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Khayyam: Making Poetry Come Alive With Melody

February 18, 2014 | By

On master melody maker Khayyam’s birthday, L&C presents some of his memorable creations.

Jeet hi lenge baazi hum tum, khel adhura chhoote na

This duet from Shola Aur Shabnam by Mohd Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, written by the legendary lyricist Kaifi Azmi, turned the spotlight on Mohammed Zahur “Khayyam” Hashmi, better known as Khayyam, who carved out his own special niche in the music industry dominated by the likes of S D Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Naushad, O P Nayyar, R D Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal.

Khayyam with Dr Manmohan Singh

Music Director Khayyam presenting a book titled “Khayyam: The Man, His Music’  to Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on July 7, 2006
(Pic courtesy: PIB)

Khayyam’s music had the touch of ghazal but was rooted in Indian classical music. The compositions were soulful, melodious and emotional, the songs were rich in poetry and purpose and the style was noticeably different from the popular brand of music in those days, which used to be either semi-classical, ghazal or light and peppy.

However, before the runaway success of Shola Aur Shabnam music, Khayyam’s first brush with hit songs had happened with his debut film, the Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumari starrer Footpath (1953). Next, Raj Kapoor’s Phir Subah Hogi (1958) had Khayyam setting to tune the lyrics by Sahir Ludhyanvi. The songs became popular, especially the title song “Woh subha kabhi to aayegi” sung by Mukesh and Asha Bhonsle. 

Though Khayyam started his musical journey way back in 1953, you realise his genius especially during the 1970s and 1980s. Reason? As Ganesh Anantharaman says in his book Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, “His music stood out in the 1970s, his films were commercially more successful and its only in a decade where melodiousness was fading fast that you recognise Khayyam’s genius, his hallmark – integrity to melody.”

On Khayyam’s birthday today, L&C presents some of the hit compositions from this Padma Bhushan award-winning master composer who after a stint in the Army in the Second World War chose to strike out his path in the music industry and went on to win several prestigious awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Creative Music (2007), Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award (2010) and the Padma Bhushan (2011).

Shaam-e-gham ki kasam

The first film by Khayyam, Footpath (1953) stood out for its sheer richness of poetry, the evocative rendition by Talat Mahmood and the melancholic lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri. Though the film was not a box-office success, the song is one of the best ghazal’s of Talat’s repertoire.


Jaane kya dhhoondti rehti hein ye aankhen mujhmein

The songs of Shola Aur Shabnam (1961) became great hits. This introspective ghazal, written by Sahir and sung by Rafi touched many a young heart in love.

“What distinguished Khayyam’s music was the superior quality of poetry in all his songs. For him, the purpose of music was to make the lyrics come alive. He had the sagacity to keep his tunes simple, instruments minimal. As we shall see, some of the best poetry in Hindi films was set to music by Khayyam,” writes Ganesh Anantharaman in Bollywood Melodies.

Tum apna ranj-o-gham

This superb ghazal, which is rooted in Raag Pahadi, was sung by Jagjit Kaur who later became Khayyam’s wife. The film Shagoon (1964), the only film where Waheeda Rehman co-starred with Kamaljit, later to be her husband, did not succeed at the box-office but the song became superhit.

Bahaaron mera jeewan bhi sanwaaron

Raag Pahadi seemed to be a favorite raaga for Khayyam as he set several of his hit compositions in this “extremely charming evening raga that combines both playful and pensive aspects”. Remember “Parbaton ke pedon par shaam ka basera hai” (Rafi-Suman Kalyanpur in Shagoon)? “Bahaaron mera jeewan bhi sanwaaron” in Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat is another soul-touching melody sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

Aap yun faaslon se guzarte rahein

Hardly anyone has heard of this film but most Hindi film music lovers would have heard this song and loved it. Khayyam composed this unforgettable melody for Shankar Hussain. Though the film sank without a trace (as a quirk of fate Khayyam’s early films have generally not been box-office blockbusters but his music has time and again risen above the commercial fate of the film), this melodious Lata number remains ever popular.

Kabhie kabhie mere dil mein

This ghazal from Yash Chopra’s multi-starrer blockbuster Kabhie Kabhie (1976) catapulted Khayyam straight into stardom. Amitabh Bachchan, Raakhee and Shashi Kapoor bring to life this iconic song where the imagery etched by each lyric of Sahir Ludhianvi makes you enjoy the poetry along with the mellifluous melody. Sung beautifully by Mukesh, this song became one of the brightest points of Khayyam’s career.

Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon

When you talk of Kabhie Kabhie, you can’t miss this ghazal which speaks of Sahir’s self-admission of how momentary fame is. Writes Ganesh Anantharaman in Bollywood Melodies, “It is only under a lyrically sensitive composer like Khayyam that Sahir roused himself to pen the introspective, if cynical “Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon”, with its acute understanding of the ephemeral nature of fame:
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare
Kyun koi mujhko yaad kare
Masroof zamana mere liye
Kyun waqt apna barbad kare”

Dil cheez kya hai

This was the biggest hit of the four ghazals Asha Bhosle sang for Khayyam in Umraao Jaan (1981), although each of these ghazals were unique, successful and raised Asha to a level above her usual. The other three popular ghazals of Asha in this Muzaffar Ali-directed film were Justuju jiski thi, In aankhon ki masti ke and Yeh kya jagah hai doston. The film fetched Khayyam the National Award for best composer that year.

Na jaane kya hua

A melodious love song from Dard (1981) sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The lyrics of the song penned by Naqsh Lyallpuri and the composition and the delectable rendition, all come together to create a heart-touching romantic song.

Dikhai diye yun ki bekhud kiya

Another gem from the Lata Mangeshkar-Khayyam team, this song from Baazar (1982) transports you into a world of melody and poetry. This critically acclaimed film directed by Sagar Sarhadi had another beautiful duet by Talat Aziz and Lata Mangeshkar “Phir chhidi raat baat phoolon ki”.


An absolutely ethereal Lata beauty from Kamaal Amrohi’s Razia Sultan (1983). The music has the expanse and loneliness of the desert in its notes, and Lata Mangeshkar’s voice rises with every pitch, clear, lucid and deeply melancholic. Notice the gentle fade-outs within the song, which for a moment make you wonder whether the song is over and just then the lyrics leisurely flow back in “…yeh zameen chup hai, aasmaan chup hai…”, the pauses broken softly by the melodious strains of the santoor.

Recommended Buys in Books, Music and Movies

Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
All Posts of Antara Nanda Mondal

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3 thoughts on “Khayyam: Making Poetry Come Alive With Melody

  • Jitu

    Mir Taqi mir ke lyrics were mind blowing.

    BTW… a few more rare songs. Google baba ke help se. I don’t know these by rote. 😛 I know you mentioned this movie) ( Love this song) Cute song with erstwhile child actors. The guy disappeared from Bollywood I think. ) ( Another song with great lyrics. ) ( A song whose I didn’t know about. Thanks Wiki and Youtube)

    I did not know Khyaam or even Shabana azmi had sung songs for any movie. Shabana has done playback for all songs in this movie. The following song os by Khyaam and Shabana.

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