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Madam Noor Jehan, actress Nighat Sultana, maestro Rasheed Attre and director Hassan Tariq at the recording of a song for Neend in 1959 - Photos provided by the writer
Madam Noor Jehan, actress Nighat Sultana, maestro Rasheed Attre and director Hassan Tariq at the recording of a song for Neend in 1959 - Photos provided by the writer

The legacy began inauspiciously in 1942, in Calcutta, now Kolkata. A young musician from Amritsar, A.R. (Abdul Rasheed) Attra, scored music for two films in quick succession — Mamta and Parda Nasheen. Attra was the son of Khushi Mohammad, who used to accompany legendary singer K.L. Saigal on the harmonium, and who had also assisted renowned composer R.C. Boral at the production company New Theatres. Unfortunately for him, neither of the films nor their music created any ripples at the box office. This frustrating experience compelled the young music director to look for greener pastures.

Attra boarded a train bound for Lahore, a city he was familiar with, being just a few miles away from his native Amritsar. Having acquired a new identity — Rasheed Attre — he signed his first Lahore film Pagli (1943), in which he shared the composing honours with Ustad Jhande Khan, Pandit Govind Ram and Ameer Ali. In his next film, Sheereen Farhad (1945), there was another contributing composer as well, Pandit Amarnath. However, at least one out of the two songs Attre scored for this film — a duet, ‘Armaanon ki basti mein hum aag lagadeinge’, that he had rendered himself along with Shamshad Begum — gaining a fair amount of popularity.

THE PATRIARCH

What Rasheed Attre gained in Lahore was far short of his expectations. By now he had a family to feed, and circumstances in Lahore were hardly encouraging for him. As a result, Attre decided to migrate once again and, this time, his destination was Bombay (now Mumbai), the tinsel town of India where fortunes are made or lost. Things took an upward turn for Attre upon reaching Bombay.

The first film Rasheed Attre scored music for in Bombay, in 1945, was Room No. 9, which was fairly well-received at the box office. His three subsequent films were Nateeja (1945), Paaro (1947) and Shikaayat (1948). The first and third were well-liked by cinegoers, and some of their songs became reasonably popular.

The Attres can rightfully be considered Pakistani music royalty. While patriarch Rasheed and his son Wajahat have have influenced the subcontinent’s film music, the family’s third generation of composers is now poised to leave its mark as well ...

The last movie for which Rasheed Attre scored music in Bombay was writer Ismat Chughtai’s, and her director husband Shahid Latif’s, Shikaayat. It was actually released after he, like so many other Muslim artists, had left for Lahore as a result of communal riots having engulfed Bombay after Partition.

Lahore, the third major film making centre in India, after Bombay and Calcutta, was in complete turmoil. The bloodshed preceding the birth of Pakistan had brought all sorts of business activities, including film production, to a standstill.

Out of the six film studios that existed in the city, till a few weeks before 14th August 1947, five had been burnt to ashes by rioters. Only one, Pancholi, was saved by its employees. The artists and technicians already in Lahore, and the ones who had migrated from Bombay, pooled their efforts and somehow managed to commence film production against the most adverse of circumstances.

The release — and failure — of Pakistan’s first movie, Diwan Sardari Lal’s Teri Yaad, was followed by another half-a-dozen films which met the same fate (barring Phere, Punjabi, 1949), but burning their fingers didn’t dissuade the filmmakers from continuing to take risks. One such daring soul was Masud Parvez, the nephew of renowned short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who was earlier associated with W.Z. Ahmed’s Shalimar Studios in Poona (now Pune, Maharashtra), and who had even played lead roles in two of their productions, Ghulami and MeeraBai.

Masud Parvez signed Rasheed Attre for his maiden Pakistani production Beli, based on one of Manto’s stories. The film, starring Santosh Kumar, Sabiha and Shaheena (’80s’ actress and singer Salma Agha’s aunt) turned out to be a dismal flop, and so was its music. So disappointed was the composer by the fate of its music that he decided to quit the film industry altogether, and took up a job as a music producer at the Rawalpindi station of Radio Pakistan.

Wajahat Attre receives an award for best music director - Photos provided by the writer
Wajahat Attre receives an award for best music director - Photos provided by the writer

They say time is a great healer. So, when producer-director-actor Nazeer, who already had to his credit Punjabi box office hits such as Phere and Laare, offered Rasheed Attre his next production — the Punjabi Shehri Babu — the latter grabbed it firmly with both hands. It seems that Nazeer’s luck also rubbed off on Attre, for not only the film but its music also caught the fancy of cinemagoers as well as radio listeners. As a result, the songs of Shehri Babu became a rage and were relayed on Radio Pakistan’s Farmaaishi (Listeners’ Choice) programme on a regular basis. Not just then but even now, vintage music-lovers haven’t forgotten ditties such as ‘Bhaagaan waaleyo naam japo Maula naam’ by Inayat Hussain Bhatti; two solos by Zubaida Khanum — ‘Dopatta bey-imaan hogaya’ and ‘Raatan meriyaan bana ke Rabba haneriyaan’; and a duet ‘Ek kurri di cheez gwaachi’ rendered by Zubaida and Bhatti.

