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Khayyam: The Poets’ Musician

February 18, 2018 | By

The earnestness, the depth and the genius of Khayyam led to the creation of masterpiece ghazals, songs and nazms that are among the most beautiful melodies in Hindi film music. Vijay Kumar explores a few of Khayyam’s everlastings songs on the music maker’s birthday.

Hope, even if Utopian, versus a crushing mope?

Comparisons, as they say, are best avoided. But one cannot help indulging in them nonetheless.  Thus, whenever I tune to ye mehlon ye takhton ye tajon (Pyaasa), Woh subah kabhi to aayegi visits me almost reflexively.  And I always marvel as to how could this latter muse on lilt achieve the same, if not better, impact as the celebrated Pyaasa number?

Sahir outscoring Sahir?  An even-paced, un-flapped Mukesh versus a smouldering and exploding Rafi?  Hope, even if Utopian, versus a crushing mope? Raj versus Guru Dutt? Mala versus Waheeda? A wistful twosome versus a charged up congregation?  An apparently placid Khayyam versus a tumultuous SD Burman? There is enough to suggest that Pyaasa number should have surged ahead of Woh subah.  But it does not.  My confusion confounds!  What is the X factor?

Woh subah kabhi to aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958) Sahir Ludhianvi / Asha Bhosle and Mukesh

However, in bik gaya jo vo kharidar nahi ho sakata (Shola aur Shabnam), the same Khayyam sounds so near to mere saamne se hata lo ye duniya… is so Burmanesque!


Mohammed Zahur Khayyam (music director)
Pic: Google Image Search

The reason perhaps is that Khayyam is one music composer who thought that his music ought to facilitate a melodious unfolding of the verses in their truest meaning and sentiments – a music that also connected to the relevant period/milieu.  His music in Wo subah kabhi to aayegi does precisely that. It is an overarching muse, a wistfulness with no immediate casus belle, and thus no up-heaving emotions or music.  Mukesh’s singing, though full of pathos and pain, yet remains even in pace and modulation.

But Jaane kya dhoondhti rahati hain moves with the assumption that there is no fire left in the relationship, but soon discovers a hibernating ember that becomes a blazing fire of emotions as the poem concludes. The music/singing accordingly mounts, becomes furious with an impact that gives goose bumps – bik gaya jo vo kharidar nahi ho sakata!

Jaane kya dhhoondti rehti hein ye aankhen mujhmein (Shola Aur Shabnam, 1961) Kaifi Azmi / Mohd Rafi

I guess, Khayyam was averse to ordinary/cheap lyrics though there could be exceptions.  One that readily comes to mind is “Gapoochi Gam Gam”, penned by Sahir. Ignoring such exceptions, he had had the privilege to put on music the words of great masters including Amir Khusrau, Mir and Mirza Ghalib.

Umrao Jaan

Shayari, dance and music were existential to the courtesan Amiran/Umrao Jaan

A mention of Umrao Jaan is necessary to bring out the earnestness, the depth and the genius of Khayyam. I personally feel that the success of this film owed, to a large extent, to his music. Shayari, dance and music were existential to the courtesan Amiran/Umrao Jaan. The success of a cinematic adaptation of this literary work thus critically depended on how best it captured the music, style and milieu of the time. Khayyam’s delivery on the point is perfect, one of the best ever.  The importance of Khayyam gets heightened if one reckons that JP Dutta’s Umrao Jaan of the year 2006 failed – failed not because of Aishwarya but because of poor music and poor understanding of the music milieu of the time.

Khayyam received the Filmfare Award for Umrao Jaan.  But Asha got the superior National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer.  That must have put Asha on cloud nine – winning the National Award for singing classical, singing serious!  Before this, only one out of her seven Filmfare Awards was for a serious song – chain se humko kabhi aap ne jeene na…(Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye, 1975 / OP Nayyar).

