Ajay Mankotia, a former Indian Revenue Service officer who retired in 2008 as Commissioner of Income Tax, has written on a range of subjects, including his love for Hindi film music. In a collection of essays titled Bollywood Odyssey – The Singing Taxman’s Journey into Film Music, Mankotia chronicles his encounters with some of the Hindi film world’s most celebrated composers and singers as well as shares insights into trends and recurring devices in film music, such as the “twin song” (also known as the tandem song) and the fate of tunes that were discarded from the movies for which they were composed. Here is an excerpt from an essay on OP Nayyar, one of the many luminaries whom Mankotia met.
The poor sarangi! Hindi film music had accorded it a rather limiting role – either in the kothas or as mournful accompaniment to melancholic songs. No music director had violated the rule. Till ‘The Disruptor’ came along and changed all rules of Hindi film songs. Not in small measure, but wholesale.
OP Nayyar took the sarangi out of the confines of the kotha and let it soar into the sky; from being an adjunct to a dirge, he transformed it into an upbeat musical instrument. He gave it a feel-good melody, a fast pace. He gave it respect. You could hear it sing joyfully, to be released from typecasting. Hear ‘Yeh Kya Kar Dala Tune’ (Howrah Bridge, 1958), and ‘Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein Ishara Ho Gaya’ (CID, 1956).
Take the santoor. The beat allotted to it by music composers was gentle. It was elevator music. OP Nayyar used it as a fast-flowing brook – still soft but now more insistent – in the prelude to ‘Jaayiye Aap Kahaan Jaayenge’ (Mere Sanam, 1965). Never was the santoor used like this.
The foremost contribution of OP Nayyar to Hindi film songs was rhythm. His innovations in the percussion section were so revolutionary, and catchy, that they became his trademark. It was a delight to hear OP Nayyar explain the intricacies and nuances of his extraordinary ‘off-beat’ offering to the Hindi film song.
First the tonga beat. He popularized it so much that it is now indelibly linked to him. Think tonga, and OP Nayyar’s name invariably comes to mind. Take for example – ‘Banda Parwar Thaam Lo Jigar (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963), ‘Zara Haule Haule Chalo More Saajna’ (Saawan Ki Ghata, 1966), ‘Yun Toh Humne Lakh Haseen Dekhe Hain’ (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957), ‘Piya Piya Mera Jeeya Pukare’ (Baap Re Baap, 1955), and many others.
Castanets are a Spanish percussion instrument consisting of two round pieces of wood or shell which are held by the fingers and clicked together in rhythm to music and dance. OP Nayyar used it extensively in his songs, and how! The song’s complexion changed.
Just hear ‘Aayiye Meherbaan’ (Howrah Bridge, 1958) when Asha croons “Ishq ke imtihan”. The song would have been flat without it. Or during “Kaise pehchanun ki naam nahin janun” from ‘Lakhon Hain Nigah Mein’ (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963). It adds zest and frothiness to the hero’s romantic quest.
Almost all Hindi film songs have beat patterns which are straight and regular. But OP Nayyar had other ideas. Take ‘Woh Haseen Dard De Do’ (Humsaya, 1968). You give the song to a tabla player. He will provide the beat pattern which would be simple and linear. But in the hands of OP Nayyar, the beat pattern went through an earthquake.
So, while the beat remained the same, its complexion radically changed, as did the song’s. The beat patterns are complex yet riveting. Hear ‘Aaj Koi Pyaar Se’ (Saawan Ki Ghata, 1966) and ‘Mohabbat Cheez Hai Kya’ (Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, 1966) and see if the beat patterns do not shake you up.
But the revolution OP Nayyar wrought was bringing on board both the Western and Indian beats to songs. His songs are replete with this fusion. He would have the western beat, usually the drums in the mukhra. In the antara, the dholak would take over. It wasn’t contrived, it didn’t look forced. Dholak was the most natural choice for the composition that he imparted to the antara. Then back to the drums in the following mukhra. This dual usage gave the song a hitherto unknown texture. One example – ‘Balma Khuli Hawa Mein’ (Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964).
OP Nayyar was referred to as a rebel composer, a maverick. All India Radio found OP Nayyar too trendy and banned most of his songs. Radio Ceylon was the only source.
This iconoclastic trait of his was invariably one of the topics of discussion that OP Nayyar and I used to have. He had retired from the film industry and was living as a paying guest in Thane, near Mumbai. OP Nayyar’s family had severed ties with him for his ‘wayward’ behaviour and he had left all his possessions with them. OP Nayyar was not bitter about it because, as he told me, he deserved what he got. His primary source of income was music royalty. His new passion was homeopathy and astrology.
I would drive down very often to Thane – with a bottle of Black Label – and spend the evening with him. Just the two of us in his small room. He would serve boiled eggs for snacks. Late in the night, he would serve dinner of mutton which he had bought personally earlier in the day and cooked over slow fire. The family he lived with was very tolerant and allowed him these liberties.
Though he would be initially reluctant, after a few pegs, and my persistence, he would talk about his music. He would patiently unfold his musical journey that began in the early ’50s with Aasman (1952) and took off with Aar Paar (1954).
There was no music system in his room. Just a carton of diaries, letters, and photographs. He would show them to me. Some of the letters, written by known names of the playback industry, were explosive stuff. He showed me a postcard with the handwritten mukhra of his famous song ‘Pyaar Par Bas Toh Nahin Hai Mera’ (Sone Ki Chidiya, 1958).
It was signed but he kept his palm over the name. “Guess who has written it?” he asked, smilingly. “Talat Mahmood, of course?” I replied. He shook his head in disbelief. “And here I thought you knew all my songs.” Of course, I knew the answer but wanted him to confirm, which he did.
Excerpted with permission from Bollywood Odyssey – The Singing Taxman’s Journey into Film Music, Ajay Mankotia, Readomania.