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Music - Remembering OP Nayyar

Siraj Khan

(This article is sponsored by Sounds Of India)

It was January 28 last year, when Bollywood lost one of its great personalities, who was both colorful and controversial, leaving behind only his timeless music for us to cherish. I remember him today through a musical journey of his life. He used to call this journey as A-Z (from Aasman in 1952 to Zid in 1994).

Preetam Aan Milo was the song that launched OPN as a composer at the age of 17 in 1943 but OP Nayyar made his full-blown film debut with Aasman in 1952. Recently married Geeta Dutt recommended OP to her husband Guru Dutt and the Indian film industry is rocked by a new sound, sensational orchestration, a rare robust beat never heard before. First with Baaz and then Aar-Paar, released in 1954, was a runaway musical hit and OP took India by storm. Something new and refreshing was heard and OP is a household name instantly. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s magic of the mushairaas discovers a unique outlet. Aar Paar had 8 songs sung by Geeta , Rafi and Shamshad Begum. One can imagine the impact on the listeners when they first heard the unorthodox sound of of Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar, Hoon Abhee Mein Jawan Ae Dil, Ja Ja Bewafa, etc. in those times of gentle easy-going songs.

OP churned out another zingy musical score in Mr & Mrs 55 and even songs filmed on comedian Johnny Walker hit the charts. The other music directors sat up and were amazed at the variety of rhythm patterns, the freshness, and a very earthy, full-blooded appeal in the songs. None of these were in Asha’s voice, but by now she had started to sing a few songs for OP in other films, although still not for the leading ladies of the screen. OP knew nothing of classical music or raags and considered his abilities and talent as God-given.

1956 and Guru Dutt, Geeta Dutt and OP scored a hatrick at the box-office with CID, which Dev Anand and Waheeda Rahman in the romantic lead. From the bus driver to the mill-owner, everybody were humming OP’s songs. OP had proven that he was no flash in the pan. Never before had anybody heard such a combination of melody and sensuous singing as Geeta Dutt’s. Janisar Akhtar’s Ankhon Hee Ankhon Mein Ishara is an all-time hit among people of all ages even today, 50 years after it was composed. Majrooh pennned the lyrics to the other racy tracks, the vibrant orchestra set a new distinct style and tempo. Strange as it may sound now, but the state-controlled AIR, actually placed a ban on many of his popular songs from being broadcasted for several months, as they considered the lyrics as well as his melodies too daring and a bad influence on the young generation. However, OP continued unfazed with the Government order, with Radio Ceylon going berserk with requests for his songs. It had to take nothing less than a minister to lift the ban. (Somebody said that the minister liked Kaheen pe Nigahen!) On the other hand, producers were forming a bee-line to sign him up and 8/9 films per year were to become a norm. He was the first music director to demand Rs 100,000, a substantial figure in those days, which other composers could not even conceive of.  

Another first. A producer signs up a music director even before the main actors, in anticipation of a guaranteed success. A Naya Andaaz of sorts and a movie of the same name comes along with 11 songs. Janisar Akhtar (Javed Akhtar’s father and Shabana Azmi’s father-in-law) weaves his magical lyrics yet again, forging a great partnership with OP Nayyar which is broken only by the death of the great poet in 1976. OP Nayyar was crowned the Rhythm King and he was still only 30 then. OP had recognized the talent of Kishore long before he became a popular singer  and in Naya Andaz, he combined this voice with Shamshad Begum, singing perhaps for the only time together, to come up with a memorable romantic duet Meri Neendon mein Tum, picturized on tragedy queen Meena Kumari and Kishore Kumar himself.

1957 - from Naya Andaaz to Naya Daur. The film Naya Daur rocked India then. (50 years later the color version was released in 2007 after his death, grabbed the attention yet again). Thanks to OP’s nurturing, Asha Bhosle, who until now was living under the shadow of her sister Lata, came into her own. The hit parade continued and 6/7 out of the top 10 chart-toppers on the Binaca Geetmala featuring OP melodies had become standard fair. Naya Daur was a golden jubilee and bagged many awards (including music) and at the Filmfare Awards ceremony, there were more people around the dashing OP Nayyar than the leading stars – no less than Dilip Kumar and Vijayantimala. Sahir Ludhianvi wrote the lyrics but their relationship was not to last for long. However, the OP-Asha partnership turned into romance, an association which lasted for 15 years and has become part of Bollywood folklore . Rafi also held a very special place in OP’s heart and was always the first choice male voice. Naya Daur had Ude jab kab zulfen, Reshmi Shalwar, yeh desh hai veer jawano ka, saathi hath barhana and Maang ke saath gave us the taanga beat, which became the mainstay of many songs.

