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13 February 2012

The Masters: Qamar Jalalabadi

How many lyricists of the Golden Age of Hindi music can you name off the bat? Sahir Ludhianvi? Hasrat Jaipuri? Shailendra? Shakeel Badayuni (maybe)? Yet there were many more of their ilk, men whose pens dripped shairi; whose muse set words to the melodies that are alive even today, and will be for many, many years to come. 

Think about it - if it weren't for the lyrics, how many tunes would call to our hearts and emotions? If Shakeel hadn't written Pyar kiya to darna kya, would Anarkali's defiance have set the mirrors in the Sheesh Mahal ablaze? If Sahir's pen hadn't dripped with anger against a materialistic society, would Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai be as effective as it was? If Shailendra hadn't come up with Sajanva bairi ho gaye hamar or Hasrat with Duniya bananewale, would the music of Teesri Kasam have been the same?

Our lives are prosaic enough as it is; how many times have you listened to a song, and felt that the poet had put down exactly what you felt? What would we do without poetry? Romance, anger, philosophy, sadness - lyrics express all these, and more. Yet, in an industry that is notorious for not writing down its history, the men who give body to music, and others like them that work behind the scenes languish in anonymity.

Sahir remains one of my favourite poets / lyricists, and I had intended to begin this saga with his songs, if it hadn't been for one thing. While researching Shamshad's songs, I came across the name of Qamar Jalalabadi - a lyricist who was quite well-known at the time. Now, quick - without resorting to Google or YouTube, name one song that you know was written by Qamar Jalalabadi. Can't think of any? Yet, it is his kalam that gave us some of the most evocative lyrics that were ever set to tune. Curious, I sought more.

If finding information about Shamshad Begum was akin to searching for a needle in a haystack, information about a prolific lyricist who was responsible for many a melodic number was even harder to come by.

That only made me more determined to find out as much as I could. It wasn't easy, since the only information I could find was duplicated over many websites, and there was no way of knowing what was true, and what, not.*

Qamar Jalalabadi was born Omprakash Bhandari in a Punjabi family in Jalalabad - a small town in Amritsar. A precocious boy, he began writing poetry at the age of seven, much to the consternation of his family, who definitely did not encourage it. But little Omprakash was not swayed, and continued to write, until a wandering minstrel-poet called Amarchand 'Amar' chanced upon his writing. Impressed by what he read, it was he who gave young Omprakash his takhallus - 'Qamar' - meaning 'the moon'. Qamar added 'Jalalabadi' - 'from the town of Jalalabad' to arrive at the name he would write under for the rest of his life.

His initial foray into writing, however, was not as a poet but a journalist. But the lure of filmdom was too strong to resist. He moved to Pune in the '40s, and wrote his first song for a film called Zamindar - the year was 1942. The songs were a big hit, and he found himself inundated with offers. This was the beginning of a career that was to span four decades.

From the hundreds of songs that came out of his pen, I have chosen a dozen. Since there are so many more that I personally like, this was a difficult decision. I finally decided to stick to 12 songs, 12 different composers, and mostly from the first half of his career. So, here they are, 12 wonderful compositions by men who were masters of their craft, aided by the pen of a very inspired poet.

1. Duniya mein gareebon ko aaram nahin milta (Zamindar / 1942 / Ghulam Haider / Shamshad)
This was the very first song that 'Qamar Jalalabadi' wrote for films. The score of Zamindar, a Pancholi Productions' offering, was by Master Ghulam Haider, who, along with Shamshad Begum, had created a successful musical jugalbandi  that was to last many years. Zamindar's music was a hit, and the young lyricist never looked back after that. His lines...
Jo koi bhi aata hai thokar hi lagaata hai
mar ke bhi gareebon ko aaram nahin milta
...were full of pathos, and fitted the situation very well.

Another song that is very dear to my heart, from the same MD-lyricist team is Badnaam na ho jaaye from Shaheed (1948).  The singer is Surinder Kaur.

2. Ik dil ke tukde hazaar huye (Pyar ki Jeet / 1948 / Husnlal-Bhagatram / Mohammed Rafi)
This was Qamar Jalalabadi's personal favourite. The song, when released, was a huge success, and Mohammed Rafi was inundated with 'sad songs'. Funnily enough, this song was not originally meant for this film. It was written for Sindoor (1941), but director Shashadhar Mukherjee rejected the song. When OP Dutta, the director of Pyar ki Jeet heard the song, he wanted to use it in his film. The rest, as they say, was history.

