An ode to Khayyam

In 1997, Universal Music released the album Asha Aur Khayyam, which sought to continue the magical chemistry shared by Asha Bhosle and music director Mohammed Zahur Khayyam. The two had combined successfully in Muzaffar Ali’s 1981 film Umrao Jaan. On this ghazal album, Khayyam chose poetry by Nida Fazli, Naqsh Lyallpuri and Hasan Kamaal. In terms of popularity, none of the songs matched Bhosle’s Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ and ‘In Aankhon Ki Masti’ or Talat Aziz’s ‘Zindagi Jab Bhi’, written by Shahryar for Umrao Jaan. But they gave sheer evidence of the command Khayyam had over the ghazal medium.

The music director, who passed away in Mumbai on Monday, was indeed a master at choosing great verses and adorning them with melody. By incorporating the harmonium, sarangi, bansuri, santoor and tabla, he gave his songs a rustic, Indian feel. Compared to his contemporaries, Khayyam did a limited amount of work. He gained a reputation for being selective, and someone who never compromised on the purity of his art. There were some commercial tunes in Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Trishul (1978), but the instances were few.

Poet’s dream

Khayyam’s forte lay in ghazals, which use rhyming couplets, and nazms, involving free verse. The composition of these forms isn’t just about choosing a melody and putting together a few instruments. One has to understand the depth of the poetry and be able to use music to enhance the singer’s expression.

The composer’s involvement with ghazals began early. He even sang Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s famous ‘Dono Jahan Teri Mohabbat Mein Haar Ke’ with Zohrabai Ambalewali in the 1947 film Romeo and Juliet. As a music director, his first big hit was Talat Mahmood’s ‘Shaam-e-Gham Ki Kasam’ from the 1953 movie Footpath.

He also worked extensively with ghazal empress Begum Akhtar on songs like Ghalib’s ‘Ibn-e-Maryam’, Mir Taqi Mir’s ‘Ulti Ho Gayi, Dagh Dehlvi’s ‘Uzr Aane Mein’ and Shakeel Badayuni’s ‘Mere Humnafas ‘Mere Humnava’. He also provided music for ‘I Write, I Recite’, a collection of poems by actress Meena Kumari.

Khayyam wasn’t prolific till Kabhi Kabhie, though he earlier created memorable songs in Phir Subah Hogi (1958), Shola Aur Shabnam (1961) and Aakhri Khat (1966). The Kabhi Kabhie title track was an adaptation of lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi’s older nazm, and ‘Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon’ became an anthem for poets. The following year, in 1977, he had an underrated masterpiece in ‘Aap Yoon Faaslon Se’, written by Jan Nisar Akhtar in the film Shankar Hussain (1977).

Music movement

Naturally, Khayyam’s style fit in perfectly with the ghazal movement of the 1980s. Ahista Ahista (1981) had Fazli’s ‘Kabhi Kisiko Muqammal’. Umrao Jaan (1981) became a landmark, and he even used Amir Khusro’s ‘Kaahe Byahi Bides’. in 1982, he made exquisite use of the ghazal in Sagar Sarhadi’s Bazaar (1982), with Mir’s ‘Dikhayi Diye Yoon’, Makhdoom Mohiuddin’s ‘Phir Chiddi Raat’ and Bashar Nawaz’s ‘Karoge Yaad’.

Other gems in the genre were Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Aye Dil-e-Nadaan’ in Raziya Sultan (1983), where he used the santoor beautifully, and the Faiz poem ‘Kab Yaad Main Tera Saath Nahin’, which he sang himself with wife Jagjit Kaur in the film Anjuman (1986). All these examples prove that like Madan Mohan, Khayyam had complete command over the ghazal genre. One only wishes he had done many more songs.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 11:17:15 PM |

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