RMIM Archive Article "265".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: Nostalgia : O.P.Nayyar
# Source: Filmfare (http://www.filmfare.com/site/jan97/nost.htm)
# Author: Anuradha Choudhary
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
O.P.Nayyar - Nothing but the truth
By: Anuradha Choudhary
Filmfare Jan 97
Tracking down the elusive maestro-turned-homeopath-doctor
The voice at the other end says crisply, "Yes, I'm O.P. Nayyar."
I can barely believe that at long last, I've tracked down the
elusive composer whose music has brought so much cheer in our
lives. For nearly six months, all inquiries about his whereabouts
had drawn a blank. It would have been easier to find a needle in
And then he appeared on a TV programme. So I resolved to do a
Hercule Poirot on the missing maestro. I put the clues together
and there he was, speaking to me right at this moment.
"Are you still there?" the voice asks as I prepare to do my
"Yes sir, we'd like to do an interview with you," I state
"You should know that I don't do interviews. I don't trust
journalists. They've always backstabbed me by misquoting me," the
voice reprimands me.
Unstymied, I try again. I can't give up now... just when I've
traced him to a hotel in Juhu. I cajole him gently. He gives in
but only after extracting a promise that I won't misquote him. I
assure him that he needn't worry.
The next day, I tap at his hotel room door. And I'm face to face
with history. Here's the legend who was responsible for such
unforgettable songs as Ello main hari piya (Aar Paar), Kahin pe
nigahen kahin pe nishana (C.I.D), Maang ke saath tumhara (Naya
Daur), Aaiye meherban baithiye jaanejaan(Howrah Bridge), Zara
holle holle challo more sajna (Sawan Ki Ghata), Chain se humko
kabhi (Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye)...
The trademark hat is in place. He's taller than I'd expected and
exceptionally striking looking. His eyes radiate the kind of
warmth which immediately puts me at ease.
We are seated and I narrate the ordeal I had to go through to
find him. He laughs full-throatedly and explains that he's been
out of bounds because he no longer lives in his four-room flat at
Marine Drive. He's been estranged from his family for about eight
years. He has even switched his profession. Now, he practises
homeopathy, travelling to the far-flung corners to heal patients.
"I'm a living legend. This country will remember me after I die"
Apart from third degree cancer and T.B., I've cured all other
illnesses," he states casually. "Because of my chosen profession,
I'm always on the move. Whenever I'm in Mumbai, I always stay at
this hotel. Not many people know about this.
" He tells me that I can ask him any question under the sun and
he would answer frankly. There's so much to quiz him about but I
don't know where to begin. I'm like a child who doesn't know what
to pick from a chocolate box.
I make a random choice and ask him about how and why he entered
the movies. Without a pause, he rewinds to the halcyon pre-
Partition days in Lahore when, he laughs, a peg of whisky would
cost a mere eight annas.
In 1944, Onkar Prasad Nayyar was all of 18. Studies didn't
interest him. Instead women were his fascination and music his
passion. So he dropped out of college to dabble in music. His
first compositions--Pritam aan milo and Kaun nagar tera door
thikana--were sung by his friend C.H. Atma. When he took these to
HMV, the recording company, promptly released the songs on its
least popular label, Regal.
"Those days, the company used to have three labels--Regal,
Columbia and HMV," the man of the music reminisces. "I was paid
Rs 40, a fairly princely sum in those days for two songs. But
nothing much came out of the venture. Then in 1946 I started
teaching music at a school in Patiala. But teaching wasn't really
my cup of tea. So I gave it up."
Following Partition, the Nayyars shifted base from Lahore to
Amritsar. After trying out few odd jobs, in 1949, O.P. armed with
dreams, boarded a train to Mumbai...
Here he met producer-director Krishan Kewal who was making
Kaneez. Ghulam Haider and Hansraj Behl were the film's music
directors. "But the background music of the film was composed by
O.P. Nayyar," he says proudly. "I was paid Rs 1000. I thought I'd
made it but I was sadly mistaken. I couldn't find work for days.
So I returned to Amritsar, I started teaching once again. I had
resigned myself to a life of anonymity."
Fortuitously, O.P. met his school friend classmate (S.N. Bhatia,
proprietor of a chemist shop in Lahore) who had close connections
with producer Dalsukhan Pancholi, the major domo of the Punjab
film industry. But Pancholi wasn't impressed immediately. "He
took one look at me and threw me out," the maestro smiles with
In 1951, Pancholi released Nagina starring Nutan and Nasir Khan.
The songs in the film were sung by C.H. Atma. The film was
released at the Regal theatre in Delhi.
O.P.Nayyar narrates, "See, how destiny works. At the theatre,
Pancholi met my friend Bhatia in the cloakroom. Bhatia complained
that though he'd recommended C.H. Atma and me to Pancholi, he'd
only selected the singer... and that he'd missed out on a
"Pancholi immediately asked to see me. Bhatia sent me a telegram
to come down to Delhi immediately. That also happened to be the
day of my marriage, incidentally. I reached Delhi and Pancholi
had already signed me as the music director of his next film
Aasman... even though he'd had a successful partnership with
"I firmly believe that R.D. Burman gave his best compositions
to Lata Mangeshkar and not to Asha Bhosle"
Followed P.L. Santoshi's Chham Chhama Chham and Guru Dutt's Baaz.
