Poetry and Melody: A Musical Journey Through Khayyam’s Life

Most Indians know Khayyam as the man behind memorable music like ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’.
Fabeha Syed
On this podcast we dive into Mohammed Zahur “Khayyam” Hashmi’s life and his musical work which came to define Indian cinema. | (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

What was Mohammed Zahur “Khayyam” Hashmi’s life like?

Khayyam passed away on 19 August 2019 in Mumbai at the age of 92. He had been battling a lung infection for a while and finally succumbed to the illness.

Most Indians know Khayyam as the man behind memorable musical pieces like ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ from Umrao Jaan.

We pay tribute to the maestro of Indian cinema’s music with this video.

Khayyam Saab - Early Life and Work

Khayyam was born as Saadat Hussian in Punjab in the year 1927. As a young boy, he disliked studying and instead expressed an interest in acting.

But the idea of becoming an actor didn't go down too well with his family and he eventually had to leave home to follow his heart.

He went to Lahore looking for work in films, but his meeting with the then-popular Baba Chishti, who was a Punjabi composer, changed his life.

Under Chishti’s tutelage, Khayyam realised his love for music. And it was under his guidance that Khayyam’s music became revered – not only by his peers but also by lovers of Hindi film music.

Later, he went to Bombay and started composing music under the pseudonym of Sharmaji of the Sharmaji-Vermaji duo.

The other 'Ji' of the pair, or Verma ji, was a composer called Rehman Verma who migrated to the newly created Pakistan after 1947.

It was in the year 1953 that Khayyam saab was credited as 'Khayyam' when he composed music for the film 'Footpath'. And Talat Mahmood's 'Shaam-e-gham ki qasam aaj ghamgin hain hum' became an instant hit.

Awards and Accolades Aplenty

A Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Nayak awardee, Khayyam set a new benchmark in Bollywood music.

‘Kabhi Kabhi’, ‘Umrao Jaan’, ‘Noorie’, ‘Bazaar’, ‘Razia Sultan’… each one of these movies helped establish him as a Bollywood great.

But what set him apart? Despite a career spanning six decades and a stature to give that company, Khayyam always chose highly poetic and lyrical pieces to compose, showing that he not only knew the importance of melody but the weight that poetry and emotion gave a song.

Over the years Khayyam continued to make music. Songs like ‘Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi’ with Mukesh, ‘Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sanwaro’ with Lata Mangeshkar, are some of the gems that Khayyam Saab had composed in the 60s.

But it was the 70s and 80s which are most remembered as the era that let Khayyam's genius truly shine.

He once said that to prep for 'Umrao Jaan’, he had to research Awadhi culture, its people and the novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa, Umrao Jaan Ada, on which the film is based.

The film didn't do too well at the box office, but the soundtrack? It won multiple National Awards – for Asha Bhonsle, for Rekha who played the titular Umrao Jaan, and for Khayyam.

‘Umrao Jaan’s’ haunting soundtrack continues to be one of the most memorable from Indian cinema.

The Legend, Khayyam, is no more, but his voice, his work and his music will live forever in people’s hearts.

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