O.P. Nayyar Nite
"Phir Miloge Khabi": Bringing a Legend to Life

(Photos Courtesy of: Daman Sidhu Photography and Foundations TV, Din Check videos courtesy of Mustufa Taj)

By Kaveta A Chhibber

He was humming "Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji" as a toddler growing up in Pakistan before he could recite the alphabet. That love grew into an obsession for the musician whose music was nothing short of genius - whose music was a divine gift, since he didn’t train to be a musician and confessed to not even know "the ABCD of music" in an interview. Letters were mailed to this musician for years and received no response.

Finally, in Dubai, in 1995 the legendary music director O.P. Nayyar held the hand of that little boy who was now a young man. He lamented it was a little too late for their meeting.

Even though he dabbled in astrology, maybe even O.P. Nayyar may not have known that the meeting was not too late, but the beginning of a deep friendship that would last beyond a lifetime... or if we believe in past life connections, beyond many lifetimes.

Siraj Khan (as O.P. Nayyar)
Gauri Chandna
For those who lament that Pakistani artists come to India and sweep away money and acclaim through their talent, here was a fund raiser held by Siraj Khan, a Pakistani man, to honor a legend, and to continue financial aid for long forgotten musicians, singers and dancers. "Even chorus singers who worked with him," says Khan, "The neediest of the needy. He used to do it discreetly. Nobody knew what was placed inside each envelope which he closed himself. At that stage only he knew who was helped but there were many, as we found out only after he had gone."

Today when O.P. Nayyar is no more, Siraj Khan passionately continues the tradition that Nayyar sahib began. Mubarak Begum, Pushpa Pagdhare, Poonam (now 86) and Madhuri Kelkar (both chorus singers), Jagmohan, Music assistant GS Kohli, musicians Joe Batliwala, Gangaram, Sunny Castelino (widow of SH Bihari), music director Ramlal (of Sehra fame) - the beneficiary list is long and true to Nayyar sahib’s persona of not boasting of his charitable work. The trust (www.opnayyar.org) is doing the same.

The sold out fundraiser (with many people standing in the aisles) was co-presented by Siraj Khan along with Gauri Chandna of Foundations TV, an online media company spreading inspiration through awareness (www.thefoundations.tv). The New England-based band Din Check was selected to showcase the Nayyar legacy... and once again O.P. Nayyar’s music reigned supreme in the hearts of all age groups.

Comprising of the core team of Sameer Bhambhani (Lead Guitar), Jolly Bhatia (Lead Male Vocal), Kamal Dasu (Drums), Sam Rao (Percussion), Anandini Sekhar  (Lead Female Vocal), Meenakshi Rana (Lead Female Vocal), and Kira Taj (Violin), guest artists Neil Bhambani (Bass Guitar), Karthik Balasubramaniam (Rhythm Guitar), Ajit Acharya (Tabla) and singers Krishna Venkata and Suvarana S Krishnan on vocals completed the Din Check ensemble. The band’s sound mix was in the capable hands of engineer Jawed Wahid.

What transpired on the evening of May 2, 2015 was a musical stroll down memory lane, sprinkled with melodies and memories of O.P. Nayyar’s life. Siraj Khan, impersonating O.P. Nayyar for the night, looked dapper in actual clothes formerly worn by the music maestro himself.

And Khan never forgot, even for a moment, that he was walking in shoes that were too big for him that night  (quite literally, in fact - he had to wear several pairs of socks to get O.P. Nayyar’s shoes to fit his feet!)

Kira Taj
The night began on a superlative note with an instrumental version of one of O.P. Nayyar’s evergreen blockbusters Aiye meherban, led by American violinist Kira Taj. Kira (a public policy researcher working at a nonprofit for young children) comes from a musical family and began taking piano lessons as a young child. She switched to violin when she was 12, and I’m glad she did. If anyone could dare replicate Asha Bhosle’s amazing vocals where every word and line is rendered with multiple variations, it can only be a violin in the hands of someone who can make it speak and emote. Kira, who has a young son and took several months off from playing, certainly didn’t show any signs of rustiness, as she effortlessly captured subtle nuances of the song accompanied by what must be one of the best group of Indian American musicians in the New England area. For Kira, the foray into Nayyar’s music was interesting:

"I am American and was not familiar with any of the songs so it was fun to learn and appreciate music that I would otherwise never know about!"

