The poetry and purity of Khayyam’s compositions

In sweet music is such art
Killing care and grief of heart.

Few embody William Shakespeare’s golden words like Mohammad Zayur Khayyam Hashmi.

An unmistakable serenity enveloped his songs that transported the listener to an alternate universe where dreams and desires found sanctuary. His spellbinding melodies gave wings to poetry and enriched the history of Hindi film music. But the man behind such awe-inspiring music started out wanting to be in front of the camera. 

Born on February 18, 1927, near a small town outside Jalandhar, Khayyam had no interest in studies. He wanted to become a hero.

Back then, film schools were unheard of, so he traveled to Lahore’s Ghulam Ahmed Chishti aka Baba Chishti, requesting the Pakistani veteran composer to take him under his wing and teach him music. By the time he had gained some experience, an acting career no longer looked feasible and he took to composing instead. 

Initially, he teamed up with Rehman Verma under the pseudonym, Sharmaji-Vermaji, with Heer Ranjha marking their first ever collaboration.

Following Verma’s decision to stay in Pakistan after Partition, Khayyam reverted to his own name for the Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumar starrer, Footpath. And then there was no looking back. 

But the recipient of honours like Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi and the National Award never turned his skills into a sweatshop.  

Ever a believer in quality over quantity, Khayyam stuck to his principles and resisted even a hint of compromise. It’s what makes his music so radiant and refined. 

At the age of 92, Khayyam has passed into the ages but his legacy will mesmerise generations for years to come.

Saluting the legend and celebrates some of the finest soundtracks of his career.

Footpath (1953) 
After a stint as Sharmaji, a Hindu name he took on fearing the communal tension gripping Partition-time India, Khayyam was sort of reborn with Zia Sarhadi’s Footpath.

There’s much to relish about Kaisa jadoo daala re‘s playful musings and So ja mere pyaare’s affecting lullaby but Talat Mehmood’s moody rendition of Shaam-e-gham ki kasam steals the show. 

Phir Subah Hogi (1958)
Though Raj Kapoor regulars Shankar-Jaikishen were the original choice to score Phir Subah Hogi‘s soundtrack, Khayyam’s familiarity with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, on which it is based, made him perfect to score its tunes.

And the virtuoso doesn’t disappoint one bit.

Be it the poignant title track, the no holds barred cynicism of Cheen o Arab humara or the wry humour of Aasman pe hai khuda, which resurfaced to provide heft to a tragic sequence of Aamir Khan’s PK.

Shola Aur Shabnam (1961)
If there’s something like a director’s actor, Khayyam proved himself to be a poet’s composer.

His ability to bring out the soul of a song, its weighty words while assigning a singer, who’d make it accessible, contributed to his brilliance.

One can sample it richly in his treatment of Kaifi Azmi’s penmanship in songs like Jaane kya dhoondti rehti and Jeet hi lenge baazi.   

Shagoon (1964)
Shagoon is best remembered for pairing Waheeda Rehman opposite her future husband Kamaljeet and Khayyam and Sahir Ludhianvi’s mellifluous creations.

The romance of Tum chali jaogi parchaiyaan reh jayengi and Parbaton ke pedon par lingers on as does Khayyam’s wife Jagjit Kaur’s marvelous rendition of two of its most exuberant ditties — Tum apna ranj-o-gham apni pareshani mujhe de do and Gori sasural chali. 

Aakhri Khat (1966)
Khayyam colours Rajesh Khanna’s debut Aakhri Khat and Kaifi Azmi’s words in hues of charm (Baharon mere jeevan bhi sawaaro), sensuality (Aur kuch der  thehar), sentimentality (Mere chanda mere nanhe) and idyllic vibes (Rut jawan jawan) in Chetan Anand’s offbeat Aakhri Khat.

Kabhi Kabhie (1976)
Who better than a man who values poetry and meter to compose the tunes of a film centred on a pal do pal ka shayar? Yash Chopra’s faith in Khayyam wasn’t unfounded.

Once again the resounding success of the Khayyam-Sahir Ludhianvi combination across evergreen chartbusters like Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal, Main pal do pal ka shayar, Tere chehre se or the ingenious medley Chahe chale churiyan proved to be stuff of pop culture legend.

Shankar Hussain (1977)
Often good music suffers the same fate as the movie. Shankar Hussain, which stars a young, gawky Kanwaljeet Singh, may have sunk without trace but boasts of superlative songs.

Khayyam’s appreciation for his lyricists — Kaif Bhopali, Kamal Amrohi and Jan Nisar Akhtar — results in lilting numbers like the Lata Mangeshkar beauty, Aap yoon faasle se and Apne aap raaton mein, the mushy Rafi ditty, Kahin ek masoom nazuk si ladki or the high-pitched qawaali, Acha unhe dekha hai. 

Noorie (1979)
Khayyam captures the fresh air and pristine texture of the Himachal hills and landscapes in Lata Mangeshkar’s haunting rendition of Aaja re o mere dilbar aaja laced in Nitin Mukesh’s cries of Noorie alongside the starry-eyed Chori chori koi aaye for Farookh Shaikh-Poonam Dhillon’s star-crossed romance.

Even after 40 years, the title song is solid enough to inspire a key plot point of Ritesh Batra’s critically acclaimed Photograph. 

Trishul (1978)
Khayyam’s versatility shows in how sportingly he jumps from the fascinating jugalbandi of Team Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez versus Team Yeh bekar bedaam ki cheez hai to the gibberish teenybopper zeal of Gapuchi gapuchi gam gam.

Equally enjoyable is the elegance and easy-going air of Aapki mehki hui zulfeinand Jaaneman tum kamaal karti ho.

But it’s the stoic emotionality of Tum mera saath rahega that leaves a lump in the throat. 

Thodisi Bewafai (1980)
A long-winded melodrama, headlined by Rajesh Khanna and Shabana Azmi, or its tacky picturisation of dazzling songs cannot lessen the might of Khayyam’s harmonious tunes or Gulzar’s insightful wordplay.

And hands down, Aankhon mein humne aapke sapne, Hazaron rahen mud ke dekhi and Aaj bichhde hain are the album’s piece de resistance. 

Umrao Jaan (1981)
Umrao Jaan owes a great deal to Khayyam’s artistry, Shahryar’s shayari and Asha Bhosle’s expression.

Muzzafar Ali’s opulence and Rekha’s glamour would not shine the same in its absence.

Hailed as the magnum opus of Khayyam’s career, every single composition — Dil cheez kya hai, In aankhon ki masti, Yeh kya jagah hai doston, Justuju jiski thi — is a timeless gem, a classical tour de force.  

Bazaar (1982) 
Khayyam once told, ‘The songs of Bazaar is one of the reasons why the film was successful.’

The agony of Dekh lo aaj humein jee bhar ke performed by his wife Jagjit Kaur, the fragrant courtship of Phir chhidi raat, the melancholy in Karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi support this claim ardently.

Ruling the roost is, of course, Lata Mangeshkar’s magical recital of Mir Taqi Mir’s Dikhayi diye yun ke bekhud kiya. 

Razia Sultan (1983)
Kamal Amrohi’s Razia Sultan was an expensive misfire but its music is the epic the movie aspired to be.

Both grand and gentle, Khayyam’s lavish arrangement and intricate tunes recreate a bygone era’s authenticity and anxiety in sumptuous treats like Khwab bankar koi aayega, Aayi zanjeer ki jhankar, Jalta hai badan and Lata Mangeshkar’s personal favourite Aye dil-e-nadaan.

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