OP Nayyar—Music Alchemist

If you are from Mumbai, surely you have seen the Queen’s Necklace, a five-kilometer curve along the waters of the Arabian Sea. It is probably the only part of the fascinating city that has remained safe from vandalism and urban monstrosities of cement concrete and glass. Those of us who grew up in the ‘40s,‘50s and ‘60s recall how this area also became famous for two stylishly long American cars parked along here, with their owners living nearby: those of singing-actress Suraiya and of music maestro OP Nayyar.

Besides their music, they also shared one other thing: the appreciation of the good things that money could buy. He with his Oxford shoes, Fedora hats, YSL cigarettes, Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch, and she with exquisite jewelry and clothes, etc. Destiny did bring them together once in Mr. Lambu (1956), just as she was going down the staircase and he was running on his way up.

But what running up? Around this time, he was quickly rushing to the top. Do recall CID (1956) with its Kaheen pe nigaahen kaheen pe nishaana, and Leke pehla pehla pyaar. Do pause to consider Jawaaniyaan ye mast-mast bin piye and Yoon to humne laakh haseen dekhen hain (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957), Maang ke saath tumhaara and Saathi haath badhaana (Naya Daur, 1957). This is of course not to overlook Nayyar’s work before these years, in films such as Aar Paar (1954), and Mr. and Mrs. 55, and later in Phagun (1958), Howrah Bridge (1958), and innumerable films with dozens of wonderful tunes. Clearly the young man was creating havoc very fast, until he relentlessly hit the top of the charts, going up up and away until there was just about nowhere higher to go.

What a man! Here was a composer who till his last years claimed he had no idea of raags and raaginis. But see what a cornucopia of classically enjoyable songs he left us! Here are just a few: Mujhe dekho hasrat ki tasweer hoon main (Baaz, 1953), and Aap yoon hi agar (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, 1962), in Kedar; Pukarta chala hoon main (Mere Sanam, 1965), and Aankhon se jo utri hai dil mein (Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon, 1963), in Kirwani; Tum jo hue mere humsafar (12 O’Clock, 1958), and Ishaaron ishaaron mein dil dene waale (Kashmir KI Kali, 1964), both in Pahadi. These are just a microcosm of his songs based on Hindustani classical raags. Can you imagine what he would have done if he had had classical training?

Not just that, he had many other tricks to elevate a developing melody into a perfect song. One strategy was to use wonderful instruments and let them stand out. Metaphorically speaking, because he recognized their original worth, he often chose to grate—rather than liquefy—musical instruments in his blueprint, so that each sound could be relished as part of a melodious feast. Example: check out the mandolin at the start of both Kabhi aar kabhi paar (Aar Paar, 1954), and Thandi hawa kaali ghata (Mr. and Mrs. 55), the solo violin that starts Humne to dil ko aap ke qadmon pe rakh diya (Mere Sanam, 1965), the incredibly conceptualized sarangi notes in Aana hai to aa raah mein (Naya Daur, 1957), and so many more such amazing tunes worth their weight in palladium.

But OP Nayyar will be remembered most for his ghoda-gaadi songs like Piya piya piya mera jiya pukaare (Baap Re Baap, 1955) and Zara haule haule chalo more saajna (Saawan KI Ghata, 1966). He will of course be equally remembered for songs featuring his woodwind section, and these too, like ghoda-gaadi, are in big numbers. This woodwind arrangement features a combination of the Oboe, Sax, Clarinet and Flute, and you can hear these instruments going ensemble in varying strengths, in tunes such as Antam phantam chhod de babu (Hum Sab Chor Hain, 1956), Humen koi gham hai (Bhaagam Bhaag, 1956), and Aeji dil par hua aisa jaadu (Mr. & Mrs. 55).

Nayyar was an ace at crafting such melodies. In fact he was an ace at whatever he did, in and out of cinema. It doesn’t do him justice when people sometimes refer to him as King of Rhythm. Because when he got going, he was nothing but King of Melody! This ‘got going’ thing went on till Chain se humko kabhi (Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye, 1973), after which his descent commenced.

But did he hang up his hat? Nah! He kept at it for decades more, making music for Hindi as well as regional cinema, as well as out of cinema, right through till the end.

Having lived a bohemian life, he left his home, wife and four kids, to spend perhaps the last fifteen years of his life with people he had hardly known before, and who, in socio-economic terms, were hardly his equals. He passed away in an obscure home in Thana, a Mumbai suburb, on 28th January, 2007. Now, every time a radio or TV channel plays Nayyar’s songs like say Ai dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan, the royalty is sent to them. After all, they stood by him till the very end. They also have his personal effects like his Fedora hats.

But not everyone is fit to wear Nayyar’s hat, or step into his Oxford shoes. They don’t make them like him anymore.


Date published: October 14, 2012


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