Take a look at the lyrics:
Jeevan ke safar mein hum jinko samjhe the hamaare saathi hain
Do qadam chale phir bichhad gaye 
Koi yahan gira koi vahaan gira

These lyrics were to prove self-fulfilling, as one by one, Qamarsaab lost the people he cared about. 

My all-time favourite has been Sun meri saajna re, the Lata Mangeshkar - Mohammed Rafi duet from Aansoo (1952). The lyrics have a mellow romanticism, full of the promises of love, and a plea to not end the relationship.
Na tujhko main bhulaoonga, nigaahon mein chhupaaunga
Magar itna karo vaada ki rishta tod na jaana 

This is followed by quiet plea for understanding, if fate wills that they are separated, as Lata sings:
Agar kismet badal jaaye, judaai humko tadpaaye
Kasam hai pyaar ki tujhko tu mujhse rooth na jaana

SighHow can you not melt? Also, listen to the almost-other-worldly quality in Lata's voice as she begins the song. This must be one of the few songs where the music director let Mohammed Rafi sing in the lower octaves (most of the time). The two legends have had many hundreds of duets together, but this must surely rank as one of their best.

3. Yeh duniya roop ki chor  (Shabnam / 1949 / SD Burman / Shamshad Begum)
This is a song that I came across when I was searching for Shamshad Begum's songs on YouTube. At the time, I chose Saiyyan dil mein aana re  from Bahaar, with Ek baar tu ban jaa mere pardesi from Shabnam running it a close second. I hadn't heard this song from Shabnam before, but bookmarked it for later listening. Two things struck me upon listening to it - the immediate response was to Shamshad's perfect pronunciation in multiple languages. The second, and much-later response, was to the lyrics in the many languages that still managed to keep rhyme and metre. And it's amazing to hear the lyrics in Tamil, for instance, from a Punjabi lyricist.
It was also a shock (albeit a pleasant one) to see Kamini Kaushal in a very different avatar. In the song, she is running away from different suitors who speak different languages, and asking for help to get away from them.
The other song that I considered for this collaboration between Burmanda and Qamarsaab was from a relatively unknown film called Eight Days (1948); in fact, I'm not even sure that it wasn't named Aath Din. (Can anyone throw any light on that?) It's a humorous song, Oh babu, babu re rendered by Burmanda himself.

4. Saajan ki galiyan chhod chale (Bazar / 1949 / Shyamsunder / Lata Mangeshkar)
This song would definitely rank on any list that comprises Lata Mangeshkar's best. One of her earliest numbers, the score of Bazar was to cement her position as a force to reckon with. A requiem to lost love, the lyrics wrenched at your heartstrings as Lata sang:
Yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai
Hum unko apna keh na sake 

and went on:

Saajan hai wahan aur hum hain yahaan
aise dil ko le jaayen kahaan
jo paas bhi unke reh na sake
aur dard-e-judaai seh na sake
- it seemed as if the poet knew  what heartbreak felt like. 
It would take another year, and the same composer to give her Bahaarein phir bhi aayegi  from Lahore (1950) - the song that would prove that while Noor Jehan's singing style had a tremendous influence on the young Lata, she was ready to move on. After all, Aayegaaanewala from Mahal (1950) which released earlier in the year, was ruling the airwaves, as a portent of things to come.

5. Hum hain tere deewane (Shabistan / 1951 / C Ramchandra / Geeta Dutt, Talat Mahmood, Chitalkar)
If Saajan ki galiyaan spoke of loss, then this bespoke hope, and the initial euphoria of being attracted to someone. 
Pehli nazar mein tum ne apna bana liya hai
ab apne nazar se poochho mera qasoor kya hai
- sings the hero. 'What is my fault?' The lyrics were simple in itself, but oh, so evocative.
For some reason, Shabistan had both Madan Mohan and C Ramchandra giving music for the film. Considering Madan Mohan once assisted C Ramchandra, and they remained good friends, I suppose it's not that note-worthy. It's interesting however, to see the difference in the songs they composed. So, while Hum hain tere deewane has the light C Ramchandra touch, the equally frothy Lata-Shamshad duet O ladke, dil dhadke composed by Madan Mohan for the same film is as different as chalk from cheese. 
Shabistan also saw the tragic death of its hero, Shyam, in a horse-riding accident. The film was completed using a double for the remaining scenes.
6. Raahi matwaale  (Waris / 1954 / Anil Biswas / Talat Mahmood, Suraiya)
Raat bani dulhan bheegi hui palkein
bhini-bhini khushboo se saagar chhalke
aise mein naina se naina ho chaar
zaraa naina ho chaar

