In perfect harmony: Khayyam speaks on Lata

by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Khayyam and Lata. Two of the greatest names in Indian music. Together, they have created many a musical gem. Remember Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sanwaro, Apne Aap Raaton Mein and Aye Dil-e-nadaan? Listening to these songs, I have always wondered about the superb chemistry between this wonderful composer and that peerless singer. They always sounded so much in tune with each other. So when Vishwas  Nerurkar (who happens to be my first cousin) asked me to write something for this Khayyam anthology, I had the theme ready in my mind. I said, “I would like to interview Khayyam-sahab but that interview would only focus on his songs with Lataji.”

To arrange such an exclusive interview takes some effort but Vishwas somehow managed to convince the maestro to spare some time in his busy schedule and we landed at Khayyam’s Dakshina Sadan apartment to do the interview. Playing the songs on my laptop and then listening to this great composer re-live the historic moments of their creation was an experience I will never forget. It was any music- lover’s dream come true- to know what really went into the making of the songs we have cherished all these years and that too, from the composer of those memorable tunes himself. Khayyam – an excellent orator in Hindi and Urdu, kept us riveted when he candidly shared his experiences and his thoughts about all those amazing songs he created for Lata. Finally when we left his place after almost three hours, still there were so many songs left to be discussed, so many questions waiting to be asked but for that we will have to bide our time!

So here are the excerpts from this exclusive interview.

  • The first songs you composed for Lata-ji were in the 1952-film Pyaar Ki Baaten. But since both of you were quite active in film music much before this film, wasn’t there any interaction between two of you? What was your first impression about her?

By the late 1940s, I had started composing- not independently but in partnership with Rahman Verma. Our pair was then called Sharmaji- Vermaji. In those Pre-Independence days, Master Ghulam Haider was considered a premier composer. He was a real giant in terms of talent and reputation. So when he picked up a rank newcomer, a young girl named Lata Mangeshkar to render the heroine’s songs in a Bombay Talkies film Majboor, everyone in the film industry was curious to know more. I went to Bombay Talkies with my fellow composer Rahman Verma and asked Masterji to if it was possible to listen to his discovery’s songs. Without any pretence, he immediately told the theatre people to play her two songs – Piya Milne Ko Aa and Dil Mera Toda.

Both- I and my partner were very impressed with Lata’s sweet and expressive renditions. After playing her songs for us, Masterji said, “Puttar, let’s have tea at home. These theatre people don’t know how to make tea.” Then all of us started going towards his Khar residence. I asked Masterji, “How did you choose her for your songs?” So he said, “Puttar, yeh to apne Diine ki ladki hai. Master Dinanath- bada hi acchha singer tha. He was very good classical and Natyageet- singer. So when I came to know that Lata was his daughter, I took her trial and really liked what I heard.” Masterji was from a theatre background and had known Lata’s father Dinanath very well.

Further I asked him, “Masterji, what do you foresee in her career?” So then he said, “Puttar, iss ladki ke gaane mein woh jaadu hai ki iss ki shohrat aasman ki bulandiyon ko chhoo jaayegi. If she doesn’t let fame and money to affect her mind, then only sky is the limit for her.” His words then sounded almost like a prophecy and how true they were to be!

Later our pair got an opportunity to compose some songs for the film Heer Raanjha. Composer Aziz Hindi had composed some songs for this film but the producer Vali Saahab wanted some Punjabi- styled numbers and for that he asked us to compose rest of the numbers. Lata had already sung Aziz Hindi’s songs in this film and naturally, for the sake of continuity we wanted her to render our songs. But somehow we did not manage to get her dates and finally we chose Geeta Dutt for our songs.

Finally I got the opportunity to work with Lata in Pyaar Ki Baaten. It was a film made by Nargis and for that, I composed two songs for Lata.

  • But the typical Khayyam- touch is not apparent in those songs.

Yes, I agree with your observation. Since I was just a beginner, it was but natural that my style then had a lot of influence of composers like Chishti Baba and Husnlal – Bhagatram – composers who were my Gurus and with whom I had done my earlier work.

