Following his debut in Hindi films as a playback singer in Romeo & Juliet (1947) – I mentioned this in my previous post – word spread that here was a handsome young lad who also sang well. As a result, Wali sahib, a renowned lyricist and film producer of those days, asked to meet Khayyam. Wali sahib was scouting for a music composer for his next film, Heer Ranjha, a romantic film with a Punjabi heart. Obviously, the songs of the film had to crack the
Punjabi idiom well. Wali Sahib had already lined up the popular music composer Aziz Hindi, with whom he had worked before, to compose a few songs for this film. But he was looking for someone who could compose five or six tunes that throbbed with Punjabi melody and rhythm. The idea was that the songs of the film would be split between Aziz Hindi and the other composer.
By this time, Khayyam had teamed up with another young musician called Abdur Rehman. Just like Khayyam, Rehman too had assisted Baba Chishti in Lahore. Khayyam and Rehman decided they would compose music for films together. This made them the second music composer duo in Hindi films, after their gurus Husnlal-Bhagatram. Debuting in 1949 with Barsaat, Shankar-Jaikishan became the third such duo.
At the meeting with Wali sahib, Khayyam, in his straightforward and simple manner, requested the producer to test their mettle. Wali sahib agreed, and asked his brother to give them a few situations from Heer Ranjha. The composers passed the test a few days later, when Wali saib and his wife Mumtaz Shanti stamped their tunes with their seal of approval.
Meanwhile, given that those were communally charged times, Husnlal-Bhagatram feared for the safety of their young wards. They advised them to adopt Hindu names for the screen, and suggested the names Sharma ji and Verma ji for Khayyam and Rehman respectively.
And so, Heer Ranjha hit the theatres in 1948 with six songs composed by Sharma ji – Verma ji and a few others tuned by Aziz Hindi.
The music was a hit, and led to the duo signing on a few more films under the banner of Wali sahb’s production company. But soon after partition, Rehman went back to Lahore, where he continued scoring music for films. “Sharmaji”, on the other hand, stayed on in Bombay. Films such as Biwi (1950) and Pyar Ki Baatein (1951) featured his music scores and songs.
A couple of years later, Khayyam was signed on for the film Footpath. During one of the sittings for this film, its writer-director Zia Sarhadi, happened to ask Khayyam what his real name was. The way Khayyam recalls this incident in an interview, he makes it seem as though Sarhadi saab was irritated at the fact that the young man was not using his real name! On hearing that the young composer answered to the name of Mohammad Zahur Khayyam Hashmi, Sarhadi saab suggested that he jettison “Sharma ji” and use Khayyam as his name from then on.
When Footpath released in October 1953, the name Khayyam appeared on screen for the first time as music composer.
Without doubt, Footpath was a landmark film in Khayyam’s career, like it was for Meena Kumari, Dilip Kumar, Asha Bhosle and Talat Mahmood, he of the silky voice.
It was evident that with each subsequent film, the musician and creator in Khayyam was finding his groove. His musical phrases were becoming more sophisticated, and he was beginning to exhibit his latter-day hallmarks of poetic music, minimal instrumentation and rich silences.
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.