"Kira is the second best violinist in the New England area," quipped the avatar of O.P. Nayyar, "The rest of the violinists can fight for the first place."

Jolly Bhatia, a self-described "scientist trapped in a musician’s body", is not a trained musician... but what he lacks in training he makes up for with amazing stage presence, rocking the crowd with his quick wit, his sense of humor and his joyful rendering of songs. Whether belting out classics like Yeh chand sa roshan chehra, Ankhon hi ankhon mein ishara ho gaya with Anandini Sekhar, Uden jab jab zulfen teri, (accompanied by a dance performance from Nikita Rao and Bollywood dance Academy), or Huey hain tum par ashiq hum, Jolly was greatly appreciated for his joie de vivre and his fun banter with the audience, particularly when there were some technical difficulties to combat. During what could have been a major break in mood, he had the audience clapping along with spontaneous musical sing-along, mimicry and contagious enthusiasm.

Meenakshi Rana rendered the popular Yeh hai reshmi zulfon ka andhera, beautifully - which Siraj Khan pointed out was filmed on Mumtaz who was not the heroine of the film. It was a Nayyar phenomenon.

Jolly Bhatia Sameer Bhambhani Sam Rao and Ajit Acharya

Once he became a star, after his initial struggle, Nayyar could create a tune and it did not matter if it was a side kick, a vamp or an unknown extra, the song would be a hit.

And there were stories, shared memories galore associated with many of the songs. Gauri Chandna interviewed the evening’s "O.P." for the OPIUMS (fans of O.P. Nayyar) effortlessly, even converting a few of Siraj Khan’s charming slips into crowd-pleasing laughs, while simultaneously modeling several sarees provided by Koh-I-Noor Collections. Even the controversial questions around O.P. Nayyar’s life - his romance with Asha Bhosle, his never recording any songs with Lata Mangeshkar, his break up with Geeta Dutt and then with Asha ji - were asked with finesse by Chandna.

Meenakshi Rana Anandini Sekhar

The title of the show was based on the song Phir miloge kabhi, (sung by Jolly and Meenakshi Rana). The creation of the song took a twist, according to Siraj. During the finalizing of the lyrics, Asha interrupted the recording to pick up daughter Varsha from school. O.P. Nayyar wrote the lyrics "Dil ki har baat adhoori hai adhoori hai abhi, apni ik aur mulakaat zaroori hai abhi, chand lamhon ke liye saath ka vaada kar lo", but still gave full credit to favorite poet S.P. Bihari for the song.

When his romantic and working partnership with Asha Bhosle came to a very acrimonious end, the last song that they recorded Chain se hum ko kabhi aap ne jeene na diya, (sung soulfully by Meenakshi) was chopped off from the film at the reported request of Asha ji. Nevertheless, it still won the Filmfare award for best playback singer for her. She did not show up for the event, so Nayyar took the trophy on her behalf, smashing it to pieces later to symbolically end what was perhaps a most heartbreaking end to the most significant relationship of his life. While Asha went on to bigger and better things with the likes of R.D. Burman, O.P. Nayyar could never replicate a soul connection like that, and eventually chose to end his musical career starting a new one in Homeopathy.

Nayyar also became the only musician who never used Lata Mangeshkar for even one song. According to reports she had scoffed at singing with the (then) stark newcomer. Thus, Nayyar decided he would never record a song with her. When asked what was the reason? The answer: "Frankly I never felt I needed her," brought the house down. "For me Asha was always number 1."

Balma Khuli hawa mein, sung by Meenakshi, was presented with a flawless freewheeling dance performance by Amritha Mangalat, who looked very much a Kashmir ki kali. Mangalat has dimples to match the original heroine of the film, Sharmila Tagore, who actually couldn’t actually dance to save her life. It was a precondition Nayyar set that she not dance, and he got what he wanted. He felt that she would not do justice to the song. "So this is a world premiere, the first time a dancer is performing this on stage" quipped Siraj Khan.

