How A Money Dispute Helped Khayyam Land His Biggest Musical Opportunity

Abhishek Srivastava - 50 weeks ago

When Ismat Chughtai became a producer, her port of call for composing music for her film was Khayyam. When showman Raj Kapoor stepped out of his comfort zone with Ramesh Saigal’s Phir Subha Hogi (an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment) after having delivered two blockbusters with Shree 420 and Chori Chori, it was Khayyam in whom he reposed his trust. The stature that music composer Khayyam enjoyed in the film industry can very well be judged by these two events.

Born Mohammed Zahur Khayyam Hashmi, Khayyam found fame after he delivered an unconventional score for Dilip Kumar’s Footpath.  Not many know he composed music under the alias of Sharma Ji when he was living in a Hindu dominated area of the metropolis. He had to change his name at the suggestion of his Guru Husanlal and Bhagatram who felt that his Muslim name might create issues at a time when the country was still in the throes of Partition. 

After having spent years in the film industry delivering lyrical beauties in succession, true fame came to him much later when he took the responsibility of composing songs for Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan. It might come as a shock to many that Khayyam was not the original choice of the director to compose songs for the film based on the story of courtesan and poet from Awadh region. Much before Khayyam came into the picture, music composer Jaidev had done much of the work for the film. It is believed that Jaidev was elated with his compositions for the film and was convinced that his songs for Rekha would be ‘the score of a lifetime’ as mentioned in Raju Bharatan’s book.  Both, Jaidev and Muzaffar Ali, had earmarked Lata Mangeshkar to be the voice of Rekha in the songs of the film. Everything was set and he was only waiting for the commencement of sitting sessions with Lata Mangeshkar and lyricist Shahryar. But fate had something else in store for him and a money dispute between the director and the composer ensured that Khayyam was soon on board. The proposal to opt for Asha as the voice of Rekha came from Jagjit Kaur, wife of Khayyam. 

Initially, Asha was reluctant to voice ghazals for the film. She felt under confident as she had not attempted ghazal singing before in her career. Khayyam’s constant encouragement and perseverance did the trick. He prodded Asha and reminded her that if her sister, Lata, can sing ghazals for Pakeezah, why can’t she. That did the trick but again that was not the end. Khayyam wanted Asha to lower her voice by one-and-half note and Asha was just not willing to bring about a change in her normal voice. A truce was reached and it was decided that the first song of the film – Dil cheez kya hai – would be recorded in two patterns – the first one as per Khayyam’s instruction and the other one was to be recorded in Asha’s natural voice. When the final album came out, Asha believed that her maiden attempt at singing ghazal was a debacle. Khayyam was mocked once again by trade guys for missing the pulse of the public and Shahryar poetry was dubbed as something that was fit only for mushaira. But the music slowly picked up and reached such a crescendo that its echo can be heard till today.

Khayyam has said this time and again that there were only two challenges before him when he sat down to compose the music of Umrao Jaan. The first one was the music of Pakeezah and the other one was compositions of Naushad who had conquered virtually every UP folk style in his songs. He wanted his compositions to better both. It was a daunting task for him which also scared him. To understand the milieu better, he bought and read Mirza Rusva’s book on Umrao Jaan and then devoured other books which gave a glimpse of that era. In an earlier interview he had remarked that he requested Asha Bhonsle to sing one-and-half note below for the film as he believed that Umrao Jaan would have sung in that note only. 

Khayyam and Mohammad Rafi have together been credited with some great songs but there was also a time when Rafi inadvertently stopped singing for the composer around 1974. So furious was Khayyam at Rafi that he confronted him on telephone but the outcome was zilch. In his anger Khayyam had revealed that one of Rafi’s masterpiece song Jaane kyaa dhundtee rahti hai yeh aankhen from Shola Aur Shabnam was an ordeal for him in terms of its composition. He divulged that the maverick singer had taken 21 takes to finish the song and then the cut and paste job that followed later, was another trauma. When Rafi and Khayyam reunited (again on telephone), it was again for a masterpiece song Simti hui yeh ghadiya for the dacoit saga Chambal Ki Kasam

Khayyam also shared an extremely fruitful partnership with Yash Chopra. His compositions for Kabhi Kabhie and Trishul made him a force to reckon with in the film industry. Later he also composed songs for Noorie, Nakhuda and Sawaal – all produced by Yash Chopra. But the debacle of the last two films at the box office also meant that it was time for Yash Chopra to go shop elsewhere for his music and thus he was promptly replaced by Rajesh Roshan when Kaala Patthar went on floors.  

How Khayyam landed the opportunity to compose for Kabhi Kabhie had some really interesting incidents hidden behind. Even before shooting for Kabhi Kabhie commenced, Razia Sultan was already in its pre-production stage and few songs from the film had already been recorded. Amitabh Bachchan somehow managed to hear Ae Dil-e-Nadaan and instantly fell in love with the composition. The irresistible urge and the obsession to hear the song in loop was so much that he dispatched Jaya Bachchan to Khayyam’s home to fetch the recording. When Jaya Bachchan met the music composer at his residence armed with her husband’s request, Khayyam expressed his inability and informed that since the film is still in pre-production stage, the song spool is safely ensconced in a locker at Kamal Amrohi’s office. When Kamal Amrohi was informed about this incident, he immediately ensured that a copy of the song’s recording was made and dispatched at Bachchan’s residence. It is believed that Amitabh Bachchan must have discussed Khayyam’s genius with Yash Chopra which could have been instrumental in fetching him the job of composing music for Kabhi Kabhie. Not many know that the songs of Sahir Ludhiyanvi that Yash Chopra had selected for his film were actually meant for a film to be helmed by Chetan Anand. A meeting was hurriedly organized at the behest of Sahir Ludhiyanvi where Yash Chopra was to ask Chetan Anand to part with the songs. When the moment came, Chetan Anand with a smirk remarked that such songs have become outdated and work no more. He conveyed to Sahir, Yash Chopra and Khayyam that he won’t be able to use those songs for his film. The rest, as they, is history.


Khayyam / Umrao Jaan / Razia Sultan / Kabhi Kabhie / Yash Chopra / Sahir Ludhiyanvi / Muzaffar Ali / Asha Bhonsle / Lata Mangeshkar

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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