What was incredible about OP Nayyar, besides his foot tapping music, was the fact that he was a top rung music director of Hindi Cinema's golden age right through the 1950s and 1960s without ever utilizing the services of Lata Mangeshkar! Yes, that right. Lata Mangeshkar has never sung for OP Nayyar, not a single song.
Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born on January 16, 1926. He was employed by AIR, Jullundur first coming into prominence for a non-film composition Preetam Aan Milo rendered by CH Atma. He made his debut in Hindi Cinema scoring the background music for Kaneez (1949). His first assignment as Independent Music Composer was for Pancholi's Aasmaan (1952). In spite of fine Geeta Dutt (then Roy) songs like Dil hai Deewana and Dekho Jaadu Bhare More Nain, the film was a disaster at the box office; as was his subsequent film Chham Chhama Chham (1952). On the basis of his compositions for Aasmaan, Geeta Roy recommended him to Guru Dutt for Baaz (1953). Unfortunately for Nayyar, in spite of some great songs - Zara Samne Aa, Majhi Albele, Ae Dil Ae Deewane, Taare Chandni Afsane, Watan ke Naujawaan Jaag and that Talat Mehmood gem - Mujhko Dekho Hasrat ki Tasveer Hoon, Baaz was without doubt Guru Dutt's weakest film ever. The film, a costume drama set in the 16th century, was supposedly a high-seas swashbuckler looking at the rebellion against Portuguese rulers along the Malabar Coast. Sadly, the story was trite, the screenplay dismal and there were but a handful of sequences which bore the 'Guru Dutt' touch. The film, needless to say, sank at the box office.
It was with Aar Paar (1954) that OP Nayyar made it to the top. After the flopping of Baaz, Guru Dutt asked Nayyar to do Aar Paar in lieu of the money he owed him for Baaz. But shaken up by the flopping of Baaz, Dutt, in fact, gave Nayyar a lot of Bing Crosby records and other Western songs and insisted he base his songs for the film on them. So, even if Babuji Dheere Chalna had shades of Quizas Quizas Quizas or Sun Sun Sun Sun Zalima was inspired by Bing Crosby's Sing Sing Sing a Song With Me, Nayyar reworked them sufficiently enough to leave his own stamp on the compositions. Other smash hits from the film include Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar, Yeh Lo Main Haari Piya and Mohabbat Kar Lo Jee Bhar Lo among others. In fact, OP always gave that something special whenever he composed for a Guru Dutt production be it Mr and Mrs 55 (1955), CID (1956) or Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966). Guru Dutt too had the highest regard for Nayyar whom he said composed feelings not words.
As success followed success, OP Nayyar along with Naushad was among the earliest music directors to charge a lakh per film. He introduced several Punjabi rhythms especially from the Bhangra folk dances into Hindi film music (Naya Daur (1957)) as well as producing songs with rock overtones (Howrah Bridge (1958)). He also popularized the tanga song making it his trademark (Piya Piya Piya (Baap re Baap (1955)), Maang ke Saath Tumhara (Naya Daur), Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963) and Zara Haule Haule Chalo Mere Sajna (Saawan ki Ghata (1966)) among others), composed the definitive city songs for Mumbai (Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan (CID)) and Kolkata (Suno Bhai Yeh Kalkatta Hai (Howrah Bridge)) and his songs were responsible in a big way for Shammi Kapoor's first major success - Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957). But that is not to say Nayyar was merely king of the light brigade. In spite of a limited musical education, he has composed several outstanding serious songs as well (Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa (Aar Paar), Meri Neendon Mein Tum (Naya Andaaz (1956)).
What was amazing about Nayyar was that he managed to remain a top Music Director without Lata Mangeshkar, who as mentioned above has not rendered even a solitary song for him. His key female singers who brought his songs to life were Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle. In fact Nayyar always said that while he had the highest respect for Lata, it was just that he felt the weighty vocals of Shamshad, Geeta and Asha suited his compositions better. But it was said that the actual reason was that Lata and he did not exactly get along.
