His first film as an independent music director was Prem Nagar in 1940. His first musical success film was Rattan (1944), following it up with 35 silver jubilee hits, 12 golden jubilee and 3 diamond jubilee mega successes. Naushad was conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and the Padma Bhushan in 1982 and 1992, respectively, for his contribution to the Bollywood film industry.
Naushad Ali was raised in Lucknow, a city with a long tradition as a center of refined North Indian culture. He studied classic Hindustani music there, under such teachers as Ustad Ghurbat Ali, Ustad Yusuf Ali, and Ustad Babban Saheb.
He moved to Mumbai in the late 1930s to try his luck as a musician. After initial rebuffs, he got a job as a musician in a studio orchestra. He scored his first film in 1940. From 1942 until the late 1960s, he was one of the top music directors in the Bollywood film business.
He was known for his deft adaptation of the classical musical tradition for filmi uses. In some films, such as Baiju Bawra, all his songs were composed in traditional raga modes. He was also able to work with Western instruments (including the clarinet, mandolin, and accordion), Western-style orchestras, and adapt Western musical idioms.
He is fondly remembered for his scores to such movies as: Pakeezah (1971), Dil diya Dard Liya (1966), Mere Mehboob (1963), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Mother India (1957), Baiju Bawra (1952), Aan (1952), Babul (1950), Andaz (1949), Anokhi Ada (1948), Natak (1947), Keemat (1946), Shah Jehan (1946), Anmol Ghadi (1946), Rattan (1944).
He produced movies like Maalik (1958), Uran Khatola (1955), Babul (1950).
As Western music changed and filmi music changed with it, Naushad came to be considered old-fashioned. Composers who could pen rock and roll and disco-inflected music were increasingly popular. Naushad was esteemed as a master, but in demand only for historical movies where an old-fashioned, traditional score was considered an asset.
In 1981, Naushad was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. In 2004, a colorized version of the classic Mughal-e-Azam was released, with re-recorded music. Naushad was a guest of honor at the premiere.
His last music composition was for the movie Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story, directed by Akhbar Khan, which released in 2005.
He was awarded for his work with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1992.
He passed away on May 5, 2006, in Mumbai.