  • How was the experience of working with her for the first time?

To be frank, I was quite apprehensive about working with her. Our Heer- Ranjha episode was fresh in my mind and then again, I had a bitter experience when she cancelled her recording for another film of mine at the last moment for some reasons and as a result, I lost a contract for the film.

So this time the approach was made from producer’s end and I refrained from approaching her for recording dates. The rehearsals and recordings were quite cordial and professional but I don’t think there was any great rapport.

  • Even till the mid- sixties, you had composed very few songs for her in films like Bambai Ki Billi and Baarood.

Yes, both these were producer Aspi Irani’s films. In fact, Bambai Ki Billi was initially titled Bambai Ki Ladki and when that Billi word came into the title, I was really annoyed!

Here too it was the same story- Lata was called to sing the songs by Aspi- sahab’s company and not by me. I had almost kept myself away from approaching her for any songs since my every approach seemed to misfire. But with good songs like Rang Rangeela Saanwara, Main Baagon Ki Morni and Teri Duniya Mein Nahi Koi Sahara Apna, our relationship slowly started to thaw. In the first two songs, I had shown how folk-songs would be sung by a village belle and in the third song, for the choral arrangement, I had composed a raga- based tune but presented it in Western style.

  • Did she appreciate your tunes then?

Yes, during the making of these songs and later while doing songs like San San San Chale Re Pawan and Raat Lagake Aayi Chaand Ki Bindiya from Hum Hain Raahi Pyar  Ke, she started to react visibly to my music for the first time. May be by that time she was convinced about my talent and potential! She never said much- even later it was the same. Whenever she liked any tune, there would almost never be any verbal praise but her eyes would speak, her face would slowly get lit up with a glowing smile and she would blush a little.

  • So now we come to the historic Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sanwaro from Aakhri Khat (1966).

Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sanwaro was a Pahadi raga-based tune. It was not some pre-existing bandish but was entirely my own creation, note-by-note. At first glance, it appears to be a simple tune but it is very difficult in its intricacies. It is set in Dadra- taal but has a very delicate layakaari. The instrumental prelude and interludes are also so well- etched. It was perhaps the first song to have such a long prelude, which was almost one and a half minutes long. Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor), Hariprasad Chourasiya (Flute) and Rais Khan (Sitar) - three of the greatest musicians to play the instrumental pieces and Lata – the pride of India to render the song – what more one could ask for! That was a song that practically defined a trademark of Khayyam. But I won’t say, it was the first song to establish Khayyam- touch. That was established way back in Footpath.

  • Aakhri Khat had one more brilliant Lata – Khayyam creation Mere Chanda Mere Nanhe.

Oh yes, how can I forget that song! In fact, Chetan Anand first came to me and said, “Khayyam- saahab, I want you to compose for this film of mine called Aakhri Khat but it will have only one song – a lori. Only you can make such a lullaby into a song that will convey the whole theme of the film.” I refused straight away. My reasoning was simple. In one Lori, there wasn’t much scope to show my talent and even commercially the chances of it becoming a chart-topper were negligible. In fact, I feel only two Loris- Firoz Nizami- Noor Jahan’s Aaja Ri Nindia Aa and C.Ramchandra- Lataji’s Dheere Se Aaja Ri Ankhiyan Mein have really succeeded in being super-duper hits.

 So when I refused to do the music, Chetan-ji brought lyricist Kaifi Aazmi and actress Priya Rajvansh to persuade me and finally they managed to convince my wife Jagjit, who in turn made me accept that assignment. But once I recorded Mere Chanda, so impressed was Chetan-ji that he made me compose 4 more songs and one of that was Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sanwaro!

  • Even after that stupendous success, you didn’t work that often with Lata-ji for next quite- a – few years.

The reasons were many. First of all, not every song could be for Lata. Secondly she was busy in other assignments. Plus, I always had a very good rapport with Asha- ji from early on. So in that period, two of us (Lata and I) did not work often.

  • Then came those beautiful songs in Shankar – Hussain. In both these songs- Apne Aap Raaton Mein and Aap Yun Faaslon Se, the orchestration and rendition is very soft. Was it done purposely?