OP Nayyar developed the side of Geeta Dutt which had emerged with Baazi (1951) thanks to SD Burman. Till then she was only known for bhajans and weepy, weepy sad songs. Under his freewheeling baton Geeta developed into a really hep singer who could belt out any number - soft, sultry, happy, snappy, romantic, teasing or tragic. It was Geeta Dutt's rare gift that she could effervescently sing for both the doll and the moll. And it was OP who got Geeta to stop being overtly emotional in sad songs. OP's comments on Geeta :
" ..........Who will deny there is a unique quality to her singing. Give her a blatantly westernized tune this moment and a complex classical composition the next, and she will do equal justice to both with an ease of expression which a singer can only be born with. She is particularly good for songs accompanying boisterous jamborees. With that tantalizing lilt and fascinating curves she puts into her singing, she is the ideal choice if it is seductive allure you want in a song........Geeta Dutt is an asset to any music director."
Some great songs that Geeta sang for OP Nayyar include Babuji Dheere Chalna and Yeh Lo Main Haari Piya (Aar Paar), Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata and Preetam Aan Milo (Mr and Mrs 55), Jab Baadal Lehraya and Gori Gori Raat Hai (Chhoomantar (1956)), Mere Zindagi ke Humsafar (Shrimati 420 (1956)), Chor, Lutere, Daku (Ustad (1957)), Kaisa Jaadu Balam Tune Dara (Twelve O'Clock (1958)) and Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo (Howrah Bridge).
Not just Geeta, Nayyar also along with SD Burman shaped Asha Bhosle into the singer she became. 1957 was her breakthrough year when he used her to sing the heroine's songs in Tumsa Nahin Dekha and Naya Daur. The same year SD Burman had his rift with Lata. And though Geeta Dutt could have been his next choice after Lata since she was already a mature singer who had sung regularly for Burman Dada while Asha was still raw, Geeta's troubled marriage to Guru Dutt did not make her easily available for rehearsals. Consequently S.D. Burman chose to groom Asha along with OP Nayyar rather than wait for Geeta. The following year Asha made it right to the top and the OP -Asha team had some huge hit songs like Aaiye Mehrbaan and Yeh Kya Kar Dala Tune in films like Howrah Bridge and Ek Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya in Phagun (1958). Asha also got involved with OP Nayyar and thereafter she remained his premier female singer at the cost of him sidelining both Geeta and Shamshad. In fact, it is said that in the late 1950s Geeta even called him to ask why he had stopped composing for her.
The 1960s saw Asha at her best as she belted out her best songs particularly under OP Nayyar's baton - Meri Nazrein Haseen from Ek Musafir Ek Haseena (1962), Aankhon se Jo Utri hai Dil Mein from Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1964), Jayiye Aap Kahan Jaayenge from Mere Sanam (1965), Aao Huzoor Tumko from Kismet (1968) and Woh Haseen Dard De Do from Humsaya (1968) to name but a few. He brought out Asha's versatility and, in particular, her sensuality like no other composer. However, OP Nayyar and Asha split and not so amicably in the 1970s but not before he composed the prophetic gem Chain se Humko Kabhi from Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye (1973) which won her the Filmfare Award for Best Playback singer. OP himself had won the Filmfare Award in 1957 for Best Music Director for Naya Daur.
Without Asha, OP never could quite succeed and the 1970s saw him slowly fade into oblivion and by the end of the 1970s he was all but out. He did make a comeback of sorts in Hindi Cinema with the Salman Khan starrer Nischay (1992) and Zid (1994) but the films failed to click and even his music in these films unfortunately wasn't particularly memorable as he sounded most outdated and out of tune with the times. He did have a stupendous success with the Telegu Film Neerajanam (1989) though.
Estranged from his family, Nayyar was staying in Thane near Mumbai where he passed away due to cardiac arrest on January 28, 2007.