In 1957, when Guru Dutt decided to make `Pyaasa’, a movie about a struggling poet, he signed on the greatest living Urdu poet of the day, Sahir Ludhianvi to provide the poetry. He even delved into Sahir’s non-filmy work, picking up gems from his `Talkhiyan’.
He pointed to the angst laden `Chakley’ (Brothels), asked Sahir to `simplify’ the Urdu, which he did (the tongue twisting `Sana khwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashriq kahan hai’ was duly downgraded for us lesser mortals to `Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahan hai’), along with a few other rare gems. Who can forget Guru Dutt (ok, Mohd Rafi) humming Sahir’s signature `Tang aa chuke hain kashmash-e-zindagi se hum..’
Indeed, take away Sahir, and what is left of `Pyaasa’?
In the 50s, through to the 70’s, we had genuine poets doubling as lyricists for Hindi films. Meaning each of them had a substantial body of work outside of their filmi lyrics, work that stood out on its own, and was of course, much classier than the fluff they churned out for Bollywood.
Foremost among them, of course was the unmatched Sahir Ludhianvi. I’ve written a separate post on him, called `Main pal do pal ka shayar hun’ which can be assessed at
Next to Sahir, stood the redoubtable Kaifi Azmi. At the tender age of eleven, Azmi wrote his first ghazal `Itna toh zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade’ - google this one, and be amazed at his precocious and prodigious talent. Kaifi, like most of his peers, was an out and out Marxist, and part of the Progressive Writers Movement.
Kaifi’s angst for the downtrodden and the underprivileged comes through in seminal works like `Aurat’, and `Daaera’. His response to the Babri masjid demolition of 6 Dec 1992 in a poem called `Doosra Banwas’ (Second Exile), where he likens the incident to Ram being sent on a second banwas, was heart wrenching!
He wrote the entire dialogue of Chetan Anand’s `Heer Ranjha’ in verse! And who could match his minimalistic use of language and his imagery! Just check the line `Mile na phool toh kaanton se dosti kar li’, and the sheer simplicity leaves you speechless!
Majrooh Sultanpuri, though not in the same league as Sahir and Kaifi, will forever remain immortal for his sher
Main akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar,
Log saath aate gaye aur carvan banta gaya!.
In films too, he left his mark. Note the manner in which he pleads `guilty’ to placing faith above all else, to being a lover to the end, with lines like
Majrooh, likh rahe hain woh ahl-e-wafa ka naam
Hum bhi khade huye hain, gunahgaar ki tarah..
Shakeel Badayuni was, of course, immortalised in the Begum Akhtar gem `Ae mohabat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, but his long association with Naushad in Hindi films is what he will be most remembered for. The quintessential `muslim socials’ and historicals were their forte, and one cannot really separate the angst of the ethereal Madhubala’s `Mohabat ki jhooti kahani pe royein’ or `Bekas pe karam kijiye’ in Lata’s dulcet vocals from Shakeel’s lyrics.
And don’t forget, the most famous bhajan in Hindustani cinema, `Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj’, penned by Shakeel, set to music by Naushad and sung by Rafi – all three devout Muslims, is still a mirror to India’s multi religious and multicultural milieu.
And then there were others. Jan Nissar Akhtar (Ae dil-e-nadaan), Raja Mehdi Ali Khan (Lag ja gale), Makhdoom Moheyudin (Ek chameli ke mandwe thale) and Shahryar (Seene mein jalan), among others. Each embellished Hindi/Urdu cinema with gems that will far outlive them.
Besides Urdu, there were some great Hindi poets as well. The freedom struggle had produced its share of soul stirring poetry in the form of Ram Prasad Bismil (Sarfaroshi ki tamanna), Makhanlal Chaturvedi (Pushp ki abhilasha) and Subhadra Kumari Chouhan (Khoob ladi mardani).
Kavi Pradeep (Dekh tere sansar ki haalat) had written some patriotic stuff for low budget films like `Jagruti’ (Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayein), but became a household name when Lata reduced Nehru to tears with her rendering of `Ae mere watan ke logon’ immediately after the China debacle in 1962.
Among the Hindi poets of the era, the foremost, of course, was Shailendra. His contribution to Raj Kapoor’s musicals is legendary, as was his combination with Dada Burman in `Guide’. The soulful `Din dhal jaye, raat na jaye’ still evokes the sort of romance that seems to have forever gone with the wind.
Shailendra picked up fellow poet and revolutionary Phaniswar Nath Renu’s short story `Maare Gaye Gulfaam’, and transformed it into what can be best described as poetry in celluloid in his film `Teesri Kasam’. But sadly, the film bombed at the box office, leading to Shailendra’s untimely demise.
Another titan of that era, who thankfully is still among us, is Gopal Das Saxena, better known as Neeraj. If Neeraj wrote nothing other than `Karvaan guzar gaya’, he would still be immortal in my book. I had the good fortune of meeting him, and told him as much. The heart wrenching line `Chah toh nikal saki na, par umar nikal gayi’ is pretty much the story of my life, and still makes me dewy eyed!
He recited all 84 verses of `Palki bahaar ki’ that day (only 4 feature in the song from the eminently forgettable film `Cha cha cha’), and had all of us spellbound. Note..
Guzar rahi hai tum pe kya, bana ke hum ko dar-ba-dar
Yeh soch kar udhas hun, yeh soch kar hai chasm tar
Kahani kis se yeh kahein, chadavh ki, utaar ki
Luti jahan pe bewajah, palki bahaar ki..
The titans of that era, the giants have long gone, and been replaced by pygmies. Poetry has given way to crass bump-and-grind numbers invoking, God help us, Zandu balm and Fevicol. The rap generation, and `singers’ like Honey Singh have rendered lyrics absolutely redundant.
Note that I call them `lyrics’ – for to use the word `poetry’ would be blasphemous!
Luckily, I have my iPod, and for a while, when I plug it in, time seems to stand still. Sanity returns, and the bliss of that era washes over me. God returns to Heaven, and all is once more well with the earth..