Sonik-Omi – Interview
As the train chugged slowly into Bombay Central it started raining hard. Out of a third class compartment stepped out a boy of ten leading by the hand a youth of about twenty-one wearing dark glasses. There was one small attache case between them. The youth was blind. No one came to receive them as they wandered lost in the big station. This was in 1949. Twenty years later these two earned fame and money under the tandem name of Sonik-Omi.
From Bombay Central the young boy and youth somehow made their way to the now defunct M. N. T. Studios in pouring rain where Sonik the elder one had a singing contract with Harbans, the son of Pandit Amarnath, and himself a music-director in his own right. When they arrived at the Studio, their clothes were wet. Sonik hurriedly changed into a pyjama and kurta and took his position in front of the mike. Omi stood outside the studio, shivering and crying. That evening when the recording was over, both Sonik the uncle and Omi the nephew roamed the whole night as they had nowhere to go. It was after about two days of wandering that they finally met a man whom they knew and he gave them a little room to stay in and that too about seven miles from Thana.
“I had come to Bombay to be a singer,” Sonik says, “and I succeeded to a certain extent. The songs were sung under the name of M. L. Sonik and under such music-directors as Naushad, Husanlal-Bhagatram and Shyam Sunder. Sonik sang solo numbers in “Bazzar” and Sajan Ki Galiyan”. But it was still rough going for Sonik and Omi as their struggle was not yet over. In the middle Omi fell sick and left for Delhi leaving Sonik behind.
But talent and hardwork had to earn its reward some time. So in 1951 Sonik finally made the grade as a music director in “Ishwar Bhakti”, “Mamta”, “Mehfil” and many other small budget movies. This was done in collaboration with his cousin Girdhar who was a harmonium player. But tragedy struck once again. All the movies that Sonik gave the musical score for, failed at the box-office. This made Sonik taboo in a notoriously superstitious industry where success is measured by the returns at the box-office. In the process Sonik also lost the chance as a singer for films because, he says, “Music directors and singers had to be poles apart and if one tried to do both things one was immediately black listed. This I have never been able to understand. Look at Hemant Kumar or Kishore”.
In August 1954 Omi again came to Bombay to join his uncle. Sonik was still living seven miles from Thana. Every day the young man and boy travelled ticketless to Bombay in search of jobs. But jobs, especially as music-directors, were practically impossible to get. In the meantime, Omi got a job in a chorus composed of females. “I had to do something to avoid starvation”, Omi says.
For four more years the struggle continued and they had to make do with chana, one pair of trousers and shirts and live in the little hut without any electricity or water. “I remember once Omi reminisced”, when I found a wallet containing forty rupees. I had no chicken or mutton for nearly six months and had not seen money like that for, well I forget. It was manna from heaven.” Did he return the money? “No”, Omi said frankly, and to this day I don’t know whether I did right or wrong”.
In 1959 the breakthrough that they had been waiting for came finally. Music-director Madan Mohan spotted Sonik for the talented man that he was and took him on as an arranger. And how well Sonik did his work was shown by the fact that other music-directors of the caliber of S. D. Burman, Roshan and Bipin Babul took him on as their arranger too. It was also about this time that Omi landed his first job with music-director Roshan as assistant.
“From all these greats” both spoke in unison, “we have learned the finer points of music.” Do they always speak together? Yes. Because their lives have been as one. “It is the same soul but different bodies”, Omi replied. Omi assisted Roshan in such movies as “Taj Mahal”, “Barsaat Ki Raat”, “Aarti” and right up to “Dil Hi To Hai”.
In 1965 came the real chance when G. L. Rawal, without a word, handed over to Omi a cheque for Rs. 1001/- and two stanzas of a song (called mukras) and said, “you are signed for my next movie. This was the break both of them had been waiting for and they knew they had to give of their best. “We recorded eight songs and then the movie was started, Omi said. “Dil Na Phir Yaad Kiya” was the movie which launched them finally on their career as music-directors. The music was the only thing noteworthy in the movie and everybody and everything else was pushed into the background. But all that happened was that there was another period of no work. Jealousy. Why? Omi said, briefly. “Everyone was against us because we had come out of nowhere and we were looked down upon as interlopers.”
The offers that came were mostly for stunt movies. “We refused most of them”, Sonik said. But how long could they wait? Finally they gave music for “Aabroo”, “Beti”, “Truck Driver”, “Mr. Murder”, “Mujrim” and “Mahua”. Nearly all these went unnoticed and they seemed destined to lead the lives of second grade music-directors.
But fortune smiled again. Mohan Segal’s “Sawan Bhadon” came their way and it was such a smashing success that they were made. They were on top of the world. Producers finally realized the true measure of their talent, and capacity for hard work.
“We are simple music-directors”, both say, “and our compositions come out from the depth of our hearts because we have suffered such a lot”.
Both are great admirers of the immortal Kundan Lal Saigal. His songs are evergreen even today and I doubt we will ever hear another like him,” Omi says. What music do they specialize in? Light classical, of the type of “Kanah Re Kanah” which they composed for “Truck Driver”. But both are ready to change as public taste demands as they did in the “tamasha” songs of “Sawan Bhadon”.
Sonik-Omi have both broken away from the C.M.D.A. “We have sweated for years. We have given blood and tears to make this career. Why should we not enjoy the fruits of that long struggle?” both say.
Today they have more than a dozen movies on hand. S. D. Narang’s Production No. 10, Mohalla Films “Adarsh”, B. S. Ranga’s “Sabash Ganga Ram”, Mantralaya Movies “Jeevan Dhan”, Bharat Pictures’ next, Rammana’s next, Atma Ram’s new film, and Kunal Chitra’s two forthcoming movies.
What one notices about this duo is that all those years of bitter struggle when even near starvation was not unknown, has not left a scar in their hearts. They are happy and contented and have the confidence that long years of fine work lie ahead for them. (Interview conducted by Star & Style in 1971).