The late composer Khayyam’s songs were always statements rather than songs. They were, simply. testimonies to his unique approach to music—where the commercial aspect barely mattered, because of his firm conviction that quality led to commercial success, and a reflection of his humble, simple nature that was different from the herd.
Speaking objectively, he did become a shade repetitious in some songs in the 1980s (like the similarities between ‘Aankhon Mein Humne Aapke’ from Thodi Si Bewafaii and ‘Aisi Haseen Chandni’ from Dard), but when a composer has begun his career in 1948 with Heer Ranjha (as Sharmaji of the Sharmaji-Varmaji duo!), that small aberration is explained if not expected.
And just for the record. Khayyam (like S.D. Burman earlier) first debuted as a playback singer in the 1947 Romeo And Juliet in the Faiz Ahmed Faiz ghazal adaptation, ‘Dono Jahaan Teri Mohabbat’. But this was exotica as a singer. For me, his exotica as a composer was more significant. Here, then, are my 12 favourites.
1 ‘Shaam-E-Gham Ki Kasam’ (Footpath / 1953)
Khayyam’s solo debut (with that name) as a composer was in Footpath. His only solo ever for Dilip Kumar, sung by Talat Mahmood, was a huge hit in this Asha Bhosle-dominated score.
2 ‘Aasmaan pe hai Khuda’ (Phir Subah Hogi/ 1958)
Reminding us of the playful way in which composers like Shankar-Jaikishan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal made songs once in a way in which they adapted another composer’s trademark styles, Khayyam scored this Raj Kapoor song delightfully in the S-J mould—after all, Raj Kapoor was there! Of course, he had weightier songs in this film in his own tenor, like ‘Phir Na Kije Meri Gustakh Nazar’, ‘Woh Subah Kabhi To Aayegi’ and ‘Chin-O-Arab Hamara’, but this song demonstrated Khayyam’s yen for originality even in an alien zone, so to speak.
3 ‘Jaane Kya Dhoondti Rehti Hai’ & ‘Jeet Hi Lenge Baazi Hum Tum’ (Shola Aur Shabnam / 1962)
I take these masterpieces together as I simply cannot choose between these two gems from Dharmendra’s first hit. Dharmendra recalled how Rafi was having high fever when the first of these Kaifi Azmi lovelies was recorded—the second was a duet with Lata Mangeshkar. Not only did these songs establish Rafi as the prime voice of Dharmendra but the actor always marvelled at how Rafi sounded just like him. And we marvelled at Khayyam’s grip on such intense and diverse melody.
4 ‘Tum Apna Ranj-O-Gham Apni Pareshaani Mujhe De Do’ (Shagoon / 1964)
The instantly-catchy ‘Parbaton Ke Daero Par’ notwithstanding, it was this quaint and slightly complex composition that stayed on in memory. Sahir’s lyrics highlighted the intense romantic within the poet, and possibly acted as a catalyst for the real romance brewing between Khayyam and his wife Jagjit Kaur, who sang this timeless song. They married in 1965, shared all joys, sorrows (ranj-o-gham), good times and troubles (pareshani) and remained together till the very end when the composer passed away in an adjacent hospital bed!
5 ‘Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi Sawaaro’ (Aakhri Khat / 1967)
Khayyam was chosen for this Chetan Anand film, starring Rajesh Khanna-Indrani Mukherjee, probably for his intensity, and delivered this haunting Lata Mangeshkar number penned by Kaifi Azmi that reverberated across radio stations in those days, though there were a couple of other memorable songs like ‘Aur Kuch Der Thehar’. This was one of the maestro’s instant chartbusters. And yet, inexplicably, Khayyam had no work after this film for five years!
6 ‘Tu hi sagar hai tu hi kinara’ (Sankalp / 1972)
Khayyam confidently got Sulakshana Pandit to render a song filmed on her in a cameo, in this devotional with a difference. At this point, we salute the genuinely secular composer whose wife was a Sikh, his only son a practicing Hindu from the age of seven, and whose music room was adorned with a huge picture of Radha-Krishna presented to the composer by the ISKCON Temple in Mumbai as a felicitation. In his house, every day, books of all faiths were read, and prayers offered of all religions!
Khayyam’s unforgettable remark on this was: “In the Quran, it has been mentioned that Allah sent a hundred and twenty-four thousand messengers to spread His word on earth. The book mentions a few thousands, so the rest must be from other faiths! I believe that there is one supreme power.”
7 ‘Ae Dil-E-Nadaan’ (Razia Sultan / 1973)
Though this ill-fated Dharmendra-Hema Malini film was finally released in 1983 after a decade’s delay, so viral was the spread of this Lata Mangeshkar song after it was recorded and years before the audio release—that too in the pre-digital era!— that I heard it on a tape in 1979! And so much was its impact that Yash Chopra, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s persuasion, decided to sign the composer for Kabhi Kabhie.
8 ‘Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein’ (Kabhi Kabhie / 1976)
This was finally the film that made Khayyam a commercially-viable name. “They told me I was right for the love story of a poet!” smiled the composer. The film had almost an all-popular score, but this theme song, actually created for an earlier film, was the trump card and got Mukesh the posthumous Best Singer award.
9 ‘Aaja Re Aaja Re O Mere Dilbar Aaja’ (Noorie / 1979)
This was yet another instant chartbuster, and arguably, the first super-hit of Nitin Mukesh, with Lata Mangeshkar as co-singer. Written by Jan Nissar Akhtar, it was a song for all time and remains, as of now, the only Khayyam composition re-created, albeit in a crass way, as a sleazy non-film video!
10 ‘Simti Hui Yeh Ghadiyaan’ (Chambal Ki Kasam / 1980)
Khayyam had very little time for Mohammed Rafi in the second half of his career (Shankar Hussain was the only other exception), but this lovely duet with Lata Mangeshkar was among the composer’s haunting best of all time. A placid and almost languorous Sahir masterpiece, the song luckily survived the disastrous fate of this film.
11 ‘In Aankhon Ki Masti Mein’ (Umrao Jaan / 1982)
Of all the Asha Bhosle lovelies in this film, this remains the most haunting and thus my favourite, though ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ is the masses’ darling. The music was released in 1981, but the film came a year later. Umrao Jaan remains among the rare post-1960s films (like Mera Naam Joker) where the music was a super-hit of a cult level but the film a washout.
12 ‘Dikhayi Diye Yun Ke Bekhud Kiya’ (Bazaar / 1982)
This, interestingly, remains the only film in which Yash Chopra’s wife Pamela Chopra sang outside the Yash Raj Films banner (in her duet with Jagjit Kaur, ‘Chale Aao Saiyyan Rangeele’. This might have bene the simple Khayyam’s payback to the man who was responsible for his commercially fruitful phase!
It also saw the first appearance in cinema of Talat Aziz, who had already recorded another duet with Lata Mangeshkar for Laxmikant-Pyarelal in a K. Vishwanath film that released only in 1996! And while Lata-Talat’s ‘Phir Chhidi Raat Baat Phoolon Ki’ was very popular, the true stunner was this Lata Mangeshkar rendition of a Mir Taqi Mir ghazal.