"I was excited," O.P. rewinds. "Santoshi dropped Naushad to
accommodate me... while Guru Dutt who never worked with anyone
but S.D. Burman opted for me. The stories of all my first three
films were in some way related to the sky... and all three of
them were super-flops. I literally fell from the skies. Needless
to say, I was shown the door again."
Dejected, O.P. wanted to pack his bags and leave for Amritsar. He
went to Guru Dutt for a pending payment of Rs 3000. "I had no
money to even feed my family. But Guru Dutt refused to pay me. He
said he was broke. I told him to sell his possessions to pay me
my dues. He was furious at the very suggestion and told me to
leave. But producer K.K. Kapoor of Kardar Productions intervened.
He advised him to sign me for Aar Paar as compensation for my
dues. Guru Dutt agreed and also paid me Rs 2000 as advance."
Aar Paar was a winner. O.P. Nayyar became a household name.
Today, he narrates an anecdote about the days of making music for
Guru Dutt. When he'd composed Babuji dheere chalna, the actor-
producer-director liked the mukhda but wanted drastic changes in
"I told him to change the situation and I'd change the tune,"
O.P. says. "But he was adamant. So after a week, I took the very
same tune to him and told him that I'd made the necessary
changes. He heard it and said it was perfect. Really Guru Dutt
could be stupid at times.
"One day, while shooting for Mr and Mrs 55, he called me and
asked me whether I liked the picturisation of a song. I told him
I didn't like the camera angles. He asked me, `What do you know
about the camera anyway?' And I asked him, `What do you know
about music?' After that day, he stopped interfering with my
In a career spanning 25 years, O.P.Nayyar composed an entire
treasury of memorable melodies. "But I'm an illiterate in music,"
he says, almost startling me out of my chairs. "I can't even read
the notations or the basic alphabets of music. When I composed
Phir wohi dil laya hoon, my friend Ustad Amir Khan was so taken
in by the song that he refused to believe that I hadn't learnt
music formally. He said it was impossible to put together a song
like that one without knowing music... I guess whatever I
composed was God's gift to me."
Music circles have always wondered why O.P.Nayyar didn't use the
voice of Lata Mangeshkar... not even once. "I was successful
without Lata's voice," he tells me proudly, adding, "I have no
doubts that Lata is a great artiste. I've never had any problems
with her. And that's the truth. It's just that her thin, thread-
like voice wasn't suitable for my compositions. Shamshad Begum,
Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle were my kind of singers. They made my
songs come alive."
"Since I was emotionally involved with Asha Bhosle, I neglected Geeta Dutt.
I deeply regret that"
Clearly Asha Bhosle was his trump card. Together they created
magic. In an association spanning 70 films, they scaled new
heights in music.
"I moulded Asha's voice and gave her style and respectability,"
he states without mincing any words. "Till then, composers had
considered her fit only for cabaret numbers. I fought with film-
makers for her. When B.R. Chopra signed me for Naya Daur, he
insisted that I should take Lata Mangeshkar. I refused point
blank. I stood my ground and told him that it was either Asha and
me or Lata Mangeshkar. He decided on Asha and me.
"But mind you, I'm not saying this to take credit for Asha's
success. She is truly a very gifted singer. I couldn't have done
much if she didn't have the talent. "
At this point, I ask a thorny question... Isn't it true that he
sorely neglected Geeta Dutt in her later years in favour of Asha
Bhosle? Candidly, he replies, "You see, at that time Asha and I
were emotionally involved. Asha objected to my working with other
singers. She made me promise that I wouldn't work with anyone
else but her. Since I was involved with her, I agreed. I deeply
regret the fact that I neglected Geeta. But there were certain
songs which only Asha could have sung."
Discussing his relationship with Asha Bhosle, he states
categorically that Asha was his grand amour... the love of his
life. "They say when a woman loves, she loves with her soul...
and when she hates someone she becomes a chandi. The same was
true of Asha too. When she sang for me she'd put her heart and
soul into it," he says gently.
According to film lore, the relationship between the composer and
his singer came to an abrupt end. Apparently, Asha Bhosle walked
out. In turn, he replaced her with singer Krishna Kalle. O.P.
clarifies this story though. He says, "Asha didn't leave me. I
left her. Since I'm a very good astrologer, I knew in advance
that I was reaching the end of my career. I also knew that if I
didn't leave then, I would be kicked out. Besides there were
personal differences between us. I also realised that one should
never get involved with a career-oriented woman. You'll always
remain her second love. She'll throw you out before she leaves
"Chain se humko kabhi was the last song that Asha sang for me.