As the night train moves through the countryside, the hero bursts, almost involuntarily, into song, his spirit embracing the dark clouds, the bright moon, and the cool breezes - dil ne suni kahin dil ki pukar. The heroine, listening, joins in towards the end. 
This song is interesting not only because of its composition (the violins and viola give you the feel of the train's movement even if you do not watch the video clip), but also because it has a young, handsome Talat playing hero to Suraiya in this Sohrab Modi film.

It is unfortunate, perhaps, that Anil Biswas, like Madan Mohan later, composed for movies that weren't very successful at the box office, which meant that the songs were sometimes rendered obscure. Raahi matwaale was based on Rabindrasangeet,  and was called O re Grihabashi.

7. Mohabbat zinda rehti hai  (Changez Khan / 1957 / Hansraj Behl / Mohammed Rafi) 
Hansraj Behl, who debuted with Pujari in 1946, composed a rather lacklustre score for this film starring real-life couple Premnath and Bina Rai. With a very complicated plot involving several deceptions, capture (and re-capture) of the 'hero', and emotional blackmail by the plenty, it at least gave Premnath a chance to sing Mohabbat zinda rehti hai (soulfully rendered by Mohammed Rafi) to bring his comatose lover back to her senses (only to be emotionally blackmailed again, which is quite another story altogether). 
Khol aankhein apne khwaab-e-naaz se
jaag mere pyaar ki aawaaz s...
begins the song, as the hero, in chains exhorts his beloved to come back to life because she cannot die before he does!

Keh do maut se jaakar ki ik deewana kehta hain 
meri ruh-e-mohabbat mujhse pehle mar nahin sakti

Both Premnath and Bina Rai were past their prime, and the hero had a smaller role than the villain (Sheikh Mukhtar in the titular role). 

8. Aayiye meherbaan (Howrah Bridge / 1958 / OP Nayyar / Asha Bhonsle)
OP Nayyar was perhaps the only director who did not jump onto the Lata bandwagon. He used Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, and later Asha Bhonsle to great effect, especially in Howrah Bridge. Qamarsaab's proved his versatility by giving us the sultry Aayiye meherbaan and the frothy Geeta Dutt solo Mera naam chin chin choo for the same film. 
Aayiye meherbaan she croons, sexy, seductive and she knows it.  
Kaise ho tum naujavaan, itne haseen mehmaan
Kaise karoon main bayaan, dil ki nahin hai zubaan
Maybe the dil  did not have a tongue, but Qamarsaab's lyrics did the needful. Who could resist? 

Set to OP Nayyar's foot-tapping score, Howrah Bridge propelled Qamarsaab to unparalleled heights of success. Mera naam chin chin choo, a runaway hit when the movie released, is one of the most re-mixed numbers today (which is a travesty, but is a rant for another day).

9. Zara idhar toh aa matwaali (Saazish / 1959 / SD Batish / Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhonsle)

A Punjabi folk tune that is very reminiscent of OP Nayyar compositions, I first credited it to the latter. I love the lilt that Qamarsaab incorporated into the lyrics, and composer SD Batish utilised the folk rhythms very well to give us this rollicking duet. Another facet of romance, with the teasing lyrics injecting just the right note of flirtatiousness.

Close competition for this director-lyricist collaboration came from the light Asha solo Tum ho mere sanam from the same movie.

10. Mere toote hue dil se (Chhalia / 1960 / Kalyanji-Anandji / Mukesh)
If Sun mere saajna was a song of separation and heartbreak, this is another facet of heartbreak - that of a man who knows what it is to love a woman who is unattainable. The heartbreak is not the less because of that. And Qamarsaab rose to the occasion with:
Maangi mohabbat paai judaai, duniya mujhko raas na aayi
pehle kadam par thokar khaayi
sadaa azaad rehte the hamein maloom hi kya tha
mohabbat kya bala hai
One of Kalyanji-Anandji's better scores, Chhalia had other lovely songs like Dum dum diga diga and Teri raahon mein.

