My sister gave me Ganesh Anantharaman’s Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song for Christmas. Yes, I know, my sister’s a gem: I adore her. I also adore a lot of the people Anantharaman writes about in his book. He admits he’s biased towards classical music, but then he does go on to acknowledge the worth of people like O P Nayyar, who’s a classic example of unclassical.
Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born on January 16, 1926 (now you know why this post today, of all days). He grew up in Lahore, and was composing music for All India Radio Lahore by the time he was fifteen (makes me feel utterly worthless. All these child prodigies do). When India was partitioned in 1947, Nayyar left Lahore and came to Bombay. Thank heavens. The rest, clichéd though it may sound, is history.
But, without any further dilly-dallying, let’s begin with the list. My ten favourite O P Nayyar songs—all from films I’ve seen, and (invariably) songs that are as pleasant to watch as they are to listen to. These are in no particular order:
1. Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawaanon Ka (Naya Daur, 1957; Sung by: Mohammad Rafi and Balbir; Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi). Dilip Kumar and Ajit lead a group of villagers in a boisterous and earthily patriotic song that showcases the folksy side of O P Nayyar. There’s a distinct bhangra beat to this song (similar to Mere haath mein tera haath from Kashmir ki Kali), and lots of madcap hooting and whistling, especially towards the end.
2. Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo (Howrah Bridge, 1958; Sung by: Geeta Dutt; Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi). One of my favourite `club songs’, with a 19 year-old Helen in her first big hit. The tempo’s irresistibly catchy, with string and wind instruments supported by lots of clapping. And Geeta Dutt’s voice brims over with a joie de vivre that’s reflected in just about everybody onscreen: the dancers (especially the men), the musicians (watch the man plucking energetically at the double bass: he looks as if he’s almost dancing with it!)—and Helen, of course. Superb.
Interestingly enough, the interludes have a much faster, Western feel to them; the verses themselves are slower and have a definitely folksy tune.
3. Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein Ishaara Ho Gaya (CID, 1956; Sung by: Geeta Dutt and Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: Jan Nisar Akhtar). A lilting combination of sitar, violin and Nayyar’s trademark `tonga beats’ – the clip-clop of hooves (even though there aren’t any horses around here!). This is a somewhat unusual duet too: Rafi sings only the refrain; the verses are all Geeta’s. Lovely lyrics too, by Javed Akhtar’s daddy.
4. Dekho Kasam Se (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957; Sung by: Asha Bhonsle and Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri). Delightful! A coquettish Amita woos a huffy Shammi Kapoor in a song that’s as light-hearted and sweet as it’s romantic. The tonga beats are here too, and if you listen carefully, you’ll notice a similarity to the film’s title song: there’s a cute `clink’ every now and then.
5. Lakhon Hain Yahaan Dilwaale (Kismat, 1968; Sung by: Mahendra Kapoor; Lyrics: S H Bihari). I know I started off saying this list contained songs that were fun to watch; I never said they were always well picturised. This is an example of a song that’s unintentionally hilarious: Biswajit struts around like a rooster armed with a rifle—or something. The band (The Monkees), playing valiantly in the background, look a little pained, I think—but the girls, gori mems and Babita, don’t seem to mind. The song itself, dominated by guitar and sung in Mahendra Kapoor’s much underrated voice, is very easy on the ears.
6. Sun Sun Sun Sun Zaalima (Aar Paar, 1954; Sung by: Geeta Dutt and Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri) A refreshingly boyish Guru Dutt tries to charm Shyama—all across a garage. I love everything about this song: the simple choreography, the lyrics, the actors—and (of course) the music. O P Nayyar was only twenty-eight when he wrote this score. It’s a simple one, the verses and interlude repetitive, but amazingly hummable.
7. Banda Parvar Thhaam Lo Jigar (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963; Sung by: Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri). I had to list this one, simply because it exemplifies Nayyar’s music, with the `tonga beats’ used believably enough in a song that features an actual ghoda gaadi.
It’s pleasant enough to watch too, though I’ve always wondered how they got the girls up on the poplar trees. And why.
8. Pukarta Chala Hoon Main (Mere Sanam, 1965; Sung by: Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri). Ah, sublime. A pal of mine once said that she didn’t like Biswajit much, but he did have some wonderful songs picturised on him. I have to agree; this is one of them. It’s absolutely lovely, very simple and with some exceptional use of the guitar. And yes, the tonga beats are here, too, even though Biswajit drives a jeep and Asha Parekh (stunning as always) and her cronies are on bicycles. Not a horse in sight.
9. Deewaana Hua Baadal (Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964; Sung by: Asha Bhonsle and Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: S H Bihari). This film had some fabulous songs, and picking just one was a trial. But this eventually won, mainly because it echoed the Kashmiri setting so well: the gardens, the rippling Dal Lake, everything all placid and beautiful. It’s gentler and more romantic than the lively Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra, and is dominated by the sitar and violin (and tonga beats—where would Nayyar be without that?).
10. Yehi Woh Jagah Hai (Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, 1965; Sung by: Asha Bhonsle; Lyrics: S H Bihari) If I’d arranged these songs in order of preference, this one would’ve probably topped the list. It’s the example I always think of when someone says “O P Nayyar could only do folk music or fast Westernised music.” No sirree! Yehi woh jagah hai is a hauntingly lovely tune with music so subdued, it showcases Asha’s voice in all its sweetness. Was this Nayyar’s way of demonstrating his feelings for Asha? Don’t know, but the song’s a masterpiece—and the initial lines, with only her voice and no music, echo in the most wonderful way.
Bonus offering: a very short clip (I wish there was more) of O P Nayyar, Asha, and Mohammad Rafi in the recording studio. Enjoy!