In my humble view, SD Burman and Khayyam were the composers who really understood Asha’s range and potential. SDB’s ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya Babul (Bandini, 1963) will lend weight to this perception.  But Khayyam got her even earlier – Do boondein sawan ki, the poem in its entirety is an askance: whether existential inequities are circumstantial or destinational? A poem so serious, sung with so much of feel and depth, and so brilliantly composed! Interestingly, Asha’s husband – Pancham – looked not to Asha but to Lata for his serious songs – examples, Ghar, Aandhi, Kinara, Khusboo and Amar Prem.

Do boondein saawan ki (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958) Sahir Ludhianvi / Asha Bhosle

However, Khayyam was not the one to treat Asha a lucky mascot for his future efforts.  In the following year 1982, he engaged Lata and not Asha for two songs in the film Bazaar – of which one was written by Mir Taqi Mir – Dikhayi diye yun.

In 1983, for Razia Sultan, he again leaned on Lata for three songs including my favourite Aye dil-e-nadan, penned by Jaan Nissar Akhtar.  Poetry on lilt, in full flow, a muse as endless as the tract serving as its backdrop and Khayyam is just breathtaking with his pauses and silences.   The music of Umraao Jaan, Baazar and Razia Sultan, taken together, constitutes a high point of Hindi Film Music, especially as it  flowed opposite to the general tide of the prevailing trends.

Aye dil-e-naadan (Razia Sultan, 1983) Jaan Nisar Akhtar / Lata Mangeshkar

My most precious Khayyam song? No dilemma! It is Shaam-e-gham ki qasam.  It thaws a frozen slice of time that wraps the memories of a togetherness – my first and platonic at that! A distance of over four decades has intervened since – is it not  an aeon? This ghazal brings alive that togetherness.

Or do I get into a time warp, for it has no real connect with the mundaneness of the moment present, much less with its pains or the problems?  Or is it what Sahir was hinting at as he mused  – another Khayyam composition :

Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai
Ki zindagi teri zulfon ki narm chhaaon mein guzarne paati
to shaadaab ho bhi sakti thi.

Magar ye ho na sakaa, aur ab ye aalam hai
Ki tu nahin, tera gham, teri justjoo bhi nahin.

Guzar rahi hai kuchh is tarah zindagi jaise,
ise kisi ke sahaare ki aarzoo bhi nahin.

Inhi andheron mein reh jaaunga kabhi kho kar
Main jaanta hoon meri hum-nafas, magar yoon hi
Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai..

May be not, for Sahir’s distancing still has a trace of pain and pine in it.

Kabhi kabhie mere dil mein (Kabhi Kabhie, 1976) Sahir Ludhianvi / Mukesh

Shaam-e-gham ki…. … what is remarkable about this number is that despite its intense craving for a complementarity, its gripping melancholia, it yet rejuvenates me, I yet feel as if I am levitating. Surreal or time warp effect!

Shaam-e-gham ki kasam

Shaam-e-gham ki kasam is an inalienable fusion of the words, of the melody and the singing

This ghazal, to my mind, is an extraordinary creation. It is an inalienable fusion of the words, of the melody and the singing. A masterly synergy. It is a popular belief that people with the name Khayyam have a deep inner desire for love and companionship. I wonder if Khayyam – the music-magician who never appeared to be the part of a competitive milieu – found an empathizing sentiment in this masterly creation of his own, though it certainly imported the spirit of his name.

Sham-e-gham ki qasam, aaj ghamgeen hai hum
aa bhi jaa, aa bhii jaa, aaj mere Sanam
dil pareshaan hai, raat viraan hai
dekh jaa kis tarah aaj tanhaa hain hum

chain kaisa jo pehlu mein tu hi nahin
maar daale na dard-e-judaai kahin
rut haseen hai to kya, chandni hai to kya
chandani zulm hai aur judaai sitam

ab to aajaa ki ab raat so gayi
zindagi gham ke seharaav mein kho gayi
Dhoondti hai nazar tu kahaan hai magar
dekhate dekhate aayaa aankhon mein nam

Sham-e-gham ki qasam, aaj ghamgeen hai hum (Footpath, 1953) Ali Sardar Jafri, Majrooh Sultanpuri / Talat Mahmood

Sahir Ludhianvi: The Rebel, The Lover

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