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Interview: Veteran music composer Khayyam working on a Bollywood film

Veteran music composer Khayyam is working on a Bollywood project; says he has donated everything he had for the welfare of the musicians in the industry.

bollywood Updated: Apr 02, 2016 08:50 IST
Soumya Vajpayee Tiwari
Soumya Vajpayee Tiwari
Hindustan Times
Khayyam,Asha Bhosle,Lata Mangeshkar
Veteran music composer Khayyam is working on a Bollywood project; says he has donated everything he had for the welfare of the musicians in the industry.(Agencies)

He turned 90 recently, but Khayyam was effortless when he sang ‘Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein’ (Kabhi Kabhie; 1976) for us. An epitome of musical prowess and strong will power – the veteran music composer is humble and very hospitable. We caught up with him recently to discuss his journey in film music, which is nothing less than a tutorial for aspiring musicians, the projects he worked on, today’s music, the film he is working on currently, and more.

We have heard you are working on a film’s soundtrack currently…

I have signed a movie after a very long time. Prakash Bhardwaj is directing it, and it’s being produced by Rajesh Singh. They said they wanted to make a film with me. I recorded one song for it recently. Sonu Nigamji has sung the track. He hasn’t charged a fee for the song. He said, “Getting a chance to work with you is my fee.” He is such a talented artiste. Alka Yagnikji has also sung it. We will record the second song next month.

Could you tell us a little about the music making process in the 40s and after?

It used to be magical to record with a huge live orchestra. Aisa lagta tha ki sangeet banana ek ibadat hai (we used to feel that making music is a prayer). Singers, writers, recordists and musicians would all work together towards fulfilling the mission of making beautiful music. Every music company used to have around a 30-member orchestra. The rehearsals used to be two-three hours-long, and there would be around three rehearsals before a song was recorded. By then, all the musicians in the orchestra would know all the notations by heart. So, while recording, the music used to come straight from the heart.

Read: Today’s music? Allah rahem kare!, says Khayyam

The studios at that time only had two microphones. It would usually take around four to eight hours to make a song, but the preparations for a few difficult compositions would go on for a month. It wouldn’t take more than four hours to record any song. We used to get the perfect recording in just one go. I feel proud that we made such melodious songs with limited resources.

Mohammed Zahur Khayyam at his Juhu residence in Mumbai. (Satish Bate/ HT Photo)

What is the difference between the music then and now?

Electronic instruments are used more now. Also, all the songs are very fast-paced. The kind of rich tracks that we used to have in the past are not there anymore. For me, music making was a mission. I am glad that my work was appreciated. The songs that I made over six decades ago are loved even today. That is called hit music. The singers and writers in our time made the songs immortal. A couple of producers used to call me the Naushad of that time. Naushad saab (music composer) was at his peak then. I felt honoured to be compared to him. So, I was encouraged to do good work.

What was your criterion of taking on a film?

I would look for movies, which had storylines that demanded songs with rich lyrics.

Do you listen to today’s Bollywood songs?

I listen to them whenever they are played on TV. I feel upset about the level of westernisation that Indian music has undergone. But there’s nothing wrong in that. Maybe that is what youngsters like.

You have worked extensively with Asha Bhosle...

I have been associated with Ashaji for over 65 years. I recorded the first song with her in 1948. The track was ‘Mere mann ke aangan mein chand chamka’ (from the film Beewi, 1950). My wife, who has been my greatest support, suggested that Ashaji should sing the songs of Umrao Jaan (1981).The way Ashaji moulded her voice to get into the character of Umrao Jaan earned her acclaim across the world. I had reduced the song ‘Dil cheez kya hai’ by a couple of scales and asked her to sing it. She was reluctant, but then she agreed, on the condition that she will get to sing the same song in her natural style as well. When we played the track, she was taken aback. She couldn’t believe it was her voice. She thanked me.

“It used to be magical to record with a huge live orchestra,” says Khayyam. (Satish Bate/ HT Photo)

Was there competition back then?

Competition has always been there; it’s inevitable. And I feel it’s good to have competitive spirit, because it encourages you to do your best. For instance, when Umrao Jaan (1981) was offered to me, I was tensed because Pakeezah’s (1972) music was a huge hit at that time. It was a big challenge for me to make a mark. So, I read the history of Awadh and Umrao Jaan and tried to grasp the essence of that time. I’m glad I managed to do justice to it. We also launched many news singers, like Talat Aziz, with that movie.

Which of your works are closest to you?

Apart from Umrao Jaan, Razia Sultan (1983) is very close to me. The subject of the film, and the way the songs were written, made it immortal. Its song ‘Ae dil-e-nadaan’ is very special to me. Lataji (Mangeshkar) said this song kept resonating in her mind for the longest time. Phir Subah Hogi (1958) is also close to me. Raj Kapoor saab (late film-maker and actor) loved my work a lot. This was the first time that I worked with him.

You turned 90 recently. Are you content with your journey?

I have received a lot of love from the film industry. Despite all my shortcomings, I was embraced warmly. I am lucky to have made the kinds of songs I wanted to. I have worked with great people. I am really thankful to the film industry for showering me with so much love. On my birthday (February 18), I made an announcement about my charity trust, through which I will donate my entire wealth to support artistes and technicians, who are in need in the film industry. I have given everything I had to my motherland.

Musicians earn a lot more now as compared to the past. Do you ever feel that it would have been better if you belonged to this generation?

I was the highest paid music composer for over 14 years. Producers would tell me that I charged six times the money as compared to other music composers. But since I did limited work, and gave every project my 100%, I would expect to get the money I demanded. So, I have been really content. Humari film industry ne humari kadra ki iske hum shukraguzar hain (I am thankful to the film industry for valuing me).

First Published: Apr 02, 2016 08:48 IST