Khawaja Khurshid Anwer | March 21, 1912-October 30, 1984


The man who only gave music for 29 films in his career spanning four decades, left indelible impression on music in the Pakistani and Indian music. Khawaja Khurshid Anwer is remembered for his astute music sense and unflinching work ethic.

Khawaja Khurshid Anwer was a profound audiophile, artiste, writer, director, philosopher and an active agent against the imperial rule in India.

As an introverted musician his repertoire was not as broad as his contemporaries—Naushad, C Ramchandara, Salil Chaudhry, Anil Biswas, S D Burman and, Madan Mohan in India and; Rashid Attre, G A Chishti and Master Inayat Hussain in Pakistan. However, his executant spirit, selective creative process and eternal renditions lent him a legendary status. Two years before passing, his musical contributions were deservedly awarded by the Bollywood Film Industry via the coveted Mortal-Men-Immortal Melodies Award.

After Pakistan’s independence, he would come to Pakistan to give music in films. However, he didn’t decide a permanent move until 1952. A timely move, his arrival on the music scene—dictated by film industry—gave the country the golden era of films and film scores.

He produced music for 18 films in Pakistan in, roughly, three decades. Fifty-five of his 147 songs became mega hits. He also wrote film scripts, produced and directed some of the films he made music for, but received critical acclaim largely for his music.

Anwer was the top paid musician of his time and demanded as much as Rs 25000 for a film-score. Some of his famous films are Intezar (1956), Koel (1959), Ghoonghat (1962), Chingari (1964), Heer Ranjha (1970), etc. He composed for Nayyara Noor, Ahmed Rushdi, Zubeida Khanum, Saleem Raza, Mehdi Hassan, Mahnaz, Ghulam Ali, Fateh Ali Khanand Noor Jahan. His preference for Noor Jahan is evident as she sang for 9 of his films in Pakistan.

A Kashmiri, Khawaja found his love of all things creative music from his very home. His father, Khwaja Ferozuddin Ahmad—a noted barrister in Lahore, was a remarkable musicophile with a collection of gramophone records of classical and neoclassical music. He was known for holding weekly musical performances at his home. Khwaja Anwer’s maternal grandfather, Khan Bahadur Dr. Shiekh Atta, a civil surgeon, was father in law to Dr Mohammad Allama Iqbal.

At 22, he became a disciple of the Khansahib Tawakkal Hussain. A legendary scion of the Gawalior Gharana, Khansahib was highly noted virtuoso. But unlike many other great names of classical music, we cannot find an audion reference to his work This is because Khansahib never gave permission to have his renditions recorded. Needless to say, though Khwaja Anwer never sang or played any instrument his imagination reached new heights under the tutelage of the maestro.

It was during his higher education that Khwaja Anwer became an opponent of the British Raj. He was said to have been arrested by the British for his alleged association with freedom-fighter Bhaggat Singh. It is said that high contacts utilized by his father came to his rescue.

Despite completing his Masters in Philisophy with flying colours—from the Punjab University, Lahore—he didn’t attend the awarding ceremony to receive the gold medal. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a close friend and contemporary of Khwaja Anwer stated in his book, The British Chancellor of the University who was awarding medals remarked that the student having forgotten to receive the medal, is a true philosopher.

Khawaja Anwer also appeared for the Indian Civil Services examinations (ICSE), but his anti Raj activities became a sore point for the British. In 1939, Anwer decided to join All India Radio (AIR) Delhi as Programme Producer (Music). His work led him to Bombay, as friend and film producer Abdur Rashid Kardar, invited him to make music for his debut Punjabi Kurmai (1941).

Anwer made some remarkable music in the Punjabi and then Indian mainstream cinema. He made 11 films in a decade in India, producing 76 musical numbers. Some of his famous films are Ishara (1943), Parakh (1944), Yateem (1945), Aaj Aur Kal (1947), Pagdandi (1947), and Parwaana (1947), Nishaana (1950) and, Neelam Pari (1952). His music for Singaar (1949) earned Anwer the Clare Award for Best Music Director. Suraiya, Saigal, Asha Bhosle, Mohammad Rafi, Geeta Dutt and, Shamshad Begum were among the over two dozen noted singers to have performed Anwer’s compositions for Indian silver screen.

Khwaja Anwer not only composed music but also documented the classical music of the region. In 1978, he compiled his magnum opus Aahang-e-Khusravi, a resume of the entire base of classical music of the Subcontinent. This unique audio collection, recorded by EMI in 1978, comprises: raag Mala (garland of raags) containing 94 ragas with a short introduction of each raag by Anwar himself; and Gharano Ki Gayeki (vocal traditions of singing houses) featuring recordings of artists of main gharanas in Pakistan.

Khawaja Anwer was meticulous in his music and his film music centered on classical music worked with the best vocalists and musicians of his time. Renowned Bollywood music directors of Roshan and Shankar(of Shankar-Jaikishen fame) were disciples of Khwaja Anwer. Naushad Ali considered him to be the best composer in the subcontinent.

The lustre of his art can still be savoured by music lovers for its pure and unpretentious complexity. True that his musical prowess may not have morphed with time to brace the modern day preferences. But the intrinsically intricate layers of classical renditions and melodies continue sooth and challenge the listeners till date.

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