Ahmed Rushdi, SI, PP (Urdu: احمد رشدی; 24 April 1934 – 11 April 1983) was a versatile Pakistani playback singer and was “an important contributor to the golden age of Pakistani film music.” Regarded as one of the greatest singers in South Asia who could sing high tenor notes with ease, he is best known for his versatility and distinctive voice, with complex and dark emotional expressions. Considered as the first pop singer of South Asia, he sung South Asia’s first pop song, Ko Ko Korina, in the 1966 film Armaan .
Born in Hyderabad Deccan, he migrated to Pakistan following partition. In 1954, he recorded the official National anthem of Pakistan with several other singers. Rushdi has recorded the highest number of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema in Urdu, English, Punjabi, Bengali, Sindhi and Gujarati and found unprecedented success as a playback artist from the mid-1950s to early 1980s. He was also known for his stage performance. He suffered from poor health during the latter part of his life and died of a heart attack at the age of 48, after recording approximately five thousand film songs for 583 released films. Besides popular music, Rushdi also helped popularize the ghazals of Naseer Turabi. He was awarded five Nigar Awards, the “Best Singer Of The Millennium” title, “Life Time Achievement Award”, “Legend Award” and Lux Style Award.
In 2003, 20 years after his death, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf awarded him the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, the “star of excellence,” for distinguished merit in the field of arts. According to the 2016 survey of Asian Woman Magazine, Rushdi is declared as a darling singer of all time.
Ahmed Rushdi was born to a religious, conservative family of Hyderabad Deccan in 1934. His father, Syed Manzoor Mohammad, taught Arabic, Islamic History and Persian at Aurangabad College, Hyderabad, Deccan. He died when Rushdi was only six years old. From a young age, Rushdi was fond of listening to the musical programs, including songs, which were broadcast from the radio. He neither inherited music from any one, nor any body in his family was ever affiliated to music. Ahmed Rushdi’s singing talents impressed a very close friend of his father, whom he called uncle and who loved him dearly. He enrolled in a local music academy in Hyderabad Deccan. Moreover, two popular composers of the time, M.A. Rauf and Iqbal Qureshi, also taught music in the same school. Thus, Ahmed Rushdi learned the basics of music from the afore-mentioned teachers. Later, he got some training in classical music from Ustad Nathu Khan.
Ahmed Rushdi did not get any sort of formal training of classical music neither before nor after becoming a successful playback singer but he had an effective command over high and low notes. He sang his first song in the Indian film Ibrat in 1951 and got recognition. His family moved to Pakistan and settled in Karachi in 1954, where he began participating in variety shows, music programs, and children’s programs on radio. In 1954, he recorded his first non-film song, “Bunder Road se Keemari”, written by Mehdi Zaheer for the popular Radio Pakistan show Bachchon Ki Duniya; the song was a hit and became the steppingstone for Rushdi’s future.
1950s and 1960s
After the success of “Bunder Road se Keemari”, Rushdi was offered songs as a playback singer for films and quickly gained popularity. He lent his voice to many hit films like Bara Admi (1956), Wah Rey Zamaney (1957), Raat Ke Rahi (1957), Yeh Dunya (1958) and many more. Rushdi got well recognition for singing “Mari lela ne aisi” in Anokhi (1956), “Chalak Rahi Hain Mastiyan” and “Chal Na Sakey Gi 420” in Raaz (1959). In 1961, he sang the popular song “Chand Sa Mukhra Gora Badan” in the film Saperan, for which he received his first Nigar Award as Best Male Playback Singer. He further strengthened his status as one of the top male playback singers in Mehtaab (1962), in which he sang “Gol Gappay Wala Aaya” for actor Alauddin; they would again be teamed in Susral. In 1966, he sang “Ko Ko Korina”, considered the first modern Pakistani pop song.
The film Anchal (1960) was an important film in Rushdi’s career. Music director Khalil Ahmed recorded an extremely sad number “Kisi chaman mei raho tum” in singer Saleem Raza’s voice but wanted Rushdi to re-record the song as he was not satisfied with Saleem Raza’s singing. Rushdi did so and the song recorded in his voice satisfied composer Khalil. Raza’s career as a singer was affected and doomed later on. After that, whenever Khalil composed music for any film, Rushdi remained his first choice. The mid-1960s saw the rise of brilliant singers like Mehdi Hassan and Masood Rana, but it did not affect Rushdi’s career and he kept on leading the film music.
