Interview of OP NAYYAR by D MANDAR for CINEMA SANGEET
By NITISH SINHAlohrester. Saturday, November 3, 2007 6:33:20 PM
June 6, 2003. It’s almost 9.30 p.m. The goal is simple. We want to meet O.P.Nayyar – the legendary music maestro, the creator of some of the most scintillating tunes in Hindi film music. The setting is extremely informal. We have gathered in the drawing room of Shobhana and Chandramohan’s Dubai- home. These singers-cum-organizers of the recently concluded, O.P. Nayyar musical show- Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon are a wonderful couple - passionate about music, pleasant in their attitude and perfect as our hosts. Me, my dear friend Shekhar (Dr.Chandrashekhar) and his charming mother – all are waiting for the great man to arrive. Hoping that it should be a meeting to remember. Hesitant that it might all just fizzle out. You know how celebrities are!
Then he walks in - tall, erect and handsome – showing little if any evidence of his 78 years. That famous all white attire complemented by that even more famous black felt hat. After the introductions and awkward pleasantries are over, I just quietly click on a MP3 file in my laptop. C.H.Atma’s sonorous, Saigal-esque voice starts resonating from the computer speakers – Is Bewafa Jahan Mein Wafa Dhoondhate Rahe. O.P. - (well, that’s what the music lovers all over the world call him!), gives me a startled look and smilingly asks, “From where did you get that song? That’s the first ever film song I composed for Aasman. It was 1952. I was just about twenty-five then.” The next moment, he is further floored by Shekhar’s request to sign on the jacket cover of the long-play record of Sambandh. “Oh, what a request! This is my life’s best work and for the first time, somebody is asking me to sign on it!”
The barriers are broken. He knows that he is surrounded by some real admirers who have actually delved deep into his music. “Please don’t use the tape-recorder. It makes me nervous.” His first sentence deprives me from recording these priceless conversations but later he compensates by allowing me to video-shoot his wonderful rendition of Chain Se Humko Kabhie Aap Ne Jeene Na Diya. The way he chides Shobhana, (who is singing with him and whom he fondly calls ‘Bahu’) into taking that extra- effort to bring out the exact tonal expression is something extra-ordinary. “She sings better than you, Beta”- he mockingly tells Chandramohan, who (like any good husband!) promptly nods in agreement. Chandramohan’s three- year old daughter plays with O.P.’s hat, making fun of his bald head. Sipping his cool drink he looks at her indulgently in a grandfatherly way and one by one answers our queries.
The man is frank and forthright, giving two hoots to conventional celebrity wisdom of speaking the diplomatic lingo. He uses language that the purists would certainly deem un-parliamentary – it is crude and rude at times. His gestures and expressions are often dramatic. He doesn’t avoid controversies, in fact invites them. But sitting next to him, we can see that it is just a no holds barred, straight from the heart talk from a man who has seen it all! The next three hours we are treated to some of the most colorful insights into Hindi film- world from the Golden era of fifties and sixties. In O.P.’s inimitable Punjabi- styled Hindi that lost era comes back to life – bringing countless nostalgic memories with it. Triumphs and torments, sex and scandal, controversies and contradictions – this O.P. talk has it all!
At 1 a.m. we all leave Chandramohan’s place and wave good byes. An unforgettable evening has finally come to an end. What appears later is just an edited, encapsulated version of our conversations during this evening, yet it is as fascinating as the man and his music! So go on, enjoy yourselves!
From the slow and sad Aasman songs like Is Bewafa Jahan Mein to the sizzling entertainers like Babuji Dheere Chalna of Aar Paar – it was a quantum leap in just three movies. How did this all happen?
“You see, I am a very sentimental man. In my first three movies, I tried to make such music. None of it worked. Everybody rejected it. I was dejected and depressed. I was even thinking of quitting it all. I was then told by my well-wishers that fast music sells and I switched my style just to survive. One thing I would tell you about my tunes. I created tunes according to situations in the films. Beauty often inspired me to make music since I am also a romantic man. Rest just happened. It was as if God was giving me the helping hand.”
What was the role of Guru Dutt in this transformation?
“I personally never felt Guru Dutt knew a great deal about music. I still remember his initial reaction to Babuji Dheere Chalna. He told me, “The mukhda (the opening) is excellent but the antara (stanza) lacks something.” I asked, “What exactly is that ‘something’?” He said, “I don’t know – just do something with it.” I just waited for two weeks, I didn’t change a single note but after that, Guru accepted the same tune on my assurance that I have done ‘something’!
All say Pyaasa is a masterpiece but take away Sahir’s poetry and S.D.Burman’s music and what is left? The way S.D. composed for Jinhein Naaz Hain Hind Par is pure genius. Just listen to the lines- Kahan Hain, Kahan Hain, Kahan Hain – every line is differently embellished.
