O P Nayyar birthday special: The maverick composer who never compromised

Composers have always been silent contributors to the world of Hindi film music sans much fanfare and exuberance. But one composer always remained different (and also, indifferent) from his peers in terms of his persona and innate musical prowess. He was Omkar Prasad Nayyar, better known as O P Nayyar. One established composer rather sarcastically said about O P Nayyar in the early 50s: Idraak-e-mausiqi nahin, chale hain dhun banane (he doesn’t have the basics of music but he’s trying to compose tunes).

Yes, O P Nayyar wasn’t a trained composer. He was perhaps the only completely untrained composer who couldn’t even read the musical notes! That such a musically-impoverished composer created unforgettable music for so many films is something worth talking-about.

Manna De explained the genius of Nayyar in an interview to an English film magazine in 2010. He said, “Nayyar had a musically-inclined soul, and because of that he succeeded so greatly, and expiated his lack of training in any kind of music.”

Nayyar had an ear for music and rhythm. Born in Lahore in 1926 (he would have turned 94 today), right from his childhood days, Nayyar was enamoured of the rhythmic sounds of tongas and the HST (horse-shoe-tap). That seeped into his musical consciousness and he adroitly used HST in many of his creations. The songs of the film Naya Daur (1957) have a distinct stamp of Nayyar brand-music.

Just like the legendary Naushad Ali never used Kishore’s voice, Nayyar also never used one voice, that of Lata Mangeshkar. It’s really intriguing that how he reached the heights of success without using the finest female voice of that era. Many people called it an eccentric composer’s musical idiosyncrasy and a kind of an unexplained stubbornness not to employ Lata’s voice for a single composition.

But in retrospect, Nayyar was right in the sense that in all his creations, he required a kind of daanedar or kharaj ki aawaaz from his female protagonists. Lata had a magical voice, but he found it to be a bit thin and a tad too soft for his liking. Ergo, he opted for Shamsad Begum, and later Asha Bhonsle for their husky voices. There was no animosity or prejudice whatsoever. He had two trump cards instrumental in his meteoric rise: Rafi and Asha.

Ironically, his decline started when he fell out with both. First with Rafi in 1968 and then when he parted ways with his muse Asha in 1974, ironically after gifting the best ever song to her. The song Chain se humko kabhi aapne jeene na diya bespeaks and bemoans the tragedy of separation, couched in a language of lamentation.

The short-tempered Nayyar misbehaved with Rafi when he reached late for the recording of Dil ki aawaaz bhi sun mere fasane pe na jaa (Film: Humsaya, 1968/Lyricist: Shevan Rizvi). Yet, a thorough gentleman that he was, Rafi soulfully sang the song; immortalised it, but didn’t sing for Nayyar for four years. Nayyar admitted his mistake, and after Rafi’s demise in 1980, he said, Maine ek farishte ka dil dukhya tha (I hurt an angelic human).

Since he never had many friends in the industry, when he fell upon the thorns of life, not many came to extend their helping hand. He fell back on homeopathy and lived alone in a faraway suburb of Bombay. Yet, he never lost his sense of individuality and lived life on his own terms till he breathed his last on January 28, 2007.

(The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, cultures, religions and civilisations. He teaches linguistics, psycho-linguistics and philology at world’s premier varsities and contributes to world’s leading publications and portals in various languages.)

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