In 1976, Khayyam made a spectacular return to film composition with Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie.
For too long, music-composer Khayyam was on the sidelines. In spite of early indications of indubitable brilliance in films like Footpath in 1954 and the timeless Phir Subah Hogi in 1958, Khayyam lagged far behind the other composing stalwarts of the 50s and 60s.
That a composer of such colossal talent, who couldn’t compete with Shankar-Jaikishan, O.P. Nayyar, or even Ravi, left Khayyam embittered. During a large part of the 1960s, Khayyam sahab was upset with Mohammed Rafi, and vowed to replace him with Mahendra Kapoor. Such egoistic issues damaged the genius’ journey, and he found himself out of work in Bollywood during a large part of the 1960s and 70s. He kept himself busy with non-film albums like I Write I Recite, in which Khayyam composed music for poems written and sung by legendary actress Meena Kumari, which went on to be a unique classic.
In 1976, Khayyam made a spectacular return to film composition with Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie. The eloquent shayari of Sahir Ludhianvi and Khayyam’s lilting melodies set the charts ablaze. The title song Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein was the biggest hit of the year. And Khayyam was finally a musical force to reckon with. The composer went on to compose brilliant songs for Yash Chopra’s Trishul, Noorie, Nakhuda and Sawaal. He was also a part of the monumental Umrao Jaan in 1981. The album’s mujras and ghazals sung by Asha Bhosle were a rage, and continue to be popular to this day.
However, some of his most accomplished work post Kabhi Kabhie occurred in unsuccessful films. His compositions in the Shankar Hussain, Bazaar, Anjuman, Razia Sultan, and the unreleased Zooni never got the recognition they deserved.
“I am happy with the little that I do these days,” he had said in 2007. “The work I do is the work I want to do. Nowadays, that is not the way the film industry works.”
As singer Lata Mangeshkar mourns the passing of music composer Khayyam, she recalls her experience working with him.
“Among the many composing geniuses who created beautiful tunes for me to sing, Khayyam sahab was the last to remain alive. Now even he’s gone,” she says, adding that the composer never got his due. “I feel Khayyam sahab never got the fame and recognition he deserved. He didn’t do enough work. Perhaps his self-respect did not allow him to look for work. He was a man of great integrity, soft-spoken but resolute and principled. Recording for him was not easy. My association with him began rather late in his career when he asked me to sing the duet Jeet Hi Lenge Baazi from Shola aur Shabnam. I remember being bowled over by the tune. ‘Aapne yeh dhun sochi kaise?’ (How did you think of this tune?), I had asked him,” she recalls.
Mangeshkar adds that all her songs with Khayyam were special, “but some were more special than others. Dikhayi Diye Yun from Baazaar was a song that exceeded expectations. Khayyam sahab had a great sense of poetry. For this song, he dug out a 200-year old poem by Mir Taqi Mir, and told me exactly how to put forward the words. Another very special song was Apne Aap Raaton Mein. In fact, both this song and Aap Yun Faaslon Se from Shankar Hussain were very special.”
However, the most special song she sang for Khayyam was Ae Dil-e-Nadaan from Razia Sultan. “Every note, every incident related to the song, is embedded in my heart. Hema (Malini) ji was supposed to be singing the song in a tent while Dharmendra was playing the tune in another tent. But Hemaji was pregnant and the whole situation for the song changed. This really saddened Khayyam sahab, but he poured his heart into it. Ae Dil-e-Nadaan is one of the best songs I’ve sung in my career,” she shares.
The composer had a very peculiar habit in the studio, Mangeshkar reveals. “After recording, he would praise my singing and then ask for one more take. But I remember once he did not do so. ‘You’ve sung it exactly the way I wanted,’ he said, but his time I said ‘ek take aur ho jaye?’ (Shall we do another take?). He was a perfectionist. The way I sounded in his songs was unlike any other.”