It is 1976.
A song is being recorded for Kamal Amrohi’s forthcoming production, which will be directed by Yusuf Naqvi. Mohammad Rafi is lending his voice for the actor Kanwaljit. In one of those whimsical decisions that film producers and directors often reserve for themselves, Kamaal Amrohi has written the lyrics of this song.
Rafi has rehearsed the song well, and is in top form. And soon, the ‘take’ is over. Everyone is happy, there are smiles all round. The members of the orchestra loosen their shoulders and sit back. A beaming Rafi comes out of the recording room, goes over to Khayyam and says in Hindi, “That came out very well, no?”
Khayyam smiles, but shakes his head slowly. In a gentle tone, he tells Rafi that while the song has indeed come out well, it hasn’t come out as well as it should have – the way he (Khayyam) has envisioned it. Rafi hasn’t quite sung it in the *exact* tone and manner that Khayyam had asked him to. It is a soft song Rafi saab, Khayyam explains. It’s been created for a mellow situation. Your voice has to be suitably softened and modulated. (Years later, Khayyam would recall this incident in an interview saying, “Rafi saab originally sang it the way he sang ‘saverey waali gaadi sey chale jaaenge. His voice was hard. It just wouldn’t do!”)
Rafi, flush with the excitement of a song well sung, asks Khayyam to ignore “these little things” and let the song be. Sometimes you should let these imperfections remain…and you never know, the song may become a huge hit because of them, he says. Lapsing into Punjabi, he tells Khayyam not to go into such subtleties.
Since words can very well wound someone’s pride, I think Rafi has wounded Khayyam’s pride in that instant.
The composer responds by saying that paying attention to subtleties *is* his principal trait. If he abandons this, the film industry will abandon him! He then gently asks Rafi to stay back for a few more minutes and do another take, the way Khayyam wants him to. Hearing the composer say, “Aap toh Rafi saab hain, aap kuch bhi gaa saktey hain”, the great singer is mollified.
Returning to the recording room, he delivers a perfect take. And this time, Khayyam is over the moon!
This incident is somewhat surreal, because Rafi saab himself was known for his nazaaqat, his delicate approach to music. And for someone to trump *him* on that…
Bareeqi (subtlety and attention to detail) was Khayyam’s other name. Which explains why, in a career spanning 1947 to 2016, he scored music for just about 57 films. At his prolific best, he’d do just two or three films in a year. On many an occasion, he would immerse himself in the story of a film and the song situations for weeks, before composing a single note.
For period films like Lala Rukh, Umrao Jaan and Razia Sultan, he spent months researching the era that was to be recreated in the film. It was by layering his soaring imagination onto hard-nosed research that he came up with such beautiful music.
Khayyam embroidered and embellished his music like a master craftsman creating a kashidakaari beauty – by pouring love and finesse into it. For him, just like for Dada Burman, the song was everything.
Shankar Hussain released in 1977 and tanked. But 43 years later, its songs, including the one Khayyam exhorted Rafi to sing again, continue to transport listeners.
After listening to “kahin ek masoom naazuk si ladki”, please please listen to that other beauty from the same film – “aap yun faaslon sey guzartey rahey” (the link to this song is in the first comment below). This was written by Jan Nisar Akhtar.
And here are two other beauties from the same film.
Aap yun faaslon se – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7-K6cy-Pog
Apne aap raaton mein – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPPP1H0Kl3M
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.