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Spotlight: Arshad Mehmood

Melody, for Arshad Mehmood is, as the clichť goes, a joy forever. Rightly known as one of the best music composers in Pakistan, he ventured into acting as well and made his mark but then vanished from the small screen. To date, he maintains that he has not given up acting but does not want to work in stereotyped plays.

Nevertheless, television viewers miss the actor who played some of the most memorable screen characters from the ever-popular Such Gup to Chaudhry Saheb in Aangan Terha co-starring Shakeel, Bushra Ansari and the endearing Durdana Butt.

Few know that Arshad has also lately acted in the critically acclaimed movie, Khamosh Pani, although he doesnít like to talk about it much. Presently, he is concentrating on sharing his knowledge of music with his students at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa).

He has composed tunes of many a memorable numbers sung by veterans Tina Sani and Nayyara Noor. Many say that it is largely because of his efforts that people remember the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, as his compositions have added further meaning to the late poetís literary pieces. In fact, many believe him to be one of the best music composers ever to have composed tunes for Faiz Sahebís verses.

Sitting in his office at Napa, he winds up the dayís work on two or three assignments, one of which is the construction of the first technical and professional theatre stage in Pakistan.

Are you satisfied with the efforts being made to save folk music, especially in the current wave of pop?
Well let me ask you a question in return, where did you use to listen to folk music?

(I tell him it was either on television or the radio.)

Absolutely. The medium that used to play it to us (the urban population) was either TV or radio. Now we find that both these mediums do not take any pains to do so. Therefore, we too have started to ignore the genre of music that is known as folk. Apart from that, the mushrooming of so many TV channels is to be held equally responsible for it.

Now, people spend no longer than five or 10 minutes watching one channel before they flick on to another one. Todayís viewers have stopped watching even the more popular programmes or movies, such as the ones starring all-time favourites Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, etc. What can the poor musicians do?

Are things any better for the classical genre or is it, too, on the brink of extinction?
For me, classical music will remain alive as long as the aesthetic sense in people is intact. The problem with us is that our younger generation cannot identify itself with this genre of music. Therefore, the nation has stopped owning it as our heritage, something that belongs exclusively to this region. It is not just our country that faces such a disaster; the situation is similar throughout the world. Teenagers across the globe indulge more in pop, rock, heavy metal, etc, while remaining ignorant of what they are missing in terms of classical.

But why only blame the younger generation. Donít kids learn from the examples of grown-ups?
Well, I donít solely blame them; the grown-ups are just as responsible. You see, it is not just the music that is being disowned, our childhood stories and nursery rhymes like Tot Batot and Chacha Chackan are also nowhere to be seen these days. To tell you the truth, I used to disapprove of Sohail Rana and what he was doing with kids at that time. But it is now that I realise that what he was doing was extremely important ó at least it kept the tradition of musical sensibility alive in our youth.

What do you think of the pop Ďboomí in Pakistan?
It is positive but I donít consider it to be a Ďboomí of any sort. In fact, I would not even call it that. One should call it a transition period in music.

What about the present-day singers who write the song lyrics themselves instead of taking professional help?
I think it is better if you look at it from the point of view that almost every teenager wants to listen to romantic poetry, something that a boy can relate to and sing to his girlfriend. But it is beyond my comprehension that why donít they use words that express it beautifully and in the simplest possible way, at the same time equipped with all the prerequisites of poetry? We have such a rich poetic culture and I donít understand what is so difficult about Parveen Shakirís poetry that goes like this: Woh kaisi kahan ki zindagi thi, Sehra ki tarhah khushk aankhain.

Do you think the reason why Bollywood is doing so well these days is because most of the film lyrics are penned by accomplished poets such as Gulzar and Javed Akhter?
I really donít think that it has much to do with that. However, if I had to, I would credit Javed Akhter a little more than Gulzar for it.

What has brought about the constant decline of our film songs?
There was a time when Pakistani movies starred actors known for their romantic appeal such as Waheed Murad, Mohammad Ali, etc. Therefore the demand for the songs was also different. The melodies were very soft and romantic. Our movies met with disaster from the time we started to adopt stories that had the macho killing machine type heroes, and so did the music. It was against the image of the hero (who kills almost 100 people throughout the film) to sing and woo the heroine. So, it was the heroine that was given the task of romancing the hero. Therefore, the songs had the essence and flavour of being mujra numbers. The softness, melodious aspect of music that was in songs like Akele na jana and that audiences were attuned to suddenly became extinct.

Who do you blame for the downfall of our music in general?
The quality of the music has fallen no doubt and I blame television for it. The reason is that previously it was TV that used to produce music videos and, therefore, the quality of those videos was admirable. PTV producers used to point faults in our work and we tried then to make it as good as we could. But now as it is us who spend money on these music videos (as private producers) and so we donít pay attention to details.

Do you approve of fusing western and eastern music?
First of all, there is no remarkable work being done as such in fusion. Secondly, it has nothing to with the youngsters of the present generation. It was first done by Amir Khusrau. He was the one who mixed Persian with the local language of the subcontinent and formed a new tradition.

The fusion in music in this region started in the early 20th century. Films like Sikandar-i-Azam have music that is a combination of western and eastern tunes.

Is the age of the milli naghmay over as we know it?
Milli naghmay have disappeared because these became a staple of all the music albums which carried at least one motivational song, specially since the time Dil Dil Pakistan became a hit. So, the outcome was quite natural: listeners no longer held an appeal for it. Secondly, the melodies of these motivational numbers are not so catchy either.

Have you given up on acting or have the directors/producers given up on you?
An actor can never give up acting. As for the latter, yes thatís pretty much the case. But I am quite happy about it.

You have worked with some of the biggest writers and directors on your projects. Any favourites?
None so far.

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