A romantic lyricist

Print edition : July 08, 2000
Majrooh Sultanpuri, 1919-2000. VISHNU KHARE

FIFTY-FIVE years ago, a young Muslim shaiir chanced to come to Bombay to recite his kalaam (writing) before a mushaira audience. Among the listeners was the film-maker Abdul Rashid Kardar, who was looking for a good Urdu poet to provide the lyrics for his historical romance Shahjehan. The hero of the film was played by the golden-voiced legend K.L. Sehgal and the music was to be scored by Naushad, the most successful young composer of the day. Kardar was so swayed by the ghazals of the promising lyricist, rendered in perfect tarannum (tune) and talaffuz (diction), that he signed him up on the spot.

SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Released in 1946, Shahjehan was a great musical hit, with "Gham diye mustaqil" and "Jab dil hi toot gaya", sung by Sehgal, who succumbed to alcoholism shortly afterwards, becoming classics in their own right. The second dirge was Seh gal's own favourite and was played throughout his funeral procession. No film-lyricist could have ever hoped for such a popular, emotional debut. Majrooh Sultanpuri became the favourite songwriter of the subcontinent and settled down in Bombay, never to return to Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh, where he had until then lived, penning poetry and practising as a countryside hakeem.

Contrary to what Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen say in their Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, Majrooh, whose real name was Asrar Hasan Khan, was not born in Sultanpur in 1924 but in the small town of Nizamabad in 1919. It is erroneous to assu me that place names in the takhallus (nom de plume) of Urdu writers always denote their places of birth. Majrooh began to pen and recite his ghazals when he was trying his hand at Yunani medicine in Sultanpur after he abandoned his studies in Arab ic at Allahabad University and managed to clear his aalim (certificate) examination in medicine.

Sultanpur had an atmosphere for Urdu literature and Majrooh - the pseudonym means "the wounded one" and embodies a statement that the bearer would not withstand cross-examination (perhaps an unintended inner double-entendre) - was young and vulner able. Although he had sought poetic guidance on his early poetry from Aasi, a senior local shaiir, he was a shagird (apprentice) to no ustad (master). It was Jigar Muradabadi, perhaps the greatest traditional shaiir of the 20t h century, who heard the fledgling Majrooh in a mushaira in 1941 and was so impressed by the promising younger poet that he took him under his wing and introduced him to various urban audiences. Soon Majrooh found his own identity and began the journey t hat landed him in Mumbai.

Urdu poets, when they become mushaira stars or popular film-lyricists, tend to neglect publication of their work. It is not clear why Naushad made Majrooh wait for the next three years before he invited him to write lyrics for the Dilip Kumar-Raj Kapoor- Nargis starrer Andaz. Both the film and its songs became super-hits - "Ham aaj kahin dil kho baithe" and "Tu kahe agar jeevan bhar main geet sunata jaaoon", sung by Mukesh, and "Uthaye ja unke sitam", sung by Lata Mangeshkar, remain perennial favourites. But the honeymoon between Naushad and Majrooh ended mysteriously thereafter, with the former becoming inseparable from Shakeel Badayuni and the latter going to the antipodean O.P. Nayyar, almost as a provocation to Naushad, and at t he same time running poetically berserk for such composers as Anil Biswas, S.D. Burman, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Hemant Kumar, Ravi, R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. He was perhaps the busiest lyricist of the 1950s and 1960s, and his first collection of p oetry, eponymously titled Ghazal, appeared only in 1957.

Those were the days when most composers and lyricists tended to work as teams, and Majrooh first formed a formidable combination with O.P. Nayyar to give other teams, such as Naushad and Shakeel and Shankar-Jaikishen and Shailendra (or alternatively Hasr at Jaipuri), a run for their money. Later, when Sahir Ludhianvi fell out with S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar became a pale shadow of his former self, Majrooh combined with Burman to create some of the best songs known to Indian film music.

Majrooh was profligate neither as a poet nor as a householder - his marriage was one of the most spotless and enduring in Bombay filmdom - but he was at heart a romantic. Naushad became a classicist and would choose films that were sedate while Nayyar, w ho created a revolution in sensuality with his music in Aar Paar, required his lyrics to be racy, easy, foot-tapping and finger-snapping. Majrooh seems to have understood the requirements of film music at an early stage and had almost no compuncti ons in suiting his words to the heroes, heroines and situations in a film. He knew that actors like Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Joy Mukherji and Biswajeet called for lyrics laden with machismo, while heroines like Shyama, Amita, Mala Sinha, Madhubala and N alini Jaywant could do with a measure of sensuousness. What Naushad had begun in Ratan but dropped in bourgeois horror was taken up by Nayyar, mischievously abetted by Majrooh.

