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How OP Nayyar went from 'Rhythm King' to homoeopath in Thane

Once a beacon of rhythm and melody in Hindi cinema, Nayyar spent his last days in near anonymity with an adopted family in Thane. On his 10th death anniversary (28 January), we take a look at the decline of one of Hindi cinema's greatest composers.

Shriram Iyengar

At the peak of his career, Om Prakash Nayyar was called the 'King of Melody'. His ability to compose a tune for any mood made him one of Hindi cinema's more successful composers. His big break arrived at the early age of 17, composing 'Preetam Aan Milo' under the tutelage of music director CH Atma. 

The song became a hit and led to Nayyar being called the next big thing in the music industry. However, true recognition takes time. His full debut arrived in 1952 in Aasman. But it was PL Santoshi's Cham Chama Cham (1952) which gave him his first individual hit. He followed it up with films like Baaz (1953), Aar Paar (1954), Mr & Mrs 55 (1955), and CID (1956). Soon, Nayyar was among the highest paid music composers in the industry, with singers like Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Mohammed Rafi lining up for his compositions. 

It was quite a fall for someone this gifted and popular to find himself in a secluded house in faraway Thane. The no-nonsense Nayyar's ego is often stated as a reason for his downfall. In one of his last interviews, Nayyar admitted, "I was always a very headstrong person. When I was hired by S Mukerji Productions for Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, I told them that my terms included not just the money part; I also wanted a guarantee that there would be no interference. I said this because the film's director, Raj Khosla, who was a big name, fancied himself as a composer and tried to impose his tunes on the music director. Raj Khosla put up his hands gesturing surrender. But one day, just before the recording, he came up with his own composition. I walked out, telling Mukerji he should hire Khosla as the music director." 

In addition to this, the composer's carefree lifestyle and rumoured trysts with Asha Bhosle, Shamshad Begum and even Geeta Dutt proved destructive. Though he worked with the finest singers of his time, Nayyar never chose Lata Mangeshkar for any compositions. After he fell out with Dutt, he chose Bhosle as his muse and stuck rebelliously to her for any composition. In the interview, Nayyar said, "I am the only successful music director to have never had a song sung by Lata. People always wonder why. It began ages back, when my mentor, Pancholi, advised me to take Geeta Roy (even before she married Guru Dutt) instead of Lata. I listened to his advice, all the more because I thought Geeta's voice had real character, she was original." 

Incidentally, it was his parting with Bhosle that proved to be detrimental to Nayyar's career. In 1974, the singer and composer parted ways after their last work together in Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (1974). The song 'Chain Se Humko Kabhi' from the film won Bhosle the Filmfare award for Best Playback Singer. She never accepted it. It was the composer who walked on stage to accept it on her behalf.

Nayyar also fell out with the great Rafi because the singer arrived late for a recording once. The composer reportedly waited till Rafi arrived in the studio, then ordered pack-up immediately. This ramrod stiff adherence to his principles did not always go down well with producers and directors. BR Chopra, for instance, was among the many directors who chose not to work with Nayyar, though the latter had delivered a stellar soundtrack for his hit Naya Daur (1957).

After 1974, Nayyar hardly composed for films. Among the films he signed in his declining years was the Salman Khan-Karisma Kapoor starrer Nishchaiy (1992). By then the industry had moved on. Nayyar's tunes were outdated, and his friends had forgotten him. It is sad that the composer of tunes like 'Tumsa Nahin Dekha' (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957), 'Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawanon Ka' (Naya Daur) and 'Deewana Hua Badal' (Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964) had to sell his palatial Churchgate bungalow and apartments. He even fell out with his own family, getting estranged from his wife and children. Eventually, Nayyar relocated to Thane, the outskirts of the city, living with an adopted family. 

Yet, the eccentric in him never lost heart. In his last days, the composer found a new vocation — homoeopathy. He was famous for helping out neighbours with their ailments by dispensing homoeopathic medicines. The industry only remembered its stalwart when he died in 2007.

In 2014, Thane saw a grand celebration in honour of the famous music director who once resided there. Grand as it was, it had no star presence. 

As Nayyar himself said, "Aashiyan apna loota apni nazar ke saamne, ho ke beghar main khada apne ghar ke saamne. [My home was looted in my own presence. I stand, homeless, outside my former dwelling.]