OP Nayyar: Remembering the Emperor of Rhythm

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By: Gautam Ganguly

On 16th January, connoisseurs of music in India and even across the world offered heartfelt tribute to OP Nayyar, the legendary music director, and popularly ‘the rhythm king’ of Bollywood, on the occasion of his birth anniversary. Despite the passage of time, OP Nayyar’s lilting, foot-tapping compositions remain eternal favourites for the innumerable aficionados of Bollywood film songs. Empirical experiences reveal that ‘dance-friendly’, rhythmic compositions of OP Nayyar suits the tastes of fast-pace-loving present generation. Consequently ‘remixed’ versions of OPN songs outscore his equally illustrious cotemporary Bollywood colleagues like Shankar-Jaikishan, SD Burman etc.

The musical ‘pundits’ describe  the secret of OP Nayyar’s sky-rocketing popularity overcoming generation gap syndrome to his  superlative perfection of ‘horse-beat rhythm’.  ‘CLIP-CLOP, CLIP-CLOP’, the sound created by the hooves of horses galloping is typical of his characteristic music. To quote famous music critic, Bharadwaj Rangan, ‘GHODA-GAADI BEAT’ had defined the music of an era’. OP Nayyar practically held the patent on this rhythm. ‘Maang ke saath tumhara’ (Naya Daur) and ‘Piya piya piya’ (Baap Re Baap), ‘Zara haule haule chalo’ (Saawan Ki Ghata), Banda parvar, thaam lo jigar (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon) are some of the outstanding, all-time, super-hit songs composed on this rhythm. However, ‘Yun toh humne lakh haseen dekhe hain’ is unanimously rated as the mother of all horse-beat songs with euphoric, spirit-uplifting musical resonance.

The song, ‘Deewana hua badal’ remains the milestone, the quintessential romantic song till date in the history of Bollywood that revolutionized the very concept and texture of Hindi filmy song. The scintillatingly melodious song is one of the most popular songs, irrespective of age, culture, generation – transcending national boundaries. Composed as back as in 1964, this iconic song is one of the top twenty popular songs as per ‘YouTube’ views. Even our neighbouring rival Pakistan credits OPN as ‘Son of Lahore’—where he was born in 1926.  The rendition of ‘Deewana hua’by Khalid Baig and Nish Asher, two Pakistani celebrated singers ably supported by breath taking orchestration, is fantastic and soothing.

Foot-tapping orchestration, superb blending of instruments especially guitar, saxophone, accordion coupled with Indian Classical instruments like Santoor, Sitar, Vina, Harmonium, Dholak and Tabla etc. are the hallmarks of maestro’s immortal compositions that resulted in enriching Bollywood songs with some magnificent opening ‘buzz’ and instrumental preludes and interludes. Even a casual listener can never miss the melodious opening buzz in ‘Pukarta chala hoon mein (Mere Sanam), ‘Babuji dheere chalna’ (ArPaar) etc. As soon as the opening buzz is played, people are seen humming these songs. Similarly, interlude instrumental renditions in ‘Yeh Chand sa Roshan chehera (Kashmir ki Kali’) ‘Mera Naam Chun chun chu’ (Howrah Bridge) are unparalleled, to name a few. Use of harmonium in the classic song, ‘Leke pehla pehla pyar’ or use of flute in super hit song, ‘chal akela, chal akela’ (Sambandh) are par-excellent.  The orchestration in these songs is as good and mesmerizing as the immortal songs themselves. Endless examples can be cited to prove this contention. Objectively speaking, no other music director can boast of display of uncanny musical creativity with such perfection.

The year 1954 saw the massive success of the film — Aar Paar – starring Guru Dutt and all the songs composed by OP Nayyar with  silken melodies like ‘Ello main haari’ sung by Geeta Dutt were smashing hits pulverizing Indian cine-goers. Guru Dutt’s two subsequent films, ‘Mr and Mrs. Iyer’ and then ‘CID’ had bumper success largely due to hauntingly melodious songs in these films composed by the maestro. ‘Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan’, from the film, ‘CID’ serves to show case the versatility of Nayyar. There was no looking back for   OP Nayyar thereafter, and was instantaneously described as ‘rhythm king’, a befitting epithet for his distinctly mellifluous compositions. For over a decade, he remained at the peak of popularity holding practically the reins in Bollywood. His popularity made him the highest paid music director receiving one lakh for a film, a staggering amount in the sixties!!

OP Nayyar had a highly egoistic, stubborn uncompromising personality with ‘no nonsense nature’.  A casual follower of Bollywood music will be surprised to know that he never used ‘Lata Mangeskar, the ‘Nightingale of India’, to sing his songs even once in his entire illustrious career, displaying amazing boldness and courage of conviction. Towards the end of his career, Nayyar fell out with his most loved singer, Md Rafi, for reporting late in recording a song. Undaunted, the defiant Nayyar carried himself nonchalantly and made Mahendra Kapoor sing evergreen songs like, ‘Lakhon hain yahaan dilwale’, ‘Aankhow mei quamat ki (Kismat) etc.

One article is too little to contain the greatness, multidimensional musical brilliance of OP Nayyar.  I wind up my tribute with the appropriate accolades of Javed Akhtar, ‘Any lover of vintage Hindi film music can identify a Nayyar tune as easily as any art lover would recognize MF Hussain painting.’

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