For his kind of male lyrics, the masculine timbre of Mohammed Rafi was the right medium, though sometimes the early Kishore Kumar also filled the bill. Among the female voices, the sensuality of Geeta Roy/Dutt and Asha Bhosle went hand in hand with his s ofter lyrics, though Lata Mangeshkar also sang some of his better-written songs. Rafi sang his "Sun sun sun sun zalima", "Le ke pahla pahla pyar", "Yun to hamne lakh hasin dekhe hain, tum sa nahin dekha" and many more in the philande ring mood, but he also articulated his pensive lyrics like "Ham bekhudi mein tum ko pukare chale gaye", "Dil jo na kah saka" and "Hui shaam unka khayal aa gayaa" with the right mellowness.

Perhaps even Majrooh did not recall how many lyrics he had written in the last 55 years and for whom. His generosity and output must have affected the quality of his poetry, but among his best must rank "Hamare baad ab mahfil men afsane bayaan honge", "Dil ka diya jala ke gaya ye kaun meri tanhai men", "Ham hain rahi pyar ke, ham se kuchh na boliye" and the Rafi ghazal from Teen Deviyan, "Yunhi bekhayal hoker kahi chhoo liya kisi ne".

Beginning a third innings with Anand-Milind in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak - his second could be said to have been his association with R.D. Burman and Lakshmikant-Pyarelal - he continued to write lyrics almost until his last day. Hear his lyrics in th e Asha Bhosle-Anu Malik album "Jaanam Samjha Karo" and Rajesh Roshan's Kya Kehna, both of them chart-toppers, and you realise that it is you who have become middle-aged in your judgment, though not Majrooh in his youthful creativity. Althou gh he was proud of his poetry - in his hubris he said that he ought to have been given the first Dadasaheb Phalke Award - he was always willing to go along with the youngest music-directors and film-makers. A devout Muslim, he was a keen student of the B hagvad Gita. Steeped in the mixed Hindu-Islamic tradition of Uttar Pradesh, he was also open to the most modern ideas.

He was apolitical until 1946, but when he visited the cave-temples of Ajanta and Ellora, he realised that great art could not take place without a great social purpose. He then chose to become a Communist and was even briefly jailed in 1950 for his radic al Leftist leanings. But unlike Sahir Ludhianvi, who would imbue his lyrics with Marxist ideas, Majrooh did not mix his film songs with politics, and one wonders whether he remained "committed" until the end. He continued to write non-filmic, literary gh azals and one of his shers, "Main akela hi chala tha janibe-e-manzil magar/Log sath aate gaye aur karavan banta gaya" ('I started all alone towards the goal/(but) people kept joining and it began to turn into a caravan') has become an often-quoted couplet in South Asia. He had all the makings of a major innovative composer of ghazals but he seemed to think that reaching millions of people with his popular film lyrics was a more meaningful and tangible achievement.

Majrooh's published output was small - only a few years ago Mishal-e-Jaan (The Torch of the Soul), perhaps his second collection, was published to perfunctory critical responses. Although the Sahitya Akademi and Bharatiya Jnanpith awards eluded hi m, he was honoured with the Ghalib Award and the Iqbal Prize.

Majrooh epitomised dignity and good taste. He was soft-spoken and cultured even when he called a spade a bloody shovel. He lost a young son but remained stoic in his bereavement, never ceasing to write joyful lyrics, separating the man who suffers and th e mind that creates. He shared a 50-years relationship with the Mangeshkar family.

In the end, he seemed to outlive most of his contemporaries in creative relevance. Naushad, who gave him his first break, is past his prime. Dilip Kumar, who immortalised his "Toote na dil toote na" in Andaz, is without work, his talents be coming superfluous in the commercialism of Mumbai's film industry. Majrooh discovered the secret of never becoming superfluous. He left when his latest compositions are being sung and danced to by youngsters fit enough to be his grandchildren.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×