ghalib. From Ustad Barkat Ali Khan to Mehdi Hasan and from Farida Khanum to Hadiqa Kayani, not to speak of the thrush-throated Firdausi Begum, almost every singer of repute has interpreted Faiz musically in his or her own manner.
Some film makers included songs based on his poems, the most famous of all was Noor Jahan’s Mujh se pehli si muhabbat, which she used to sing in small concerts but later rerecorded it for the movie Qaidi.
Then there was the ‘hijacking’ of Gulon mein rang bhare, which the Gramophone Company recorded in the voice of Mehdi Hasan, who had been rendering it in concerts.
Director Khaleel Qaisar had recorded and filmed the same ghazal in the voice of Naseem Begum for his movie Farangi but when he heard the Gramophone Company’s recording, he insisted on ‘buying’ it for his movie. His persistence bore fruit.
In Shaheed, an earlier movie, he had got Masood Rana to render a Faiz nazm, Nisaar mein teri galiyon ke aye watan but the song could not click. Maybe Mehdi Hasan or Ahmed Rushdi could have done a better job. In India, Muzaffar Ali got Khayyam to record the famous Faiz nazm Kab haath mein tera haath naheen for his off-beat movie Anjuman.
The movie could not be released commercially and one reason was that the score of Ali’s film did not appeal to the masses. The second odd thing was that the filmmaker and the composer did not get professional singers to record the songs for the movie, only one of which was a Faiz poem.
Incidentally, the nazm has been sung by Tina Sani for the album which was released last week to mark the birth anniversary of the great poet. The cover version is an improvement over the original.
Iqbal Bano’s repertoire consists of at least two highly applauded Faiz poems Dasht-i-tanhai (so beautifully tuned by Mehdi Zaheer) and the revolutionary Ham dekhen ge.
Farida Khanum had earned her reputation rendering the ghazals of Dagh, and later Faiz, whose Chand nikle, Sab qatl ho ke, Na ganwaon navak-i-neemkash and Yoon saja chand are priceless numbers.
When Talat Mahmood came on a private visit to Karachi in the early 1960s he recorded two Faiz numbers for the Gramophone Company, one of which Donon jahan teri muhabbat mein haar ke ranks among the singer’s best non-film numbers.
No discussion on the musical exposition of Faiz’s poems can be complete without mentioning the priceless album Nayyara sings Faiz, which had brilliant compositions by Arshad Mahmud and Shahid Toosy. It was rehearsed and recorded in a matter of days.
EMI produced the long play record to present to Faiz on his 65th birthday. The sequel which was to be released the following year – 1977, was delayed. Now, 34 years later, it is being released, with some numbers having been rerecorded by Arshad Mahmud.