Vintage film music lovers are aware of the fact that almost all yesteryear composers were well-versed in classical music, and made good use of it whenever an opportunity came their way. However, arguably, no other composer in Pakistan has made such extensive use of ‘raags’ as did Rasheed Attre, which is evident from most of the songs he composed for films such as Waada, Anaarkali, Neend, Salma, Mausiqar — his home production — and Paayal Ki Jhankar, to name a few.

Shehri Babu opened new vistas for Rasheed Attre and there was no looking back for him. He went on scoring hit and super-hit music in film after film.

Vintage film music lovers are aware of the fact that almost all yesteryear composers were well-versed in classical music, and made good use of it whenever an opportunity came their way. However, arguably, no other composer in Pakistan has made such extensive use of ‘raags’ as did Rasheed Attre, which is evident from most of the songs he composed for films such as Waada, Anaarkali, Neend, Salma, Mausiqar — his home production — and Paayal Ki Jhankar, to name a few.

Rasheed Attre was in his 49th year when he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest on December 18, 1967, leaving behind the under-production films Ghar Pyaara Ghar, Paristaan, Zarqa, Salaam-i-Mohabbat, Baaujee (Punjabi) and Bahisht.

THE SON ALSO RISES

The responsibility of completing the musical score of Ghar Pyaara Ghar and Salaam-i-Mohabbat — Attre had composed only one song each before his death — was handed over to Nisar Bazmi and Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, respectively. However, it was Rasheed Attre’s son, Wajahat Attre, also his chief assistant of many years, who took it upon himself to compose the remaining songs, as well as the background score, for Paristaan, Zarqa, Baaujee and Bahisht. A. Hameed also composed two songs for the last named film.

It didn’t take Wajahat Attre, who grew up under the tutelage of his capable father, too long to become a full-fledged composer himself with the Punjabi film Ishq Na Puchhe Zaat, released in 1969. The film boast of two super-hit songs: ‘Pakpatan tey aan khaloti’ and ‘Wagdi nadi da paani’, both rendered by Madam Noor Jehan. After that there was no looking back for Attre Jr.

Soon the time came when Wajahat Attre became the most sought after music director, particularly with regard to Punjabi films. He had, in a way, become as indispensable as a film music composer, as the pair of Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi had become for every two out of three Punjabi films. Though Wajahat Attre composed music for more than 50 Urdu films, his real claim to fame were the 300-odd Punjabi and over 50 bilingual (Punjabi-Urdu) films that he scored.

Punjabi music enthusiasts can never forget the songs Wajahat composed and recorded, almost all in the voice of Madam Noor Jehan, for films such as Sher Khan (‘Jhanjhariya pehna do’, ‘Tun jo mere hamesha kol rawein’), Saala Sahab (‘Wey ek tera pyar maenu mileya main duniya se hor ki lena’, ‘Main tey mera dilbar jaani’), Chann Waryaam (‘Wey soney deya kangna’), Saahab Jee (‘Luddi hai jamalo paao’), Sholay (‘Jey main hondi dholna … soney di tavitri’), Mukhrra (‘Bindi da lashkara meri bindi da lashkara’, ‘Mundeya dupatta chhad mera’ — a duet with Nadeem) and ‘Main jeena tere naal’ that he got recorded in Mumbai in Shreya Ghoshal’s voice for Mohabbataan Sachiyaan.

Wajahat Attre passed away at the age of 70 on May 26, 2017.

GENERATION NEXT

Junaid Attre at his studio
Junaid Attre at his studio

The Attres are probably the only family in Pakistan’s music industry whose third generation is also active in this field. Two grandsons of Rasheed Attre, sons of his youngest son Javed Attre (also a musician and a music teacher) — Jimmy (Jamshed) and Junaid — have proven themselves as both singer and musician, respectively.

Jimmy, after making a name for himself as a singer, has taken a back seat and confined himself to teaching music, thus following in the footsteps of his father in doing so. Junaid, on the other hand, is very active on media. Having started his career with the well-known voice-over artist Mujeeb Syed, Junaid has, so far, composed and recorded more than 100 TV commercials in his studio. It was, however, after he joined Hum TV in 2008, initially as a music producer, that he got the opportunity to polish his talents while composing music for all in-house productions and channel IDs.

As a producer and director of fashion and music events, he has worked with Abida Parveen, Rahat Fateh Ali, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam, as well as Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Kailash Kher, Rabbi Shergil and Rekha Bhardwaj from India. It was after his uncle Wajahat Attre’s passed away that Junaid quit his day job to pursue a full-time career as a music composer.

Junaid has since composed tunes for commercials, and original soundtracks and background scores for television drama serials. The tunes he has composed for Kalank (‘Rabba mera mehram toon’), Log Kya Kahenge (‘Lehron ki pyaas … yeh log kya kahenge’) and Main Khwaab Bunti Hoon (‘Tujhe sunti hai tanhaai’) are proof that Junaid Attre has the talent that will take him places.

And one day he just may — like his grandfather and uncle before him — become a sought after film music composer.

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 4th, 2019