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Khayyam Saab: The Impeccable Creator

Conferred with the Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and countless other honours, Khayyam Saab is truly a torchbearer of the golden era of Indian film music, writes Sharad Dutt.

 Agencies |  2017-10-07 14:42:51.0

After the unprecedented response to the television serial, 'The Melody Makers', we planned our next episode on Mohammad Zahur Khayyam Hashmi, fondly addressed as Khayyam Saab. Although I have been an ardent fan of his music, I never had the opportunity to meet him in person. I sought the help of a friend, writer-director Sagar Sarhadi, who had worked with the maestro, in the film Bazaar. Soon after Sarhadi introduced me to Khayyam Saab we shot the episode in two days. What I encountered was the old world charm of a very animated personality, with photogenic memory, who vividly recalled his journey from his native place to Bollywood.

Born on February 18, 1927, in the picturesque village of Rahon in the Jalandhar district of Punjab, Khayyam Saab's father was tending a patch of land while he also delivered Azaan in the local village mosque. Khayyam Saab was fascinated by "the Azaan of Masjid, Shabad from Gurudwara and Aarti from the temple." Perhaps, it reflected his leaning towards music and attraction to the world of movies.
This was the era when an actor would sing in his own voice. Singer-actor Kundan Lal Saigal had become a rage across the country, and he became the role model for Khayyam Saab. To pursue a career in films, Khayyam Saab abandoned his studies and went to Delhi without informing anyone back home. He stayed with his uncle, who reprimanded the young Khayyam when he learnt of his escape from home, thereafter admitting him in a school. But Khayyam Saab wanted to nurture his dream. This considerate uncle introduced him to his friend Pt Amarnath. After being trained in singing by Panditji and his younger brothers Pt Husnlal and Bhagat Ram for five years, they advised a handsome Khayyam to try his luck in films.
GA Chishti, popularly known as Chishti Baba, was a name to reckon with in the films and music of Lahore. Khayyam Saab met Chishti Baba and worked with him without any remuneration.
During the Second World War, recruitment was underway for artists to be inducted for propaganda and entertainment of the soldiers. Khayyam Saab too joined the Army, and acted in stage plays, even performing the female roles. After the War was over, Khayyam Saab took voluntary retirement. Back in Lahore, he worked with Chishti Saab under the same terms and conditions. It was from the good offices of BR Chopra that he got his first salary of 125 rupees a month.
Chishti Baba came to Calcutta to score music for SD Narang's films, Jhoothi Qasme and Yehi Hai Zindagi. Khayyam Saab assisted Chishti Saab and after the completion of these films, Chishti Saab left for Lahore. With his due permission, Khayyam Saab left for Bombay and met Pt Husnlal and Bhagat Ram, who were now a music duo sensation in the industry. They assured Khayyam Saab and recorded his maiden duet, 'Dono jahan teri mohabbat mein haar ke' with Zohrabai Ambalawali, in the film Romeo Juliet.
While working with Chishti Saab, Khayyam Saab became familiar with Wali Saab and his actress-wife, Mumtaz Shanti. They were in Bombay and producing Heer Ranjha in Punjabi. The music director of this film, Aziz Hindi, was a non-Punjabi, and Khayyam Saab was asked to compose five songs with a Punjabi flavour. He also composed music for Wali Saab's Parda, Biwi and Putli. Biwi's number, 'Akeley mein woh ghabratey to hongey' in Mohammad Rafi's voice became a phenomenal hit in the 1950s.
As Khayyam Saab's renditions were beginning to be appreciated, he was noted by Jaddan Bai (actress Nargis' mother) and was brought in by Nargis Art Concern for its film, Pyar Ki Batein. Khayyam Saab composed five songs and shared the credit with music director Bulo C Rani.
This is when Khayyam Saab was also introduced to Seth Chandu Lal Shah, the owner of Ranjit Movietone, who was looking for a music director for his film, Footpath. Khayyam Saab was the chosen one, competing with five other music directors in the race. Footpath was Khayyam Saab's first film as an independent music director, and the inaugural song was 'Shaam-e-ghum ki kasam,' in Talat Mehmood's voice.
Thereafter, Dhobi Doctor, Gul Bahar and Tatar Ka Chor flopped at the box office. But in 1958, Khayyam Saab came up with scintillating compositions for the film, Lala Rukh, where Shyama and Talat Mehmood were in the lead.
Khayyam Saab's much-treasured film, Phir Subah Hogi, based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic, 'Crime and Punishment,' was released in 1958. In his own words, "I got this film because of Sahir Ludhianavi. Director Ramesh Saigal told me that you have to convince Raj Kapoor whose favourite was Shankar Jaikishan. I played five tunes of the title songs to Raj ji, but he left the room, without reacting, with Ramesh Saigal. I thought I had lost out on that film. In the meantime, Raj ji and Saigal came back and Raj ji asked me, 'Which tune will you choose among those five, as I like the entire lot?' That's how I got the film. All songs of Phir Subah Hogi became immensely popular. The best compliment for the music came from director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who told me at the premiere, "Khayyam Saab, the subject has no scope for the songs, but you have created this wonder.'"