Shankar – Hussain was a story of a Muslim girl Kulsum, who is a sleep-walker and who in her dreams finds herself as a Hindu girl Kusum. It was a very sensitive story. Director Kamaal Amarohi wanted me to portray that sleepy, dreamy state of her mind through the music. He said, “These songs and their music have to be extra soft.” I was a bit skeptical and said, “Kamaal- sahab, nowadays theatre audiences start screaming if they don’t get loud music. Will this experiment work?” He just said, “This is a Kamaal Amarohi- film and I make films according to my convictions, not according to box-office demands.”

So even though, I had my reservations I kept the volume level of vocals and orchestration in these songs quite low. But when I listened to final products, I was convinced that Kamaal- saahab was right. The beautiful Saarangi-piece in Apne Aap Raaton Mein was played by Pt. Ramnarayan and the classic Tabla- beats in Aap Yun Faaslon Se were played by Anna Joshi.

Shankar – Hussain was released much later, thanks to changes in star- cast and also because Kamaal sahab in between revived the stalled project of Pakeezah. In a way, my wife- Jagjit was responsible for that to happen. So impressed was she after watching the rushes of the then incomplete Pakeezah that she convinced Kammal sahab to complete the film at any cost. She was very friendly with Meena Kumari and finally managed to convince her to complete her work in Pakeezah.

  • What about Kabhie Kabhie?

Actually the reason, I got Kabhie Kabhie was the song Aye Dil-e-nadaan. For Razia Sultan, I had recorded Lataji’s Aye Dil-e-nadaan and also Qabban Mirza’s Aayi Zanjeer Ki Jhankar as early as in 1974. Aye Dil- e-nadaan had then created such a stir that practically everyone in the film industry was talking about that song. That fame had reached to Yash Chopra and one evening, when I returned after a Razia Sultan- sitting at Kamaalistan, I found Yashji and Sahir- saahab waiting for me. They told me that they were making a film about a love- story of a poet and they wanted me as a composer. I immediately said, ‘Yes’.

  • Tell us more about Aye Dil-e-nadaan.

The caravan of Razia Sultan came to India from Turkey through a long and tortuous route traversing many countries. If you listen carefully, the tune and orchestration reflects the musical influences of all the regions she traveled across. The song is about the duel in her mind- the woman inside her is deeply in love with a black slave but the princess inside her is all too aware of her duty. The song depicts that dilemma in her mind.

I always get compliments on my use of silent pauses in between the stanzas of this song but that credit totally is Kamaal saahab’s. It was his idea and I just executed it. We had two rehearsals and then Lataji sang the whole song in just one take!

One more interesting thing comes to my mind about songs of Razia Sultan. Despite all our precautions, three songs somehow reached the pirated music market and made a huge business. Lataji once went to a departmental store in Mumbai and found to her chagrin that those songs were playing loudly on its music system, even when the cassette was not officially released. She called me that day and I tell you, I haven’t ever heard her sound so angry! So disturbed was she because of this piracy.

  • There was some criticism about the way the other Razia Sultan song Khwab Bankar Koi Aayega was picturised. Some felt that it suggested sexual undertones between the princess and her girlfriend-the Vazeer’s daughter.

Yes, there was some criticism but it was quite needless. From the beginning, it is very clear that Razia is in love with Yaqoot- her army commander from a slave back-ground. This song is just between two best friends sharing their intimate secret thoughts in the quiet night on the boat-ride in the palace-lake.

I had recorded another version of this song at higher volume and with a 100- piece orchestra. Kamaal sahab allowed me to record that version but then he also told me to do a softer, hushed version to suit his concept. When I compared the two versions, I agreed that his version sounded better suited for the film’s requirement. 

  • Coming back to Kabhie Kabhie. This was the music which really established you as a commercially viable composer.

