Veteran music director Om Prakash Sonik passed away after a cardiac arrest in Mumbai on July 7. He was 77. Omi, as he was popularly known, was the nephew of the blind music director Master Sonik, and together they formed the noted Sonik-Omi team that provided music in scores of Hindi films for close to three decades. Incidentally, Master Sonik’s 23rd death anniversary falls on July 9.
Om Prakash Verma (he adopted Sonik as a surname later) was born in Sialkot in 1937. In the wake of the Partition, the family migrated to Delhi. There, they were joined by Om’s uncle Manohar Lal Sonik. Manohar Lal, also born in Sialkot, had lost his eyesight when he was only two. But he never let that deter him from his musical ambitions. At the time of the Partition, he was touring with a musical dance party owned by well-known character actor Om Prakash’s brother. In 1948, Manohar Lal decided to move to Bombay to try his luck in the film industry. Eleven-year-old Omi was packed off to take care of his visually-impaired uncle. The age difference between the two was close to 12 years.
In Bombay, Manohar Lal Sonik initially found some work as a singer. He then went on to compose music for a couple of films co-produced by RB Haldia, who had earlier produced Parwana (1947), KL Saigal’s last film. Ishwar Bhakti, where Sonik combined with Girdhar, Haldia’s manager, released in 1951 and Mamta in 1952. Unfortunately, both fared poorly at the box office.
The failure of the films seemed to have brought Master Sonik’s career as a music director to a premature end. Characteristically, taking the disappointment in his stride, he started assisting other music directors. He went on to work on a string of musical hits with accomplished composers such as Madan Mohan (Woh Kaun Thi, Haqeeqat, Mera Saaya) and Roshan (Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Aarti, Taj Mahal), and also newbies like Usha Khanna (Dil Deke Dekho). Intriguingly, in the Nasir Husain-directed Dil Deke Dekho, where Master Sonik is credited with the background score, the opening credits say Sonik, the blind musician.
The perceptive Master Sonik used to compose on a peti (or harmonium) while an assistant, the violinist Alfie D’Costa, took down the notation and communicated it to the musicians. Meanwhile, Omi, after several abortive attempts to succeed as a singer, had started assisting his uncle. In the Raj Kapoor-Nutan starrer Dil Hi To Hai, we see Sonik-Omi credited for the first time. Impressed with their work, the producers of the film, the Rawals, gave them their first break as a music director duo. The title song of the Dharmendra-Nutan starrer Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1966) became a huge hit and is a staple at ‘Tribute to Rafi’ programmes even today.
After Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya, the duo did two more films with the Rawals – Aabroo (1969) and Ladki Pasand Hai (1971). In between, they tasted major commercial success in the shape of Sawan Bhadon, a film that marked the Hindi debut of Rekha and also introduced Navin Nischol. However, the most remembered Sonik-Omi songs from that period would be an epic Rafi tearjerker from Mahua (1969)...
…and this all-time classic qawwali from Dharma (1973).
Despite delivering a massive hit like “Raaz Ki Baat”, Sonik-Omi never made it to the big league. Through the 1970s and ’80s, the duo composed music for a string of low-budget and forgettable films with titles like Ram Kasam, Agent 009, Jwala Daku, Pyasa Shaitaan and Chambal Ka Badshah. Buried deep within those listless films are some intriguing background scores and curiosities such as “Kahin Ho Na Mohalle Mein Halla” (a mujra number sung by none other than Shobha Gurtu for Chowki No 11) and this one from Teen Eekay featuring the voice of Omi, the failed singer.
Master Sonik passed away on July 9, 1993, after a long illness. After his death, a few films that that been delayed released periodically. Lady Killer (1995), Hind Ki Beti (1996) and Biwi No 2 (2000) disappeared without a trace.