Nayyar was also the first music director whose presence on a film poster was often larger than that of the lead actors and those movies often became runaway hits. The film Mujrim which starred Shammi Kapoor, a personal favorite and friend, displayed O.P. Nayyar with a harmonium (and nothing else) on the poster with the title "Sur ke jadugar O.P. Nayyar".

Amritha Mangalat  Nikita Rao and Bollywood dance academy
Dancing Divas

Anandini Sekhar is a crowd pleaser, and her duet Ankhon hi ankhon mein ishara ho gaya with Jolly, had the singers getting Anuradha and Prashanth Palakurthi on stage to dance which they did very sportingly. Anandini’s solo Mera naam chin chin chu accompanied by a performance by the group Dancing Divas brought back memories of a bygone era and dance steps, from the movie Howrah bridge. Incidentally this blockbuster too was shot on Helen and not the heroine of the film.

Among the favorites that night were Huzurewala, from the film Yeh raat phir na ayegi. The director brought in a script and Nayyar quipped it was so weak that not only was the night not going to come, the daylight won’t dawn either. The director said "That is why I am here, so your songs can make my movie a hit." O.P. Nayyar demanded (and was paid) more than the famous lead actors, Biswajeet and Sharmila Tagore. He did not let the director down. Huzurewala, where Meenakshi and Anandini both sang and danced, was not the only hit song from the film. Amazing numbers like Yehi woh jagah hai, Aap se maine meri jaan mohabbaat ki hain, mera pyaar woh hai ke, Main shayad tumhare liye ajnabi hoon to name a few, all belonged to this film.

Another song that was most appreciated was the Telugu number Neevadhanam. All the compositions in the Telugu movie Neerajanam, are lovely. The song sung by Anandini and Jolly (without referring to lyrics) was very well appreciated by the Telugu and non-Telugu audience alike. Neither singer on stage that night (as well as O.P. Nayyar himself) knew the language. It required a lot of sessions to understand the lyrics and mood of the songs but it worked.

The nattily dressed Krishna Venkata, who also won the evening’s "Best Dressed Couple" Award with his beautiful wife Meera, sang Bahut shukriya, the duet Deewana hua badal with Anandini, and Leke pehle pehla pyar with Suvarna S Krishnan.

Krishna Venkata Suvarna S Krishnan
Karthik Balasubramaniam Neil Bhambhani

The vocalists also did a Tonga medley showcasing some songs that were the Nayyar trademark, with the sound of horse hoofs pulling a carriage, recalling memories from his childhood.

Young Neil Rana, Meenakshi’s son was warmly received as he sweetly started the segment with Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji. Other songs featured in the medley by various singers were Lakhon hain nigahon mein, Maang ke saath tumhara, Zara haule haule chalo more sajna, Yun to humne lakh haseen dekhe hain. Along with the vintage Tonga sound, Krishna did a great job with yodeling.

Perhaps the most appreciated song of the evening (going by the never ending applause) was the instrumental version of the title song of O.P. Nayyar’s first major blockbuster after a series of flops, Aar Paar. Kira Taj led the segment with her violin on the song Kabhi aar kabhi paar laga teere nazar, accompanied in total synchronicity by all the musicians. In fact, two of the hit songs of Aar Paar, Sun sun sun zalima and Ye lo main haari piya were shot in and around a car! It reminds you that the reason why these songs are such show stoppers even today, is because lyrics and melody were the heroes of each film from that era.

Sam Rao’s vigorous dhol had people clapping in the aisles for the finale Yeh desh hai veer jawano ka, energetically delivered by Jolly Bhatia, as the night drew to a close.

The band Din Check was multi-tasking and improvising effortlessly throughout the evening. The band itself is a motley crew of engineers, scientists, an accountant, a public policy researcher, a classical dancer and PR/Marketing specialist in the core group. More engineers and yet another scientist were the main professions among the guest artists.

They were able to successfully honor O.P. Nayyar’s genius and also bring their own flavor as a band by revisiting the songs and adding their own touch. But it was not as easy as they made it seem.