Yes, I would say so. The main strong point of this music is how well it presents the generational difference. The songs for Amitabh, Raakhi and Waheeda- who represent older generation in the film are mellow and melodious and those for the youngsters Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh are robust and rhythmic. Before this film, many people in the film-industry had thought that I was good at melody but may be not so good at racy numbers. Here I could prove them wrong and show my versatility.

  • The Trishul theme song Tu Mere Saath Rahega Munne is a masterpiece in its own right.

That song was a real tough one to compose. Sahir saahab had written the lyrics as a free verse and the song has a piecemeal structure, each piece being of different length. I was really shaking with fear after getting that song in my hand. I kept thinking how I was going to compose a tune for such a difficult song, which would be the central theme song for such a big film.

My music room practically has all the religious idols- all of them gifted by someone or other. I like to think that all these Gods had decided to come to my house. Whenever I am stuck for inspiration, I stand before them and pray. I ask them to send me the ‘Baani’, the inspiration. I did that and one fine morning when I got up and sat on my harmonium, the tune just came to me. I made my wife listen to it and she just said, “Yes, that’s it. God has sent it to you!” Yash Chopra and Sahir saahab also liked the tune straightaway.

Even this long song was sung by Lataji in one single take.

  • A similar emotional song was Chanda Re Mere Bhaiya Se Kahna in Chambal Ki Kasam.

I distinctly remember that recording. Sahir saahab had come along with his mother for that recording. I explained the situation of the song to Lata that this was a song sung by a sister desperately wanting to see her lost brother. Towards the end of the song, the sister’s voice is shown to be choking with emotions and when Lata sang that she did that so naturally, so movingly. I could see tears in her eyes!

  • What about the Bazaar-song Dikhayi Diye Yuun?

Sagar Sarhadi came to me with a theme of Bazaar. It was a time when film-music had reached its nadir in terms of melodies and lyrics and what we decided was to present songs relying on excellent poetry. Dikhayi Diye Yuun Ki Bekhud Kiya, Hamein Aap Se Bhi Judaa Kar Chale was penned by the great Urdu poet Meer Taqi Meer almost a hundred years ago. It was such a tender thought of love saying-“Since the time I saw you, I have been so enamored by your thoughts that I have even become separated from my own self.”

The delicate murki on the word Judaa is the highlight here. I had once gone to Lahore and at one of the parties, Noor Jehan complimented about that musical nuance. She said, “Khayaam-saab, kitna khoobsurat gaana hai. Lata ne bhi bahut acchha gaaya hai. Lekin yeh bataaiye, woh  sur kahan se lagaaya aap ne?” (“What a beautiful song! Lata has sung it so well. But tell me one thing- from where did you conceive that delicate musical note?”)

  • By this time, you had established a great rapport with Lataji. What were her special qualities as a singer?

I think a rapport between two artists builds up, not only when they work together often but also when that work becomes successful. So in that manner, I would agree that by the eighties our rapport was great.

As a singer, I always believe that Lataji’s greatest quality is the Pakeezagi, the purity of her voice. Another thing what impresses me is her sincerity to her craft. Her pronunciation- especially of difficult Urdu words is so perfect. It is really creditable for a lady coming from a typical Maharastrian background and that is only because she has taken real pains to learn Urdu from experts.

When we rehearsed for our songs, only two of us would be there. She learns the tune so intently that she almost absorbs every note. She instinctively understands what the composer wants from her and executes it to perfection. Just see how she sings a song like Na Jaane Kya Hua, Jo Tune Chhoo Liya. The way she brings about that delicate expression of lover’s first touch, when she renders the words Chhoo Liya. That is something special. She always tries to make sure that she is doing full justice to the tune- it doesn’t matter whether the composer is new or established. Most of our songs needed just one or two rehearsals and were recorded in single takes. That’s what makes her a great singer or should I say the greatest, for the adjective ‘great’ seems so inadequate to describe her!





About the author
Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Lata Online’s editor-webmaster-curator Dr. Mandar V. Bichu is a pediatrician based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, who is also a prolific writer-journalist. His fascination for Lata Mangeshkar’s music has resulted in two books-Gaaye Lata Gaaye Lata and Lata-Voice of the golden era, and many published articles.