Ali Zafar and Sarah Haider paid tribute to Saleem Raza in Coke Studio Season 8 by covering “Ae Dil Kisi Ki Yaad Mein”. Composed by Master Inayat Hussain and written by Qateel Shifai, the song is as beautiful as it was when released in 1963. And yet, it’s just one of the gems in Saleem Raza’s treasure chest of melodies. Today, as he turns 98, let’s look back at some of his greatest achievements.
Saleem Raza was truly Pakistan’s first male playback Superstar. Before there were Ahmed Rushdi and Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana and Akhlaq Ahmed, A. Nayyar and Ghulam Abbas, there was Saleem Raza. Known for his emotive, delicate voice, he became the first choice for Darpan and Santosh Kumar, the first actors to gain superstardom within Pakistani Cinema.
However, Saleem Raza’s success wasn’t bolstered or diminished by any actors or composers, his voice defined a transition for Pakistani cinema and music as a whole. He reigned at the time of the classical masters Master Inayat, Khawaja Khurshid Anwar and Rasheed Attre, and continued till the time that pop music had become the norm in the mid 60s.
Saleem Raza used to specialize in romantic ballads and solemn reveries. Ae Dil Kisi Ki Yaad Mein is perhaps his most famous song, but others like “Jaan e Baharaan, Rashk e Chaman” (music by Master Inayat, lyrics by Tanvir Naqvi), and “Husn ko Chaand Jawaani ko Kanwal” (music by Rasheed Attre, lyrics by Qateel Shifai) are almost as equally revered.
Not that he didn’t do just as well with more peppy moods. Saleem Raza’s “Yaaro Mujhe Muaaf Rakho” (music by Rasheed Attre, lyrics by Saifuddin Saif borrowing from Meer Taqi Meer) was actually his big break in the film Saat Laakh (1957). His voice fit perfectly on a drunken Agha Talish swaying back and forth.
In fact, even when he was doing playback for the burly Alauddin in Farishta (1961), Pakistan’s adaptation of Crime and Punishment, he sounded equally as convincing. The two songs “Woh Zamana Zaroor Aayega” and “Zamana Kis Qadar Na Meherbaan Hai” composed by Rasheed Attre and written by Tanvir Naqvi perfectly suited his controlled tremor.
One of my favourite songs of his is the extravagant “Magar Ae Haseena e Nazneen Mujhe Tujhse Koi Gila Nahin” from the film Rehguzar (1960) composed by Muslehuddin and written by Tanvir Naqvi. The composition drips with classical mastery and the lyrics are a masterstroke of classical poetry. The song barely wavers from the single ebb and flow and yet it’s a powerhouse.
However, perhaps Saleem Raza’s greatest contribution is the Naat that he sang in the film Noor-e-Islam (1957). Hasan Latif brought this beautiful composition into existence with strings and winds at his side. Naeem Hashmi’s resonant poetry, which every child knows till today is fused with every single note. And Saleem Raza brings it all to life with his incredible voice as a tribe of Arabs passes through a desert oasis on screen. I’m speaking, of course of “Shah-e-Madina”.
The Naat has been reinterpreted and redone many times by other artists, but never equalled. Saleem Raza’s original version stands head and shoulders above any reinvention.
Saleem Raza’s mark on Pakistan’s film industry is indelible. His name is interwoven into the tapestry that is Pakistani Cinema. Whether you know of him or not, you’ve more than likely heard his voice and recognized his songs on more occasions than one. Here’s to his talent and his memory. May it never fade.