It been over a decade since OP Nayyar passed away. Interestingly, he still sounds fresh in spite of literally being out work for the last thirty-five years of his life.
Nayyar, who would have turned a year older today, was easily one of the top three popular Music Directors between mid ‘1950s till end 1960s. With a blindingly clear view of his audience’s tastes, his music was the cream ‘n topping of evenings with vintage liquor and friends for company. Jive on the floor with your best friend to Babuji dheere chalna. Expect to get deliciously seduced with Ye hai reshmi zulfon ka andhera and visualise the blue-white fleece firmament when you hear Aankhon me qayamat ke kajal.
While he patented the ‘hoof-trot’ beat, he also remains one of the very few composers to actually use the sanchari in Hindi songs. Why horse cart only, his other vehicle songs too were easily the most remembered of all times, whether it be a melody to die for, as in the car/cycle song Pukarta chala hoon main, a wild boat song like Ye chand so roshan chehra, or the multi-vehicle song Do akalmand hue fikarmand.
Nayyar was never a sob story, his music, like his persona, always signified dynamism and progress. Even his seriously sentimental solos had a certain breeziness about them. Because of the peppiness in the rhythm, Nayyar’s music was perceived not kosher. To an extent that the State controlled All India Radio banned his music for being too westernized.
The truth is that, many of Nayyar’s Indian Hindustani classical based songs, from Chhota sa baalma to Raaton ko chori and Akeli hun main piya aa were as popular as his more trendy scores. Statistics around his filmography is too widely available for the need to mention it here. But somehow the perception about him remained a composer of zany scores.
Maybe because he trapeezed into Bombay music world, after a few false starts, with Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar (1954), where the songs were mostly lively, and to certain extent, inspired by the west. In the process, he formed critical alliances which grew deeper with successes like Mr & Mrs. 55 (1955) and CID (1956). OP Nayyar grew in stature and in value till he was quickly commanding a price of Rs. 1 lakh per film.
But… Nayyar was a serial killer of all the geese that were laying golden eggs for him. Asha Bhosle, for one, with whom he broke up professionally and personally in 1972. Geeta Dutt, whom he neglected and sidelined for no apparent reason. Ditto with Shamshad Begum. Nayyar did not even spare the men. He was a tad bit too harsh on Mohd. Rafi, leading to a musical separation of over two years.
Quarrels are commonplace in Bollywood. But the shared goals between the parties involved ensures speedy resolution. Nayyar made no such patch-up attempt with Rafi, the then #1 male playback singer. Worse, he tried to replace Rafi with Mahendra Kapoor making it obvious that he was settling for not the best options available, thus devaluing himself. Nayyar publicly rubbished Kishore’s rendition of Savere ka Suraj from Ek Baar Muskura Do (1972), a song he composed, directed and supervised the recording of. He forgot that pointing a finger at someone meant three other fingers pointed back at him.
Nayyar, much later regretted having sidelined Geeta Dutt. In as much as, one imagines, he would have regretted his fall outs with the others in his film fraternity. OP was neither able to entrench into the BR Chopra camp after his unbelievably successful Naya Daur (1957) nor into the Navketan family through Guru Dutt’s good offices. One imagines that OP may have complimented Dev Anand’s shades of grey, especially in Jewel Thief (1967). Nayyar’s strategic ‘master stroke’ was alienating Lata Mangeshkar all his life.
But what OP Nayyar’s epitaph would read is -a lot of people owe OP Nayyar much more than what is obvious. Johnny Walker, for instance. Ae dil hai mushkil from CID (1957) became his brand identifier for posterity. Tumsa Nahi Dekha rescued Shammi Kapoor’s still-born career that had seen 15-odd flops till then.
A ridiculously awkward Biswajeet who never learnt to be comfortable in front of the camera, OP propped his career with grand music in films like Mere Sanam (1965), Ye Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966), or Kismat (1968). Joy Mukherjee too owed a lifetime of debt to OP for Ek Musafir Ek hasina (1962), Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963), or Humsaya (1968).
OP had the confidence to keep remodeling tunes and similar rhythm into different sounding ones. Hence, his tunes always sound fresh. Also, despite being a Punjabi, he never slipped into the predictable bhangra based fare.
The film industry is curiously conservative when it comes to personal lives. But OP, married with three kids, went about wearing his extra-marital relationship with Asha Bhosle on his coat of arms.
He was also the straight talker, having the nerve to not work with Sahir Ludhianvi when the poet had expressed disrespect for S D Burman. He knew he was the king, and also took great pride in his work and thoughts. He lived life on his own terms.
Yes, he died a loner but somewhere up there, his soul must be happy in the knowledge that even in the new millennium, he is still contemporary. Not retro. A mention of Aap ke haseen rukh from Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966) still leads to around 500 lookups on YouTube. Daily.
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 28 January, 2016. It is being republished to mark OP Nayyar’s birth anniversary.)