Top 10 – Khayyam, the steadfast ‘mausiqaar’.

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 “My work is my hifazat, my namaaz and Allah has always justly rewarded my devotion and dedication to work. I would never prostitute my art for money.”

As a couplet in one of his song goes, “Bik gaya joh woh kharidar nahin ho sakta’ (You have nothing left to buy when you sell yourself), Khayyam would not put his soul on sale even when he was down for the count. In turn, he became the last great custodian of musical fidelity.

To avoid landing in the eye of the post partition communal riot storm, Khayyam made his debut under the pseudonym Sharmaji with thirteen songs in Parda (’49) and not in Footpath (’53) as is wrongly attributed but it was the latter which caught attention with Talat Mehmood singing ‘Sham e gham ki kasam’ filmed on Dilip Kumar.

khayyam_01 - www.filmkailm.comWhen Ramesh Saigal adapted Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as Phir Subah Hogi (’58) and hired Raj Kapoor as the lead, Shankar Jaikishan were already tuning their instruments waiting for the call.

Sahir Ludhianvi, the lyricist suggested to Saigal that true justice to this score can only be done by someone who had not only read the book but understood it. And Khayyam was chosen based on this condition as also his spare, minimalist approach resulting in classic soundtrack.

He remained the only composer in the horde to have sustained a peak of creative excellence in the face of success and setback alike, never abdicating his judgment in favor of public taste but not decrying others for it either; reminiscing each time what Anil Biswas once said, “The tune came first the public only after.”

Volatile, confident, stubborn and selective, Khayyam’s indomitable matadorial spirit sustained him in the bull-ring of film music. At every stalemate, his wife Jagjit Kaur fought with him, never letting him quit as if pleading, ‘Tum apna ranjo gham, apni pareshani mujhe de do.’

Such is his instrumentation that even as the orchestra integrates, each piece of music separates. This is what gives him authentic style. Khayyam composes feeling and not words.

A chronological celebration of Khayyam sahab’s music, in tune with his 87th birthday on 18 Feb.

Please click on the poster to hear and see his creations.

1) Sham e Gham ki kasam (Footpath, 1953) – Majrooh and Ali Sardar Jafri


A song considered ‘unpalatable’ by producer Wali sahab who had promised a big independent break to Khayyam, it struck the perfect note with writer director Zia Sarhadi and landed him the pole position in a top billed film with Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari.

The film was rejected but Talat’s enveloping rendition under the maestros baton gained respect and kick started a Dlip – Talat jugalbandi.

Influenced by early Naushad compositions, Khayyam was to soon discover and define his penchant for his favorite, the Pahadi raga.


2) Woh Subah Kabhi (Phir Subah Hogi,  1958) – Sahir

This is the tune that won over Kapoor’s and the nation’s, approval when he was set on Shankar Jaikishen.

As the album was recorded during a musician’s strike, Khayyam could not afford the luxury of more than nine instrumentalists playing for him. His resounding innovations set the cat among the musical pigeons.

Displaying his grip on the qawwali inspired Rafi Mukesh duet, “Jis pyaar mein yeh haal ho” he was invited to score for Barsaat ki Raat (1960).

The director asked him to lift the tunes from two Pakistani qawwals, enraging Khayyam. The contract finally went to Roshan.

3) Jaane kya dhoodhti rehti – (Shola aur Shabnam 1962) – Kaifi Azmi


A talcum faced, gauche Dharmendra, protected by noir lighting, sings one of Rafi and Khayyam’s best songs. Ever.

Kaifi’s, extreme discrimination in his selection of projects, instantly connected with Khayyam. Ramesh Saigal repeated Khayyam after Phir Subah Hogi and Raga Pahadi made a debut in his tunes with this creation.

The breezy “Jeet hi lenge baazi hum tum” proved his ability to alter the tempo as per the script’s demand.

The concluding ascending, notes only fortified the ideological gravitas of the three artists responsible for this gem – “Kaise bazaar ka dasoor tumhe samjhaun, Bik gaya jo woh kharidaar nahin ho sakta.

The “Not For Sale” plaque is still riveted on the door of the one remaining – Khayyam.

4) Tum Apna Ranjo Gham (Shagoon – 1964) – Sahir 


Sung on screen by Katrina of the sixties, the ravishing Libi Rana, Khayyam’s wife Jagjit Kaur imbibes the heart wrenching poignancy of Sahir’s lyrics and delivers this anguish ridden ghazal.

Defying expectation, Khayyam allows the piano, an instrument not traditionally associated with the ghazal, to lead a surprisingly pacy composition.

The Rafi Suman Kalyanpur duet from the same film “Parbaton ke pedon par” probably inspired the real life romance when Waheeda Rehman married the film’s hero Kamaljeet.

