Childhood & Early Life
Omkar Prasad Nayyar (shortened to O.P. Nayyar), was born on January 16, 1926, in Lahore, British India. Lahore is currently in Pakistan. He belonged to a middle-class family with no connections in the music industry. His father worked as a chemist at a local medical store. Nayyar initially attended school in Lahore and that was where he was introduced to music.
He often sang at local singing competitions and events. He had not received any formal training in music till then, but he mesmerized everyone with his soft voice and natural musical instincts. ‘All India Radio’ had just begun its operations in Lahore around the time when he was a teenager. His reputation reached ‘All India Radio,’ and he was invited to sing there many times. He thus began taking formal training in music.
In 1947, when Nayyar was in his early 20s, India got its independence from the British and India’s partition took place. Nayyar, hailing from a Hindu family, moved to Amritsar, Punjab, India. However, Nayyar mentioned in a later interview that he was in love with Lahore and did not want to leave it.
He also mentioned that a neighborhood Muslim family had saved his life during the riots in Lahore. When the rioters came to the Muslim family’s house, where Nayyar had taken shelter, he was smuggled out from the back gate. He then reached India.
After spending a few days in Amritsar, Nayyar and his family moved to Patiala. His lack of formal education had him working as a music teacher in Patiala. After India’s independence from the British, the Hindi film industry had found a new life, and many new artists from all over the country were making their way into films. In 1949, Nayyar moved to Bombay to try his luck in the Hindi film industry.
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He did not have to struggle for long, as he got work as soon as he entered Bombay. His first film, the 1949 movie ‘Kaneez,’ featured him as a composer of its background music. In 1952, he made his debut as a full-fledged music composer in the film titled ‘Aasmaan.’ He later created music for the film titled ‘Chham Chhama Chham.’
However, he got his real breakthrough when he was hired to compose the music for Guru Dutt’s 1953 film ‘Baaz.’ Nayyar was introduced to Guru Dutt through the latter’s wife, Geeta Dutt, who was a singer and was in awe of the young composer’s talents. The music of ‘Baazi’ was immensely successful, and this led to many future collaborations between Guru Dutt and Nayyar in the 1950s, in films such as ‘C.I.D.’ and ‘Aar Paar.’
The music of those films topped many charts and marked the arrival of a new talented music composer in the industry.
However, he was still away from the biggest breakthrough of his career, which took place in 1957, when he was hired to compose music for the Dilip Kumar-starrer film ‘Naya Daur.’ He composed several songs for the film, sung by Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, and Shamshad Begum.
Many songs from the film, such as ‘Maangke Saath Tumhara’ and ‘Ude Jab Jab Zulfen Teri,’ became cult classics. The film also marked his first project with Asha Bhosle. The hugely successful composer-singer duo worked together for many films later. Nayyar also worked extensively with Mohammed Rafi. All the songs of ‘Naya Daur’ featured Rafi’s voice. His work in the film won Nayyar a ‘Filmfare Award.’
Nayyar brought a new style of composing to the Hindi film industry, influenced by Punjabi rhythmic undertones. He was also said to be the man behind the unprecedented success of Asha Bhosle as a singer. Before collaborating with Nayyar, her fame had somehow been overtaken by her elder sister, Lata Mangeshkar. Lata and Nayyar, surprisingly enough, never worked together for many years.
Nayyar went on to deliver many successful soundtracks. Many songs composed by him, such as ‘Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin Pe Nishana’ and ‘Churi Bane Kanta Bane,’ became huge hits. It was later revealed that Nayyar wanted to compose a song for the 1966 film titled ‘Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi,’ with full orchestra, but many of the musicians arrived late to the recording studio, leading the plans to get scrapped.
Mohammed Rafi and Nayyar formed a legendary singer-composer pair, but sometime in the 1960s, the two had disagreements. It led Nayyar to work with singer Mahendra Kapoor for many films later. The two delivered many cult-classic songs together, such as ‘Badal Jaaye Agar Maali’ from the film ‘Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi.’
Nayyar also composed a song titled ‘Chal Akelaa, Chal Akelaa’ for the 1969 film titled ‘Sambandh.’ The song was the Hindi version of a famous Rabindranath Tagore poem.
However, with the arrival of new composers in the industry, such as R.D. Burman, Nayyar’s stars began fading away in the 1970s. Nevertheless, he still delivered many hit songs in films such as ‘Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye’ and ‘Khoon Ka Badla Khoon.’
According to many, his career declined owing to his infamous stubbornness. He did not work with new actors in the 1970s, such as Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Instead, he opted to compose music for Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, and Feroz Khan.
His reluctance to work with Lata Mangeshkar was also a popular topic of discussion in the industry in the 1950s and the 1960s. Over the next few years, he worked mostly for unknown films, such as ‘Heera Moti,’ ‘Nishchay,’ and ‘Zid.’
Family & Personal Life
O.P. Nayyar married Saroj Mohini sometime in the 1950s. They remained married until his demise in 2007. He had four children with her.
Nayyar and Asha Bhosle were rumored to have had a roaring affair for many years. Nayyar had played an instrumental role in Asha’s early success as a singer, but surprisingly, she rarely mentions Nayyar in her interviews. Instead, she often gives the credit of her success to composer S.D. Burman.
Nayyar passed away on January 28, 2007. He was 81 years old at the time of his death.