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The sound of film music

A prolific and experimental music composer, Wajahat Attre gave Pakistani cinema many of its iconoic melodies

The sound of film music
Wajahat Attre.

It can be said that Wajahat Attre who died last week was a music composer in the traditional mould. He was hugely successful in the beginning but, with changing taste in music and the fall in the number of films made in the country, he had little option but to spend the later years of his life  much less preoccupied than before.

The traditional mould in film music was based on the primacy of the melody. Film music which started in the 1930s was liked by the popular listeners because it was short and sweet, related to a definite situation with the poignancy of the lyrics given top priority. The rich musical heritage found a new platform with an amazing and unprecedented outreach. Among the more classical forms, kheyal in particular was too involved in its own virtuosity and with the decline in patronage it could not compete with film music or other popular forms of instrumental music. Because of it all, it had started to become even more esoteric.

Wajahat’s father, Rasheed Attre, originally from Amritsar, was a brilliant film composer who found his own talent in the years following Partition. Some of his elders were remembered as great instrumentalists, especially in the playing of the harmonium used by most for composing a film song. He had moved to Bombay — as was the wont then to seek better opportunities — but had to move back to Lahore when the Partition happened. It was then that he started to get more offers to compose for the films in this nascent country. He is considered one of the founding fathers of Pakistani film music.

Wajahat Attre was born while his father was in Bombay in colonial India but as a toddler came to Lahore and grew up in the lap of his father. Being hereditary musicians hailing from the rababi stock, sur, sangeet, bandish, familiarity with vocalists and instrumentalists of both genders was like an everyday affair. When his father, while composing music for Zarqa, fell ill and died, it was Wajahat Attre who picked up the gauntlet and did not look back for as long as films were being made in fair numbers in the studios of Pakistan. The unfinished melody that he completed was ‘Raqs Zanjeer Pehen Ker Bhi Kiya Jata Hai’.

When his father, while composing music for Zarqa, fell ill and died, it was Wajahat Attre who picked up the gauntlet and did not look back for as long as films were being made in fair numbers.

Needless to say, he was schooled in the traditional manner of picking up the finer aspects in the lap of his mother and then growing up humming the same melody that he heard all round him. He went with his father to the recording sessions and was not unfamiliar with the concerns and limitations of film composition. Wajahat Attre had many popular film songs to his credit as most singers had sung songs composed by him like Noor Jehan, Humera Channa, Saira Naseem, Shabnam Majeed, Saima Mumtaz and Azra Jahan. Some of the popular songs were ‘Vay Ik Tera Pyar Menu Mileya’, ‘Anda Teray Layi Reshmi Rumal’ , ‘Dil Mera Ho Gaya Tera’, ‘Wagdi Nadi Da Paani’, Pakpattan Tey Aan Khaloti’, and ‘Terey Ishq Nachaya’ among many others..

He was quite prolific and composed the music for many film and non-film songs. The films that became popular due to their music composed by Attre were Mukhra, Chan Varyam, Naukar Woti Da, Nikka Hondiyaan Da Piyaar, Ishq Na Pochey Zaat, Zarqa, Terey Ishq Nachaya, Chan Sajnaan, Charda Sooraj, Bunda Bashr, Sohna Puttar, Meri Ghairat Teri Izzat, Khuda Tey Maan, Athra Puttar, Sala Saab, Khoshiya, Aali Jah, Aaj Diyaan Kuryaan, Sona Chandi, Mela, Dunya,  Ishq Bina Ki Jeena, Dhi Raani, Ranga Daako, Derect Havaldaar, Fifty Fifty , Dooriyaan, Aakhari Jang, Qatil Ki Talaash, Roti, Susraal Chalo, Pind Daleraan Da and Rangeela Ashiq.

But gradually due to a number of reasons, fewer films were being produced and among the many who suffered because of this decline included Wajahat Attre. Though still at the height of his creative powers, he found a field that was becoming too small for his creative adventures; he gradually slipped into the background and then faded into oblivion. The few films that were being made opted for musical scores that were based on borrowed musical influences. Wajahat Attre was not shy of experimentation but it was all to enhance and expand the melodic base of the composition and not to minimise it for greater rhythmic charge and vigour.

For the last five years, Wajahat Attre had also been working with Radio Pakistan Lahore.  

Wajahat Attre passed away on May 26, 2017

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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