O P Nayyar — Punjabi joie de vivre

To the film industry he was the “Rhythm King”. To me, O P Nayyar has always been more than just Master of Metre: he is right on top of my list of great music directors! In his heydays, he was the unsurpassed supplier of foot-tapping melodies. Here are 10 of my favourites. (Gosh, selecting only10 was tough!) You’ll find a bio-sketch at the end of this post.


Do you know it makes “horse-sense” to listen to OP Nayyar? Some of his finest works were set to the beat of a horse in canter! Probably the best in this genre is the song from Sawan ki Ghata (1966) sung by Asha: do not miss the 2 small solos by 2 different instruments — the clarinet and the sarangi – a unique blend.

Another Jhatka song I love is from Baap re Baap (1955) sung by Asha & Kishore. There is an early display of Kishore’s yodeling mastery and the final stanza has superb harmonized singing by the duo.

For more “equestrian music” turn to Naya Daur (1957) and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon (1963)…

Punjabi-Folk Influence

OP Nayyar was born in Lahore and was greatly influenced by Punjabi folk music. His genius was in adapting Punjabi folk music for a wider national audience. Many of these songs were sung brilliantly by another famous Lahore-wali: Shamshad Begum. (Trivia: OP Nayyar had first met Shamshad in Lahore AIR station; she was already an established singer and he, a lowly assistant. By a strange coincidence he was to direct her years later!). Listen to this vibrant stuff from Shamshad in Aar Paar (1954)

Another folksy number I like is from the Dev Anand starrer, C.I.D. (1956). Apart from the melodious voice of Shamshad & Rafi, observe the 3rd star in the song: the harmonium! (Trivia: for many years AIR had an idiotic policy of banning the harmonium from its broadcasts).

Rhythm sans percussion

Indeed, OP was the Rhythm King. Rhythm was so much in his blood that he did not need percussion instruments to establish it: all he needed was a good guitarist. This Mahendra Kapoor number from Kismet (1968) proves that!

One of the tragedies of OP’s career was that many of his songs were enacted by B-grade artists: In the clip you just saw, a desperate Biswajeet is trying to strangulate the guitar, while OP Nayyar’s melody gushes in nevertheless! Another great rhythm-guitar piece (with the same buffoon in the lead) is from Mere Sanam (1965)

Night Club, Rock-and-Roll

OP was also past master of the “sharabi” and “night club” genre. Here is Asha oozing seductively in Kismet (never mind Babita who is the B-grade artiste acting out the part)

And Geeta Dutt singing Rock-and-Roll style in Howrah Bridge(1958)

If you like this genre, there’s more to it: “Arre Tauba” in 12 O’clock (1958), and “Hong Kong Cheena Meena” and “Kenya Uganda Tanganyka” in Hong Kong (1962)… (Trivia: In the 50s the AIR banned broadcasting of OP Nayyar songs because they thought they were too lusty — over-governance of art by a socialist government, perhaps? But OP continued unfazed: AIR’s loss was Radio Ceylon’s gain! Ironically, the Indian Posts, another Government Department released a stamp of O P Nayyar in 2013.)

Simply melodious

Ultimately, it was not just the different genres or the rhythm— OP was just great at producing simple lilting melodies. Here is Asha singing in Phir wohi dil laaye hoon (1963). Notice the adept handling of the sitar and sarangi.

I think the finest duet of Asha and Rafi was produced by OP in Kashmir ki Kali (1964).


Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born in Lahore on 16-01-1926. He had a “troubled childhood” –multiple attacks of typhoid, being bitten by a mad dog etc. His early adulthood was no different. While his two brothers — PP Nayyar and GP Nayyar — went on to lead “normal” lives as doctor and dentist respectively, OP Nayyar dropped out from college. Then, he joined Lahore Girls College as Music Teacher; he had to exit hurriedly when it was discovered that he had an affair with the Principal! OP worked for sometime in AIR Lahore and Ludhiana. But his dream was to become a Hero in Bollywood, so he went to Bombay. An early screen-test established that he was unsuited, but it opened a different opportunity as a Music Director’s assistant. His first break as an independent Music Director came in Aasman (1952) and he never looked back!

At his height (the 50s & 60s), he was as eccentric as ever. Stubborn and demanding of both Musicians (discipline) and Producers (fees), he got results; he nurtured artistes and made them bloom. But he was also quick to lose friends. Asha Bhosle produced her best during their romantic relationship. Equally, OP produced his best when he was with her. Once they broke up (1972), OP’s fortunes declined. From the 70s till the early 90s he composed sporadically, with moderate success. He composed for Ghazal singer Penaz Masani and the Telugu movie Neerajanam (Hit songs, flop movie).

One day, he walked out of his house leaving behind all his material wealth to his wife and 4 children. His house alone was thought to be worth Rs.6 Crores, but that was no compensation for his family whom he had hurt. (Trivia: His wife Saroj Mohini Nayyar was a lyricist, having composed for films like Mr. & Mrs. 1955 and Shrimati 420). In his last years he was a paying guest with a family in Mumbai, abandoning music and films, dabbling in homoeopathy. He finally died a recluse in Jan ‘07.

In his career spanning over 4 decades he composed for 73 films apart from some non-film albums (Trivia: He composed from A to Z: first film Aasman in 1952, last film Zid in 1993). All this from a man who had absolutely no formal training in music! If he were alive, he would be 89 this month. Time to celebrate the joy of his music!


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