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WHAT a tremendous change has taken place in the emoluments of Pakistani playback singers in the subcontinent over the past six decades! Present-day singers like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar are quite popular amongst music lovers and they charge huge amounts to perform in concerts held anywhere in the world. All three are superstars of India and Pakistan.

They are extremely busy in singing for films and concerts and often it is difficult for organisers to get dates from them for holding programmes.

The singers of yesteryear who had established playback singing in Pakistani films in the 1950s and 1960s thereafter lived and died in abject poverty.

One song each of Salim Raza and Munir Hussain sung for famous producer, director and poet Saif-ud-Din Saif’s film ‘Saat Lakh’ released in 1957 became a super-hit.

The song rendered by Salim Raza was “Yaaron Mujhe Maaf Rakho, Mein Nashe Mein Hoon” and that by Munir Hussain was “Qaraar Lootne Wale, Tu Pyaar Ko Tarse”.

These were repeatedly played by the then popular Radio Ceylon on listeners’ request. The radio station would introduce songs of newly-released Indian and Pakistani films.

Salim Raza was quite a refined singer and there are many hit songs to his credit, including ‘Jaan-e-Baharan, Rashk-e-Chaman’ for the film ‘Azra’.

Earlier, he used to be the first choice of famous music composers like Rashid Attrey and Master Inayat Hussain whenever they required a male playback singer for ghazals.

With the coming in of Mehdi Hassan and taking the lion’s share of singing in films, Salim faded out and was confined to composing and singing for radio and television stations in Lahore.

As he came under financial stress, he became disappointed and migrated to Canada in the 1970s and died there on Nov 25, 1983 at the age of 51.

The lyrics of Munir Hussain’s above-mentioned song in ‘Saat Lakh’ penned down by Saif-ud-Din Saif were quite unique. In Urdu ghazal, the lover usually praises the beauty of his beloved and the poet uses a number of similes to enhance the effect of the verses.

However, in this song the lover hurls a lot of curses on his beloved for ditching him.

Besides, Munir Hussain had sung Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s famous poem ‘Nisar Mein Tere Galiyon Pe Aaey Watan Ke Jahaan’ for ‘Shaheed’. His voice was also suitable for romantic songs in films.

Munir’s commercial success declined when film producers started engaging Ahmed Rushdi for romantic numbers.

Unfortunately, Munir was left with no formidable source of income and died in poverty in Lahore on Sept 27, 1995.

Mujeeb Alam’s song ‘Woh Mere Samne Tasveer Bana Baithe Hain’ for the super-hit film ‘Chakori’ (1967) made him into a renowned playback singer.

This was followed by many other hits, including ‘Mein Tere Ajnabi Shehar Mein’ for the film ‘Shama aur Parwana’.

Mujeeb made his debut in Lollywood in a different way in comparison to Salim Raza and Munir Hussain, as he competed against Mehdi Hassan and Ahmed Rushdi both of whom were ruling the film industry as playback singers.

During his heydays, Mujeeb had shifted to Lahore from Karachi.

Due to a huge reduction in the number of films being made, he was hardly left with any work; so he returned to Karachi. He lived on paltry income from stage shows before he died on June 2, 2004 at the age of 56.

It is regretted to note that the achievements of these stalwarts of our film industry were overshadowed by their poverty during their last years and they died struggling for survival in a society which did not treat them well.

PARVEZ RAHIM

Karachi