It is an irony that one of the finest music composers in Hindi cinema is known today more for the one thing he did not do, rather than what he did! Omkar Prasad Nayyar is the only composer from the golden age of Hindi film music who did not record a song with Lata Mangeshkar. That it did not stop him from becoming an extremely popular composer of some lovely songs in the fifties and sixties is a proof of what a talent he was. He faded out of the music scene in the seventies but did make a comeback in the nineties for a couple of Hindi and Telugu movies.
O.P. Nayyar was born on 16th January, 1926 in Lahore and by the time he was fifteen he was composing for All India Radio. Interestingly, AIR banned the broadcast of his songs sometime in the 1950s for being too ‘modern’. After the partition, he moved over to this side of the border and thus began his tryst in Hindi cinema. Known as the ‘Rhythm King’, Nayyar is known for his Punjabi tunes, horse-beats, and claps in his songs. While such beats are a hallmark of most of his songs, he did compose several lovely, melodious songs that did not subscribe to this.
As one reads up on OPN in newspapers and electronic media, the picture that is formed is that of a highly individualistic, stubborn, egoistic, emotional, temperamental and a principled person. A stickler for punctuality, he did not think twice when dismissing some musicians who turned up late for the recording of ‘Aapke Haseen Rukh Pe‘, or stop recording with close friend Rafi when he turned up late for a recording. He admitted that he was wrong to have fought with Rafi and termed him (Rafi) the better person for patching up.
OPN was responsible (to a large extent) besides S.D.Burman and B.R. Chopra for giving the required push to Asha Bhosle’s career (it is another thing that she does not admit this after their acrimonious fall-out in 1974). In the fifties, OPN used Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum also frequently, though he did sideline both these singers, as his association with Asha Bhosle progressed. What struck me in one of the interviews I read was his bluntness and honesty: he spoke about Asha Bhosle, his rift with Rafi, and he acknowledged his folly in sidelining Geeta Dutt in the latter years (whom he called his biggest supporter: the Guru Dutt movies he got to compose in was thanks to her!) Once he got close to Asha Bhosle, he sidelined Geeta Dutt and that was reportedly when she made a phone call to ask why is it that he had forgotten her? At that time he walked away but regretted it later. He sounds like an interesting person.
Along with SDB and Salil Choudhary, OPN ranks as one of my favourite music directors and many of his songs have featured on this blog. Today on his birth anniversary, here is a list of my favourite 15 songs:
1) Deewana Hua Badal (Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964, Rafi and Asha Bhosle): In a film score in which all the songs were delightful, this was a tough one to pick. There is the fun ‘Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra‘, the lively Bhangra, Meri Jaan Balle Balle, the boisterous Subhanallah haseen chehra, the lovely but deleted Balma khuli hawa mein to name but a few. The song of the movie for me is this gentle and oh-so-romantic number. Picturised on the Dal Lake, this showcases the beautiful Kashmir of the sixties – a setting for many a movie. Shammi Kapoor and a gorgeous Sharmila Tagore sing this song on screen. Dreamy, romantic and very melodious, this is one of Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhosle’s best duets. One characteristic of OPN’s music is the extensive use of sarangi, sitar, the guitar, the dholak and ghungroo in his songs. Here you get to hear the sitar and the violin.
2) Pukarta Chala Hoon Main (Mere Sanam, 1965, Mohd Rafi): Aah what can I say about this number? It is simply divine. OPN’s amazing music, Rafi’s velvet voice and the beautiful picturisation… Mere Sanam is one of those films with divine songs – each one is a delight – be it the emotional Rafi solo, Tukde hain mere dil ke or the lovely Asha solo, Jaiye aap kahan jaayenge or the seductive Yeh hai reshmi zulfon ka andhera (oh Mumtaz!) to name just a few. The rest of the songs are very good.
My only grouse is that why was this sublime music wasted on a hero like Biswajeet? This was one of the movies that should have had Shammi Kapoor as the hero. (yes, yes I am biased and I know it.)
So here are two of my favourite songs from this movie – this and the lovely lovely Rafi-Asha duet which was deleted from the movie during its editing – ‘Yeh ab aap sochiye.‘
3) Hoon Abhi Main Jawan (Aar Paar, 1954, Geeta Dutt): Aar Paar is probably more well known today, in the age of remixes, for its club classic – ‘Babuji dheere chalna‘. Even though, like Mere Sanam and Kashmir ki Kali, the entire score is fantastic and each song memorable. My favourite song is the other club song – a drunk Shakila singing Hoon abhi main jawan. The lyrics conveying the pathos and futility while holding on to and looking for the last vestiges, the subdued music, Geeta Dutt’s voice, sultry and slightly drunk, and a gorgeous Shakila make this a classic for all times.
