His Juhu apartment smells of dhoopbattis, his music-cum-prayer room has books on Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. On a calm Sunday morning, I catch up with the 80-year-old music composer Khayyam to ask:
Talk is that you are back to work majorly.
Yes. I’m working almost 12 hours a day. Actually, I’d never stopped working. Right now, I’m doing a ghazal album with singer Anita Singhvi and two film projects.<b1>
What did you think of the new Umrao Jaan?
I detest comparisons. I’d worked hard on the background research for Umrao Jaan. It took a lot of effort to convince Asha Bhonsle to shed her cabret singer image to do ghazals in Umrao Jaan. We studied history and Umrao Jaan Ada in detail before composing the songs. The music was a success. So was Annu Mallik’s. He didn’t come to my door, asking for guidance. I’m sure he worked harder on his Umrao Jaan than I did on mine. If the film didn’t work, it’s a comment on the director, not the composer. I was quite pleased with his compositions.
Aren’t you identified more with Umrao Jaan than any other film?
Says who? In my career of 60 years, I’ve given over 50 super-hit albums right from my first one to Yatra. I’m also known for Razia Sultan, Kabhi Kabhie and Noorie.. over 40 other films.
Why have you done lesserwork than other composers?
That was my policy right from my early days. And I could do that only because of the support of my wife, Jagjit Kaur. There was always the possibility of financial crunch at home but Jagjeet acted as the buffer.
At one point, you had given up composing for Hindi films.
Yes, trends changed. They wanted dhinchak beats even in ghazal and soft songs. I’m sorry but I have a certain standard of work. As a composer, mine should be the last call on the song. Every filmmaker isn’t lucky to get Khayyam’s compositions. I have what others don’t – melody.
At 80, how do you look at ageing?
Bitiya, at this age if I can work as much as any young man and still not be as tired, then I think age has not touched me. I’ve had a disciplined life. My wife has never let me feel that I’m going wrong. At 80, I know my body has certain limitations. I don’t challenge that. I’ve grown old gracefully and will continue with music till I breathe my last.<b2>
How would you estimate Asha Bhosle and LataMangeshkar today?
I’ve known them from the time I started working in 1947. Koi kami nahin hai dono mein. Lataji was born with a heavenly voice.. Asha is a little in-your-face and outspoken but she’s as superior a singer. I don’t buy the theory that they compete with each other. They are unique in their own way.
What do you think of today’s music scene?
Allah rahem kare! Today’s composers are making a mockery of music. It’s only dham dham dham. A few years from now, you will realise the adverse impact of such music on the youth. They will loose their cool. Music is meant to soothe a tired mind.. music today makes you more tired.<b3>
Why have you stayed out of the limelight?
I’m not a publicity seeker. I was approached a few times to feature on some TV shows but I’m fine without them.
Yatra has gone unnoticed.
It hasn’t. If it had, you wouldn’t be talking to me about it. I got congratulatory calls from around the world. I wouldn’t have taken on the project if Rekha had not insisted.
Are you in touch with old friends?
My friends were people of a high literary class.Most of them, like Chetan Anand, Madan Mohan, Roshan saab, Ramesh Sehgal and Majrooh Sultanpuri, have passed away. I remember them often but I don’t shed tears in their name. Their memories give me strength.
Your music has some similarities with Madan Mohan’s.
Not just him, Roshan saab and Jaidevji were melodious. It’s not strange that there are similarities between one or two of our songs but our music was never the same. We all had our distinct styles.<b4>
What’s your take on remixes?
I simply detest them. They are so jarring to the ears. Melody goes for a toss.
Any final words?
Maalik ne bahut diya hai!