Khawaja Khursheed Anwar who only gave music for 29 films was born on 21 March 1912 in Mianwali, where his maternal grandfather Khan Bahadur Dr. Sheikh Atta Mohammad (whose eldest daughter was married to philosopher-poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal, to whom he was thus a nephew) was serving as civil surgeon. His father Khawaja Ferozuddin Ahmad was a well-known Barrister settled in Lahore, Pakistan. The ace jurist had a love for music so much so that he had a huge collection of gramophone records of Indian classical and neo-classical music and his precocious son had an unhindered access to them all. Moreover, in the weekly music performances held in the lawyer’s home, renowned music masters used to perform, and it was here that the young Khurshid Anwar developed a taste for classical music. Considering Khurshid Anwar’s keen interest, Khansahib Tawakkal Hussain agreed to take him as his disciple and train him in 1934.
Khursheed Anwar was also a brilliant student at Government College, Lahore, the renowned seat of learning at that time. Having topped in the master’s degree in Philosophy in (1935), he appeared in the examination for Indian Civil Service (ICS) but due to his political and anti-British Raj activities, the British colonial masters did not like his activities. He was also absent from the prize-distribution ceremony of the Punjab University held to honour the students with distinctions. When his name was called to receive the Gold Medal in Philosophy, nobody turned up. The British Chancellor of the University who was awarding medals remarked that the student having forgotten to receive the medal, is a true philosopher.
In 1939, Khursheed Anwar joined All India Radio, Delhi as Programme Producer (Music). It was from here that he acceded to the requests of Abdur Rasheed Kardar, the renowned film producer, to join Bombay film world as a music director. He made his debut as a music director in Kardar’s Punjabi venture “Kurmai” (1941). His first Hindi film was “Ishara”(1943]. The film gained much popularity from its songs which included “Panghat pe muraliya baje” by Suraiya, “Shabnam kyon neer bahaye” Sung by Gauhar Sultan, and “Dil deke dagha nahin dena” by Vatsala Kumathekar. Some of his other Hindi films were Parakh (1944, with Saraswati Devi), Yateem (1945), Aaj Aur Kal (1947), Pagdandi (1947), and Parwaana (1947) which was the last movie in which K. L. Saigal acted and sang in. For “Singaar” (1949) he got the Clare Award for Best Music Director. His later films “Nishaana” (1950) and “Neelam Pari” (1952) added new feathers to his cap. He remained an inspiration to many later day music directors in both India and Pakistan. He was regularly praised by his contemporary Indian film music director Naushad Ali, who considered him to be one of the finest film composers in the subcontinent.
Khursheed Anwar migrated to Pakistan in 1952 where he started his career as a music composer. And it was here in 1956 that Khursheed Anwar enhanced Pakistani film music’s identity through his first film Intezar (1956). The film also gave a new lease of life to Noor Jehan, his lead singer for many years to come. After “Intezar”, Khurshid Anwar continued with his stylistic creations in films such as, Mirza Sahiban (1956), Zehre Ishq (1958), Jhoomer (1959), Koel (1959), Ayaz (1960), Ghunghat (1962), Haveli (1964) Chingari (1964), Sarhad (1966), Hamraz (1967), Guddo (1970), Heer Ranjha (1970 film), Salam E Mohabat (1971), Parai Aag (1971), Shireen Farhad (1975), Haider Ali (1979) and finally Mirza Jat (1982).
Khawaja 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 Khawaja Anwer. Naushad Ali considered him to be the best composer in the subcontinent.
The luster of his art can still be savored 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.