The history of Hindi cinema is replete with instances of enduring collaborations. Several directors are known to have repeatedly picked the same scriptwriter, cinematographer, editor or music composer for their films.

Take directors and cinematographers, for instance. Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Hrishikesh Mukherjee were particular about their choice of lensman. Working with VK Murthy, Radhu Karmakar and Jaywant Pathare respectively, they gave us many lovely films. For that matter, Mukherjee himself was Bimal Roy’s favourite editor for a long time.

This tradition of enduring collaborations was most noticeable in the music-making aspect of films. Music composers would swear by certain lyricists, in many cases insisting that the producer/director hire only a specific person to write the songs. In fact, there have even been rare cases of a composer working with only one lyricist for most of his career. Inevitably, Naushad and Shakeel Badayuni come to mind as an example of such extreme creative fidelity.

OP Nayyar-SH Bihari, C Ramachandra-Rajendra Krishna, Kalyanji-Anandji-Indeevar, Shankar-Jaikishan-Hasrat-Shailendra and SD Burman-Majrooh are a few other longstanding composer-lyricist partnerships.

The main reason for such affinity is simple. In all aspects of filmmaking, creative empathy, respect and freedom are vital for team members – “tuning”, to borrow a metaphor from the film world itself. In the case of music, the lyricist and composer must work with a deep understanding of each other’s sensibilities and strengths. They must be willing to accommodate a lot of give and take. There is a third factor at play, which, if strong, can elevate the partnership to another level altogether: the innate chemistry between the two individuals.

While long-lasting creative partnerships are celebrated in the world of film music, their opposite acquires a certain mystique – a one-off collaboration between two legends, never to be repeated.

Shailendra wrote the lyrics for Chote Nawab (1961), RD Burman’s first film as composer. But he never worked with Burman again. Shakeel Badayuni collaborated with SD Burman in just one film, Benazir (1964). Similarly, Mora Gora Ang Laile from Bandini (1963) remains the only song Gulzar wrote for SD Burman.

There are other examples. In most of these cases, the musical output has been excellent –perhaps, even outstanding. The fact that these artistes never worked together again (whatever be the reason) is something for us to agonise over. Over time, these one-off collaborations have acquired a certain aura and become the subject of intense speculation in music circles.

Why not? If only

The mystique of one-offs comes from the fact that they make us wonder “Why not?” and follow it up with a wistful “If only”. If the songs produced by a certain team are so beautiful, what if they had worked more often? These questions haunt us forever and lead us into the realm of conjecture. The answers are like shifting shapes seen in smoke. Naturally, we tend to believe that the poet and composer concerned would have produced more wondrous stuff, had they had more outings together.

In 1980, a memorable one-off hit cinema screens: Thodi Si Bewafaii. It is the only released film in which Khayyam and Gulzar worked together. This is surprising, because its music left a deep impact on listeners and is feted even today.

Debutant director Esmayeel Shroff’s Thodi Si Bewafaii (“A little infidelity”) highlights the fissures appearing in the marital life of Nima (Shabana Azmi) and Arun (Rajesh Khanna) as a result of a misunderstanding. The story spans two generations of their family, and the mood is mostly sombre.

Choosing Khayyam as music composer and Gulzar as lyricist was an astute decision on Shroff’s part. When it came to articulating the nuances of human relationships, there was none better than Gulzar. And Khayyam was known for his sensitive approach to music that, far from overshadowing the lyrics, made them shine through.

When this film was announced, both of them were going through a purple patch. Khayyam was riding a tall wave of creative and commercial success that had begun with Kabhi Kabhie (1976). His work for Shankar Hussain, Noorie, Khandaan and Meena Kumari Ki Amar Kahani saw him glide into the 1980s with aplomb. At the same time, Gulzar was flourishing in his niche as a lyricist, screenwriter and director. His words had lent the songs of Grihapravesh, Gharonda, Ratnadeep and Palkon ki Chhaon Mein a lustrous beauty.