Music experts including Nisar Bazmi, Sohail Rana and M. Ashraf are unanimous that Rushdi’s voice was best suited for every hero, comedian and even character actor. He lent his voice to Waheed Murad, Nadeem, Mohammad Ali, Santosh Kumar, Darpan, Habib, Rehman, Shahid, Qavi Khan, Ghulam Mohiuddin, Rahat Kazmi and was tailor-made for every actor of film industry. Rushdi’s voice was even ideally suited to comedians such as Munawar Zarif, Lehri, Nirala, Nanha and Rangeela.
Rushdi recorded the ghazal “Shok-e-awargi” written by poet Habib Jalib for actor Syed Kamal in the 1963 film Joker. This ghazal sung by Rushdi, gained popularity amongst music listeners. Rushdi and Jalib again teamed together for Mohammad Ali in the film Khamosh Raho (1964). Rushdi sang the ghazal “Mei Nahi Manta” for the same film and gained Habib Jalib country-wide fame. He recorded a qawwali “Madiney waley ko mera salam kehdena” along with Munir Husain same year.
Actor Nadeem’s first film as a leading actor was Chakori (1967). Rushdi recorded four songs for this film in the composition of music director Robin Ghosh. “Kabhi toe tum ko yaad ayen gi”, “Pyare pyare yar humare” and “Tujhe chahein meri bahein”. Same year, film Doraha and Shehnai were released. He recorded all the songs for these films including “Bhooli hue hoon dastan”, “tumhein kaise bta doon”, “Han issi mor per” (film Doraha) and “Tujhey apney dil se mei kaise”, “Nazaron se haseen hai”, “Dunya mei tumko jeena hai agar” ( film Shehnai).
In 1968, Rushdi recorded his first ever Bengali song in the film Notun Name Dako of Dhaka titled “Ke Tumi Ele Go”, which became a smashing hit in the then East Pakistan. He sang playback hits in the same year like “Ae mere diwaney dil” (film Jahan tum wahan hum), “Socha tha pyar na karein ge” (film Ladla), “Usey dekha usey chaha usey bhool gaye” (film Jahan tum wahan hum), “Teri aankhon ke bheegey sitarey” (film Ma Beta) and many more. Same year, Rushdi recorded a song “Salam-e-mohabbat” for Mohammad Ali in Khawaja Khurshid Anwar’s composition.
Rushdi sang for Waheed Murad in 1969 film Naseeb Apna Apna. The song “Ae abr-e-kaaram aaj itna baras” brought another Nigar award for him. The song was composed by Lal Mohammad Iqbal. He also won different awards for songs like “Dil tumko de diya hai” and “Hum se na bigar aye larki”. Around the same year, he sang a duet with Mala in the film Baharei phir bhi ayen gi, “Khush naseebi hai meri”.
In 1969, the film Andaleeb was released. Ahmed Rushdi recorded all the songs for Waheed Murad in this film. The song “Kuch log rooth ker bhi” was a hit. Its sad version was sung by Noor Jahan. Although he sang for every film hero in Pakistan, his pairing with Waheed Murad proved to be the most popular, in such movies as Armaan (1966); the song “Akele Na Jaana” from that movie in Sohail Rana’s composition gained Rushdi another Nigar Award. Well-known hits of Rushdi picturised on Waheed Murad such as “Lag rahi hai mujhey aaj sari faza ajnabi” or “Kuchh loag rooth kar bi” were composed by Nisar Bazmi, the legendary composer for Pakistani movies. Ahmed Rushdi-Nisar Bazmi pair and Ahmed Rushdi-Sohail Rana combination were two of the most successful singer-music director pairs of Pakistan film music.
1970s and 1980s
The 1970s brought new faces like Alamgir, Akhlaq Ahmed, Ghulam Abbas, A Nayyar etc. But Rushdi remained a leading singer of film industry. Film Bandagi, Naag Muni and Baazi were released in 1971. Ahmed Rushdi had a playback in all the three films. He also won several awards for songs such as “Aik albeli si naar” (Naag Muni), “Tum bhi ho ajnabi” (Baazi) and “Poocho na hum ne kis liye” (Intezar). Perhaps, the song below never rang as true as it did after Ahmed Rushdi’s demise: “Chore chalay hum chore chalay lo sheher tumhara chore chalay”, film, Phir Chand Nikley Ga (1970) music, Sohail Rana.
