MUMBAI—Padma Bhushan film composer Khayyam passed away Aug. 19 at 9.30 p.m. in Mumbai due to age-related illness. His wife, Jagjit Kaur, is convalescing in the same hospital in another bed, signifying their togetherness that lasted since their wedding in 1965! His only son, Pradeep Khayyam, prematurely passed away some years ago.
The man behind musical landmarks like “Footpath,” “Phir Subah Hogi,” “Kabhi Kabhie” (with which he made a comeback in 1976 after a long, dull phase) and “Umrao Jaan” was 92.
When this writer had met Khayyam at his humble home in Juhu way back in 2006, it was in a music room studded with images, idols, scriptures and texts of all religions. A mandir was flanked by copies of the Granth Sahib and the Holy Bible as well as the religious emblems of Islam. The family would do a daily pooja, conduct aarti twice daily, and recited from the Bhagwad Gita, Holy Quran and the Granth Sahib and would kiss the Holy Bible.
Khayyam had to his credit non-film songs in multiple genres like ghazal, bhajan, geet, Gurbani and naat (Muslim devotional). The composer has always believed in one God as a nucleus of power from where all the different religions and deities evolved, and to which every kind of worship leads. It was the composer’s firm belief that every human being picks ups at least 10 individualistic points from each religion to become a complete “insaan (human being).”
“An aarti twice a day or our kissing the Bible does not mean that I do not remain a Muslim or my wife a Sikh!” he told me. “Different religions and prayers are all ways of remembering and praying to the same power. In fact, even in the Holy Quran, God says that he has sent 124,000 messengers to earth to spread his word and work. Several thousand are mentioned there, so obviously the remaining ones must be from all other religions!”
His late son Pradeep, at the age of seven, had asked him, “Papa, you are a Muslim, and mother is a Sikh. You have christened me Pradeep. So can I practice Hinduism?” And the composer and his wife replied, “Why not?” Pradeep had been born on Christmas.
All the Hindu idols and photographs and the Bible reached his house from different sources. “People would gift them to us, and they became a part of our household," the composer had said. A tall picture of Radha Krishna, presented as a felicitation by the Indian Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Temple, proudly occupied one wall.
Khayyam's track-record of less than 50 films, nine television serials, and about 200 non-film songs in over six decades is clear evidence that he has always been choosy about work. Thanking his wife and son for this luxury (“They were not materially demanding, and I could afford to work on my conditions!”), the veteran composer, who did not score for any film since Gautam Ghose’s Yatra in 2005 (it was released in 2008), had stated then that he still got offers every month.
Said the composer, “If I am known for something, it is for the standard of music that I compose. I will never leave my tradition. I have always accepted only that work to which I could do justice. In films, I did not look at banners, setups, or big names. I want the filmmakers to be deeply involved and have good lyrics and a free hand. Every song of mine is a creation. I cannot copy, rehash or take any easy way out.”
Khayyam had then pointed out that he has given major hits with Dilip Kumar (“Footpath”), Raj Kapoor (“Phir Subah Hogi”) and Amitabh Bachchan (“Kabhi Kabhie”). “I have been blessed with seeing such a high percentage of success, even when I gave weighty songs that went against the trend,” he had stressed. “Even when my film had a dry subject, like ‘Phir Subah Hogi,’ the music had its own strength and was a big hit. I may not have worked with all filmmakers and lyricists, but the distinguished names include Yash Chopra, Ramesh Saigal and Chetan Anand and lyricists like Jigar Moradabadi, Sahir-saab, Majrooh-saab, Kaifi Azmi-saab and Jan Nissar Akhtar besides Shakeel Badayuni in non-film ghazals. Begum Akhtar did me the honor of not just singing several of my compositions but also assigned me the rare honor of composing her album ‘Kalaam-e-Asatzaa.’”
Wife Jagjit Kaur is a singer and a music force in her own right. And the lady has had a major role in helping her husband even in his music, including the final shape of his compositions. Of course, Jagjit has also sung under his baton in several films, including in “Shagoon” and “Umrao Jaan.”
Born Mohammed Zahoor Khayyam Hashmi in 1927 in in the village of Rahon in Punjab’s Jalandhar district, Khayyam ran away to Delhi when his parents did not accept his obsession for music. He later went to Lahore to learn music under Baba Chishti and finally Pandit Amarnath. The composer came to Mumbai in February 1947 and his guru Pandit Amarnath sent him to his brothers, Husnlal-Bhagatram, who became his gurus in Mumbai. His first break was as a singer in the Chisti Baba-composed “Dono Jahaan Teri Mohabbat,” a duet with Zohrabai Ambalewali in “Romeo And Juliet.”
Khayyam joined up with Rehman, another disciple of Husnlal-Bhagatram, and they got their first break in composing six Punjabi folk-oriented songs for “Heer Ranjha” (1947). The brothers suggested that Mohammed Hashmi be called Sharmaji and Rehman be called Varmaji. But after this film, when India achieved Independence, Rehman went to Pakistan. On his own, Hashmi signed Ramesh Saigal’s “Footpath” with Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari and directed by Zia Sarhadi. The latter felt that my name Sharmaji lacked an impact. He suggested the name Khayyam, which in Urdu meant the plural for Khaima or a community shelter. Smiled the composer, “Because of the legendary Omar Khayyam, I hugely benefitted from this name.”
In 1950, when his “Akele Mein Woh Ghabraate To Honge” (“Biwi” / Mohammed Rafi) released, Khayyam was noticed for being different from the herd. After “Footpath” set him on the road to fame, came “Mohabbat Issko Kehte Hain,” Lala Rukh,” “Shagoon,” “Phir Subah Hogi,” “Shola Aur Shabnam” and “Aakhri Khat.”
It was in 1974, when Kamal Amrohi thought of “Razia Sultan,” his next magnum opus after “Pakeezah,” that Khayyam was approached for a big film. Lata Mangeshkar’s “Ae Dil-E-Nadaan” was recorded and the buzz that spread was so strong that Yash Chopra, at Sahir’s insistence, visited Khayyam and asked him to work for “Kabhi Kabhie.”
“They told me that they thought that I was the perfect choice for a film that was the love story of a poet. That was the respect given to an artiste then,” recalled the composer. After this, Khayyam entered what was for him a prolific phase. Among the successful films and musicals were “Trishul,” “Noorie,” “Thodi Si Bewafaai,” “Ahista Ahista,” “Dard,” “Bazaar,” “Umrao Jaan” (only its music, for which Khayyam won the Filmfare award for Best Music again after “Kabhi Kabhie”). Khayyam also composed for major television serials including “The Great Maratha,” “Maharathi Karna” and “Jai Hanuman.”
The Padma Bhushan and a National award (also for “Umrao Jaan”) apart, Khayyam received several major honors. He was invited to compose a Ghalib album on the poet’s centenary and scored the famous “Yeh Na Thi Hamari Qismat” in two distinct ways for Mohammed Rafi and Begum Akhtar respectively. The K.L.Saigal Memorial award, the Dinanath Mangeshkar Puraskar, the Lata Mangeshkar Award, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award were among his many honors.