4) Yeh Kya Kar Dala Tune Dil tera ho gaya (Howrah Bridge, 1958, Asha Bhosle): From a sombre club number to a peppy, romantic song with typical OPN tonga beats. Howrah Bridge, a movie set in Calcutta of the fifties, had a chartbuster score. Starring Ashok Kumar, Madhubala and K.N. Singh, the film had the finest numbers picturised on a so-very-beautiful Madhubala (in my opinion, she looks better in this film than Mughal-e-Azam). OPN was supposed to be Madhubala’s favourite composer and it is rumoured that she would reduce her fee in case he was signed on as the music director of a film!
If Aaiye Meherbaan is Madhubala’s song (gorgeous, seductive and impish) ; then Mera naam chin chin choo (incidentally Geeta Dutt’s last song for OPN) catapulted a nineteen year old Helen to stardom. And then there is the nice Rafi-Asha duet, Dekhke teri nazar.
Do listen to this romantic song – the play of light on Madhubala’s face just makes her look more beautiful (but then, when did she not look gorgeous?) Picturised on a tonga, as Ashok Kumar and Madhubala go through the streets of Calcutta, it is a wonderful OPN song. The whistling, the clip-clop and Asha’s sweet voice – simply lovely.
5) Banda parwar Tham lo jigar (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963, Mohd Rafi): Now this is the quintessential OPN song – another tonga number, sung by Mohd Rafi and picturised on a beautiful Asha Parekh and a handsome Joy Mukherjee. Incidentally, the composer Tushar Bhatia paid a tribute to OPN with a song (Elo ji Sanam from Andaz Apna Apna) very similar to this one – be it the lyrics, the picturisation and a singer who sounded like Rafi.
All the songs of the Nasir Hussain film were so very good, making Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon one of OPN’s best scores.
6) Yehi Woh Jagah Hai (Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, 1966, Asha Bhosle): From two very typical OPN songs to a song that not many people would associate with him. This haunting, melodious song is subdued when it comes to the use of musical instruments – Asha’s voice, sweet as it is, is allowed to come into it’s own. The echo effect has been used masterfully, enhancing the song’s pathos. I love this song.
7) Jawaniyan Yeh Mast Mast Bin Piye (Tumsa nahin dekha, 1957, Mohd Rafi): 1957 was a good year for OPN as he scored music for two big blockbusters – Tumsa Nahin Dekha and the B.R.Chopra man vs machine movie, Naya Daur. Naya Daur incidentally won OPN his only Filmfare award. Yes that score was memorable too, but I shall go with this romantic number from this super hit Nasir Hussain movie that made Shammi Kapoor a star. Though the other songs are equally lovely – the tonga beats filled, flirtatious title song or the slightly teasing and romantic Dekho dekho kasam se, or Chhupnewale saamne aa.
But listen and watch this heady romantic Rafi solo with good music and Shammi Kapoor looks so good!
8) Poocho Na Hamein (Mitti Mein Sona, 1960, Asha Bhosle): Considered one of OPN’s finest compositions, this little known Asha beauty is from a rare movie starring Pradeep Kumar and Mala Sinha. OPN is said to have played the piano in this song. There is no video available and the longer version of the song is also not easily traceable. There is another beautiful song in the same film sung by Asha B, Yeh duniya rahe na rahe kya pata, mera pyar tujhse rahega sada.
9) Honton Pe Hansi (Saawan ki Ghata, 1968, Asha Bhosle & Mohd Rafi): Another lovely number that should have been picturised but was not. It is unfortunate but some of OPN’s finest songs never made it to screen. Take for example, Main pyar ka rahi hoon (Ek Musafir Ek Haseena) or Balma khuli hawa mein (Kashmir ki kali) or Yeh ab aap sochiye (Mere Sanam) or Jaata kahan hai deewane (CID).
This is one such rare song from a movie that starred two actresses I like very much (Sharmila and Mumtaz) and had some lovely songs (Haule haule sajana, Aaj koi pyar se). Lovely music and the dulcet voices of Rafi and Asha make this a memorable romantic number.
