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December 2008 - January 2009


The Rhythm king

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

O P Nayyar was a music director with unique style. His nature, apart from his musical qualities, also helped in creating a persona that was unmatched. His second death anniversary falls on 28th January and his birth  anniversary is on 16th January. A look at the career of a man; who has left a treasure of memorable songs for us.

You can not typecast him. It is very difficult to classify him, because he defied all conventions and logic generally associated with Hindi film’s music directors. He was a rebel who transformed Hindi film music with his tunes and moreover, his rhythm.

His story is not less than that of any film. Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born on 16th January 1926 in Lahore, then  a part of undivided India. He was attracted to music at an early age. He even left college to pursue a career in music. Of course he was not sure what it entailed. His association with All India Radio started when he was just eleven years old.  He sang for a film though as a member of a chorus at the age of twelve. The film was ‘Dulha Bhatti’  It was a Punjabi film, the music was composed by Pt. Govindram. He also played a small role in it, and that was his first and last screen appearance.

 O P Nayyar started composing when he was fifteen. He composed for All India Radio, using poems of many stalwarts of the time. Talent of this young boy caught attention of ‘H M V’ the largest and foremost recording company of the time. Still in his teens, he set tunes to  few compositions of Sant Kabeer. He also sang for the HMV. Punjabi songs were composed by Master Inayat Hussain and Master Dhaniram. Where are these songs now? Perhaps in the archives of the company or AIR, it is  only a distant hope. Because in the past half century hardly anyone has claimed to have  listened to them.”Preetam aan milo” , the song made C.H. Atma famous but composer OP remained jobless.(the song,  was written by Saroj Mohini Nayyar, his wife)

  It is interesting-and unbelievable also to note that the man who achieved fame as an unparalleled  music director, did  not study music in a formal way. OP was a self made man .But  he never let his lack of formal  training of music come in his way. He had an uncanny knack of composing befitting tune  to the song. Light, fast paced songs were his specialty. Nobody  used ‘Bhangara  ‘ like OP did. Listen to “Reshami salawar kurta jaali ka”(Naya Daur) ,”Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka” from the same film. “Haye re haye  yehi jajbaat”from  ‘Kashmir ki Kali’,  every song has a different colour and flavour of Bhangara.

  Uniqueness of OP’s music lies in his use of rhythm. He used percussion instruments like Dholak, Tabala and western percussion instruments with accuracy to create foot-tapping rhythm. ‘Kabhi Aar kabhi Paar’ ( Aar Paar),’Kajara mohobbat wala’(Kismat) are just two to mention. But he did not stop at these instruments to create his typical rhythm. Listen to a romantic number like ‘Jaaiye aap kahan jayenge’ and a soulful song ‘Poocho na hame hum un ke liye ’; in both instances O P uses Spanish Guitar in the same meter for rhythm. There are many such songs and the rhythm ‘fits’ every time. He was not called the “Rhythm King’ for nothing. Even his hard critics will also agree that his songs made compulsive listening.

  It was during the recording of “Cham Chama Cham” that OP first met Asha Bhonsale.   She was also a newcomer then. Slowly their friendship bloomed. Their relationship being strictly personal matter, nobody has any right to discuss it. But this duo gave some immortal songs, no one can deny that. From “Aayeeye Meherban”(Howrah Bridge) to “Chain se hum ko kabhi”(Pran Jaye par Wachan na Jaye), there are  hundreds of songs, how many can one list?

   Time and again the ‘so called’ controversy of Lata Mangeshkar not singing for  O P has been raised.  O P himself had clarified the reason on innumerable occasions . I also asked him about it. When he entered the Hindi film world, he could have approached Lata, but he found her voice  too highpitched for his kind of music. O P  maintained this stand through out his life. There was no fight or ill will among them, O P    used to say this emphatically. In his very first film he opted for another singer and he never  thought of Lata again, as simple as that. It is a well accepted truth that  O P groomed Asha. It was OP  who brought out real potential in her. He had very high regard and respect for Lata. ‘She is the only complete singer, with the range of three octaves and impeccable “sur”, no doubt she is great.” But,”Asha is Asha and no one is like her” he used to add, quite freely. His tunes ooze with sensuality. He needed voice with ‘sensous’ quality and he found it in Asha’s voice. Who, but Asha, could have rendered ,“Yeh hai reshami zulfon ka andhera ”

    Another important singer in  his music was, Mohammad Rafi, the  complete singer according to O P. Rafi had the ability to bring to life any emotion. Listen to duets composed by O P. “Aap yun hi agar hum se milte rahe” ,”Ude jab jab zulfe teri” ,and who can ever forget, “Isharon isharon main dil...”. With these voices at OP’s disposal , he could play with any emotion,  could manipulate any situation ;  was able to use any kind of rhythm, and he just did that. He enjoyed composing to the tilt with them. The romantic song ,”Main pyaar  ka raahi hoon” and the contrasting ,”Hai dunia usiki zamana usika”; both are great and have distinct stamp of O P’S style. This man won ‘Film Fare’ award only once ,for “Naya Daur”. Other awards bypassed him, but he never bothered.

     O P  used Sitar, Violins in a different ‘tone’ and even Clarionate and Sarangi to create  romantic effect. Spanish Guitar  was used for rhythm, than just as an accompanying   instrument .His style ,termed as “Unique”,turned out to be his limitation. In the late 60’sHindi films started changing. Music also changed. Once, a line, ‘Music by O.P.Nayyar’ was enough to sell a film. But in late 60’s he had fewer films. Then Asha stopped singing for him .That was the last nail. He did try with new voices, but he was repeating his tunes. His fans rejected these songs.

 O P remained a recluse there after. His family life was not peaceful, to say the least, but he was too proud to utter a word about it. He composed what he liked. He lived on his own terms . A homeopath and an Astrologer in the later life, O P had no regrets. He was matchless, we know it, he knew it too. His songs are popular even today. He was happy with that fact. He must have left the world with this feeling of contentment.He was undoubtedly  one of the  pioneers of ‘the golden period of Hindi Film Music’. O. P. Nayyar is a name, which will remain with music lovers for a long time,through his music.

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