Still in 1957, and a new Elvis-styled actor flashed on the screen wearing t-shirts and leather jackets never seen before on the Indian cinema and added a new dimension to OP’s breezy swinging breed of music, with his own free-wheeling acting. No doubt, OP made a star out of Shammi Kapoor. Mujrim came right at the heels of the romantic comedy Tumsa Naheen Dekha. Madhubala announced that she would give a discount on her fee to any producer who signed up OP for the musical score, if not for his good looks! OP Nayyar had become the most sought-after composer in Bombay and, not surprisingly, the most expensive one too. Recording studios were booked up for months. OP now moved around in a chauffeur-driven Cadillac, while prominent producers and actors were still running around in Fiats. OPN was usually signed up first while the hero/heroine come in later and his name appeared on the billboards of films over and above the cast. This had never happened before and has never happened after OP.  

Many of us remember the 50s, OP and the B/W era, with a night club cabaret scene with haunting and sensuous Geeta Dutt numbers. The string of movies continued in 1958, but a change in the landscape was seen. Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum, who until now lent their voices heartily to OP, were being replaced by Asha Bhosle. OP also tapped the brilliant poet Qamar Jalalabadi, – unnoticed until then - who remained with OP right to the end of his composing life - including his last film Zid, released in 1994. Madhubala’s Howrah Bridge had 8 songs, of which Geeta got a chance to sing just one. But just Mera Nam Chin Chin Choo, was enough for her to turn the tables on the others, most of which were on the charts as well. However, by now, Geeta was an alcoholic, following her troubled marriage, and was not easily available. Her last song for OP was a lovely duet with Rafi – Tum jo huay mere hamsafar from 12 “o” Clock released late 1958.  

Several B/W films of OP flashed around in 1959 and 1960 but many are remembered today only because of their songs – itself commendable. 1961 was the only year when there was not a single OP Nayyar release. He had remarked once “Muhabbat mein sara jahan lut gaya tha”. Who had the time to compose anything! The fact, however, was that the producers were finding him too expensive. Early 60s also meant the era of long-named films. Examples.. Dil apna aur preet parayee. Jab pyar kisi se hota hai, Ek Phool Char kaante, Tere Ghar ke Saamne etc. OP Nayyar comes back with a bang in 1962 with Ek Musafir Ek Hasina with a bagful of romantic classics – a film which he always remembered very fondly. Of the 10 songs on the sound track, my favorite has always been Aap yunhi agar humse milte rahe, which makes you fall in love all over again. The long names continued in the swinging 60s – Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon in 1963 came in color. Another film loaded with 9 peppy numbers all of which had hit the charts much before the release of the film.  

1964 and with it came the story behind the golden jubilee hit Kashmir ki Kali. A new sensational girl none other than Sharmila Tagore was pitched with Shammi Kapoor in her debut film, that was shot in Kashmir in color. OP was initially not happy with the song picturizations and spoke to Sharmila in private before the real turnaround came. Later, much later OP disclosed that he had told the young lady that his was music in motion, like a mountain stream. She could not just stand and just move her lips to his songs. There had to be movement – whether it be a car, tanga, boat, and when she was on her feet, she should keep moving and let the camera follow her. So she did just that, not only in songs but even when doing dialogs. Many years later, when her son Saif Ali Khan (then in college) got rather upset one day and said “Mom, can you ever talk to me without moving around and doing things at the same time?” Before she could reply, his dad the Nawab of Pataudi quipped’ Beta, the person you have to speak to on this is OP Nayyar”. Indeed, in Choo Mantar OP has the hero recovering from a car accident, singing from a wheel-chair being pushed by his lady. Asha’s Balma Khuli Hawa mein is a classic. The sitar and the sarangi, the sudden change of surs and taals are truly awesome. And to complete the story, in the end they decided that Sharmila could not really do justice acting to this lilting but difficult to sing composition and it was eventually dropped from the film altogether. Sharmila probably could not do the behekna idhar udhar then.

In 1965 Mere Sanam ruled the charts, again packed with 9 songs. Some sensational gems immortalized by Asha and Rafi. Feather-light Jayye Aap Kahan Jayenge was voted by All India Music Composers Association as one of the most complete songs ever recorded for Indian films, along with SDB’s Kanton se kheench ke from Guide. This is where the lyrics, music, the orchestration, voice modulation and recording all blended in at their best. There are some notes which he used which nobody else would dare use. OP and Asha worked on Yeh hein reshmi zulfon ka andhera na ghabrayye for four months before it was finally ready for recording.  

1966 and a string of musical marvels unfolded. Guru Dutt had signed up OPN again for what turned out to be his last production venture. In fact, Guru Dutt died before the release of Baharen Phir Bhee Ayengee. This film has some incredibly lilting songs. Then came Yeh Raat Phir Na Ayegi. For those who associate OP with only fast-paced swinging numbers, Yahee Who Jagah Hai is the song to pause to fathom the depth of Asha’s voice. Many consider this song as one of her all time best. It was beautifully picturized on Sharmila Tagore. I also recall another favorite from this film Phir Miloge Kabhi is Baat ka wada Karlo. There are some lines in this song which OP wrote himself

Dil ki har baat adhoori hai, adhoori hai abhi, apni ek aur mulaqaat zaroori hai abhi

Chand lamhon ke liye saath ka wada karlo, hum se ek aur mulaqaat ka wada karlo

The film also had Huzoore wala, Mein shayad tumhare liye ajnabi hoon, Aapse meine meri jaan and others.  