Rushdi sang four solo songs and one duet for Waheed in the film Khalish (1972). “Honto pe tera naam”( with Mala), “Kal achanak jo sar-e-rah mili thi”, “Ghussey mei gulabi gaal” and “Pyar hota hai”. Music director was M. Ashraf. Around the same year, he sang for Mohammad Ali in the film Mohabbat. Rushdi recorded three songs in the film including a sad song “Khudara mohabbat na karna”. Music director was Nisar Bazmi.
In 1973, he recorded a qawwali “Dil torney waley” for the film Mehboob mera mastana. Ahmed Rushdi also recorded a romantic number “Teri jabeen se chodhwin ka chand jhankta rahey” (film Nadan) for actor Rehman. He recorded a sad song “Angara mera mann” for film Jaal which was released same year. He was also fond of acting and appeared in thirteen films as an actor including Anokhi (1956), Kaneez (1965), Saat Lakh (1967) and Dekha Jaye Ga (1976). He also composed a music album in singer Mujeeb Aalam’s voice.
In 1974, film Anhoni was released. Waheed Murad and Aliya were in leading roles. Music director Lal Mohammad Iqbal recorded two songs in Rushdi’s voice. “Hai kahan who kali” and a sad number “Mei tujhey Nazar kia doon”. In the same year he sang for actor Shahid in film Dharkan. He recorded a romantic number “Rangat gulabi chehra kitabi” for Shahid.
In 1975, Ahmed Rushdi recorded “Dil ko jalana hum ne chor diya” (Film Mohabbat Zindagi Hai). This song was picturised on Waheed Murad and gained country wide popularity. He sang another song “Mashriqi rang ko chor ke” for the same film. He recorded many songs for Pakistan television including “Dil mei tu hai”, “Han issi mor pe” and “Bheegey hue mousam mei”.
Film Sharmeeli (1978) was his last movie with actor Nadeem as a playback singer. It was a successful musical film and songs gained popularity among the masses. Rushdi recorded two songs for Nadeem, “Tu samney hai mere” and “Bheegey hue mousam mei”. Same year he recorded a popular song for Mohammad Ali “Aagey aagey mohtarma peechey peechey mohtram” (Film Apka Khadim). He sang a classical number “Tere naina barey chit chor” for the film Jab Jab Phool Khiley next year. He also sang in films like Accident, Achey Mian, Bohut Khoob, Baarat and Aag Aur Zindagi.
The year 1980 proved to be a nightmare for Pakistan film industry. The number of Urdu films decreased rapidly and the era of Punjabi films started. In those films there was a very little room available for male playback singers as those movies were completely dominated by the songs in mostly female voices. Immediately following the military installation of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq as President, measures were put in place to limit the distribution of music and the only source of entertainment was the government-owned television network Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV). While music videos were banned in the country. Rushdi sang in films like Farzana, Hanstey Aansoo, Haseena Maan Jaye Gi etc. but his glorious singing career was almost coming to an end.
Rushdi was not only singing for films, but he was equally a busy figure for Radio and Television also. He remained a leading singer between 1954 and 1983. He sang for all the famous actors of Pakistan film industry. Rushdi recorded his last song “Ban ke misra ghazal ka” in 1983 for film Hero, which was picturised on Waheed Murad and the song was a hit. He recorded a large number of duets in many languages with Noor Jahan, Zubaida Khanum, Runa Laila, Mala, Naheed Niazi, Irene Parveen, Naseem Begum, Mehnaz, Rubina Badar and Naheed Akhtar in his thirty-three-year singing career.
Ahmed Rushdi married Humera on 30 November 1963. His wife died in 1992, nine years after Rushdi. He belonged to a Sayed family (a sacred caste in muslims) and was a religious person. Despite his popularity and fame, Rushdi never had any scandal in his entire career. He had three daughters. His younger daughter, Rana Rushdi used to sing her father’s songs in his presence which always pleased Rushdi a lot. He was against allowing his daughters to adopt singing as a profession. Ahmed Rushdi and Noor Jahan were highest paid singers in their time but Rushdi did not charge those producers and music directors a single rupee, who could not afford him. Famous music director Lal Mohammad Iqbal made his entry into Pakistan film industry because Rushdi introduced him to different producers which he disclosed after Rushdi’s death. Likewise, poet Masroor Anwer got his first film as Rushdi insisted the music director Manzoor-Ashraf to give Masroor a chance.