In the 1960s, he gave music in Barood, which is remembered for its song, 'Rang rangeela saanwara' (Lata-chorus). In yet another film, Shola Aur Shabnam, Khayyam Saab showed his versatility with 'Ladi rey ladi and Phir wahi saawan aaya' (Jagjeet Kaur), based on Punjabi folk; he also composed a solo and duet, 'Jaaney kya dhundhti rehti hain' (Mohammad Rafi), and 'Jeet hi leingey baazi hum tum' (Lata-Mohammad Rafi). Sahir and Khayyam Saab were back in Shagun, starring Waheeda Rehman and Kanwaljeet, with wonderful hit songs. Sahir's poetry and Khayyam's music created a stir in thbe industry.
Khayyam Saab's music in Akhtar Mirza's Mohabbat Isko Kehtey Hain, and Chetan Anand's, Aakhri Khat, had such soulful melodies: 'Itna husn pe huzoor na gurur kijiye' (Mukesh); 'Jo hum pe guzarti hai tanha kissey samjhaayen' (Suman Kalyanpur); and an intoxicating duet, 'Thehriye hosh mein aa loon to chaley jaeeyega'. In Aakhari Khat, Lata sang one of her best solos, 'Baharo mera jeevan bhi sanwaaro,' in Raga Pahadi, whereas Bhupendra sang his first solo, Rut jawan raat meharban. But Khayyam Saab's real big challenge was the background score for this film.
In 1976, Khayyam Saab gave memorable music in the multi-starrer, Kabhi Kabhie that enhanced Sahir's poetry: Kabhi Kabhie mere dil mein khayal aata hai (Mukesh-Lata); Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon (Mukesh); Pyaar kar liya to kya (Kishore Kumar); Mere ghar aayi ek nanhi pari (Lata); Tera phoolon jaisa rang (Kishore-Lata); and Punjabi folk, Saada chidiyaan da chamba ve (Lata-Jagjeet-chorus). Each song of Kabhi Kabhie was a chartbuster and this film fetched Khayyam Saab his first Filmfare award.
In the film, Shankar Hussain, two solos by Mohammad Rafi and Lata, Kahin ek masoom naazuk si ladki and Aap yoon phaaslon se guzarate rahey became cult compositions.
In 1981, Khayyam Saab's magnum opus, Umrao Jaan, starring Rekha, Farooq Sheikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Raj Babbar and Prema Narayan, had nine songs. Asha sang five of those all-time classic numbers: 'Dil cheez kya hai,' 'In aankhon ki masti mein,' 'Justju jiski,' 'Jab bhi milti hai mujhey' and 'Ye kya jageh hai dosto;' as also a ghazal sung by Talat Aziz, 'Zindagi jab bhi teri bazm mein laati hai hamein'. Khayyam Saab got a National Film Award for its music, Asha Bhosle for singing, and Rekha for the best actor. It was a double whammy for Khayyam Saab as it also won him a second Filmfare award.
Two other films that Khayyam Saab values are, Sagar Sarhadi's Bazaar (1982) and Kamal Amrohi's Razia Sultan (1983). Bazaar was on the burning issue of bride trafficking in Hyderabad, starring Farooq Sheikh, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Supriya Pathak. Khayyam Saab created unique compositions based on the kalams of Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Shauq, Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Bashar Nawaz.
Razia Sultan was a period film, starring Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Parveen Babi, Pradeep Kumar and Sohrab Modi. Khayyam Saab used a new voice of Kabban Mirza of Vividh Bharti fame, 'Aayee zanzeer ki awaz,' 'Khuda khair karey' and 'Tera hijr mera naseeb hai,' written by Jan Nissan Akhtar and Nida Fazli. Other two numbers were 'Jalta hai badan' (Lata) by Kaifi Azami, and Khayyam Saab's favourite, 'Aye dil-e-nadaan' (Lata) by Jan Nissan Akhtar. He also composed traditional tarana in the voices of Parveen Sultana and Dilshad Khan.
In Muzaffar Ali's Anjuman (1986), Khayyam Saab composed three songs sung solo by Shabana Azmi and her duet with Bhupendra. He also recorded a song in his own voice with his wife Jagjeet Kaur, the kalam of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 'Kab yaad mein tera saath nahin'. The film got a lukewarm response but Khayyam Saab was gratified by his work. His last film Yatra – the journey, with Gautam Ghosh, was released in 2006.
Khayyam Saab did a lesser number of films, as he always worked on his own terms and conditions, refusing to compromise. Whenever he didn't have a film on hand, he would do a yeoman's service for the music lovers by bringing out the private albums of Talat Mehmood, Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor, Jagjeet Kaur among others. He did an album for the ghazal queen Begum Akhtar and selected the poets himself. He also brought out an album of Meena Kumari's verses, 'I write I recite,' in her own voice. Khayyam Saab composed for television serials also. He recorded 50 songs for these serials. The most popular are, 'The Great Maratha', 'Maharaja Ranjit Singh,' 'Safar,' 'Sunhere Warq' and 'Shaira.'
A friend Vishwas Nerurkar along with Biswanath Chatterji published a well-researched, striking coffee table book, 'Khayyam The Man, His Music.' This prized possession was presented to me by the maestro, duly autographed by him and his wife Jagjeet Kaur.
This episode, Suron Ke Shahenshah – Khayyam, which was produced and directed by me, has been telecast several times on Doordarshan. Khayyam Saab has touched 90 and is paying back to the industry after setting up a Trust for upcoming, struggling music composers. Conferred with the Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and countless other honours, he is truly a torchbearer of the golden era of Indian film music. Long live Khayyam Saab!

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