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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Emperor of Melodies

A documentary film celebrates the life and music of composer Khayyam

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: September 14, 2014 12:47:18 am
Khayyam and his wife Jagjeet Kaur in the film. Khayyam and his wife Jagjeet Kaur in the film.

In the documentary Khayyam Ki Sangeet Yatra, singer Bhupinder Singh interviews Khayyam and a small incident reveals the latter’s penchant for perfection. When Singh sings a few lines from one of Khayyam’s compositions, the composer immediately points out mistakes in his singing, just as he would 50 years ago when he gave Singh his break as a playback singer. Suresh Sharma’s documentary on the legendary composer is peppered with such moments that try to capture the essence of Khayyam’s life and work. The 58-minute film premiered in Mumbai on Saturday.

Khayyam is popular for his music in films such as Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhi and Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan. The documentary talks about the composer’s work beyond his film songs, especially his mastery with ghazals — he would compose for Begum Akhtar and for TV shows such as Sanjay Khan’s The Great Maratha.

A former journalist, Sharma felt Khayyam’s is a story that needs to be documented. “Khayyam’s music ran almost parallel to the prevalent trends in Hindi film music of that time. Yet he is somehow not as celebrated as his contemporaries like Naushad and Shankar-Jaikishan,” says Sharma, who decided to make the film while working on a similar project on composer Ravi. Instead of adopting a traditional documentary style with a voice-over, he lets his subjects tell their stories. He calls it an “autobiography on screen”. The anecdotes, memories and insights into Khayyam’s creative process are punctuated with interviews of artistes he has worked with. Khayyam Ki Sangeet Yatra features interviews with Gulzar, Asha Bhosle, Muzaffar Ali and Talat Aziz, among others.

Produced by the Films Division of India, the documentary shows Khayyam, 88, with his wife, singer Jagjeet Kaur, 83, discuss their life, career and music. It also throws light on little known facts like how Khayyam was employed in the forces during the World War II for soldiers’ recreation. He had a different name in his initial years as a composer when he had struck a partnership with composer Rahman Varma to form the duo Sharmaji-Varmaji. After Varma left for Pakistan during the partition, Khayyam went back to his original name with Footpath in 1953.

“He created a new world of melodies that blended folk with classical seamlessly. They are still fresh today,” says Sharma, who has made a similar film on Shammi Kapoor.

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