In early 1980s, Rushdi shifted to Karachi as he was not feeling well and wanted to have a proper heart treatment. He was also singing less for films and film music itself was facing a decline. The 1980s saw a nose-dive in the progress of cinema in Pakistan. Number of cinemas decreased rapidly and people preferred watching television over going to a cinema. Playback singing that once was popular now struggled to exist and the singers needed a new medium to start afresh. Even then, Rushdi’s demand and popularity was still there with the music directors. He opened a music academy in order to teach music and playback singing to youngsters. Ahmed Rushdi never faced downfall as far as his singing career is concerned.
Until the 1970s, Rushdi was one of the leading voices in the subcontinent. He recorded fewer songs in his last years on the advice of doctors.
Ahmed Rushdi's grave at Sakhi Hassan Graveyard, Karachi
Since 1976, Ahmed Rushdi was a heart patient and his doctors advised him to abstain from singing but Rushdi refused by saying that music was his life. When he had a second heart attack in 1981, he was composing a musical album in the voice of singer Mujeeb Aalam. On the night of 11 April 1983, he had a third heart attack. He was immediately taken to the hospital but pronounced dead by the doctors. He was 48. Rushdi was buried at Sakhi Hassan Graveyard, Karachi. His last non film song was “Aaney walo suno” which was a duet with Mehnaz.
On his death, actor Waheed Murad said. “Today I have lost my voice.” He further said in an interview, “Sometimes I think that if I suddenly disappear or am no more for any reason, I would like to be remembered by the song ‘Bhooli hui hoon dastaan, guzra hua khayal hoon-Jisko na tum samajh sakay mien aisa aik sawal hoon’.” (I’m a tale forgotten, a thought bygone. I’m the question which you couldn’t understand) which was also picturised on him in 1967 and sung by Ahmed Rushdi. After Rushdi’s death, Waheed Murad as well as other friends and singers had appeared on a show to pay him a tribute; many of those same people appeared on the show six months later, reminiscing about Waheed as he also died.
- 1961 – Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Chand Sa Mukhra Gora Badan” in film Saperan
- 1962 – Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Gol Gappey Wala” in film Mehtaab
- 1963 – Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Kisi Chaman Mei Raho” in film Anchal
- 1966 – Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Akeley Na Jana” in film Armaan
- 1970 – Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Aey Abr-e-Karam” in film Naseeb Apna Apna
- 2004 – Life Time Achievement Award
- 1965 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Mohabbat Mei Tere Ser Ki Qasam” in film Aisa Bhi Hota Hai
- 1967 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Haan Issi Mor par” in film Doraha
- 1968 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Kabhi Toe Tumko Yaad Ayen Gi” in film Chakori
- 1969 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Kuch Log Rooth Kar Bhi” in film Andaleeb
- 1970 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Lag Rahi Hai Mujhey Aaj Sari Fiza” in film Anjuman
- 1972 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Meri Jaan Meri Jaan Yehi Zindagi Hai” in film Bandagi
- 1973 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Hai Kahan Woh Kali” in film Anhoni
- 1975 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Mashriqi Rang Ko Chor Ke” in film Mohabbat Zindagi Hai
- 1978 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Tu Saamney Hai Mere” in film Sharmeeli
- 1979 – Best Male Playback singer for the song “Sab Kamron Mein Band Hain” in film Zameer
- 1967 – Best Sad Song Award for “Tujhey Apney Dil Se Mei Kaisey Bhuladoon” in the film Shehnai
- 1968 – Classic Award for the song “Kiya Hai Jo Pyar To Padega Nibhana” in the film Dil Mera Dharkan Teri
- 1970 – Silver Screen Award for the song “Chhor Chaley Hum Chhor Chaley” in the film Phir Chand Nikley Ga
- 1973 – Al-Fankar Award for the song “Mei Tujhey Nazar kya Doon” in the film Anhoni
- 1975 – Screen Light Award for the song “Dil Ko Jalana Hum Ne Chor Diya” in the film Mohabbat Zindagi Hai
- 1983 – Rooman Award for the song “Ban Ke Misra Ghazal Ka Chaley Aaona” in the film Hero
- 2000 – Best Singer Of The Millennium Award
- 2001 – Legend Award
- 2004 – Sitara-i-Imtiaz
- 2005 – Indus TV Indus Music Hall of Fame
- 2012 – Lux Style Award Lifetime Achievement Award