Entering the film industry in the 40s, Bahadur Nanji went on to make his name as an instrumentalist, composer and arranger. An extraordinary musician, who remained obsessed with music till the very end, his work as an organist, in particular, remains memorable.
Born on 14 December, 1921 in Bombay, his father Sohrabji Navrozji Nanji was a stage artiste and well-known comedian who acted in the plays of Calcutta’s Imperial Theatre Company, while his mother, a housewife passed away when he was just two years old. Completing his matriculation from Charni Road’s Byramjee Jeejeeboy Charitable Institution, he was always interested in music and singing. He received his initial instruction in music from his sister, Dhan, a music teacher, from whom he learnt to play the harmonium. On one occasion, a friend of Master Dayalal, whose music college was in the neighbourhood of their home at Khetwadi, took Bahadur to Fort’s Ruby Records where a song was recorded with him. His first song was a version of a New Theatres film duet, which he sang with Suraiya. After that, nearly seven record versions sung by them were released, during the early 40s.
Nanji was also a gifted sketch artiste and portrait painter, bagging a scholarship in painting from Bombay Parsi Panchayat. His talent helped him find work with Sohrab Modi's company, for which he did many film banners and posters when he was only 25.
Bahadur’s singing career started with the films of producer Hawewala’s company, Standard Pictures, which was known for films such asLaheri Cameraman (1944), Rangile Dost (1944) andBairam Khan (1946), where he was employed at Rs.100 per month. He left the company after being rejected during the audition of Bairam Khan by its composer, Ghulam Haider. Incidentally, even Mohammed Rafihad failed this audition. His duet with Ameerbai Karnataki, Tume pyar sikhaya mujhko for the Husnalal-Bhagatram composed Bambi was considerably appreciated, even though the film itself remained unreleased.
Bahadur also sang a duet, Dekhoji baat suno humse tum aan milo with Mubarak Begum, for the M A Rauf-composed film, Basera(1950). Changing tastes in music meant that while he did not get many chances as a singer, he established a name for himself as an instrumentalist and arranger. Working as an instrumentalist and arranger with HMV from 1946 to 1950, his friendship with Mohammed Rafi who worked with HMV as a chorus singer, continued and they remained close till the end.
Proficient in playing the harmonium, organ, violin, viola and piano, Bahadur had evidently also played the organ for the Bombay-recording of the famous non-film song, Preetam aan milo, which brought recognition to composer O P Nayyarand singerC H Atma. Besides Nayyar, Bahadur worked with other composers such as Shankar Jaikishan, Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan and Roshan. He played the harmonium for Shankar Jaikishan for Seema(1955) for the song Hame bhi de do sahara ki besahare hai, and for the song Yaad na jaye beete dino ki from Dil Ek Mandir(1963). He also played the piano for the song Suno chotisi gudia ki lambi kahani (Seema) and the organ for Kahaan ja raha hai tu aa janewale. For Naushad, he played the organ for Baiju Bawra (1952)’s song, O duniya ke rakhwale.
On the recommendation of his good friend HMV’s pianist Kersi Mistry, he landed a job as composer V Balsara’s assistant, at a monthly salary of Rs.100. He sang a duet with Nargis Rabadi for a Russian documentary, Paradise of Stone. Later, V Balsaraalso gave Bahadur a chance to sing the solo, Tume zindagi mein ek baar pi, and a duet with Dhan Indorewala – Yeh raat suhani hai in Madmast (1953). On Balsara’s suggestion, Bahadur also worked in Lucknow for a short time as an assistant to Datta Korgaonkar.
He was adept at writing notations of Western music, also writing the notations for Anil Biswas' Indo-Russian production, Pardesi(1957) and Angulimala (1960). Nanji was an ace copyist, taking an essential tune from a music composer, and then making multiple copies of the notations (one for each musician’s part in a song). He would do this in the western staff method for those who read western music, and the Hindustani sargam for those that followed the Indian system—Nanji, of course, understood both the systems.
He had also sung a comedy song, Sarkari sadak hai tera ghar toh nahin hai with ‘Swar Kokila’ Parul Ghosh which was popular during its time.
Bahadur worked with Roshan as assistant and arranger for 16 films, includingShisham (1952), Anhonee(1952), Nau Bahar (1952), and Raag Rang(1952). ForBhai SahebBhai Saheb(1954) he assisted Neenu Majumdar. He had arranged the music for popular songs like C H Atma’s song for Bhai Saheb – Oonchi neechi daga zindagi ki, and the famous Meera bhajan Main Hari chaman ki dasi rendered byM S Subbulaxmi. He was also an integral part of the stage shows of composer, O P Nayyar, for whose film Heera Moti(1979), he had also arranged the music.
Very fond of Western music, Nanji possessed a huge collection of Western music records. He credited his long life and good health to music, believing that his association with music was God’s worship, no less. Bahadur Nanji passed away on 24 November, 2017 in Mumbai, aged 97.
(Courtesy: Shishir Krishna Sharma)