Music composer Khayyam ran away from his village in Nawanshehar in undivided Punjab in 1937 or so. The urge to learn music and work in the film industry had taken root in his young mind. He made his way to his chachajaan’s (uncle’s) house in Delhi. He was all of 10 or 11 years old. I don’t know what the young boy expected in Delhi. Chances are, he just wanted to reach the nearest big city where a close relative lived and then, let destiny take its course.
In interviews given decades later, Khayyam clearly recalled the resounding slap with which his uncle received him on learning that he had run away from home without telling his parents. On mastering his temper, chachajaan took the boy to two gentlemen who were composing music for Hindi films those days. Few may remember Husnlal-Bhagatram today, but in the 1930 and ’40s, their music ruled the hearts of the public. They are considered to be the first music composer duo in Hindi films.
The brothers took Khayyam under their wing and started his training, his taleem. After learning from them for 4 or 5 years, Khayyam went to Lahore to continue his taleem under Ghulam Ahmed Chishti (who was fondly called Baba Chishti by everyone). Baba Chishti was a leading music composer in Punjabi films. It was while assisting in his orchestra that Khayyam earned his first paycheque ever – from none other than B.R. Chopra.
The simple man that he was, Khayyam would recall all these people with fondness and gratitude in his later interviews. These giants of that time were his chief musical influences, and the ones who helped launch his career in films.
Khayyam was all of 20 years when he returned to Bombay and met his old gurus Husnlal and Bhagatram. In an unexpected turn of events, they asked him to sing a song for the film “Romeo & Juliet”, the music of which they were composing. The astonished young man sang under his gurus’ baton, standing alongside Zohrabai Ambalewali, one of the singing sensations of that era. The song was written by another titan – Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
A somewhat memorable debut, what?
It was 1956 or ’57. Producer-Director Ramesh Saigal had roped in Raj Kapoor to play the male lead in his next film. And where there was Raj Kapoor, there had to be Shankar-Jaikishen.
But Sahir Ludhianvi, who was to write lyrics for the film, thought differently. He suggested that Saigal ought to find a composer who’d read the book on which this film was to be based. He said it’d make a big difference to the quality of the music. He added that he had one such person in mind, and introduced Saigal to Khayyam.
Initially, Saigal was in two minds. While he respected Sahir’s judgement, he thought Raj Kapooor would not accept anyone but his favourite composers.
After much thought, he asked Khayyam to compose a few tunes based on situations he outlined. He said that if Raj Kapoor liked the tunes, Khayyam would get the job. The young composer agreed (not that he had a choice).
On the appointed day, Raj Kapoor, Saigal and Sahir heard the 4 or 5 tunes that Khayyam had created at short notice. Kapoor didn’t say a word. When he walked out of the music room with an impassive face, Khayyam’s shoulders must have slumped. That’s it, he thought. The star actor does not like my tunes.
A hush-hush tete-a-tete between Ramesh Saigal and Raj Kapoor ensued. After several minutes, Saigal entered the music room again, went straight to a nervous Khayyam, clasped his face with both hands and proceeded to plant several kisses on his head – all the while exclaiming that he had got the prized job! Raj Kapoor loved his music, and had agreed to have him on board.
“Phir Subah Hogi” released in 1958 and was a musical sensation. For years afterward, Mukesh’s voice echoed in filmgoers’ ears, and Sahir’s words danced on their lips. The film catapulted Khayyam into the top bracket of Hindi film composers, and set the tone for a string of successes over the next few years. Until then, success and popularity had merely flirted with him (thanks to films like Biwi and Footpath). But now, they embraced him, made him one of their own. Later on, Khayyam would emphatically declare that this film did wonders for his confidence.
Sahir’s instinct proved to be right. The socialist poet knew that the on-screen adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” needed someone of a certain rare sensibility. “Phir Subah Hogi” marked the beginning of a celebrated creative collaboration between Sahir and Khayyam, that lasted all the way till Chambal Ki Kasam (1981).
Let’s hear the exquisite but less-heard “Chino Arab Hamara”, instead of the more famous “Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi” or “Aasman pe hai khuda”. There is hardly any orchestration in this song. There is just the magical tune, Mukesh’s voice and Sahir’s powerful irony.
Whenever I hear this song, it takes a long time for the goosebumps to go away.
This is part of a multi-part personal tribute I am paying to the much-loved music composer Khayyam. If you haven’t read the other parts, please do so now.