11. Phir tumhari yaad aayi o sanam (Rustom Sohrab / 1963 / Sajjad Hussein / Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Saadat Khan)
One of the finest qawwalis in Hindi cinema, this was a musical feast where lyrics, composition and orchestration all came together. A song where men who are going to war remember their beloveds, it has some of the most poignant lyrics ever written. With separation close by, and perhaps, death not far beyond, the weary soldiers sing out their longing, and their promises to be true...

Jabse dekhi soorat unki, hum shama jalaana bhool gaye
rukhsaar ki surkhi kya kahiye phoolon ka fasaana bhool gaye
bas itni kahaani hai apni, jab aankh mili behosh hue
Daaman se hava tum kar na sake hum hosh mein aana bhool gaye
There is another song from this film that I love very much - a Suraiya solo, Yeh kaisi ajab daastan ho gayi hai. Both written by Qamarsaab, both singing of love, yet so different in treatment.

12. Kitne haseen ho tum (Yeh Dil Kisko Doon / 1963 / Iqbal Quereshi / Mohammed Rafi - Asha Bhonsle)
An obscure film with the lovely Raagini and a young Shashi Kapoor, this had a couple of decent songs. I liked this one as much for its lyrics as for its picturisation. A lovely romantic number with the lyrics suggesting quiet awe at the beauty of the heroine...
Rukh se naqaab uthaa do
soyi fiza jagaa do
pehle hamen bata do
kiska qaraar ho tum

Music director Iqbal Quereshi does well to keep the emphasis on the singer's voices; the instrumentation complements them without overcoming the emotions expressed. 

I regret that there still is not enough information about Qamar Jalalabadi saab, nothing about his career, for instance, or his association with certain music directors. Husnlal-Bhagatram, for instance, made use of his poetry quite intensively until they left the industry. I would have loved to have found some quotes from his peers, for instance, considering that they were mostly a close-knit group, collaborating together for the good of the finished project; even changing lines in the middle of rehearsals.

As can be seen in this YouTube clip of Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle rehearsing with OP Nayyar; and lyricist Qamar Jalalabadi making changes in the lines on the spot. It was intriguing because it gave a glimpse into how much the composer and lyricist refined the original output, and how the singers who came in to rehearse were there from beginning to end (and probably had a hand in discussing the singing too. Rafisaab certainly put in several of his own adas into each song. The collaboration was evident.

*Qamar Jalalbadi's daughter, Subhashini, has a website of her own, dedicated to her father and his songs. I thought of using that to confirm the facts that I had already collected, and Subhashini was gracious enough to give me permission to use anything I needed. It's then that I realised that any information anywhere on the web about Qamarsaab was written by Subhashini. There really is nothing else.

And that, is a crying shame.


  1. There is another song from Changez Khan that is in my opinion every bit as good as the more famous one by Rafi. It is a Lata solo "Jab raat nahi katati".
    It is very interesting in its execution, from the first strains of the taar shehnai followed by the softly plucked guitar strings, to Lata's entry.
    The tremolo in her  voice when she sings "zindagi kaise kategi" is beautifully controlled and  similarly the same effect is there when when she descends and sings "ashkon ne bhujayee hai"  the third time to come back to the dominant note.
    There is a lovely pizzicato by the string instruments in the first interlude supporting the woodwinds before she sings "de deke humme aansoo". This is well worth a second listen 

  2. "I find it strange that Geeta Dutt sang for Suraiya; I'd always thought that she sang all her own songs."

    Which song? Rahi matwale was sung by Suraiya. I am very curious!

    Shame on me I always thought that it is Qamal Jalalabadi.

    I only knew about half the songs in the list.The others were all new for me!
    From the unknown songs, I liked the Eight days song very much. It was a treat to hear young Burman dada sing.

    One of my favourite Qamar Jalalabadi song is woh paas rahe ya door rahe from Badi Behen

    The one song which I like the most from your list is hum na bhoolenge tumhe allah qasam from Rustom Sohrab

    and from the same film:
    ye kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai

    From Yeh Dil Kisko Doon, my favourite is phir yaad aane laga

    Thanks for this post with so much info and reminding us of Qamar Jalalabadi!

