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When OP Nayyar advanced Asha Bhosle’s career to rival Lata Mangeshkar


On the music maestro Nayyar’s 91st birth anniversary today (16 January), a look at how he helped turn Bhosle into Hindi cinema’s leading singers.

Sonal Pandya

Music composer Omkar Prasad (OP) Nayyar was that one rare bird in Hindi film music scene. He reached the pinnacle of Hindi cinema, becoming one of the highest paid composers, without ever working with the queen of the music industry, Lata Mangeshkar. Instead, he groomed her younger sister, Asha Bhosle and got her to sing most of his songs, going as far to state in 1954: 'In five years from now, just wait and watch how I turn Asha Bhosle into Lata Mangeshkar’s match!'

The background to this statement was the changing of music composers on K Amarnath’s Mehbooba (1954). Rival composer Roshan had already recorded four songs for the soundtrack with Mangeshkar, but midway through was replaced by Nayyar. Mangeshkar, who was also working with Roshan on her home production Bhairavi (the film remained unreleased), was miffed with the turn of events and refused to work with the ‘upstart’ Nayyar.

In his book, Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography, film historian and music critic Raju Bharatan wrote: ‘But who asked if you will sing for me, Madam?’ came back Nayyar in a riposte that had the whole Bombay film industry agog.

For a while, both Bhosle and Geeta Dutt (another Nayyar favourite) did not return Nayyar’s requests and he had to sign the fearless Shamshad Begum to sing for the soundtrack. Eventually, both Bhosle and Dutt came around but after that Nayyar began to promote Bhosle unequivocally.

 

In 1957, he won his only Filmfare Award for Best Music Director for BR Chopra’s Naya Daur, where Bhosle sang five hit numbers. It helped make Bhosle into a popular choice for lead female singer with other composers as well. He composed the soundtracks of seven other films that year including the hit music of Nasir Husain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha.

Per Bharatan, Bhosle sang 324 songs for Nayyar, many of which were instrumental in carving her own niche and identity separate to her sister’s. In an online interview, Nayyar said, “[Asha] also had certain vocal abilities that Lata or even Shamshad never had. I gave my best composing for Asha and she gave her all singing for me.”

 

The music composer and singer were said to be romantically involved for many years as well but in 1974, he famously split with Bhosle (incidentally when she won her sixth Filmfare award for best female playback singer for ‘Chain Se Humko Kabhi’ in Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye).

In an article on Rediff, author Dinesh Raheja said, “His decline was as sudden and as steep as his rise”. After a successful decade in the 1950s and somewhat average 1960s, Nayyar faced a bleak 1970s and 1980s and worked sparingly during the 1990s. As for the singer, he helped make famous, Bhosle went on to become the most recorded artist in the Guinness Book of World Records with up to 11,000 songs to her name in 2011, while Nayyar faded away despite his evergreen numbers of yore.