Arther Nayyar, popularly known as A Nayyar, is a living legend. With dignity, love and talent, the gifted Nayyar captivated the hearts of his admirers as one of the leading playback singers of yesteryear. He sang songs of all genres but found a new generation of fans with popular numbers like Kis kis ki taraf deikhoon and Beena tera naam.
His days of glory forgotten, the great singer lives a modest life with his wife, who is fighting a valiant battle with cancer. Recuperating from the grief of the passing of his lone son, who died recently at age 28, Nayyar is still willing to serve the cause of music. He never quit singing and plans to set up a music academy. He is a born singer and still performs at private shows. Talking to Dawn he reminisces about the days gone by.
“We used to live in Arifwalla where my father was a government employee. We did not have TV, radio or even a gramophone. All we had was a cinema close to our house. I used to listen to film songs everyday and developed an interest in singing. In school, my first performance in Bazm-e-Adab was the National Anthem. I somehow learnt it by heart because I used to listen to it thrice a day before the start of every show in the cinema while the other children in my school didn’t remember its words.
“My teachers were very supportive and encouraged me to sing and participate in school competitions which boosted my confidence. When we moved to Lahore, I joined St Francis High School and did my matriculation from there. On one occasion I sang a semi-classical song from the movie Beju Banwara, ‘Mun tarpat hai aaj teray darshan ko’ which proved very popular.
“Then I joined FC College where my teachers and friends were fond of music and they used to arrange music programmes on a regular basis. I practised singing there and tried to sing all types of songs.
“I did not get any proper music training but learnt the basics of classical singing from Samuel Mumtaz, who was a pastor with a proper know-how of classical singing. I polished my talent by listening to music maestros like Salamat Ali Khan, Amanat Ali Khan, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Mehdi Hassan, Noor Jahan, and Lata Mangeshkar.
“It was in 1973 when I first knocked at the doors of PTV and Radio. I still remember the time when the doorkeepers did not let me in but I didn’t lose hope and kept trying. Finally I got a break in PTV through a programme Naey Fankaar produced by Rafique Warraich. The programme was meant to introduce new talent. Then I got an opportunity to perform in Hum Sukhan produced by Athar Waqar Azeem. Since the programme also had a song by Amanat Ali Khan ‘Mausam badla rutt bikhrai’ and a song by Nayyara Noor, the telecast was repeated again and again and people started recognising me.
“I made my debut in films when I happened to meet Riaz Shahid one day. Actually I was invited to perform at a birthday party of a friend’s daughter where I sang Muhammad Rafi’s ‘Ye duniya ye mehfil meray kaam ki nahien’. Riaz Shahid was there and he insisted that I repeat the lines ‘Unko khuda milay hai khuda ki jinhain talash, mujhko bas ikk jhalak meray dildar ki milay’. I kept on repeating these lines till dawn. He was all praise for my singing and he invited me to the studio. He was making a movie called Bahisht at that time. Unfortunately he fell seriously ill and the illness proved fatal. It was a setback for everybody but later on Babar Bilal, his assistant completed the film and I debuted as a singer in the 1974 film Bahisht.
My first film song ‘Yunhin din kut jayen, yuhin shaam dhal jaye’... was a duet with Rubina Badar. Then I sang two songs for the movie Eik Gunah Aur Sahi with Nisar Bazmi’s compositions. Then M Ashraf composed a song for me ‘Pyar tu eik din hona tha hona tha ho gya.’ It was a duet with Naheed Akhtar which became a popular street song. People started calling me the Pakistani Kishore Kumar as I used to do some yodelling in my songs. Then film actor Nadeem referred me to Robin Ghosh and he gave me the song ‘Miley do sathi khili do kalian’ for his film Amber.
“After that my career took off and then there was no turning back till the early 90s. The press even called me a ‘One man show’ and termed me the only male singer in the industry.
“I sang in almost all of Nazrul Islam’s movies till his death in 1992. Islam Sahib was a perfectionist and he believed in quality. He always worked with music composers like Robin Ghosh, M Ashraf and Amjad Bobby. It was really a pleasure working with these gentlemen who always produced and composed quality music.
Those were the days when my song on PTV ‘Beena tera naam’ was a big hit. The late film producer and director Hassan Tariq also offered me a lead role in his film. I took the offer with some reluctance but the project could not take off because of his death. Acting offers kept pouring in but I did not consider them; I somehow felt acting was not my cup of tea. Plus that was the time when I was flooded with singing offers and got so busy that I don’t even remember watching my children grow up. I have three daughters and had a son too who recently passed away.
“EMI says I sang over 4,200 film, radio and television songs. I also did some private albums. Since there was no check on copyrights, many small recording companies made albums of my songs without paying royalty to me. Though EMI made efforts to stop this practice and took up the issue at the highest possible forums, all efforts failed. Even today I come across albums with a couple of my film songs.
“Later, when the gundasa culture took over the downfall of our film industry started. Waheed Murad’s death and Nadeem’s departure from Lahore for Karachi also contributed to the demise of quality Urdu films. Though I also sang Punjabi songs for almost a decade with Madam Noor Jehan, I never compromised on the quality of lyrics. It was ironic that from producer to director to musicians all succumbed to market pressure and let all vulgar stuff in. Then came a trend to copy the tunes of Indian songs. I refused to sing on Indian tunes. My continuous refusal to blindly follow instructions of film makers and music composers offended them and there came a time when they stopped offering me songs. It is my belief that lyrics should not fall beyond the line of decency. I have daughters and I can’t face them if I sing songs I find indecent.
“I also met Indian legend Kishore Kumar in New York. He was all praise for my singing. He also advised me to sing from the heart and with conviction. I never felt the desire to sing for Indian films. India is so rich in talent that they do not need artistes from any part of the world. Plus I found Indians biased. I am a Pakistani to the core of my heart. I can’t and will not tolerate discriminatory attitude towards a Pakistani.
“I served the country with all sincerity and devotion; so far I have received seven Nigar, eight Graduate, four Bolan, a National and Presidential awards. There are few other awards too. Perhaps someday I will get the Pride of Performance Award as that is the only thing missing.”