Naushad Ali was born in 1919 in Lucknow. Naushad’s fascination for music started at an early age with the live music accompanying silent films. He also repaired harmoniums. His interest in music drove him to work as an assistant in a shop selling musical instruments. It is here that Naushad learnt to play the harmonium and the piano.
Since his family discouraged his interest in films and music, Naushad joined a touring theatre and left home. After touring across India for many months, Naushad arrvied in Mumbai in 1937.
Naushad’s formal training in music came when he worked as assistant for several renowned music directors of that time - Mushtaq Hussain, Manohar Kapoor, Ustad Jhande Khan and Khemchand Prakash. With the help of well-wishers, film director D.N. Madhok and Khemchand Prakash, Naushad got employed as an instrumentalist in the film company Ranjit Movietones. His debut as a music director came in the D.N. Madhok film “Prem Nagar” in 1940. After a few years of relative obscurity, Naushad first got noticed for his score in “Rattan” (1944) and then established himself as a force to reckon with “Anmol Ghadi” (1946) and “Shahjehan” (1946). “Shahjehan” is a specially important musical milestone because it is in this film that Naushad and K.L. Saigal came together. A lot of credit for K.L. Saigal’s most popular song “Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya” goes to Naushad. Apart from composing a beautiful melody, Naushad also convinced Saigal that he sang better when he was not drunk!
Naushad made two decisions in the late 40s and early 50s that shot his career up a steep trajectory. First, he decided to move on from the singers of that generation and began grooming two new singers - Mohd. Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. Second, he gave up folk music influences and started composing songs with deep Hindustani classical influences. These two decisions, resulted in the songs that define Naushad’s career - “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj”, “O Duniya Ke Rakhwale”, “Mohe Bhool Gaye Saanwariya”, “Bachpan Ki Muhabbat”, “Tu Ganga Ki Mauj” and a bevy of other gems from the magnum opus “Baiju Bawra” (1952). The music of “Baiju Bawra” started a classical music revolution in Hindi films but nobody could match Naushad’s mastery of this genre. Naushad ended the decade with another classical magnum opus “Mughal-e-Azam” (1960). In a way, “Mughal-e-Azam” was also the beginning of the slow end of Naushad’s career (he composed for the last time in 2005). Many reasons are attributed to Naushad’s decline in the 60s - that he had spent his creativity by then, that he could not adjust himself with a new set of people that came into the film industry after the death of directors Mehboob Khan and K. Asif, assistant Ghulam Mohammed and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni and finally that he was not willing to compromise his musical integrity to accommodate the changing taste of a new generation of listeners.
Despite not being as prolific as his contemporaries, Naushad notched up accomplishments through his career. He was the first to use a 100-piece orchestra for the film “Aan” (1952). He used a chorus of 100 singers for the song “Ae Mohabbat Zindabad” (“Mughal-e-Azam”, 1960). Naushad was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his life-time contribution to Indian cinema in 1982, the Lata Mangeshkar Award in 1984 and the Padma Bhushan in 1992.