Khayyam worked closely with a few singers, repeatedly harnessing their talent to give his songs a sense of completion, and to enhance their beauty. Talat Mehmood, Mukesh, Geeta Dutt, Rafi, Asha and Lata were his mainstays in first part of his career – from 1948 to 1968.
The second half of his career began when he returned to action in 1974, post-hiatus. While he famously collaborated with Mukesh again (in Kabhie Kabhie in 1976), he took new singers into his fold, too. These included Bhupinder (I am calling him “new” because he established himself as a singer only in the seventies, though he started singing in 1964), Anwar, Suresh Wadkar, Nitin Mukesh and Yesudas. Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar and Jagjit Kaur were anyway just a call away.
Among the new singers he nurtured was a strapping young man from Hyderabad. When Khayyam started working with him, he (the singer) had just cut his first album of ghazals, which had been launched by no less a musician than Jagjit Singh. Khayyam spotted the singer at a private mehfil and offered him an opportunity to sing in Hindi films.
But first, the singer had to pass a trial by fire – as many other singers had done before him. Khayyam made him rehearse the song (a solo) for 15 days before he consented to have it recorded. During that fortnight, the composer steadily polished the uncut diamond he had unearthed.
And when Umrao Jaan released in 1981, the song “zindagi jab bhi teri bazm mey” burst into public consciousness like spring after winter. It announced the arrival of a soothing, refreshing voice, and a powerhouse of talent. Talat Aziz. With his velvet-on-sandpaper voice, and nuanced singing, Talat managed to make “zindagi jab bhi” hold its own against Asha’s tour de force in the same film.
The next year, Talat and Khayyam came together in Sagar Sarhadi’s Bazaar, another milestone in the journey of Hindi film music. And two years after that, they collaborated in Vijay Talwar’s understated, underrated film Lorie.
While recording “phir chidi baat raat phoolon ki” for Bazaar, Khayyam, as was his wont, made Lata and him give a number of takes. In an interview to a journalist, Talat says that after one of those takes, Khayyam’s voice came through the headphones saying, “Wah Lataji! Kya mast hai! Wah!”
Hearing this, Lata smiled and said to Talat, “Now he will come and ask for a safety take.” And that is exactly what the composer did!
Khayyam and Jagjit Kaur developed a very close personal bond with Talat Aziz. After the couple’s son Pradeep passed away in 2012, Talat seemed to have stepped into his shoes, providing succour and companionship to the ageing couple. When Khayyam breathed his last, the singer was right by his side.
Talat Aziz sang only a handful of songs for Khayyam, the last of them being in Yatra in 2007. But each of those songs is moonlight in a desert.
Since there is a good chance that you have heard “phir chidi baat” and “zindagi jab bhi”, I want you to first hear this magical piece from Lorie. Bashar Nawaz’s words are charged with love and sensual intimacy, while stopping short of being erotic. Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh play out this intimacy so naturally on screen. The silken voices of Talat and Asha, and Khayyam’s wonderful music do the rest.
Phir chidi raat baat phoolon ki from Bazzar (1982), Talat Aziz & Lata Mangeshkar – Makhdoom Mohiuddin – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meif1oIfJ5o
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.