Three wars, many more near war-like situations, and unprecedented political hostility have failed to dim the love people in India have for diverse creative talent from across the border. The lament felt by millions of ghazal aficionados after the death of Mehdi Hassan on June 13 bore testimony to this deep bond that has withstood the test of time. Indeed this bond has endured all kinds of partitions to tell a story of hope.
“If one has good talent and art, it does not matter which nation the artist belongs to. I have myself been an admirer of Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hassan. Talent speaks for itself in India,” says Farooq Sheikh, noted theatre and Bollywood personality.
But for some, reciprocity is perhaps a bigger driver. Renowned lyricist Javed Akhtar says, “It is a two way treat. Bollywood actors and singers like Amitabh Bachchan and Lata Mangeshkar are equally popular in Pakistan. It is just that our government encourages talent from Pakistan, but the establishment in Pakistan is slightly uncomfortable with the popularity of Indian artists there.”
The fondness for talent from across the border actually began with the partition. Pakistani singer and actress Noor Jehan, often acclaimed as Malika-e-Tarannum in Pakistan, captivated music lovers in India after independence. Her Indian fans were mesmerised by the heart rending voice behind ‘Tu kaun si badali mein mere chand hai’ in the movie Khandan.
Indians fans, who longed to hear Noor’s voice after the exchange of movies between India and Pakistan was stopped during 1950s, resorted to her enchanting melodies on Radio Ceylon.
During the 1970s, when the nation grooved to ‘Dum maro dum’, there was a voice that popularised ghazals in India. Mehdi Hassan was an instant hit here. Few months after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, when Hassan sang ‘Ranjish hi sahi, dil hi dukhane ke liye aa’ written by Ahmad Faraz for the Pakistani film Muhabbat, it turned out to be a hit in India.
The bond endured age and brought variety. In came singer actress Salma Agha with aplomb. She sang ‘Dil ke arman’ in Nikaah in 1982 to become rage, making a statement in the country. She shone further in her heroine roles as India sat on the cusp of liberalisation.
The latent love for anything Sufi here got manifest in the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as the nation went crooning ‘afreen afreen’. Later, Adnan Sami paired with Asha Bhosle in the blockbuster album ‘Kabhi toh Nazar milao’. His famous songs featured top Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Kabhi nahi’, and Rani Mukherjee in ‘Tera chehra ‘ that became a rage.
As pop turned hip in India, actor Atif Aslam came into the fray in 2005 debuting with ‘Wo Lamhe’ in the movie Zeher and Aadat in Kalyug. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, nephew of legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, grew the lovely tradition.
The shock of Hassan’s death has once again turned the spotlight on the popularity of talent across the border. On his demise, versatile Bollywood actor Anupam Kher’s recalled his love for the ghazal king. “As a student, I had gate crashed into Pakistan Embassy to listen to him”, he said on Twitter.