I can't recall, even if I try very hard, when and where I first saw Sohail Rana or heard this name. This name is embedded in my memory from early childhood. When the TV was Black and White, when having a Radiogram at home was considered elite, when music shops had stacks of vinyl records, when everything seemed like a fairy-tale, I know Sohail Rana since then. I am not sure when I became aware of the 'music director's' name on the records and cassettes. All I could understand was that if the name of Sohail Rana was attached to any song, it was guaranteed to be melodious. Our whole household looked forward to songs and compositions by this great composer of all times. My mother was a great music lover and perhaps that's where I got my love of music from. I always wanted to sing. My voice isn't too bad. In fact I did sing on college stage and some private functions in Karachi in my later years, however, I always wanted to be Sohail Rana's student.
There was something special about being Sohail Rana's student. I had seen his students sing mellifluously on the mini-screen. Some of them were a marvel of television screen. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be able to get close to Sohail Rana and learn from him. It has been always a passion and my deepest desire to sing in his composition. But why Sohail Rana? Why not Nisar Bazmi? or M. Ashraf? or even Khwaja Khursheed Anwar? Why just Sohail Rana? It wasn't a matter of choice. It was the matter of going for the best of the lot. And he was, and in fact is, by far the best music director we ever had. His knowledge and insight about the local classical and western music is reflected through his each and every composition. He knows music like nobody does. I gathered this a bit later in life when I joined the National College of Arts and came across a group of like-minded people who were very much into basic Pakistani or Indian music. I always knew he was the greatest music director of all times but when I joined NCA and met these people, that's when I realized why is he the greatest.
I used to listen to his compositions for hours and hours and listen to the smallest note played by any musician in the background. He wasn't just composing songs... he was arranging them. Just like Beethoven or Mozart, he was into orchestration. Here I must admit that I like him more for his film music than his patriotic or children work. Why? I think it's because film music has more variety. It is a lot more challenging then creating light patriotic numbers or 2-minute songs for children. His film music depicts a wide variety of emotions. From light love songs of Arman and Doraha to complex situations in Ehsan and Phir Chand Niklayga, he has flawlessly composed lilting tunes that still refresh tired minds. The way the introduction music of Do Akhiyan (from Ehsan) or Ja ja ray Chanda ja ray (from Heera aur Patthar) is arranged, it soothes a weary mind even today.
I don't want to dissect his songs because I am no one to comment on his music. He is too big to be commented and reviewed on. He has been a mentor and a teacher for me from early days. I always wanted to speak to him, meet him and watch him compose. I can only visualise those great moments when songs like 'Akele Na Jaana' from Arman were being recorded. Whenever I listen to any of his compositions I try to visualise the day he would have first sat on the harmonium with the lyrics in front of him. How He would have touched the keys on the harmonium and played the first notes? I am sure it would have been a great learning experience for people working with Sohail Rana. I can just wish I was one of those.
It was somewhere in mid-eightees when full-page press ads for a movie, titled Hesaab, appeared in the newspapers. The highlight of the film was music by Sohail Rana. I was thrilled. With Sohail Rana's name in the credits it was bound to be a treat for sore ears. I went to watch Hesaab along with another music lover friend. I must admit I wasn't impressed a lot by the music of Hesaab. Somehow, I didnt find the real Sohail Rana in Hesaab. The two songs I liked were Tum to aata hai pyar per ghussa and Mera bhaiyya hai laakhone mai aik. He has done full justice to the composition and arrangement of these songs. In those days none of the Pakistani film song used to be so rich and filled with baseline orchestra of at least 25 instruments. With other music directors you could actually count the instruments on your finger tips. One tabla, one rhythm guitar, five violins, one key board and a bass, and your orchestra is complete. It was only in Sohail Rana's music where I noticed santoor, sur mandal, xylophone, tabla, congo and drums played simultaneously for rhythm. With percussions to add treble and of course 20 or more violins to add depth.
