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O.P. Nayyar, the untrained musical genius who was more than just a hit machine

O.P. Nayyar was considered the biggest threat to Shankar-Jaikishan by the late 1950s. And though he and Lata Mangeshkar admired each other, they never collaborated.

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He was decidedly the biggest in commercial clout among the musically untrained composers of his times. But Omkar Prasad Nayyar, or O.P. Nayyar as he is known to the world, was much more than just a “hit” machine. His compositions had wide variety and amazing depth.

Young Omkar was born in Lahore (in undivided India) on 16 January 1926. He mastered the harmonium and joined All India Radio (AIR) as a singer. Most of the songs he sang there were his own compositions, and in 1943, he composed “Preetam aan milo” with idol Kundan Lal Saigal in mind. His family of professionals did not appreciate his love for music, though Nayyar was paid Rs 40 for recording the song in Saigal clone C.H. Atma’s voice.

Nayyar also had some other trysts with music at AIR but later lived and worked for a while in Patiala and Delhi. And as he himself put it to me, he would teach poor children music on a harmonium while struggling to meet ends in Mumbai.

There was an interesting story when he had finally left for Mumbai by train in a ‘Third Class’ compartment and was offered food by a family. After he gratefully ate, he asked his benefactor for a piece of paper. He wrote “Omkar Prasad Nayyar” on it and told him, “Uncle, I am going to Bombay and will become very famous soon. If you ever need any help, I will be there!”


Also read: Salil Chowdhury — so much more than a Hindi-Bengali film music composer


An untrained musical genius

The composer, incredibly for someone who had never learnt classical music formally, made his debut with the film Kaneez (1949) as background music director. Producer Dalsukh Pancholi introduced him as composer in Aasmaan (1952). “Though named Aasmaan or sky, it crashed and I was brought down to earth!” Nayyar had quipped.

It took Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar (1954) to not only show Nayyar’s prowess as composer but begin his innings as a name to reckon with. Mr & Mrs 55 (1955), also from Dutt, was his next hit-fest. And then, more often than not, Nayyar was about hit scores rather than songs.

In the ’50s, his famous chartbusters included Asha Bhosle-Kishore Kumar’s “Piya piya piya” (Baap Re Baap), Asha’s “Aaiye meherbaan” and Geeta Dutt’s “Mera naam Chin Chin Chu” (Howrah Bridge), Mohammed Rafi’s “Raat bhar ka hai mehmaan andhera” (Sone Ki Chidiya), Kishore-Shamshad Begum’s “Meri neendon mein tum” and Asha-Rafi’s “Ek pardesi mera dil le gaya” (Phagun).

Not for nothing was Nayyar considered the biggest threat to Shankar-Jaikishan’s supremacy by the late 1950s, and C.I.D. (1956) became the first Hindi film to gross a lakh rupees. In 1957, a Times of India headline termed him the main reason for the blockbuster success of Naya Daur and legend has it that B.R. Chopra never worked with Nayyar again for this “egoistic” reason, though each song of the film was a hit.

Naya Daur also marked the big break for Asha Bhosle, who sang all of  Vyjayanthimala songs. Till then, she was considered the voice of supporting artistes or small-time actresses. Nayyar, that same year, became the composer of Shammi Kapoor’s breakthrough Tumsa Nahin Dekha. Kapoor told me that he had excitedly danced to Nayyar’s songs on his terrace!


Also read: Shamshad Begum — one of Hindi cinema’s first female playback singers & voice of many hits


A long-running hit streak

The 1960s continued to be golden for Nayyar with a relentless conveyor-belt of hit scores like Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962), Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963), Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), Mere Sanam (1965), Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966), Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966), Kismat (1968), Humsaya (1968), and Sambandh (1969) leading the list.

Asha’s “Yaar badshah” (C.I.D. 909), Mahendra Kapoor’s “Kamar patli nazar bijli” (Kahin Din Kahin Raat), Asha-Mahendra’s “Haath aaya hai jabse” (Dil Aur Mohabbat), Asha’s “Haule haule chalo” (Sawan Ki Ghata) and many more hits also adorned that phase.

Nayyar’s hit streak continued until 1974 when he gave his muse Asha their last song, “Chain se humko kabhi” from Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye. Just before that, Nayyar delivered his true-blue swan ‘score’, Ek Bar Mooskura Do (1972) – a very atypical dazzler of a score comprising classics like Kishore Kumar’s “Savere ka suraj”, Mukesh-Asha’s “Chehre se zara aanchal”, Mohammed Rafi’s “Zamane ki ankhon ne” and Kishore-Asha’s “Kitne atal the tere iraade.”

Sadly, Nayyar could not be his old self when he attempted several comebacks – Khoon Ka Badla Khoon and Heera Moti in the late ’70s and Nischaiy and Zid in the early 1990s.

Never worked with Lata, missed Rafi

Through the ’50s and ’60s, Nayyar extracted the best from singers as varied as Asha, Rafi, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad, Kishore Kumar (he was among the earliest to recognize Kishore’s genius after S.D. Burman) and rarer singers like Mukesh and Manna Dey. And his ghoda-gadi beats (best exemplified perhaps by “Maang ke saath tumhara” in Naya Daur) and rhythm ruled alongside the tangy melodies.

Removing Rafi from his recording rooms because he reported late for a song, Nayyar went with Mahendra Kapoor for almost three years before calling it a truce with Rafi, whom he confessed he missed terribly. But during that time,  Kapoor got a hit spree of songs as superlative as “Lakhon hain yahan dilwale” (Kismat) and “Mera pyar woh hai” (Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi).

Apart from his self-confidence (Nayyar was the first to have his picture on record covers and film posters!) and brutal frankness about everything under the sun, O.P. Nayyar, an imposing personality who later insisted on wearing a hat, was prone to (self-confessedly) have flings with women. He told me that his family had “thrown me out” for this, and he then lived in a Maharashtrian fan’s home. He had begun to study and practice Homoeopathy, which he said had cured him of a “terrible problem” and had instructed them that they should close his room door should his song be played in their home, including on radio or TV.

Nayyar is best known for never recording with Lata Mangeshkar and for his personal relationship with Asha. This inspired the 1996 film Saaz, which, as per Asha, was a complete travesty of their relationship as well as that between Asha and her elder sister. As for Lata’s absence from his music, perhaps the best fitting reason was his designing a song for her in Aasmaan and his anger when she could not reach in time. As per their respective biographies, many other incidents kept adding to the reason why they remained each other’s admirers but never collaborated.


Also read: How did Laxmikant-Pyarelal end Shankar-Jaikishan era in Bollywood? Happier, cheaper music


My Top 10 O.P. Nayyar songs

Here are my top-of-the-mind 10 tips of this iceberg of monumental talent.

“Aana hai to aa” / Mohammed Rafi in Naya Daur

“Tu hai mera prem devta” / Rafi and Manna Dey in Kalpana

“Chal akela” / Mukesh in Sambandh 

“Yahin woh jagah hai” / Asha Bhosle in Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi

“Savere ka suraj” / Kishore Kumar in Ek Baar Mooskura Do

“Pukarta chala hoon main” / Rafi in Mere Sanam 

 

“Dil ki awaz bhi sun” / Rafi in Humsaya

“Ishaaron ishaaron mein” / Asha-Rafi in Kashmir Ki Kali

“Ja ja ja ja bewafa” / Geeta Dutt in Aar Paar

https://youtu.be/HZ0-S5xrP9I

“Badal jaaye agar maali” / Mahendra Kapoor in Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwpaXBguDlw

Rajiv Vijayakar is a film and music journalist, critic and author. He tweets @rajivvijayakar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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