Dil Ki Awaaz Bhi Sun from Humsaya was one of OP’s own personal Rafi favorites, released early 1968. Rafi and OP had developed a great mutual respect and admiration for each other over the years. The story goes that all the songs had been recorded and only the last duet was to be recorded with Asha. Rafi had been very busy and finally gave a date/time for the recording. There were about 70 people/musicians in the recording studios with Asha waiting for Rafi. OPN was very always very punctual but on that day waited patiently for the last song to be recorded. An apologetic Rafi finally arrived two hours late. OP asked everybody to great ready for recording and calmly asked Rafi whether everything was OK with him. Rafi revealed that he was held up at a S-J recording. That just blew OP’s fuse and he asked everyone to pack up and leave that day. The next day that duet was recorded in the voice of Mahendra Kapoor. OP never forgave himself for doing this.Fortunately, my favorite song in the film had already been recorded -Mujhe mera pyar dede tujhe aazma liya hai.  

Now to one of Lata’s favorite songs. In Ao Huzoor Tumko, Asha-OP were in their elemental best. The year was 1968 and the film was Kismat. OP gave a break to an unknown poet Noor Dewasi to pen the lyrics. After Rafi’s fall out with OP on the recording of the Humsaya duet, Mahender Kapoor capitalized on the situation as OP had no other option for a male voice for several years, until OP’s patch up with Rafi later and he came up with some real hearty songs for the master, Kismat, Sambandh and Kahin Din Kahin Raat being most significant. The taali, another familiar OP beat eg SubhanAllah, Huzoore-wala came in Kismat with Kajra Mohabbatwala. OPN reverted back to a retired Shamshad Begum after many years, to join Asha to create the old Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar and Reshmi shalwar effect.

OP never liked Mukesh’s voice. So, much to Mukesh’s surprise and the industry’s in 1969, OP asked him to sing Chal Akela for Sambandh. OP knew Mukesh’s limitations and used the chorus effect (lead by Asha) very cleverly in places where Mukesh’s voice would not go high enough for the pitch OP wanted. This unusual OP classic became a chart-topping national hit, but OP confessed that he never liked the end product himself.  

Chein se hamko kabhi became an OP classic even before it was released. This was to become the Asha-OP swan song. Geeta Dutt had died in July 1972 and his relationship with Asha was on the rocks. They eventually split in August 1972 never to stand under the same roof again. But before they did, this gem of a song from Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye had been recorded and picturized on Rekha. Asha and Lata, however, used their clout behind-the scene to have it dropped from the film altogether. Ironically, the song bagged the 1973 Filmfare award for the best singer for Asha. Asha decided not to attend the awards ceremony. OP on her behalf, accepted the award graciously but on the way home tossed it out from his car and heard it break. This was the tipping point which was to haunt OP for the rest of his life. Although he composed for many years more (almost 150 songs) and tried many other female singers, but the magic of the past was just not there. OP the man may have died on January 28, 2007 but OP the composer clearly had died much earlier.  

OP Nayyar’s contribution to Bollywood’s film music is unparalleled. There were and are good composers all with their own melodies and styles, but there were only a few trail-blazers. OP was one of them and the only one whose compositions you would recognize within the first 10 seconds of his song. This was because each song carried his stamp and his signature, which nobody could replicate. He was also sure that he could make it to the top without recording a single song in Lata’s voice – the only composer to do so. Somebody once asked him how he ranked himself amongst the company of such great contemporaries, to which he said “ I think I am the second best in the industry. The rest can fight for the first place”. An interesting perspective from a genius who did not follow any rules rather made his own. OP knew his instruments and the capabilities of each singer and musician who worked with him, just as we know our fingers.  

Even now when you think of the maestro, you see him in his white clothes, white shoes, his black hat and blazer, walking erect with his beaming smile, even in old age. His steely character and unmistaken gleam on his face, had stood by him to help him tackle the roller-coaster of fate, that took him from the posh house in Churchgate to the streets and then to the warmth of the Nakhwa family in Thane, which became his last home.

He lives with us through his melodies and will continue to do so forever. Lyricist S H Bihari, who penned the lyrics for the highest number of OP films, captured these sentiments and left us before OP Nayyar did.

Teri zindagi mohabbat, tera naam hai deewana, Tere baad bhi karega tera zikr yeh zamana

Tu wo zindagi naheen hai, jise maut khatm karde, Jise bhool jai dunya tu nahi hai wo tarana

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