After ‘Mr.and Mrs.55’, I parted ways with Guru Dutt. We both were too egoistic to be compatible. But after many years, for ‘Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi’, he literally pleaded me to do the music.
Talking of Guru Dutt, I always feel a pang of guilt. He used to confide his personal problems in me. His wife Geeta and his flame Waheeda, both had deserted him in the end and he was pretty disturbed. At around 2.a.m., the same night that he committed suicide, my wife told me, “Raj Kapoor has phoned for you. He is saying that Guru Dutt is totally inebriated and is crying inconsolably, repeatedly calling for Nayyar Saab!” I was too tired and sleepy to go. I just told my wife to give some excuse.
The next morning 10 o’clock, I had an appointment with Guru at his residence. I reached there and Abrar Alvi – his dialogue writer told me, “Guru has gone.” Incredulously I asked, “Where?” He said, “Guru Dutt is dead! His dead body is inside!”
True to my straight talking nature, I just blasted those two women for ruining Guru’s life – Geeta – right there in front of Guru’s dead body in the drawing room and Waheeda – at the time of funeral! Waheeda as it is used to hate me as I had once told Guru Dutt, “She looks like a Govanese Aayah!”
And what about Geeta Dutt – as a singer? I feel, percentage-wise, Geeta sang more hits for you, even compared to Asha.
(O.P. dramatically stands up, removes his hat and bows to me.)
“What an observation! You are absolutely right. Geeta Dutt had the most original voice in film music. She was the one who introduced me to Guru Dutt. She sang so many hit songs of mine in films like Aar Paar, Mr. and Mrs.55, Musafirkhana and Miss Coca Cola. Later as I started using Asha’s voice more and more, Geeta was neglected and I feel sorry for that. I would even go to the extent of saying that later she was literally blocked from singing in my music by my then premier singer!
Like her late husband, Geeta has also left a deep emotional scar on my mind. Once she called in the middle of the night and said, “Nayyar saab, do you still recognize my voice? I am Geeta. Aap To Humein Bhool Hi Gaye!” I felt so sad and guilty. That time I could just give her some assurance but it was futile.”
What are the exact words that Geeta sings in the CID song – Jaata Kahan Hai Deewane? They sound like Fifty – Kuchh Tere Dil Mein Fifty – Kuchh Mere Dil Mein Fifty.
“The word is not ‘Fifty’ but a meaningless – ‘Fiffy’. Just like ‘Adi Tappa’ and ‘Lara Lappa’. Censors then had given us a lot of trouble by saying that ‘Fiffy’ is an obscene word!”
How did you transform Asha Bhosle into such a versatile singer? Wasn’t she heavily influenced by Geeta Dutt in her early career?
“Hundred percent right! Asha was introduced to me by lyricist P.L.Santoshi at the time of Chham Chhama Chaam – my second movie. At that time, she was not only influenced by Geeta but she was also under heavy (inferiority) complex of Lata. As if she was torn between their styles. What I did was to give her confidence and to help her come out of that complex. This process started from the time of Naya Daur. To Asha’s credit, it must be said that she never shied away from practice. In fact, she would be the one who would ask me for more rehearsals even if I felt she was singing the song well. I can proudly claim that more than S.D. Burman, more than R.D.Burman, more than anybody else, it is O.P.Nayyar who has really moulded her voice. Unfortunately today she refuses to acknowledge that fact!”
Wasn’t romance one of the major inspiration for your tunes for her?
Definitely, love makes you do extra-ordinary things!
Now the eternal question. Why didn’t you ever use Lata’s voice in your music? Wasn’t she supposed to have come for the Aasman song that was finally sung by Raj Kumari? In Harish Bhimani’s book on Lata, she claims to have been held up by rain and being not able to come for the recording.
“It’s all humbug! I never ever summoned her for any of my songs. I needed a powerful, full throated, sensuous voice and she had this thin, thread-like voice, which was not at all suitable for my music. Another thing is about my inspiration coming from beauty. Lata with her plain, ordinary looks never could inspire me as a composer!
At the same time, let me say this once and for all and remember I am swearing this on my food– even though I never ever worked with Lata, I still consider her as the Number 1 singer in India. Asha tried hard to take her place but could never achieve that. Lata was just supreme, a God given voice! Her work with almost any composer – be it Madan Mohan, Roshan, S.D. Burman or Shankar- Jaikishan was exemplary. Just imagine Madan Mohan’s ghazals being sung by Shamshad or anyone else. They wouldn’t have reached the same artistic height as they did with Lata’s voice.
We had cordial relations but still I remained suspicious about her. I remember, once she called me for lunch and I was first watching what she was eating and then eating the same thing after her!
