His name is synonymous with patriotism – national songs to be exact – and alongside the milli naghme he has composed over the decades, are hit film songs that have enriched Pakistani movies with unforgettable soundtracks. Sohail Rana, who now lives in Canada, is the only music composer who is as popular today as he was fifty years ago. He is the genius behind ‘Main Bhi Pakistan Hoon’, the man who composed ‘Sohni Dharti’ and the person who gave us ‘Jeevay Pakistan’ to name a few of his patriotic numbers. Independence Day celebrations wouldn’t be complete without a Sohail Rana playlist; there hasn’t been another like him in the history of Pakistan’s music industry.
Sohail Rana’s career path wasn’t as simple as it may seem. Son of renowned Urdu poet Rana Akbar Abadi, the youngster attended the best institutions in the country and hoped to dabble in music after graduation. That was where his heart was. Luckily, he bonded with a debonair ‘Waheed’ at university. Son of a film distributor/producer named Nisar Murad, Waheed would spend days with Sohail on the cricket field and evenings attending musical gatherings all over the city. It was the same friend – who rose to be the indomitable Waheed Murad – who asked Sohail Rana to compose songs for his upcoming film as a producer – Jabse Dekha Hai Tumhain.
The year was 1963 and since Waheed Murad hadn’t dabbled in full-time acting till then, top screen couple Darpan and Zeba was signed on as the lead pair. The soundtrack was a chart buster and Saleem Raza’s title track, Ahmed Rushdi’s ‘Himmat Se Har Qadam’, became what can be termed as the first-ever patriotic song in Pakistan.
Sohail Rana credits the success of his first movie as well as his later projects to his mentors, some of whom are as famous as famous could be. “I owe it to my mentors and believe that it was mostly because I had good teachers like Ustad Feroze Nizami sahib and Naushad (Ali) sahib. I was blessed by Allah (SWT) with the talent and the foresight to look and work ahead of our time. It was with that foresight that I composed ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’ (Badal Aur Bijli), ‘Akele Na Jaana’ and ‘Ko Ko Korina’ (both Armaan), which are still as popular as ever!” he shared with Instep.
The success of his debut flick kickstarted a winning streak for Sohail Rana, who left the film industry after just two dozen movies between 1963 and 1986; Javed Fazil’s Hisaab was his last. He terms Badal Aur Bijli as his swansong since it was then that he decided to quit films and move onto television and other projects. But before calling it quits, he did co-produce a movie Doraha (1967) with his long time friend Pervez Malik (the famous director) and also lent a hand in helping veteran actor Qurban Jilani conduct the orchestra for the famous song ‘Bhooli Hui Hun Dastaan’.
Be it Ahmed Rushdi singing ‘Haan Isi Mor Par’, Mehdi Hasan rendering his voice for ‘Duniya Ko Ab Kia Samjhayen’ or Mujeeb Alam crooning ‘Hai Beqarar Tamanna’, Sohail Rana always used the best and most suitable singers for his compositions. He rates Mehdi Hasan, Madam Noor Jehan and Ahmed Rushdi as the best playback singers he had the chance to work with. He also terms Mujeeb Alam, Shehnaz Begum, Mala, Nayyara Noor, Akhlaq Ahmed, Mohammed Ali Shehki, Waseem Baig and Mehnaz as fine vocalists of their times. He believes that among the current lot, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Ahmed Jahanzeb and Humaira Channa know music and should be utilized so that good songs with quality singers can make a comeback.
Be it Pakistan’s first ever pop song ‘Ko Ko Korina’ or the classical ‘Akele Na Jana’, the pacy ‘Tumhein Kaise Bata Doon’ or the melancholic ‘Mujhe Tum Nazar Se’, Sohail Rana was way ahead of his times. “As a music composer we are supposed to know all forms of music and all genres,” he said. “The knowledge of classical music works as the foundation. Once you have developed the technique and are aware of the various art forms, you can create a lullaby for children, an Anarkali Symphonietta or a national song such as ‘Jeevay Pakistan’ and ‘Hum Mustafavi Hain’.”
PTV was Sohail Rana’s homecoming and the transition from films wasn’t difficult at all. “One evening Karachi Television centre asked me to do a children’s program Kaliyon Ki Mala,” Sohail Rana remembers. “I said yes to the proposal because I had the experience of appearing on TV during 1961 and 1962 when Phillips TV and Time magazine prepared a pilot project for Pakistan International Industries Fair in Karachi. I was appointed the music director by Time Life and Phillips Company, so I was as much a TV composer as I was a film composer.”
His most famous achievement is the grand treasury of national songs that he composed during his illustrious career. That journey began with ‘Sohni Dharti’ and ‘Jeevay Pakistan’ and introduced him to new heights of stardom in Pakistan and all over the world.
“It was my ustad-i-mohtaram, Indian composer Naushad sahib’s advice that woke me up,” the veteran shares reasons for switching from films to TV. “He had suggested to me in one of his many letters that the film industry forgets even the best of the lot, and that I should strengthen my base and branch out. One day, it just occurred to me that I must also pay tribute to my homeland and work for the genre of music known as national songs. I think we all should give back to our nation in any way and form possible and that was the reason why I decided to delve into patriotic numbers.”
Sohail Rana featured constantly as the music composer who conducted the March 23 and August 14 celebrations at the President’s House. His band of children not only used to begin the day with ‘Pak Sar Zameen’ but also sing some of their own national songs that used to make every Pakistani feel better at heart. It was with these very children that the music composer managed to churn out hits after hits and set a standard that hasn’t been matched since.
“It was during my time with PTV that I decided to compose songs for children as they are the future of any nation. So when I got a platform such as Pakistan Television and His Master’s Voice Company (HMV), I tried to fill the vacuum of children’s music by composing songs about our country, our national leaders and even our national language. Our children were singing ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty’ before that and I thought I must provide a healthy musical diet to our young generation. Thus happened Kaliyon Ki Mala, Saat Suron Ki Duniya, Saray Dost Hamare, Sang Sang Chalein and many other programmes that gave our youth songs like ‘Dosti Aisa Naata’, ‘Daak Babu’, ‘Bara Maheenay Islami’ and ‘Apni Zabaan Urdu’ among others.”
What inspired him to give up a star-studded career in cinema for working with children on television? “I believe I was chosen for this work and fulfilled it to the best of my ability and with complete honesty. That’s why the children of the ’80s, who are parents themselves, teach these very songs to their kids and are keeping my legacy alive.”
The maestro rates ‘Akele Na Jaana’, ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’ and ‘Mujhe Tum Nazar Se’ as his best compositions for films, ‘Dosti Aisa Naata’, ‘Mere Bachpan Kay Din’ and ‘Hum Mustafavi Hain’ (the Islamic Summit Anthem) as his favourite songs on TV. There is also the case of retirement, for Sohail Rana lives in Canada and hasn’t come up with a new song in the past two decades. “I have never stopped composing music; it is in my veins. Despite not being in Pakistan, I am still a Pakistani at heart and I have created more than 30 compositions over the last 10 years. I am working on recording these geets, ghazals and national songs and I hope to release them very soon.”
Omair Alavi works for Geo TV and can be contacted at [email protected]