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Unsung genius

DEEPAK MAHAAN
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cinema Celebrating his 86th birthday this coming Monday, Khayyam will always be known as an understated genius. DEEPAK MAHAAN

Wise men don’t lay credence to statistics as they never reveal the true story. For instance, music director Khayyam has composed music for just over 50 films in his long career, yet his impact on listeners has been far greater than many who scored for several hundred movies. Khayyam confides he could have done 200 films but didn’t as, early in his career, he and his wife Jagjit Kaur had decided never to compromise on quality. Choosing a favourite from his songs is a difficult proposition, but who can ever forget the pious yearning of ‘Woh Subah Kabhi To Aayegi’, the heart wrenching ‘Jaane Kya Dhoondhti Rehti Hain Ye Aankhen’, the cry of ‘Bujha Diye Hain Khud Apne Haathon’, the romantic tease of ‘Thehriye Hosh Mein Aa Lun’ or the love ballad of ‘Kahin Ek Masoom Nazuk Si Ladki’?

Khayyam, who never kept a team of assistants, credits his success to his beloved wife, applauding her as his greatest strength and inspiration. Because of her invaluable creative inputs, he had even contemplated composing under the label of “Khayyam Jagjit Kaur”, but she vetoed his decision. Khayyam attributes Jagjit’s limited playback appearances to her unrelenting rule of never allowing him to propose her name to any producer and singing only when someone specifically asked for her voice. For fans reared on the evergreen songs of Footpath , Lala Rukh , Mohabbat Isko Kahte Hain , Shagun , Aakhri Khat , Shola aur Shabnam , Kabhi Kabhie , Umrao Jaan , Razia Sultan and Bazaar , it would come as a surprise to learn that the master had to pass a music test to gain the stellar movie Phir Subah Hogi !

Recommended by Sahir Ludhianvi, Khayyam’s name was acceptable to producer-director Ramesh Saigal but only if his compositions were approved by Raj Kapoor. On the given day at RK Studios, Raj Kapoor first made Khayyam tune a tanpura to gauge his dexterity and then after listening impassively to five compositions, took Saigal to another room. When they didn’t return for almost 45 minutes, everyone presumed Khayyam had been rejected but the thespian came back with a stream of compliments and a request that all five compositions be retained in the film.

Despite all his film achievements and awards, the disciple of composer Chishti Baba of Lahore is most proud of his non-film albums which he composed with Mohammed Rafi, Meena Kumari and Begum Akhtar. Similarly, the credit for Asha Bhosle’s fabulous singing in Umrao Jaan goes to Khayyam’s ingenuity of making her adopt a slightly lower scale.

Mystified, Asha initially refused to sing. She relented to record when Khayyam insisted he’d submit to her demand, but only after she’d heard the new tonal quality of her vocals. Later, astonished by her own newfound voice, Asha not only apologised but also complimented Khayyam for “improving her singing”!

Unfortunately, in his twilight years, the death of his grown-up son Pradeep and the subsequent illness of Jagjit have made him stay away from recording studios. A pity, especially as the music scene today needs someone like him more than ever before to cure it of its banality. However, even if he never picks up the baton again, it is certain that transcending all religious, cultural and geographical barriers, Khayyam’s music will live forever in the hearts of his admirers around the world.


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