Once she said to me, “These film- songs are becoming so predictable. Just by listening to the Mukhda, you can predict the Antara.” I said, “Lata bai, you may say this about other composers but this O.P. Nayyar challenges you now to predict his song’s Antara after listening to its Mukhda.” After that challenge, she simply vanished from there!”
You also rejected Madhya Pradesh Government’s Lata Mangeshkar Award.
“You see Beta, that award was worth cash 1 lac rupees, all tax-free and remember- I was in dire straits those days, having been separated from my family. Still I rejected that award on three counts – one, it was a crooner’s award given to a composer; two- I had never worked with Lata and three- I don’t believe in instituting awards in living person’s name! I stood up for my principles- that’s all!”
In spite of your long-standing partnership with Mohammed Rafi, how come you two separated in the late sixties?
Throughout my career, I have been famous for my punctuality. Rafi had given me a time for recording a song from Saawan Ki Ghata. The musicians were all set. Rafi came late for that recording and said, “Sorry, I was stuck up in Shankar- Jaikishan’s recording.” I said, “You had given me the time by your choice. So I gather, you have time for Shankar- Jaikishan and not for O.P. Nayyar. Now onwards, O.P.Nayyar will not have time for Rafi.” I cancelled the recording in front of shell shocked musicians and told the accountant to charge the expenses for the cancelled session to my account!
After three years, Rafi came to my house crying like a baby. I also broke down. Both of us touched each other’s feet. I said, “Rafi, by coming here today you proved that you are much greater than O.P. You could overcome your ego. I could not!”
He often used to sing – Yuun To Humne Laakh Sangeetkaar Dekhe Hai, O.P.Nayyar Sa Nahi Dekha! (I have seen many a composer but never one like O.P.Nayyar!) He also used to tell me, “Your music could turn a eunuch into a he-man!”
What about Mahendra Kapoor?
“I used him as replacement for Rafi. I used to call him Çharan Das for he used to touch feet of practically any Tom, Dick and Harry. I found this extra- humility phony. He might have sung quite a few good songs for me but just listen to Do Ustaad title track to know how off-key he could be! Purposely I kept that Besuraa singing so that one day, I could show him how bad he could be!”
You Used Manna Dey with Rafi for Tu Hai Mera Prem Devta.
“Well, Rafi was far too superior to Manna Dey there! Manna Dey would take around four- five takes to get it right.”
You practically had a spat with everybody in the film industry.
“You said it! In one of the filmi parties, I heard song-writer Sahir Ludhiyanvi telling somebody that he had made S.D.Burman. I got very angry. If this man could say such a thing for a great composer like S.D.Burman, then what was there to prevent him from saying the same about me? I just cut off relations with that man.
Once, Dev Anand took my 9 a.m. appointment. Film director Shakti Samanta had recommended my name to him. I waited till 9.05 a.m. and then walked off to my recording studio. Dev arrived at my place exactly two minutes later and was extremely annoyed to find me gone. Needless to say, he never used my music in his films!
Raj Kapoor once tried to pressurize me into taking Mukesh instead of Rafi for songs of Do Ustaad. He tried to do it cleverly. He came to my office, listened to my tunes- dancing all the time while listening and then quietly he popped up the question, “Just tell how these tunes would sound in Mukesh’s voice?” Mincing no words, I said, “They would sound terrible.” Further, I just told Sheikh Mukhtar – who was the producer and Raj’s co-star in the film, “If Mukesh is going to sing these songs, just take your signing amount back.” Raj relented but then we never worked together again!
Dilip Kumar and I were very close initially. He used to call me ‘Johnny’. At the screening of Naya Daur, Dilip needled me – “Johnny, your songs are very good but background score is pretty weak.” I got my revenge in the Naya Daur celebration party. There Dilip came and boasted, “Johny, did you see how well I have danced on your songs?” I shot a quick repartee, “O.P.Nayyar’s music makes even a third rate actor dance. It has such energy!” He got so bugged that he totally avoided me in future. Yet, at the time of making his film Leader, he always used to compare its music, which was given by Naushad with my music in Ek Musafir Ek Haseena and used to admit in private – “O.P. is superior!”
You even once made Kishore sing in Rafi’s voice.
“Yes, in Raagini for the classical song Man Mora Baawra, I made Rafi give playback for Kishore Kumar. I was annoyed with Kishore’s tomfoolery during the recordings and wanted to teach him a lesson. Kishore – who was the hero of the film, then went and complained to his brother Ashok Kumar – who was also the producer but Ashok refused to interfere with my decision.
Ashok Kumar later acknowledged publicly that as a producer, it was my music that really helped him sell Kalpana and Raagini.”
Tell us more about Naya Daur – your only Filmfare winning score.