Kamal Dasu on Acoustic Drums said "Since I play the acoustic drums, I had to replicate the old style jazz drum feel to some of the songs. Using brushes and using the right volume was a bit challenging. Also O.P. Nayyar’s style of music - although it incorporated western rhythms, it also constantly switches between Indian classical style rhythms with traditional Indian Dholak and Tabla beats and jazz swing beat seamlessly. Songs like Huzurewala, Chin-Chin chu are some of the examples. Most songs sound deceptively simple but there are lots of music style changes, timing changes that occur within a given song itself. This was the signature of OP Nayyar’s style."

Kamal Dasu and Sam Rao - The pulse of Din Check.
"Each song I would say has its own surprise element, especially when I had never played these songs before."

Dasu said playing for Chin Chin Chu was the most enjoyable for him.

Sam Rao, the multi-faceted percussionist agrees, "OP Nayyar’s songs have traditional and western percussion combined with a lot of twists and turns to every song. The instruments that are usually used as fillers are used by O.P. Nayyar as main drivers of the rhythm in the song. These are mixed so well with the traditional percussion that they become an intricate part of every song. I was worried and not sure to what extent we can reproduce if we can at all. I started digging into my collection and realized that there are quite a few that I can try out. To my surprise, they started to sound pretty good and I started to feel that we are close to the original with our own twists. The fun part for me is playing percussion alongside Ajit (Tabla) and Kamal and more importantly, it is the energy and the chemistry of such talented musicians in the group that gives the fullness which is very satisfying."

"The song Kabhi aar kabhi paar sounds very easy to play but surprisingly it is hard to reproduce the exact rhythm. In few other songs where multiple rhythm instruments are used, the quick transitions seem deceivingly easy but are surprisingly difficult.”

Meenakshi Rana and Anandini Sekhar
For Meenakshi Rana, who did double-duty as vocalist and keyboard player, the biggest challenge was that Din Check had a reputation for contemporary music. "O.P.N. Night was however a period concert. We had to stick to the genre and the composer and still show a variety while keeping the audience engaged throughout. So this was definitely something out of our comfort zone. And O.P.N. Nites happen every year in Boston. Every top singer of our community has sung in these shows before and the bar was already set very high in previous shows. The challenge was to go out of our comfort zone and be at par with the bar or raise the bar."

"For me singing in all possible emotions and genre has been my challenge. Switching from the sad Chain Se to playful Ude Jab Jab and from sexy/sultry Ye Hai Reshmi to joyous Balma Khuli hawa and then living up to classical Chhota Sa balma which is a beautiful composition in Raag Tilang was the biggest challenge. But I have loved every bit of each of these songs. We used some creativity and remixed some of the songs and it all turned out great."

Anandini Sekhar, who is a trained classical Bharatanatyam dancer, also multi-tasked on both vocals and keyboard during the concert. For her the challenge was to not to think outside of the box too much. "OPN tunes are so beloved that audiences expect every little beat and melodic fill from the original to be there, since they have committed them to memory. We were toeing the line between creative expression of the music and being true to the original spirit of the songs."

"It was a surprise to return to songs I played on keyboards as a young teenager for my sister’s band ... Songs such as "Taarif Karoon Kya" and "Yeh Hai Reshmi" ... I have played these songs countless times and yet when I approach them now as an adult I find so many nuances that I never noticed in my younger days. Also now thanks to talented teammates like Sameer Bhambhani on guitar and Kira Taj on violin I have learned so much more about chords and these songs are deceptive as they seem very simple but the chords change rapidly and they are actually quite complex. The percussion team of Sam Rao, Kamal Dasu and Ajit Acharya have made me notice how often the rhythms change in these songs as well so that’s another layer of complexity. So it has been a wonderful challenge as a musician and I feel blessed to have had this opportunity to revisit these songs with such talented artists by my side and do them even greater justice than I have in the past. The most fun aspect of working on this show was definitely the camaraderie between all of the performers - there is a fantastic team chemistry and we all genuinely love being around one another."

Din Check performs a Barstool Medley.
Lead guitarist Sameer Bhambhani says that though he was familiar with most O.P. Nayyar songs, "this was not the typical musical genre that I have been involved with in the past. To any artist, a certain genre comes naturally to them... this was outside my zone. But music is music... very soon I discovered that we can find pleasure in any of its form."

"For me the challenge is always in songs like "Balma Khuli Hawa" that normally requires a complete 45 piece orchestra to replicate, along with many traditional Indian instruments like Sitar, Santoor, and Sarod. We try to replicate these sounds on guitar and keys... it’s challenging sometimes, but in the end it’s a lot of fun!"

