A tribute to OP Nayyar on his 8th death anniversary January 28 (January 16, 1926 – January 28, 2007)
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I read a comment somewhere that OP Nayyar rescued Rafi from the staid classicism of Naushad. I ignore the sarcasm targeted at my favourite Naushad, but it underscores the fact that no one was more antithetical to him than OP Nayyar. Every other great rival of Naushad had one thing common with him: Lata Mangeshkar – she gave voice to their greatest creations. OP Nayyar is the only one who could reach the top in spite of shunning her completely. And for this reason, I was not very fond of his music, until I started noticing his Rafi songs. They are the polar opposite of Naushad, but they are awesome, and we are lucky that OP Nayyar happened, bringing out an entirely different facet of Rafi. Naushad had a solid training in classical music, OP Nayyar had none, his music was instinctive. While Naushad oozed Lakhnavi nafasat, OP Nayyar personified Punjabi brashness – this also reflected in their music.
Once I had an interesting discussion with Subodh about Rafi vis-a-vis other singers. He made a point that Rafi perhaps suffered a handicap because of his versatility. Other singers like Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and Talat Mahmood had their well defined niches where they reigned supreme. Whenever Rafi ventured into their territory, he came out a poor second. A clear example is Saranga teri yaad mein which is regarded as a definitive song of Mukesh (though Rafi also sang a short piece), and later Tum bin jaun kahan against Kishore Kumar.
Our discussion then moved on to what would be a typical Rafi. We further stretched it to, what if songs not quintessentially Rafi were sung by different singers – say Do ghadi wo jo paas aa baithe by Talat Mahmood, Toote hue khwabon ne by Mukesh and Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan by Hemant Kumar. Subodh felt that these may sound better in the alternative voices. This is entering into speculation, but my view was that whereas Mukesh, Talat Mahmood and Hemant Kumar had a niche, Rafi had several distinct niches – Rafi for Johnny Walker, Rafi for Mehmood, Rafi for Dilip Kumar (by Naushad), Rafi for Shammi Kapoor by Shankar Jaikishan, Rafi for Bharat Bhushan and Pradeep Kumar by Roshan, Rafi for Dev Anand by SD Burman, and Rafi for Shami Kapoor and Joy Mukherjee by OP Nayyar. Rafi’s greatness lies in that no other singer had so many distinct niches. And that brings me to the point of this post – what is the most quintessential Rafi. And I have no doubt that OP Nayyar’s songs for Rafi are a class apart, and they do not permit even a ‘what if’ discussion as we did about his other songs.
While in female playback OP Nayyar gave great compositions with Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and later with Asha Bhosle, in male payback Rafi was integral to him. He had over 200 songs with Rafi, far more than he had with any other male singer. Differences with Rafi led him to move to Mahendra Kapur later in his career, but he was not a choice he would have voluntarily made. His music was important in transforming the sedate, sober and moustached hero Shammi Kapoor of Laila Majnu and Thokar into a wild and teasing lover with Tumsa Nahi Dekha, which was expanded into the ‘yahoo’ Junglee and Jaanwar by Shankar Jaikishan. OP Nayyar style became a cult. Dil De Ke Dekho is a kind of tribute by Usha Khanna to OP Nayyar style. Even Madan Mohan with his elite classicism and ghazal-Lata fame, unhesitatingly took ‘inspiration’ from OP Nayyar when he had to compose a fast dance song on Asha Bhosle or a song with bhangra/Punjabi beat.
OP Nayyar’s songs for Rafi remind me of a giant roller coaster in an amusement park in the US. You can make out the roller coaster from miles. The ride gives you an incredible thrill. The momentum takes you to the top of the loop when you become still; then by gravity you drop from a great height; at the bottom the accumulated kinetic energy now lets you cruise along the horizontal track until you come back to the point when the same circle is repeated.
To think that a composer in the 1950’s and 60’s could reach the top by excluding Lata Mangeshkar altogether is, besides haughtiness and supreme confidence, a testimony to his great talent. But his greatest compositions are either Rafi solos or his duets. As we celebrate this year as the Year of Naushad, it is an apt time to remember his polar opposite, OP Nayyar with his ten quintessential Rafi songs, as a tribute on his 8th death anniversary.
