Often labelled as “individualistic”, “aloof”, and a “maverick”, Omkar Prakash Nayyar may have been all that, but few would deny that he was among the leading musical talents in the Hindi film industry of the 1950s and 1960s.
Born in Lahore on January 16, 1926, O.P. Nayyar, who gave us such classic hits as “Jhumka Gira Re” and “Pukarta Chala Hoon Main”, came from a family with no background in music. His father was employed in a medical shop.
Though he studied music for a short while, Nayyar had little formal training in music. He used to sing at local functions as a child and the All India Radio that had just opened its Lahore branch invited him to sing there. He would perform at the radio occasionally.
His family moved to Amritsar during Partition but Nayyar, headstrong even at that young age, was initially reluctant to shift. In an interview to the senior journalist Chandan Mitra in 2005, Nayyar recalled: “We had a Muslim neighbour who sheltered me when the riots began. But one day, a mob arrived at his house and demanded that the Hindu boy he was hiding in the house be handed over. My kind protector organised a tonga and smuggled me out of the back gate. I reached the refugee camp somehow and then made my way to Amritsar in November 1947, a good three months after Partition. Since I had no other skills and was too proud to ask my family for money, I got myself a job as a music teacher in Patiala.”
Nayyar went to Bombay in 1949 and found work immediately, composing background music for the film ‘Kaneez’, directed by Krishan Kewal. His first film as independent music director was ‘Aasmaan’ (1952). In the 1950s he worked with legendary director-producer Guru Dutt in films like ‘Baaz’, ‘Aar Paar’ and ‘C.I.D’.
His music for the film ‘Mere Sanam’ was very popular, with songs like “Jaayiye Aap Kahaan Jaayenge” and “Pukarta Chala Hoon Main”. Later, his music for ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ was also a huge success, with the singer Mohammed Rafi being the voice of Shammi Kapoor in such memorable songs as “Tareef Karun Kya Uski”.
Nayyar, whose evergreen numbers include “Mera Nam Chin Chin Choo”, “Aakhon Hi Akhon Main”, “Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Jee” and “Babuji Dhire Chalna”, worked with several singers such as Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle, Rafi and Mahendra Kapoor — but never with Lata Mangeshkar.
As Surya Prakash wrote in The Hindu in a tribute to Nayyar after his death: “The music director who dared to go on without the Nightingale’s golden voice, delivered hit after mega hits with Asha Bhosle. One only has to listen to songs like ‘Jaayiye aap kahan’ (Mere Sanam), ‘Raaton ko chori chori’ (Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi), ‘Zara haule haule’, ‘Meri jaan tumse sadke’ and ‘Aaj koi pyar se’ (all in Sawan Ki Ghata), ‘Aayiye meherbaan’ (Howrah Bridge) and ‘Aankhon se jo utri hai dil mein’ (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon) to sense the profound wavelength the two worked on. The heady cocktail of OP-Asha captured the imagination of music lovers as never before and swept away even powerful competition from Madan Mohan-Lata combine.”
His music in “Aayiye Meherbaan”, which was sung by Asha Bhosle, was pitch perfect for the mood of the song that features a glamorous Madhubala in ‘Howrah Bridge’, a crime thriller directed by Shakti Samanta.
Once asked to compare the singing of Lata Mangeshkar with Asha Bhosle, Nayyar said that while both were great singers the flexibility in Bhosle’s voice and “the control on her breathing, laughter and sighs, and the romanticism in her voice” made it perfect for his kind of music. On the other hand, Lata’s voice was “very melodious and sweet”.
In 1974, however, Nayyar and Bhosle parted ways and after that he slowly faded away from the film music scene. He died on January 28, 2007 following a cardiac arrest.
In a tribute to Nayyar, film critic Lata Khubchandani wrote in Outlook magazine: “The truth is that he didn’t compose, he had no training. He just tuned into the soul and drew out magical melodies that connected at once with his listeners. His songs lack effort — they are spontaneous expressions of gay abandon, of joyous moments of romance; of the thrills and frills of life…”
O.P. Nayyar himself had once said: “The fact is I don’t know the ABCD of music. It was all a gift from God that I composed so effortlessly and people liked the music I made. I didn't set out to be a music director, just drifted into it.”
Also on this day:
1901 — Govind Ranade, scholar, social reformer and founding member of Indian National Congress, passed away
1920 — Nani Palkhivala, jurist and economist, was born
1942 — Jaipal Reddy, Congress leader and union minister, was born
1946 — Kabir Bedi, Indian television and film actor, was born
1954 — Baburao Painter, pioneering Indian film director, passed away
1997 — Dutta Samant, trade union leader, died
2000 — T.N. Kaul, Indian diplomat and foreign secretary, passed away