Celebrated as Asia's "rhythm king," O.P. Nayyar was among the premier composers of Bollywood's golden age, enjoying a long and prolific collaboration with superstar vocalist Asha Bhosle that yielded countless classics of Indian film music. Born January 16, 1926, in Lahore in pre-partition India, Omkar Prasad Nayyar made his professional debut at age 11, playing piano on All-India Radio. In 1949, he relocated to Mumbai and soon landed his first film assignment, writing incidental music for Krishan Kewal's Kaneez. Nayyar made his debut as music director via Dalsukh Pancholi's Aasmaan. After a series of commercial flops, he considered quitting cinema to teach, but with Guru Dutt's 1954 film Aar Paar he scored his first box-office hit, beginning an extended collaboration with Dutt that later included Mr. and Mrs. 55 and the blockbuster C.I.D. Nayyar nevertheless enjoyed his greatest success in tandem with Bhosle, credited as his discovery. Free of conventional training and classical influence, he created for Bhosle a series of remarkably bold and contemporary songs notable for their upbeat, fiercely rhythmic approach.
Bhosle and Nayyar teamed for close to 60 films in all, most notable among them a series of late-'50s efforts including Nava Daur, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Sone Ki Chidiya, and Howrah Bridge. Their cumulative success not only launched Bhosle as a rival to Bollywood melody queen Lata Mangeshkar (also her elder sister), but additionally established Nayyar as the highest-paid composer in Indian filmmaking. Their partnership nevertheless ended bitterly in 1974, and while Nayyar went on to work with singers including Mohammed Rafi and Mahendra Kapoor, he never experienced the same creative success. Nayyar later admitted the dissolution of their collaboration heralded the tipping point of his career, and following 1994's Jai Bhavani he retired from film altogether, although he remained in the public eye thanks to infrequent television appearances. Nayyar died January 28, 2007, less than two weeks past his 81st birthday. ~ Jason Ankeny