1. Mujhe dekhkar aapka muskurana from Ek Musafir Ek Haseena (1962), lyrics SH Bihari
This is the song which makes me think of a roller coaster. In mujhe dekhkar aapka muskurana you cannot fail to notice a very deliberate pause at almost every syllable – ‘jhe’ in mujhe, ‘de’ in ‘dekhkar’, ‘ka’ in aapka, ‘ra’ and ‘na’ in muskurana. By then OP Nayyar has accumulated so much energy that he effortlessly lets you twist, turn and drop in the loop, complimented beautifully by Joy Mukherji’s emoting on the screen. A quintessential Rafi and a quintessential OPN which is uniquely theirs.
2. Chhupne wale saamne aa from Tumsa Nahi Dekha (1957), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Tumsa Nahi Dekha gave Hindi films a new hero – the wild rebel who wooed the girl like mad, teased her to exasperation, and ultimately won her. It was OP Nayyar’s music which transformed Shammi Kapoor into the New Hero and created a cult.
3. Ek pardesi mera dil le gaya (duet with Asha Bhosle) from Phagun (1958), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi
This song has more of Asha Bhosle, but you cannot take her out of OP Nayyar. This song is my great favourite, not only for its absolutely wonderful ‘been’ music and dance, but also because OP Nayyar makes even Bharat Bhushan a delight to watch. A bonus in the link below is a very contrasting melody from the same film Tum rooth ke mat jana. A solid proof of OP Nayyar’s talent.
4. Lakhon hain nigah mein zindagi ki raah mein from Phir Wohi dil Laya Hun (1963), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
There was a Shammi Kapoor and there were some faux Shammi Kapoors, Joy Mukherjee being one of them, propelled by OP Nayyar’s music. You do not mind if he does not even pretend to play the guitar he is carrying (he is carrying it more like Hanuman’s गदा), or the strange sight that the garden (Nishat in Srinagar?) seems to have hundreds of girls in different groups, but hardly any male except our hero. The Rhythm King uses a variety of percussion instruments (including castanets? – a new name I learnt from a fellow blogger Ravi), but also manages to give great melody.
5. Subhan Allah haseen chehra ye mastana adaayein from Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), lyrics SH Bihari
This debut of Sharmila Tagore in Hindi films was a runaway hit on the strength of OP Nayyar’s music. No film better represents Rafi as the Voice of Shammi Kapoor than Kashmir Ki Kali. In Ye chaand sa roshan chehra… tareef karun kya uski, you can visualise Shammi Kapoor, who in the frenzied clapping and singing Tareef karun kya uski would jump in the lake. In Subhan Allah he is in his elements again, backed by this OP Nayyar-Rafi magic. Realising that the lech Pran is up to no good, Shammi Kapoor in drag jumps at the back of the truck Pran is driving, carrying the heroine and other girls. But he finds the haseen chehra irresistible and breaks into this qawwali-style song, not bothering that his disguise would be blown.
6. Humdum mere maan bhi jaao from Mere Sanam (1965), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri
Biswajit was another Shammi Kapoor-pretender. At times you feel like killing him, such as when he flees on the road in nothing but his briefs, but this gorgeous song makes you tolerate him.
7. Aapke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai from Bahaarein Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966), lyrics Anjan
From rythmic delight we now come to a superb ghazal. Dharmendra on the piano singing this great romantic song is very likeable.
8. Na jane kyun hamaare dil ko tumne dil nahi samjha from Mohabbat Zindagi Hai (1966), lyrics SH Bihari
Dharmendra again, but now in a soft, teasing mood with Rajshree. You get another variant of OP Nayyar-Rafi.
9. Dil ki aawaz bhi sun mere fasaane pe na ja from Humsaya (1968), lyrics Shevan Rizvi
We are back to Joy Mukherjee, now in a sombre mood. His career was by now in decline. OP Nayyar was also well past his peak. By this time Mahendra Kapoor had come to his fold. Dil ki aawaz bhi sun could be probably one of the last of OP Nayyar-Rafi songs, but one of their best.
10. Zulfon ko hata le chehre se from Saawan Ki Ghata (1966), lyrics SH Bihari
I started with a roller-coaster song. I end with another song which gives you the thrill of a roller-coaster ride. A slow mukhda (riding on the flat surface) with very deliberate elongated notes, slow climb, then a fast antara like a sharp drop. I had put it at the top in my post on zulf songs, but it is so good I cannot complete OP Nayyar-Rafi without it. You would have to ignore Manoj Kumar, because his unabashed imitation of Dilip Kumar’s mannerisms in the prelude to the song is quite irritating.