10) Preetam Aan Milo (Mr and Mrs 55, 1955, Geeta Dutt): This song was OPN’s first recorded number. He was 18 when he composed this non-film song for which HMV reportedly paid him Rs 40. The lyrics was by his wife Saroj Mohini Nayyar and was sung by the legendary singer C.H. Atma. You can listen to this song here:
OPN used it again for the 1955 Guru Dutt film, Mr and Mrs 55, where interestingly Guru Dutt’s character is called Preetam. It appears towards the end of the movie. Sung by Geeta Dutt, it is picturised on a gorgeous Madhubala.
11) Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein Ishaara Ho Gaya (CID, 1956, Geeta Dutt & Mohd Rafi): A lovely duet from a wonderful film. Directed by Raj Khosla, this Dev Anand-Shakila movie saw the debut of Waheeda Rehman. The score, dominated by Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum, had lovely ditties – Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana, Jaata kahan hai deewane and Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan.
This one written by Jan Nisar Akhtar is romantic and very melodious.
12) Piya Piya Piya Jiya Pukare (Baap re Baap, Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar) : Early in his career, during the days when he was more an actor than a singer, Kishore Kumar worked in a series of movies which had composed by OPN. It is said that OPN did rate Kishore Kumar highly as a singer and was fond of him, but did not use him that much, as he felt Kishore Kumar would not do justice to his Punjabi tunes and also because Kishore was erratic and OPN was very strict when it came to punctuality. But Kishore did sing some wonderful songs for OPN in this phase and some in the seventies – (Surma mera nirala (Kabhi Andhera Kabhi Ujala), Main bangali chhokra (with Asha Bhosle in Ragini), Hey babu yeh hai zamana tera (with Rafi in Bhagam Bhag – a number inspired by a Dean Martin song but lovely.))
Piya Piya Piya Jiya pukare is one of those early Kishore numbers where he yodels. There is a funny anecdote associated with this song. Apparently, during the recording, Asha Bhosle made a mistake at one place and started earlier than she was supposed to. Kishore, who acted this on screen, suggested that instead of re-recording the song, he would improvise while shooting the song. He does improvise, by putting a hand over his co-actor Chand Usmani’s mouth, at that point. It is done so naturally that you wouldn’t notice it if you did not know about this.
13) Aap yunhi agar humse milte rahein (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, 1962, Asha-Rafi): What a lovely number this is, and that too in a film which had other equally amazing songs. A couple of flops in the early sixties, and the fact that OPN charged the highest amount among composers meant that by 1962, he had no films in hand. This was to be a sort of a comeback movie. S. Mukherji signed him for his son Joy’s debut and OPN was back and how!
This has to be one of the few romantic duets in Hindi cinema whose lyrics are decidedly non-romantic. In the context of the movie, they are not in love. Joy Mukherjee has lost his memory while Sadhana has been separated from her newly-wed husband and is trying to locate her family. They are just putting up with each other… but if they are not careful, they may fall in love. Beautiful song, listen to Rafi-Asha sing it brilliantly, as always.
14) Chal Akela Chal Akela (Sambandh, 1969, Mukesh): I am not a big fan of Mukesh as such, but there are so many of his songs I do like. This is one of them. OPN used Rafi extensively and it was only after their fallout between 1966 and 1969 that he used other singers such as Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor, and Hemant Kumar. This song from the S. Mukherji film was written by the great Hindi poet, Pradeep. It is played during the opening credits of this movie that starred Deb Mukherji, Pradeep Kumar and Anjana Mumtaz.
15) Chain Se humko Kabhi (Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye, 1974, Asha Bhosle): This song (again not filmed) for which Asha Bhosle won a Filmfare award was her last song for OPN. There is an interesting anecdote as to why it was not filmed. Apparently, OPN refused to let the producers film this song saying that their movie was not good enough for his masterpiece of a song. He was right – this classic lament was too good for the Sunil Dutt- Rekha dacoit drama.
OPN faded from Hindi cinema in the early seventies; he did do some movies in the late seventies and used singers like Dilraj Kaur, Vani Jairam and Kavita Krishnamurthy but the rift with Asha Bhosle proved to be disastrous. In the nineties, he composed music for some movies, Nischay and Zid, but those were not a patch on his earlier scores. He was also seen on TV as a judge in the Zee program Sa re ga ma.
OPN died a reclusive man, in touch with only a few friends on 28th January, 2007.