5) Thehriye hosh mein aa lun – (Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain – 1965) – Majrooh

mohabbat_isko_kehte_hain_-_1965_-_www-filmkailm-comWhile being grateful to his mentor, Husnlal, Khayyam never really approved of the weepy “Ek Dil ke Tukde Hazaar” format in which he tended to cast Rafi.

Khayyam claims to have reshaped Rafi’s vocal technique by eliminating the maudlin strain with the solo “Hai kali ke lab pe” in Lala Rukh (’58).

Here, he triumphantly treads into O P Nayyar territory with the attention grabbing mellifluous sarangi as the fulcrum. Lata’s boycott of Rafi gave Suman Kalyanpur the advantage which was gratefully accepted. She delivered too on the promise till Lata realized her folly, swallowed her pride and relegated her to B film songs.

Majrooh underlines his singularly superior command over the conversational style of lyrical idiom he had developed in tandem with S D Burman.

6) Rut Jawan Jawan (Aakhri Khat – 1966) – Kaifi Azmi


Although the Lata solo, “Baharon, mera jeevan bhi” was the resounding hit, for me this one stands out by its brilliance.

Like the lovingly, restrained cadence of a sweet lullaby, the trumpet, accordion and the guitar stand out with their clean, organised notes.

In this song, Khayyam also gave the first solo singing break to Bhupinder. An accomplished guitarist, he looks distressed performing on screen but if you notice carefully, like a seasoned professional his fingers press the right frets while strumming as he did while recording.

Sulakshana Pandit too was Khayyam’s discovery.


7) Tera Phoolon Jaisa Rang (Kabhie Kabhie – 1976) – Sahir

kabhie_kabhie_-_1976_-_www-filmkailm-comThe 9 year chasm in Khayyam’s career is still a matter of mystery as he has never openly spoken about it. B R Chopra was the first person to put young Khayyam on the payroll with Rs.125 and his brother resurrected him. Considered dead and buried, he rose phoenix like in this incomparable score again with Sahir. Kishore came in for Rishi, performing under his baton 22 years after Dhobi Doctor (’54).

The conception, the exemplary orchestration of this glorious compilation was laid out for the public to relish. The vocal and euphonic range snugly oscillated from adolescence to maturity, the album sales shattering records.

One of the greatest soundtrack in Hindi cinema, it fetched him re-approval and a Filmfare Award.


8) Kahin ek masoom nazuk (Shankar Hussain – 1977) – Kamaal Amrohi


Amrohi wrote this ill-fated film for his friend Yusuf Naqvi. Suffering from impoverished production values and bargain basement actors from the local furniture mart, only Khayyam’s two songs have saved it from the rubbish dump.

The ghazal maestro caresses this nazm with the care of a newly anointed father handling a baby. Rafi’s whispered modulation reinforced his own revival from the Kishore tempest which had entombed him.

This also drew focus on the fierce, independent streak of the master creator: willing to give the best irrespective of the prestige of the banner.

Consider it blasphemy if you will but I have included this at the cost of the highly feted Bazaar, simply because it is so obscure and under rated.

9) Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston (Umrao Jaan – 1981) – Shahryar

umrao_jaan_-_1981_-_www-filmkailm-comNothing distressed Naushad more than the statement in the wake of Umrao Jaan that where once he was master of the art of articulating poetry through music, now the torch had passed on to Khayyam.

As Asha Bhonsle recalled, “Jaidevji was originally supposed to compose the music for this film, but later Khayyam saheb took over. Everything about this song was so unique. It was sad, haunting, I sung it two notes lower than my usual pitch and Rekha added such magic to it.”

This was the peak of their soul and body coupling. Earlier, he had made Asha sing the first female bhangra song in 1948 and her first cabaret number in Footpath.

Perhaps the most identifiable of Khayyam’s work, it won the National as well as his second Filmfare award. The industry never looked at Asha as poor replacement for Lata again.


10) Aye Dil e Nadan (Razia Sultan – 1983) – Jan Nisar Akhtar


“Filmmakers trusted me and people like Kamaal Amrohi would sit with me for hours, tell me camera angles to help me know the mood and location of the song. That little silence in this song between ‘Ye zameen chup hai, aasman chup hai’ is Kamaal’s contribution.”

The purists also rate this above all of Khayyam’s s sterling creations.

Lata said, “Sometimes, the director’s vision of a song adds great value to the composition. I loved the way it was explained to me by Kamal Amrohi. I just closed my eyes, rendered it and conveyed the emotions.” The big blame however lay on the great Amrohi for not utilizing the score more evocatively on-screen as he had with Pakeeza

His other notable films include Trishul, Noorie, Thodi Si Bewafai, Dard, Ahista Ahista and Lorie.

Our salutations to the maestro.

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