“I thought that was a ridiculous film – a Tonga versus motor car theme. I did it because one of my benefactors- one film distributor Mr. K.K.Kapoor told me to do it as a favour. So even when my then market rate was Rs.35,000/-, I just charged Rs.18,000/- for that film. Once the film was released, all the major reviews headlines highlighted my music. “Nayyar Novelty in Naya Daur” and the likes! Chopra did not like this focus on me and the result was same- we never worked together!”
So who was your favourite film-maker?
“I consider Shashidhar Mukherji- father of Joy Mukherji and Dev Mukherji, as the pioneer film-maker in Hindi film industry. He not only created films, he created stars and personalities; he created institutions like Filmistan and Filmalaya. He made the best use of my music. Tumsa Nahi Dekha, Ek Musafir Ek Haseena, Sambandh, Ek Baar Muskura Do – making music for all his films gave me a lot of satisfaction.
For Sambandh, I worked on the music for 1 and half years even though I had earlier promised to finish it within 6 months. Some detractors used to say, “How this frivolous composer is going to compose music for a serious theme like Sambandh?” But Mukherji saab never gave any importance to such people. He brought in veteran lyricist Kavi Pradeep to work with me and together, we made some great songs in Sambandh. When he paid me Rs.1,80,000/- - a price much higher than he paid any composer, he told me, “Nayyar, you might not be knowing your true price but I do!”
But you seldom got big film banners to work with. Mostly you had to work with B-and C-grade films.
“Let me correct you, I never had to work with B- or C-grade film-makers. I worked only because I got my price. I must confess that struggle in my early life had made me a money-minded man. I was ready to work with anybody who was willing to pay me well. Like Dara Singh who came to me for Nasihat. I told him straight away, “You have come to a white elephant. I will charge you three lacs!” He just said, “Papaji – I am a Pahilwan (wrestler) on the mat, but you are a Pahilwan in the music field. I will pay whatever you want!”
But after getting my price, I never compromised on the quality of my work, that’s why even the music of those mediocre films is memorable even today!
While we were recording Yaar Baadshah for CID 909, I got a phone call informing about my son’s accident. He was hit by a car. Thinking of the expenses the producer would have to bear if I cancelled the take, I stayed put, did not inform anybody of the mishap and finished recording in 1 and ½ hours. I believe in fate – I thought if my son was going to survive he would. Later, I told Asha to reach the hospital and call me in the studio. She went after admonishing me for being heartless. Later she called from hospital and said, “He is okay. It’s just a collar-bone fracture!”
Tell us about your style of working.
“As I told you before, tunes came to me naturally. I have never had any formal musical training. I don’t know anything about Raagas and other intricacies of music. Yet I could compose classical songs like Dekho Bijali Dole and Chhotasa Baalma. Master classical singer Amir Khan -saab once told me, “What are you talking about not knowing raagas? I counted no fewer than 16 different raagas in your Sambandh tune- Akeli Hoon Main Piya Aa!”
I believed in intensive preparation. My singers would come to me and rehearse the song for a few days. Then in a single take the recording used to be over. Even the musicians used to applaud the speed with which my songs used to get recorded. Still I feel and even Asha has confirmed in her interviews that my singers could bring only about 80% of what I actually composed and that too, because they were really good!
According to me, in any song 50% credit goes to lyricist, 25 % to singer, 15% to composer and 10% to ornamentation. Many composers are cross with me for making this statement. But this is what I sincerely believe. I never even attended any music directors’ meetings. How can dogs ever unite? They must keep barking at each other!
Sebastian was my main assistant. I knew him from my Lahore days when he used to work as the band- leader in Stephen Hotel. He would arrange my orchestra. G.S.Kohli was a good tabla player and assisted me in rhythm. The final decision about all orchestration was always mine.
Rais Khan’s sitar and Ram Narayan’s saarangi had a major role to play – much more than Shiv Kumar Sharma’s santoor and Hari Prasad Chourasiya’s flute. Very few people know that the famous O.P. -saarangi was always a combination of saarangi and cello. To get that famous staccato effect, I used four clarinets which were played by artists like Abdul, Ram Singh and Ganga Ram. I never harmonized violins the way Shankar- Jaikishan or Madan Mohan did. My strings played straight, complementing the main melody. At times I used unusual instruments like the harp in Yaar Baadshah Yaar Dilruba from CID 909.
I always supervised the orchestra and recording ever so minutely, that’s why those recordings still sound so fresh and crisp.”
Main Pyar Ka Raahi Hoon, Balma Khuli Hawa Mein, Chain Se Humko Kabhie---so many of your hit songs never made it to the screen. How did that happen?
“It was just fate. At the time of editing, they felt that the song was not fitting into the film and they cut it. Invariably this would happen with some beautiful tune. But who can change destiny? That’s life!”