"The fun part is my band members... preparing for this show has really demonstrated that as long as we are having fun amongst us, that’s all that really matters. Also, in our natural Din Check style, we have taken some of these songs and made them our own... that is probably the most fun part for me personally. I get easily bored if I am simply replicating a piece of music. On the other hand, I am always excited when we put our own twist to it and not play it exactly like the original track."

Jolly Bhatia, says going into the classics from the contemporary was enjoyable. "Over the past four years Din Check has delivered several high energy, entertaining, mainstream performances. Nevertheless , internally we enjoy such a wide spectrum of artistic talent within the group that we had never yet show cased. Our jamming sessions range from semi-classical, to ghazals, to bhangra, to Sufi, to modern day item numbers, jazz, blues - you name it."

Ajit Acharya, Suvarna S Krishnan and Sameer Bhambhani
"The O.P. Nayyar event was presented to us to combine the magic of old time music with the energy of Din Check. Of course all of us were familiar with the music and were immediately excited with the idea. It enabled us to work on a theme that we wanted to explore but was outside our routine comfort zone. As for me - I have mostly focused on singers like Kishore, Mukesh, Rahat and a wide range of Punjabi singers. Training to sing soft romantic Rafi and Mahendar Kapoor songs was a challenging experience. But what we do best at Din Check is help each other out to improve and that’s what makes us an institution more than just a band."

"I took on a new challenge during this show by singing a Telugu song - it was sure fun."

Krishna was thrilled to perform with Din check and said for him the challenge was to “consistently reproduce every note/emotion the same way as in original song, I always have butterflies in my stomach.., but the music provided by DC musicians was fantastic, and made it all very easy.”

Suvarna S Krishnan said she struggled with the language and diction.” As a Tamilian, I find that the bollywood lyrics have metamorphosed a lot since the early 1900s. In most OP Nayyar songs there is quite a bit of Urdu influence and I was constantly making sure I got the pronunciation and the diction right. Fun is in finding new ways to improvise the classic songs and mix them up with contemporary style in an effort to be heard by the new generation of music lovers also.”

Tabla player Ajit Acharya says, in spite of some exposure, most of the songs were unfamiliar to him but "the most fun aspects involved fleshing out the instrumental arrangements for each song with our band, including the stops/starts and our own creative twists."

"Every song presented its own challenges with changes in tempo, unusual rhythmic cycles and interesting instrumentation. The challenge was to successfully blend our own ideas with the actual musical arrangements for each song. For instance, a song like "Chain se humko kabhi" is originally acapella, sung by Asha Bhosle with a few supportive chords in the background. We’ve added sparse percussion and layered it with a few other instruments like violin, guitar and piano. Our presentation gives each song a unique, vibrant Din Check feel, but stays true to the original artistic vision of O.P. Nayyar."

"The energy that the live band brought to interpreting these songs was very unique, and can only occur with good understanding, chemistry and teamwork. The biggest compliment I can pay to our rhythm section (Kamal and Sam) is that they are not only tremendous musicians, but also extremely generous with their knowledge and creativity. I learned something new every time we played. Jolly, Meenakshi and Anandini keep everyone completely engaged with their lovely singing... but their energy, dance moves and charm really connect with audiences. Kira’s tone on violin is exceptional and she’s extremely adept at adding melodic nuance to any song. Sameer can play everything from Led Zeppelin to AR Rahman with his own expressive interpretation. I have a telepathic connection with him. The excellent addition of Karthik Balasubramaniam on rhythm guitar allows them both to take turns flying. The new singers Suvarna and Krishna blended very well from their first day as well. I can’t say enough about all these guys. Sometimes the music speaks for itself."

And when the curtain came down, these words recited in Siraj Khan’s voice paid an apt homage to the music maestro:

Ik roz mein har aankh se chhup jaoon ga lekin
Dharkan mein samaya huwa hardil mein rahoonga
Duniya mere geeton se mujhe yaad karey gi
Uth jaoonga phir bhi is mehfil mein rahoonga

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All Material © Copyright KavitaChhibber.com and respective photographers/performers.

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