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28 January 2020

The Masters: OP Nayyar

16.01.1926 – 28.01.2007
OP Nayyar is the composer I turn to when I want happy songs. There's something about his compositions that makes me smile and sing along. It was when I was searching for songs for my long-in-the-writing Geeta Dutt-Mohammed Rafi duets that I realised just how many of those duets were composed by OP Nayyar. Since today is his 13th death anniversary, I decided to do a post on this maverick composer instead. 

Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born on 16 January 1928 in Lahore. A lad obsessed by music, he sang for All India Radio, Lahore and even did a bit role in a film. Strangely enough, there isn’t much information about OP on the web. What little there is – it seems to me – is largely contradicted by facts. For instance, he’s supposed to have composed Preetam aan milo under music director CH Atma’s tutelage at the age of 17. However, one also hears that the lyrics of the CH Atma song (recorded in 1943) were written by OP’s wife, Saroj Mohini.

However, it is true that OP’s tryst with cinema began with this song. Producer Dalsukh M Pancholi, who had heard Preetam aan milo, was impressed and offered him a chance to compose for Aasmaan (1952), a film he was producing. Again, there are contradictions in this information: OP is said to have received the telegram asking him to go to Bombay on the day of his marriage, but by then, he had already composed the background music for Kaneez (1949).

Be that as it may, Aasmaan saw the start of the friendship between Geeta Dutt and OP. Impressed by his compositions, Geeta introduced him to her then-boyfriend, Guru Dutt, and so, Baaz (1953) fell into OP’s lap. Both Baaz and Cham Chama Cham that released that year, flopped, and OP was back to square one.
Once again, it was Geeta Dutt’s intervention that persuaded Guru Dutt to sign OP Nayyar for Aar Paar (1954), the first film he was producing and directing under his own banner. But OP’s individualistic streak was on full display – when Guru Dutt made him run around for his fees, OP refused to sign Mr & Mrs 55. Distributor IC Kapoor had to soothe egos and ensure that OP Nayyar was paid double for the next film.

This stubborn streak was visible in his other professional relationships as well; he has famously never worked with Lata Mangeshkar. However, to hear OP say it, it was chance that was responsible for this. When OP was composing for Aasmaan, DM Pancholi asked him whom he wanted as the female vocalist, Geeta or Lata, and OP said he didn’t mind who Pancholi signed. The latter decided upon Geeta Dutt.
OP was now becoming a very popular composer. So much so, Madhubala, who was a close friend, was allegedly offering to cut her price if the producers signed OP as the composer. But despite their friendship, OP’s professional relationship with Geeta Dutt was ending. His romance with Asha Bhosle effectively sidelined both Geeta and Shamshad Begum, both of whom had been OP’s go-to female voices until then.
Credit: IndiaTVnews.com
The professional relationship with Asha lasted seventeen long years (1957-1974 – their personal relationship, according to OP himself began in 1959), and in the interim, the composer-singer duo gave us one lasting hit after another. In fact, in 1957-58, they had nearly nine films each year, though nothing would touch the dizzying heights of the Naya Daur album. The film would fetch OP’s only Filmfare Award for Best Music Director. Yet, he never worked with BR Chopra after that film – by now, OP, who had already been charging a lakh of rupees for a film, was getting to be too expensive for producers. Offers were beginning to dry up, and in 1961, OP did not have a single release.

It took Shashadhar Mukherjee and Filmalaya to rescue OP from the slump – Ek Musafir Ek Hasina would see OP rebound with a vim, though he very nearly walked out of the film; he had made it clear to S Mukherjee that he would be the only music director on the film because he had already had experience of Raj Khosla, ‘who fancied himself a composer’ (according to OP), foisting his tunes on him. This could not have endeared him to Raj Khosla. But OP was riding a wave of success again – Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon (1963), Kashmir ki Kali (1964), Mere Sanam (1965), Baharein Phir Bhi Aayegi (1966) were all testimony to his staying power. 
OP had however, already burnt his bridges with many of his colleagues – apart from the fallout with BR Chopra and Raj Khosla, he had already stopped working with Sahir Ludhianvi, because of the latter’s insistence that a lyricist was greater than a composer. After Humsaya (1968), he didn’t work with Mohammed Rafi for a long time, focusing on Mukesh and Mahendra Kapoor, only because Rafi was late for a recording. OP announced pack up as soon as Rafi entered the studio.
Credit: Indian Express
But the major blow to his professional and personal life was his split with Asha Bhosle in 1974. Ironically, their swansong Chain se 
humko kabhi from Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye (1974) would win Asha the Filmfare Award for Best Singer (Female). She didn’t go to collect the award, so OP collected it on her behalf. In an interview, he talks about the satisfaction of throwing the award out of his car window on the way home. The shattering of the black lady was the death knell of a romantic relationship that had estranged him from his family.