She even won the Filmfare award for it. But she didn't go to
receive the award. She probably felt that I deserved the
award.... and not her. One thing that I can say about the
Mangeshkar sisters is that though they were truly great artistes,
they've never had any schooling or breeding. So they've suffered
from complexes. When I took Krishna Kalle, Asha couldn't bear it.
That was the last I saw of her."
"Music can never be cheap, it's the lyrics and the song
picturisations that have become vulgar"
Yet he still reveres Asha Bhosle, describing her lovingly as, "A
good mother, a great artiste and a wonderful human being... It's
the mean world which taught her how to be cunning. She wasn't
like that when I first met her. But all said and done, I must say
that she hasn't been an ungrateful person...."
Asha Bhosle moved on to form an alliance with R.D. Burman. I'm
curious to know what he thought of Panchamda and his music. "R.D.
Burman," O.P. emphasises, "was one of the best music directors
we've ever had. His fusion of Indian and western music was
beautiful. But I firmly believe that he gave his best
compositions to Lata Mangeshkar and not to Asha."
O.P. Nayyar is honest enough to agree that his own decline
coincided with his separation from Asha Bhosle. Singers like
Krishna Kalle, Vani Jairam and Dilraj Kaur couldn't sustain his
"But this was destined to happen," he points out. "The girls were
not to be blamed. I worked on Asha for 15 years, whereas these
girls were with me at most for one or two films. I'm sure I could
have worked wonders with them too. But what would have been the
point? I knew my bad period had begun... so I left the industry."
He also admits that he was very arrogant. "But never ungrateful!"
he exclaims. And by way of proof, informs me that he never forgot
his debt to Dalsukhan Pancholi. Though the producer had dropped
him after Aasman, the maestro during his days of success composed
music for him again. He even did C.I.D, Mr And Mrs 55 and Baharen
Phir Bhi Aayegi on the terms, conditions and remuneration offered
by Guru Dutt.
"I've always believed that if you're ungrateful to your mentor,
then you're ungrateful to God," O.P. says firmly. "Yes, I was
arrogant because I cashed in on the producers who cashed in on my
popularity. And why not? I was the only music director whose
name was enough to sell a film. Secondly, I could never tolerate
indiscipline. I threw out sarangi player Ram Narayan, sitar
player Rais Khan and flute player Hari Prasad Chaurasia whenever
they'd turn up late for my recordings. I'd tell them that their
musical instruments were meaningless without my melodies.
"I even threw out Mohammed Rafi when he turned up late for a
recording. Instead, I used Mahendra Kapoor's voice in Love And
Murder. I can proudly say that not a single producer ever paid
overtime for my recordings. Today, I hear producers are paying
18-20 hours of overtime. That's disgusting!"
On the other hand, there was a time when the music business was
far more streamlined. Neither was there any unhealthy competition
between the music directors. O.P.Nayyar would walk straight into
Shankar-Jaikishen's room and ask them about their new songs.
The list of stalwarts he admires is long... mistily he recalls
the names. R.C. Dural, Punkaj Mullick, Khemchand Prakash, Shyam
Sunder, Ghulam Haider, Anil Biswas, Sajjad Hussain, K.L. Sehgal,
C. Ramachandra, Roshan, Madan Mohan, S.D. Burman, Vasant Dev,
Naushad and Chitragupta. "That was the golden era of music. We
had the best music directors, the best lyricists and the best
singers. Each one of us believed in giving his best. But I'm
afraid those days will never return," he says nostalgically.
He doesn't hear music anymore. Today's films mainly revolve
around crime and violence. "Yet music can never be cheap," he
rationalises. "How can the saat sur be cheap? It's the lyrics and
the song picturisations that have become vulgar." Of A.R.
Rahman, he says, "I've heard of his name but to be honest I
haven't heard his music."
"How could I accept the Lata Mangeshkar Award? I've never
worked with her"
Touch upon his attempt to make a comeback (in vain), he states
that he accepted Nischay and Zid only because of the pleas of
producers Bappi Sonie and Pranlal Mehta. "But the films were so
bad... the direction was so poor that even my songs couldn't help
them. I didn't fail, the films failed. Now I've realised that the
best thing is to withdraw completely from the music scene.
Recently, Javed Akhtar approached me to make an album... he even
offered me my price but I refused.
I bring up the topic of the Lata Mangeskhar award which he
refused to accept. "Firstly, awards are always named after dead
people and she's alive," he asserts. "Secondly, I've never
worked with her. Thirdly, it was a singer's award to a composer.
I'd have gladly accepted the award if it was a composer's award
"The representative who came to inform me about the award
prostrated in front of me. He said that the ministers don't even
leave Rs 10,000 and I was rejecting Rs 1 lakh. When he kept on
and on, I silenced him by telling him the truth--I don't need the
Time is running out, I have plenty more to ask... and know. But
he has several appointments to keep.
So I wind up by asking him if he has any concluding words for me.
Staring me straight in the eye, he says, "I've been a philosopher
and thinker all my life. I've lived my life my way. I'm very
proud of my work. I believe that I'm a living legend... Mark my
words, this country will remember me after I die. O.P. Nayyar
will live through his music."