When they sat down to create music for Thodi Si Bewafaii, therefore, I imagine Gulzar and Khayyam must have rubbed their hands in glee, and warmed up to the challenge at hand.

In the book Khayyam: The Man – His Music by Bishwanath Chatterjee and Vishwas Nerurkar, Gulzar says that Hazaar Rahein Mud Ke Dekhein was the first song to be recorded for this film. Sprinkled with striking metaphors, this is one of the finest takes on human relationships.

“Hazaar raahein mudke dekhein, kahin sey koi sada na aayi; Badi wafa se nibhaayi tumne, humaari thodi si bewafaii.”

We see a glimmer of an apology in Nima’s words; her ego is battling with her desire to make amends. And while Arun is looking back into the past, she is looking at the future. She wills Arun to take the first step towards rebuilding the bridge. The nuanced wordplay ensures that the song doesn’t end up being a maudlin blame-game. Hazaar Raahein fetched Gulzar and Kishore Kumar the Filmfare award for best lyricist and best male singer respectively.

The highly under-rated Aaj Bichde Hain doesn’t find place in most of Bhupinder’s “best songs” lists, but it is a beauty. It is also the soul of this film. Bhupinder’s voice – deep and heavy – achingly brings out the pain of heartbreak and the frailty of humanness.

The song follows Nima and Arun throughout the film, like a long shadow cast by her decision to move away from him. By having it play in the background, Khayyam casts Bhupinder’s voice in a dual role. It is the voice of a bard who utters deep observations about life with telling effect. At the same time, it is also the voice of Nima’s and Arun’s hearts, brooding over the scars left by emotional wounds.

A yearning for more

In stark contrast, the romantic Aankhon Mein Humne Aapke Sapne Sajaaye Hain captures happier times. Though the song is faster-paced, the music is admirably restrained and soft, giving it a leisurely feel. It is a treat to hear Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar caress the words.

Mausam Mausam Lovely Mausam captures the euphoric mist-drenched love of the youngsters (actors Padmini Kolhapuri and Sushant Ray). Anwar and Sulakshana Pandit inject the song with youthful energy. In its mood, music and framing, the track echoes Khayyam’s Gapuchi Gapuchi Gam Gam from Trishul (1978).

And then, there is the rarely-heard Barse Puhar, a light-hearted beauty with the mood and metre of a ghazal. The music embodies its words, falling on your ears softly – puhar is Hindi for drizzle. The song starts with a short, exquisite prelude on the sitar before Asha Bhosle’s voice takes over.

Suno Na Bhabhi is a let-down. In words and music, it is neither here nor there.

Like in all his other films, Khayyam’s most significant contribution to Thodi Si Bewafaii is the finely-etched music that carries his signature thehraav (stillness/calm). By eschewing complicated musical arrangements and an elaborate orchestra, he highlights the essence of Gulzar’s lyrics. Enoch Daniels, Khayyam’s long-standing music arranger, said in Khayyam: The Man – His Music that the composer would do up the musical frames of every song with love and attention to detail. Afterwards, he would discuss the musical arrangement with Daniels.

The poetry and music of Thodi Si Bewafaii leave you with a lingering satisfaction and a yearning for more. And for this, Khayyam’s assistants Jagjit Kaur, Anil Mohile, Pradeep Khayyam and Raj Sharma also deserve credit.

Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Gulzar and Khayyam started working together in a film called Kharidaar, directed by Meraj, the former’s assistant. Two songs were recorded for this film. One sung by the actress Rekha and the other, by Chatur Sen. Unfortunately, the film was aborted. Khayyam and Gulzar worked together just one other time: for the TV serial Dard, which was broadcast on Doordarshan in 1989-90. But Thodi Si Bewafaii remains their only released film’together.

If only fate had brought the poet and the composer together on many more occasions. If only.

Also read:

Music and lyrics: Songwriter Gulshan Bawra combined soul and depth with a sense of fun