Musical trends were bypassing this composer now, though he did make a bid at a comeback in the 90s with some beautiful melodies for Zid and Nischaiy. That his time had come and gone was never more underlined than that Tushar Bhatia’s tip o’ the hat to OP – Ello ello in Andaz Apna Apna – proved to be more popular than the maestro’s own songs.

But OP continued to live as he always had – his head held up high, taking part in judging Sa Re Ga Ma on Zee TV and practising homeopathy in Thane, where he lived the last part of his life with an adopted family.  My last vision of him was that of the tall, spare man, dressed in white and doffing his hat chivalrously at us when we waited to greet the arrivals at the award show in the early 90s, hosted by the paper I was working for then. My colleague, Jay, had gone to invite him, and mentioned feeling rather shaky after the meeting – the composer’s acerbic tongue was still in use. OP may have been arrogant in his estimation of his own worth, but he was smiling, polite and gentlemanly to us minions.

Here's a selection of his songs that I really love.

Aasmaan (1952)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics Prem Dhawan
This was a young composer's first foray into being a full-fledged composer. With  a bouquet of eight melodies sung by Geeta Dutt, Rajkumari, CH Atma, et al, the composer impressed a young Geeta, even if the box-office ignored the film. Geeta does full justice to the song with a tinge of mischief underlying the sweetness of her voice. OP brings in the trademark verve into what's a quintessential romantic number. 

Ae watan ke naujawan
Baaz (1953)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Geeta Dutt's liking for OP Nayyar's music led to an introduction to her then-boyfriend, Guru Dutt. Produced by Geeta Bali (under her real name, Haridarshan Kaur) and directed by Guru Dutt, the film, based on a story written by Guru Dutt and LC Bismil, was set off the Malabar coast at a time when the Portuguese occupied the region. An action-adventure, the film was headlined by Geeta Bali and Guru Dutt in his first role as hero. 

Baaz was purely a Geeta Dutt show, with six solos (the two male solos were sung by Mohammed Rafi and Talat Mahmood), including the romantic Ae dil ae deewane, the playful Zara saamne aa, and the sensuous Taare chandni afsaane. OP showed he could traverse the gamut of emotions, with the music subtly changing the mood of the song.   

Zara pyar kar le iqraar kar le babu
Mangu (1954)
Singer: Shamshad Begum
Lyrics: SH Bihari
A Sheikh Mukhtar production, Mangu starred Mukhtar with Nigar Sultana and Sheila Ramani. OP stepped in to take the place of M Shafi as music director; the latter composed three songs before he was unceremoniously removed. (Shafi had also introduced Suman Kalyanpur in this movie.) As a film, Mangu had nothing to recommend it; Sheikh Mukhtar recycled his popular 'giant lovable tramp' image, and the songs, however nice, couldn't salvage its prospects at the box office. 

Zara pyar kar le iqraar kar le is Shamshad at the top of her game.    

Aar Paar (1954)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Aar Paar was the debut venture of the newly-formed Guru Dutt Movies Pvt. Ltd. A noir film, this was Guru Dutt's first success as a hero. OP Nayyar composed a bouquet of enduring melodies for this film, and Dutt used them effectively to take the narrative forward. Aar Paar was OP Nayyar's first box-office success as a film. It also established Geeta Dutt as a singer to reckon with. Hoon abhi main jawan is one of my favourite Geeta Dutt numbers. Unlike most 'cabaret' numbers in films those days, Majrooh's lyrics encapsulated the despair and the desperation of the 'moll', Shakila, while Guru Dutt skilfully evoked the smokey atmosphere of a bar.
Dekhi hai ye zindagi, 
Yun hi nahi bekhudi
Mujhko behak jaane de
Baatein na kar hosh ki... 
Incidentally, Shamshad Begum, in one of her rare interviews mentions Kabhi aar kabhi paar as her first recorded song for OP Nayyar.

