There is endless chatter about living legends from all fields of art. Then I wonder whether we talk enough about Khayyam – a man who never saw an equivalent in the past and never will in the future. Essentially, ‘The Khayyam Sound’ is so unique in itself that it is ever so easy to distinguish his work from those of his peers.
Talking about his contemporaries, Khayyam’s career blossomed in the late ‘40s where he collaborated with composer Rahman Varma to form the briefly popular duo, Sharmaji-Varmaji. This partnership was briefly after Khayyam’s stint in the army during World War II. Post-independence, as Varmaji migrated to Pakistan; the composer shed his pseudonym Varmaji for a more poetic ‘Khayyam’.
In his active career spanning five decades, Khayyam was surprisingly selective with his work. Each composition post-1960 gleamed with the Khayyam hallmark and filmmakers with a tasteful ear for music knew his worth.
A Padma Bhushan-awardee, the veteran is happily retired today and was recently in news for bestowing his entire property towards struggling musicians under ‘Khayyam Pradeep Trust’, named after his deceased son.
As this legendary musician and philanthropist celebrate his birthday on 18 February, here is a compilation of the 25 best songs from his illustrious career.
25. Kahin Ek Masoom Nazuk Si Ladki (Shankar Hussain)
Khayyam composed this mellow number in Yusuf Naqvi’s Shankar Hussain that saw Mohammed Rafi in his elements. The classic sarangi and flute combination adds the much-needed sizzle to this conventionally visualized romantic number penned by filmmaker Kamal Amrohi, who also happens to be the film’s writer.
24. Woh Subah Kabhi To Aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi)
Featuring Mala Sinha and Raj Kapoor, Phir Subah Hogi boasted of an eclectic soundtrack by Khayyam. Penned by Sahir Ludhianvi and crooned by Asha Bhosle and Mukesh, ‘Woh Subah Kabhi To…’ is a melancholic ditty that is also the finest out of them all and rightfully the most popular. Released in his early years as a solo composer, Khayyam’s quintessential sound and elaborate orchestra were slowly evolving through the period and, therefore, the album lacks them in full force.
23. In Aankhon Ke Masti (Umrao Jaan)
The first time I got a glimpse of this song was in the Doordarshan montage way back in the ‘90s. I was yet to be swayed by Khayyam’s music but Rekha’s enigmatic stare did the trick. It took me half a decade more to realize how infinitely more hypnotic is the classic mujra number from Khayyam-Shahryar-Asha Bhosle team.
“Is shamm-e-faroza ko aandhi se darraate ho
Aandhi se darraate ho
Is shamm-e-faroza ke,
Is shamm-e-faroza ke parvaane hazaaron hain!”
With gossamer Urdu lines as this, mainstream Hindi film music seldom has had better.
22. Rut Jawaan Jawaan (Aakhri Khat)
Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat was a defining soundtrack for Khayyam. The film might not be one of Anand’s most celebrated ones but was amongst Rajesh Khanna’s most striking outings from his pre-Aradhana phase. The film also went on to become India’s official entry to the Academy Awards.
As for the song, ‘Rut Jawan Jawaan’ is a retro ball number with largely western instruments in use. Bhupinder Singh renders the number with his characteristic thehrav! Plus, how wonderful is the way he ends every line with an intonation – possibly improvised – that matches the instrument behind.
Manna Dey’s ‘Hey Kuch Bhi Nahin, O My Darling’ from the same film is yet another crackling western-tinged number with some classy instrumentation and chorus in place.
21. Chanda Re Mere Bhaiyya Se Kehna (Chambal Ki Kassam)
Known to be the last film to unite Khayyam and Sahir Ludhianvi, Chambal Ki Kasam is a dacoit drama that released in 1980. While every song had a personality of its own, ‘Chanda Re Mere Bhaiyya Se Kehna’ stands out from the rest. With some delightful percussion forming the base to the melody, this lovely ode to a sister’s love for her brother is quite a Raksha Bandhan favourite.
