O.P. Nayyar passed away 15 years ago on January 28, 2022. The composer set and lived by his own rules. Though not formally trained, his music had great depth and variety. He preferred to work with only his three favourite singers, or three others who were second in line.
Geeta Dutt was associated with Nayyar right from his debut film Aasmaan (1952), followed by Baaz (1953), but the team really struck gold with Aar Paar’s (1954) superhits like ‘Yeh lo main haari piya’, ‘Ja ja ja ja bewafa’ and ‘Babuji dheere chalna’ and the Rafi-Geeta duet ‘Sun sun sun sun zaalima’.
Nayyar admitted that Geeta was responsible for this major breakthrough, followed by Mr & Mrs 55 (1955), which had Rafi-Geeta hits like ‘Chal diye banda nawaaz’, ‘Udhar tum haseen ho’ and ‘Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji’. The Nayyar-Geeta duo scored 65 songs (37 of them solos) in 22 films, before he moved to Asha Bhosle.
Two untrained geniuses
Besides the fizz, Nayyar also utilised the silken and sensuous timbre of Geeta’s voice, which S.D. Burman had presented to the world in Baazi. Nayyar also extracted the melancholy in ‘Ae dil ae diwane’ from Baaz. The association saw an abrupt but memorable end with the iconic ‘Mera naam Chin Chin Chu’ from Howrah Bridge (1958), though the two untrained geniuses continued to hold each other in great regard. Geeta once said that Nayyar “composed feelings, not words,” while Nayyar praised her ease with both seductive and classical songs.
Compared to Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle sang a huge number of songs, over 320, for the maverick composer, beginning with Chham Chhama Chham (1952). However, it took them almost five years to come up with a hit and that happened with B.R. Chopra’s Naya Daur (1957).
Then began their long association that developed into a deep personal relationship. Nayyar always believed that Asha’s voice had more weight than Lata Mangeshkar’s (who never sang for him).
Tumsa Nahin Dekha followed in the same year, and in ‘Aaiye meherbaan’ from Howrah Bridge, Asha won hearts with her sensual voice. Their songs spanned a wide range of emotions. The duo parted after the poignant ‘Chain se humko kabhi’ from Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye (1974), which won Asha the Filmfare Best Female Playback Singer. Ironically, the song was not retained in the Sunil Dutt-Rekha starrer.
Nayyar’s association with Mohammed Rafi began with Baaz and Guru Dutt ensured that he had Rafi with him till the end of his career. It was with Aar Paar’s ‘Mohabbat kar lo’ and ‘Sun sun sun sun zaalima’ that they made it big. Mr & Mrs 55, C.I.D., Naya Daur, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and a row of other chartbusters followed in the 1950s. The duo was phenomenal in the 60s, with Kashmir Ki Kali and Mere Sanam leading the hits.
For Nayyar, Rafi was precious. They created magic with songs such as ‘Tukde hain mere dil ke’ (Mere Sanam), ‘Maang ke saath tumhara’ (Naya Daur) with its patent ghoda-ghadi beat, ‘Jawaniyaan yeh mast mast’ or the title-track ‘Tumsa nahin dekha’, the classical duet with Manna Dey, ‘Tu hai mera prem devta’ (Kalpana), ‘Aanchal mein sajaa lena’ (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon) and ‘Ae dil hai mushkil’ (C.I.D.). When Nayyar chose his top ten Rafi songs, it included the devotional masterpiece, ‘Aana hai to aa’ (Naya Daur).
The Rafi-O.P. innings ended on a dismal note with Heera Moti (1979), one of Nayyar’s attempted comebacks. But he could not imagine music without his favourite male singer and, in the 80s and 90s, used Mohammed Aziz and Shabbir Kumar, both known as Rafi clones.
From ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’
Second line of singers
When the strict disciplinarian had a problem with Rafi because he reached late for a recording, Nayyar replaced him for a while with Mahendra Kapoor, a self-professed Rafi fan. This included songs like ‘Mera pyar woh hai’ (Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi) and ‘Badal aaye agar maali’ (Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi).
After S.D. Burman, Nayyar was the one to recognise Kishore Kumar’s genius and bonded well with him.
They came up with hits like ‘Meri neendon mein tum’ (Naya andaz) and ‘Savere ka suraj’ (Ek baar mooskura do), though he got Rafi to sing the classical song, ‘Man mora baanwra’ for him in Ragini.
Shamshad Begum was a favourite too. Their evergreens included ‘Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka’ (Naya Daur with Asha), ‘Kahin pe nigahen’ (C.I.D.), and ‘Kabhi aar kabhi paar’ (Aar Paar). The last popular song that she sang for Nayyar was ‘Kajra mohabbatwala’ from Kismet in 1968.
Nayyar respected his singers, harnessed their voices according to his needs, and understood their range and capabilities. His many timeless songs are proof that he was a master at it.
The writer is a freelance journalist.