Mr & Mrs 55 (1955)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Perhaps if Guru Dutt had restricted himself to making comedies or light entertainers, he might not have given in to the melancholy that was to become such a part of his personality. In this comedy of marriage, Dutt's character has just seen Anita (Madhubala) and been struck by Cupid. In this light-hearted ditty, he waxes eloquent about his feelings to a bewildered and exasperated Johnny (Johnny Walker). Once again, the film had a score that was enchantingly melodious, ranging from the sensuously romantic Udhar tum haseen ho to the joie de vivre of Thandi hawa kali ghata and even the pathos of Meri duniya lut rahi thi aur main khamosh raha. I love Ae jee dil par hua aisa jadoo because it is such a joyful song.

C.I.D (1956)
Singer: Shamshad Begum
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
For all his 'western' rhythms, OP Nayyar could compose 'rustic' songs with equal ease. In C.I.D, he showed his versatility by composing the very urban paean to Bombay alongside the sensuous Jaata kahan hai deewane (that was deleted at the censors' behest), and the romantic Aankhon hi aankhon mein. In Boojh mera kya naav re, he falls back upon his favourite Shamshad Begum's vocals for a song that's picturised on a village belle (Meenu Mumtaz). 

Raat rangeeli gaaye re
Naya Andaz (1956)
Singer: Shamshad Begum
Lyrics: Jan Nisar Akhtar
Naya Andaz was not a box-office success. The Meena Kumari-Kishore Kumar starrer was an average film, and for this reason, its songs are not as well-known as some of the others on this list. I dearly love Mere neendon mein tum, mere khwabon mein tum (a Shamshad Begum-Kishore Kumar duet), but Raat rangeeli gaaye re is another effervescent melody that gives me reason to smile.  

Jahan jahan khayaal jaata hai
Bade Sarkar (1957)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi – Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
As I said before, many of the Rafi-Geeta duets I love were composed by OP. I stumbled across Jahan jaha khayaal jaata hai by accident, and the sheer peppiness of the tune, and the way that Geeta and Rafi have sung it quickly made it a new favourite. This is one of OP's patent westernised 'dance' tunes, and Agha does a credible job (I don't know who the actress lip-syncing to Geeta is). I particularly love the way Geeta modulates her voice, being flirtatious and sweetly romantic by turns. 

Main Bambai ka babu
Naya Daur (1957)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Naya Daur, like many of the films OP composed for, had a great score. It would win for OP the only Filmfare award of his career; the film was also a resounding box-office success. To the composer, allegedly, goes the credit of giving whole songs to comedians. Many of Johnny Walker's hit songs, for instance, have been composed by OP Nayyar. Here, too, he gets a turn as a reporter who's come from the city to report on the villagers' efforts to build a road. And just like Sahir's lyrics: English dhun mein gaaoon main hindustani gaana, Johnny Walker's character too was a hybrid.  My initial choice from Naya Daur was  Ude jab jab zulfein teri, full of the Punjabiyat of OP Nayyar. 

Chhupne waale saamne aa
Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Tumsa Nahin Dekha was an important film for many people: it was Nasir Hussain's debut as an independent director; it was launching Ameeta as the heroine, and it was make or break for Shammi Kapoor, who had endured a long losing streak at the box-office. But a tousled mouche-less Shammi, and OP's rollicking score created box-office magic, and a star was truly born. I love Dekho kasam se, haan kasam se but this one is a quieter yet still effervescent melody and I love how Rafi has sung it. 

Aaiye meherbaan
Howrah Bridge (1958)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Unlike quite a few other films, this is one score in which there are really great songs, and some average ones. OP invoked his famous tanga beats in Ye kya kar dala tune, but this is the song that beats them all hollow. If there's one song I have to pick to exemplify OP Nayyar, it is this one. Asha Bhosle's vocals are sweetly sensuous, and Madhubala's glorious screen presence brought the song to life. Her dazzling smile and the smoky adas make every person in the audience (on screen and off) believe she's singing for them alone. It was an uninhibited performance.

Ragini (1958)
Singer: Kishore Kumar – Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
This song always makes me chortle. Simply because the actors fit their on-screen personas to a T. Kishore Kumar is a Bengali and Padmini, though Malayali, having lived for most of her life in Madras, wouldn't have minded being called a 'Madrasi'. What amazes me is that the song, sung in Bengali and Hindi with very South Indian instrumentation, was composed by OP (and written by Jalalabadi), neither of whom have any connection to Bengal or Madras. The costumes are sterotypical, the actions exaggerated, but it looks like the composer, the lyricst, the singers and  the actors were having fun.