20. Aap Toh Mere Hi Khwaabon Mein (Yatra)
Filmmaker Goutam Ghosh’s Yatra released in 2006 and it boasted of a rare soundtrack by Khayyam – his first in 16 years. Fortunately or otherwise, the era was one where lovers had stopped addressing each other ‘aap’ in a strictly populist sense. Then came a song ‘Aap To Mere Hi Khwabon Mein Sadaa…’ that was quietly sensational in the way that it stood out from the sound of the period.
Lucky to be singing for the legendary musician, we hear Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik polishing their Urdu game like never before. Words like “Khwab” and ‘Dhadkanon’ rarely sounded as pure, I reckon.
19. Mere Mann Ke Aangan (Biwi)
Said to be the first song that Asha Bhosle ever sang for Khayyam, ‘Mere Mann Ke Aangan’ from Biwi made way for a long-standing association.
A fast-paced solo, the song is notable for its infectious hook and Nazim Panipati’s striking rhymes.
‘Akele Mein Woh Ghabrate Honge’ by Mohammed Rafi is another notable number from the film.
18. Dikhayee Diye Yun (Bazaar)
This Lata Mangeshkar solo from Bazaar defines all things pristine. Describing Shabnam (Supriya Pathak) and Sarju’s (Farooq Shaikh) innocent love in the lyrics, simplicity remains the primary attribute of this version of Mir Taqi Mir’s epic poem.
17. Pyaar Ka Dard Hai (Dard)
It is only recently that I discovered this extremely catchy number from 1981 Rajesh Khanna-Hema Malini starrer Dard. From the title, I awaited nothing less than a heartbreaking song but to my surprise, the Lata Mangeshkar – Kishore Kumar song turned out to be syrupy to the hilt. Brownie points to Naqsh Lyallpuri’s saccharine-sweet lyrics that talk about the sweet pain that love brings along.
16. Hazaar Rahen Mud Ke Dekhi (Thodi Si Bewafai)
In one of their rare unions, Gulzar and Khayyam churned out a bunch of evergreen songs in Esmayeel Shroff’s Thodisi Bewafaii. The lyrics, surprisingly progressive for its times, blends gorgeously with Khayyam’s textured composition that is infectious for its slow rhythm and evocative interludes atypical to the musician.
15. Suhana Hai Ye Mausam (Footpath)
Khayyam and a spicy cabaret number? Hell, yeah! ‘Arararaam… arararam’ goes the hook of this Asha Bhosle-crooned song which is pretty high on background score.
A lovely reminder of the era gone by, the song is also noticeable for its delectable rise and drop in pace.
Talking about cabaret numbers, Khayyam’s own groovy ‘Sab Ki Nigaah Mein Sawaal Hai’ (Sawaal) deserves a mention as it saw Helen set the temperatures soaring in her sensuous avatar as always.
14. Aap Ki Maheki Hui Zulf Ko (Trishul)
Well, here is a personal favourite. A Yash Chopra love song, the beauty of this conversational Yesudas – Lata Mangeshkar song is that it is more in the Khayyam zone than that of Yash Chopra’s.
13. Tere Chehre Se (Kabhi Kabhie)
One of the first yesteryear songs to introduce me to Hindi film music and its glowing legacy, ‘Tere Chehre Se’ from Kabhi Kabhie is one that is immensely special.
A very conventional Yash Chopra love song set in the Swiss Alps and the likes, Khayyam’s grand orchestra and overall grandeur fits perfectly in the filmmaker’s universe.
12. Aaja Re O Mere Dilbar Aaja (Noorie)
“Ohhh… Noorie… Noorie…”
Goes a song that must be familiar to every ’90s kid thanks to the eerie yet snazzily done remix number. That said, ‘Aaja Re O Mere Dilbar Aaja’ was no less a sensation when it released back in the late ‘70s.
While the flavour is essentially Khayyam’s with heavy orchestra, an element serenity clouds the OST which matched the film’s chaste demeanour.
11. Phir Chiddi Raat (Bazaar)
This Talat Aziz – Lata Mangeshkar ghazal has to be one of the most enduring numbers in Khayyam’s discography. From the exterior, it is the simplest of the composer’s melodies. Then again, the song is also a standard from which we can derive several constancies that are common in the aforementioned ‘Khayyam Sound’.