My singing was continuing and so was my passion to meet my mentor or at least speak to him. I bought the audio cassette of Hesaab and to my surprise it had an additional song, which wasnt included in the film, Door na mujh say jaao sung by Salma Agha. I have been a fan of Salma Agha also... despite a sharp voice, Salma has the ability to pull the song and she did a great job singing this extremely melodious and tuneful number. It was soon after Hesaab when I somehow got hold of Sohail Rana's home phone number. While on holidays from NCA, I dialed his number and it was none other than Sohail Rana Saheb himself on the other end. I wasn't expecting him to pick up the phone or even talk to a complete stranger. The way he spoke to me was impressive. He was polite, down-to-earth and above all he listened to what I had to say. Whenever I call someone out of the blue, it is always at the back of my mind that I am interfering their privacy and I try to keep the call short and precise. However, Sohail Saheb didn't sound in any hurry. He patiently listened to my comments and even asked me what I did. For me that was enough. I wanted to say I want to be your student but I didn't, because of the fear he may think that was the reason I called him. That was my first contact with Sohail Saheb. I am sure Sohail Saheb wouldn't even remember it now. But that brief conversation left a deep mark on me. I realised He was not only a great music director but a great person too.
Soon after my studies I joined an advertising agency in Karachi and got busy in a routine 9 to 5 job. It wasn't long after I came into practical life when Karachi started to turn into a ground of political terrorism. Ethnic riots became common, sniper firings, abductions of political opponents, indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians became an everyday thing. That's when I decided to leave my beloved city and move to Lahore, my second home. My love for Lahore developed during my years at NCA. I still feel like coming home whenever I enter Lahore. Lahore is undoubtedly the most livable city of Pakistan. I started working as an Art Director in a leading ad agency. And started writing for daily Nation's Sunday magazine on film and entertainment industry. Once again I began searching for Sohail Rana. By that time he had left Pakistan and permanently settled in Canada.
I remember about 6 years back I went to meet Mr. Ali Sufian Afaqi in Lahore and asked him if he knew Sohail Saheb's whereabouts. He said, 'even when he was in the film industry, Sohail Rana used to keep a very low profile. He wasn't into going to filmy parties or gatherings etc. He also had few selected friends that's why I don't know much about him.' Then he gave me Pervez Malik's phone number in Islamabad. I tried that number but to no avail. I couldn't get through to Pervez Malik saheb.
In 2001 I went to Javed Jabbar's ad agency and met someone in his studio. I forgot his this person's name but he was, I think, the production manager (or assistant cameraman) for Musafir. He was transferring Musafir from film to Beta. I watched nearly the whole movie sitting there in his editing suite. Unfortunately he also didn't have a clue about Sohail Saheb. But I did learn a great deal about the musical score of Musafir from that person. I wish I recorded his name somewhere. Then I found Anis Shakur on the Internet. He was also into writing stuff about old Pakistani film stars and musicians. I emailed him and asked if he knew anything about Sohail Rana. He had no idea, however, looking at my dedication for Sohail Saheb he promised to help me. Around that time I decided I want to build a web-site dedicated to this exceptional musician and composer. I purchased the web url www.sohailrana.com but never got to build it due to lack of authentic information about Sohail Saheb.
By 2005 I had already given up hope that I would ever be able to locate Sohail Rana again, when I suddenly received an email from Anis Bhai referring it as 'Email of the century.' This email was from my mentor, my guru, my sage, Sohail Rana. Anis Bhai had somehow located him and forwarded him all my emails and articles that I had written about him. And he was kind enough to reply back.
The circle was complete, the search was over. I can't thank Anis Bhai enough for helping me in my pursuit and Sohail Rana Saheb for acknowledging my quest and getting back to me. Although the search for Sohail Saheb has ended but begins another journey of learning and catching up. I am glad I will be able to meet Sohail Saheb soon, I will learn a great deal from him and try to prove an 'able' student. I conclude this article with a couple of lines from a song Sohail Saheb composed some 30 years ago.... 'Hai meri ye dua, tum salamat raho, tum jahan bhi raho, bun ke rahat raho...'