Sone ki Chidiya (1958)
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
This is one of my favourite Talat Mahmood numbers. Aided by Sahir's romantic poetry, OP Nayyar composes a quiet ode to love. The hesitancy is mirrored in Talat's silken voice as he wonders whether she loves him; his need for her, and his fear that she might not love him is evident in Sahir's sensitive lines: 
 Ki aisa na ho pao mere tharra na jaaye
Aur teri marmari baahon ka sahaara na mile
Ashq behte rahe khamosh siyaah raaton mein
Aur tere reshmi aanchal ka kinara na mile 

OP's collaboration with Sahir was magical; and it's unfortunate that the two had a falling out.

Kalpana (1960)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi – Manna Dey
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Composed in a semi-classical mould, OP proved that his lack of musical training was no hindrance at all. With Mohammed Rafi and Manna Dey lending their vocals, while Padmini and Ragini duel it out on stage in a dance face-off, this song sequence was the highlight of an average film.  

Bahut shukriya badi meherbani
Ek Musafir Ek Haseena (1962)
Singers: Asha Bhosle – Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: SH Bihari
This is one of the finest Mohammed Rafi-Asha Bhosle duets there is, and again, in an album comprising many great songs (including my favourite non-romantic romantic number 'Aap yunhi agar humse milte rahe), the conflict his gratitude engenders in her is encapsulated in her fervent plea to him to stop: Kahin dil yeh mera yeh taareef sunkar tumhara bane aur mujhe bhool jaaye? (What if my heart, listening to your praise of me should become yours, forgetting me? This quiet thank you for an attraction-that-might-yet-turn-to-love stands testimony to OP's great talent to evoke a mood.

Mitti Mein Sona (1960)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
Another little known movie (other than that it starred Pradeep Kumar and Mala Sinha), Mitti Mein Sona has this absolutely fabulous Asha solo. lt truly is one of her finest, and it seems to me that the OP-Asha combination was even better than her collaboration with SD Burman, though he did give her some fantastic compositions to sing. 

It's such a, well, 'happy' song, until you listen carefully to the undertones of pathos in Asha's voice. All the videos available on YouTube only have the first antara of the song, so I'm linking to a version sung by my friend,  Sudha Rao.

Ye Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi – Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: SH Bihari
Another film in which OP Nayyar's stellar score was wasted on a film which didn't deserve it. My favourite song from this film is the Asha solo, Yahi woh jagah hai, yahi woh fiza hai, but it has appeared on my lists earlier. So here is this Rafi-Asha romantic duet which talks of promises asked for, promises made. Having run into a strange woman who accosts him with talk about having known him for (literally) centuries, Suraj (Biswajeet) has finally fallen for Kiran (Sharmila Tagore). Phir miloge kabhi is his loving plea to her; please tell me when you will meet me again. I love the way Rafi almost skims over the words; it's hard not to want to fall in love. 

My husband's pick from this film is the Asha-solo Main shaayad tumhaare liye ajnabi hoon. He loves the way Asha has sung this song. 

Aap ke haseen rukh
Bahaarein Phir Bhi Aayegi (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Anjaan
OP Nayyar had fallen out with Guru Dutt, and this time, it was Asha Bhosle who helped repair the rift. So when Dutt came to him for Baharein Phir Bhi Aayegi, OP stepped up. And this romantic ballad hands down the best song in the film is quintessential OP. Mohammed Rafi sang it as only he could, his warm, mellow voice caressing the notes in a manner that evokes goosebumps. Picturised on Dharmendra (who stepped in to complete the film after Dutt's untimely death), Mala Sinha and Tanuja, this was a song where melody, lyrics and picturisation all melded to give us perfection. 

Dil ki awaaz bhi sun
Humsaya (1968)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shewan Rizvi
Another 'quiet' Rafi song, OP infused the music with a pathos that is mirrored in its lyrics.  Produced and directed by Joy Mukherjee in a bid to salvage his sinking career, Humsaya collapsed at the box-office. The convoluted (and frankly, silly) plot perhaps had something to do with it, but for once, OP's score was also lacklustre – apart from Dil ki awaaz bhi sun, the Asha-solo Woh haseen dard de do (picturised on Mala Sinha) was the only other song that has endured. This film would see the end of the OP-Rafi collaboration for a while.

Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye (1974)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: SH Bihari
Many of OP Nayyar's compositions were fated to be dropped from the movies they were composed for; unfortunately, this Asha classic suffered the same fate. Asha's voice held the pain of separation, and OP sensibly kept his instrumentation to the minimum, allowing his singer's voice to shine. So perhaps, it was the unkindest cut of all to see the song deleted from the film.

Which songs of OP Nayyar do you like?

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