10. Gar Teri Nawazish (Bahar)
One of Khayyam’s early works, this supple melody in Talat Mehmood’s voice is one that deserves many more listens. The tranquil retro prelude sets the mood to a track that is quintessentially Indian. The interludes are surprisingly short as the composer lends maximum focus on the vocal bits.
9. Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston (Umrao Jaan)
In this melancholic mujra from Umrao Jaan, Khayyam spells out sorrow like no other. Aided to perfection by Shahryar’s deep, heartwrenching poetry and Asha Bhosle’s redolent vocals, one can’t choose to not shed a tear as the song plays out in the film.
8. Aye Dil-E-Nadaan (Razia Sultan)
This Lata Mangeshkar number for Hema Malini’s event film from the early ‘80s is all things evergreen. Designed with every Khayyam element astutely in place, ‘Ae Dil-e-Nadaan’ is equally notable for Mangeshkar’s splendid vocals as well as the way it has been picturized.
7. Kabhi Kisiko Muqammal Jahan Nahi Milta (Aahista Aahista)
A song that has found few more recreations in the future, ‘Kabhi Kisiko Muqammal Jahan Nahi Milta’ comes in two versions (by Asha Bhosle and Bhupinder). My pick is the one by Asha who seems to be re-enacting the sway of her Umrao Jaan tracks which released in the same year. Interestingly enough, the composition sounds eerily in the same zone as that of the Muzaffar Ali classic.
6. Aap Yun Faaslon Se (Shankar Hussain)
Here’s a film where picking favourites isn’t an easy task. Yet, ‘Aap Yun Faaslon Se’ stands out for its sheer simplicity. Slickly instrumented, the shehnai strain after the first antara is smartly placed and is in sync with the lyrics akin to the rest of the song.
‘Apne Aap Raaton Main’ from the same film is another gem of a song that sees marvellous use of sarangi.
5. Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sanwaro (Aakhri Khat)
This song from Aakhri Khat has to be a perennial favourite for all Khayyam fans. Not only was it a huge hit upon release but the song’s tender yet haunting melody and its sensational rendition are responsible for propelling the composer to the big league. With Hariprasad Chaurasia behind the flute, Shivkumar Sharma playing the santoor and Rais Khan handling the sitar, the song is a landmark for the composer in myriad ways.
‘Mere Chanda Mere Nanhe’ from the same film is one of the rare lullabies to have enjoyed massive popularity.
4. Tum Apna Ranj-o-Gham (Shagoon)
Shot exquisitely in all black-and-white glory, complete with some clever lighting, this song from Shagoon is crooned by Khayyam’s wife Jagjit Kaur.
A song about love and longing, ‘Tum Apna Ranj-o-Gham’ mirrors the mood of the situation with great beauty. Here is one rare Hindi film song that is flawless in all departments and has also phenomenally stood the test of time.
3. Kabhi Kabhie (Kabhi Kabhie)
Think iconic, think ‘Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein’. Even though the song boasts of words by Sahir Ludhianvi and voices of Mukesh or Lata Mangeshkar behind the microphone, Khayyam’s ethereal composition takes the cake and the whole bakery here. So much so that we have not had a love song with as much verve ever since.
2. Chori Chori Koi Aaye (Noorie)
“Aakhein daale aakhon mein
Jaane mujhse kya wo poochhe
Main jo bolu, bolun kya
Hans dun mujhko kuchh na soojhe
Aise taake, dil mein jhanke
Saans meri ruk jaye…”
An all-time favourite, it is lines like this coupled with Khayyam’s delicate melody that makes this Lata Mangeshkar song one for the ages. Once again, the composer’s collaboration with Yash Chopra gifted us with the song as well as the film’s timeless OST.
1. Dil Cheez Kya Hai (Umrao Jaan)
Some songs are such. They are meant to rule – in every realm, for every person involved. Put to words by Shahryar and composed with magnificent flair by Khayyam, ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ is one of the greatest film songs Indian cinema has ever produced. With Asha Bhosle’s part-sensual, part-romantic vocals adding to the effect, it was only obvious that the actor (Rekha) did not have to exert much in propelling the song to levels of limitless magic.