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The man, his genius and his ego

CIRCA MID-1960S, he walked hand in hand with Asha Bhosle into Excelsior cinema's cafe for a Scotch broth lunch. As schoolkids we were shocked, lowering our high-decibel conversation to grouse primly, "But they are not even married?to each other, that is."

india Updated: Jan 29, 2007 14:28 IST

CIRCA MID-1960S, he walked hand in hand with Asha Bhosle into Excelsior cinema's café for a Scotch broth lunch. As schoolkids we were shocked, lowering our high-decibel conversation to grouse primly, "But they are not even married…to each other, that is."

He was in spotless white, with a jaunty hat propped over thinning silver hair. She was in a beige nylon sari, a mogra gajra dangling in hers. He smiled at us, said, "Enjoying the soup, kids?" He insisted on paying our bill. We were instantly won over.

We warmed up for a lifetime to the composer whose racy rhythms - a fusion of folksy and western riffs -- our parents listened to on 78 rpms, besides those geetmalas on Radio Ceylon. Shanker-Jaikishen, S.D. Burman, Madan Mohan, C. Ramachandra, the upcoming Laxmikant-Pyarelal and OP were creating the everyday anthems.

Today that sliver of Excelsior cinema memory returns. In the newsroom there is the announcement that O.P. Nayyar passed away at the age of 81. Ailing for over two decades, he died of cardiac arrest around 3.30 p.m. He went to the toilet, never to return. The information was provided by Rani Nakhwa, whose family he lived with in Thane.

The maestro of over 50 films stretching from 1950 - in 1949 he did compose the background music of a film titled Kaneez - was perhaps as stubbornly uncompromising as Naushad in the style and tenor of his compositions.
In his private life, he was equally inflexible, often stating, "I have a king-size ego. Nothing and no one can change that."

Bio-notes recall that Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born in Lahore, moved to Patiala, Amritsar and then Mumbai. He hit the charts with Guru Dutt's Aar Paar, a partnership that also yielded the wonderful songs of CID and Mr and Mrs 55.

He did not exactly lobby for plum projects. If he did B.R. Chopra's Naya Daur, he did not reduce his fee for the movie baron's next film.

In fact, according to showbiz lore, he quoted such dizzying fees to V. Shantaram and Sohrab Modi that they thought he had flipped it. Once the superb lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi conveyed the impression that he was doing Nayyar a favour, the composer looked for less lauded versifiers and clicked.

Arrogant? Maybe. That was the man in white who also gave opportunities to divas Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum. They excelled under his baton. And then there was Bhosle. Whether he accepted the fact or not, she was his alter ego, his voice.

Somewhat uncharitably, he once stated that since Dutt was facing personal trauma and the Begum's voice was ageing, he had no choice but to assign Bhosle his best songs. "Then I got involved with her," he remarked casually.

Nayyar did not ever work with Lata Mangeshkar. Uncharacteristically polite, he proclaimed her a "great artiste". That his liaison with Bhosle was the proverbial bone of contention with badi didi Lata, is obvious.

About his split with Bhosle, he went on record to say, "Astrological charts told me it was inevitable. My career was on the downslide. So I left her before she could leave me."

As for Bhosle, she has constantly acknowledged OP's invaluable contribution to her repertoire - but without dwelling on the details of their parting of ways. She married R.D. Burman. Nayyar's music faded out. He composed for some Southern films, did a random assignment or two in Mumbai. But it was never the same.

Throughout his career, the composer strived to assert that it was the song and not the singer that mattered. Mohammed Rafi got into his bad books for showing up late for a song recording of Humsaaya. Manna Dey and Mahendra Kapoor playbacked the composer's songs till there was a patch-up with Rafi.

Clearly, Nayyar's story is the stuff that passion-oozing biographies are made of. It was not written during his lifetime.

All we know are vignettes of his imperishable melodies, and of his diverse interests. Besides astrology, he was also deeply into homeopathy. He found solace in a family which was not related to him. His wife and son are said to have filed a case against him in court, an emotional upheaval he somehow kept away from the breath of scandal.