  3. Which song? Rahi matwale was sung by Suraiya. I am very curious!

    Aargh, harvey, that should teach me to not post without checking. Rahi matwale is definitely Talat-Suraiya; I got that confused with the Hum hain tere deewane from Shabistan (which does not have Suraiya at all!). *scurrying off to delete that comment!*

    Shame on me I always thought that it is Qamal Jalalabadi.

    :) Chalo, you have heard of him! That's a lot more than most people I know.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it, harvey. Ye kaisi ajab dastan was on my list - it took second place to the Qawwali for two reasons - one, Phir tumhari yaad aayi, ae sanam is a far better song, musically, at least and b) I wanted to use Ye kaisi ajab dastan in my Suraiya post. When I get around to doing one. :(

  4. Anu, I am so, so impressed by this post. Really. It is the poetry of our lyrics that makes for the immortality of so many of our songs and films. And it's a shame that we know so little of our poets. I must confess that I did not know Qamar Jalalabadi.

  5. Thank you for doing this post, Anu. You're right; lyricists are too often completely ignored. I did know about Qamar Jalalabadi, though not all that information about his childhood and so on... interesting.

    Most of the songs from the 40s that you posted were new to me - and one, which I like a lot, I saw for the first time today: Raahi matwaale. I so want to see Waaris now! I own a wonderful lobby card from the film, and discovering that it had this song has made me yearn to watch it.


  6. Thank you so much, Banno. Your comment made my day.

    There are names that I continuously see in the credits - Minoo Katrak, Raju Kamarkar, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Prem Dhawan, VK Murthy.... what do we know of any of them?

    I wish I were back in Bombay; I am getting the urge to track down as many people who are still around from those days, so I can talk to them and write down their experiences before it's lost to us forever. :(

  7. Thanks, Madhu. I knew about Qamar Jalalabadi, but only even knew that Qamar Jalalabadi was his 'takhallus' when my husband came home one day and said that someone on one of the forums he frequents said so. That intrigued me - a Hindu poet writing in Urdu.

    Isn't Raahi matwaale a wonderful picturisation?? Young Talat really did look very handsome. :) I loved the way they incorporated the noise of the train into the song.

  8. Dear Anuradha,

    I'm still listening to the Shamshad Begum songs you posted, and am slowly going through your old songs' section. Now you post this and give me some more songs to listen to. I cannot believe that you listen and like songs from the 40s also! I do not like using the computer very much, but because of you, I have been learning how to go through a website.

    God bless you.

    Ramnathan. K.S.

  9. I notice my father's commented. :) I have had to fight with my father to get my laptop back. :)) He's been listening to (and watching) songs day in and day out; he's so pleased at having figured out how to get to the older posts that if you publish some more lists, I think he will soon be computer literate! As of now, he's using my email id, but I think he'll soon want his own.

    Back to your post :) - I did know who Qamar Jalalabadi was but that's only because 'Aaayiye meherbaan' is one of my favourite numbers. Like one of the other commenters, his songs from the 40s are all 'new' to me. Of course, my father is using that to hit me over the head - 'See, SHE knows the old songs! She has good taste!' and other statements of the same manner. Of the earlier songs, only 'Sun mere saajna re' and 'Raahi matwale' are known to me. Lovely post as usual, Anu. I'm glad you're shining a light on the 'unknown' people.

  10. Wow Anu,this is amazing...i am moved to tears at ur mastery in presentation...a fitting tribute to my Dad and his songs.God bless and keep blogging!I guess I am not the only one singing praises of my Dad...there are sevearl symposiums and groups on internet who have recorded his achievements...and as i go thru those links i realise how vast this ocean of new information about vintage music is.

  11. Mr Ramnathan, than you! I'm glad that you like the songs I've posted. As for the 40s songs, the ones I know are the ones my father used to listen to - he had a whole bunch of old LPs, and it was he who introduced me to singers pre-50s. As I said before, I never used to like them much until I grew up. :)

  12. Sridhar, LOL. Maybe you should buy your father his own laptop? Should I apologise? :)

    I do apologise for being the reason you get those remarks, though. :(

  13. Subhashini, thank you! I'm glad to have done a bit. As I said, I wish there were more. But your father's songs will always stand testimony to his great talent.

  14. Loved watching the "live recording" video, a further insight and a chance to see something i have not seen before. And thank you for writing this post because I have never heard of 
    Qamar Jalalbadi either. After your post, I did try to look up the net for maybe a book someone might have mentioned him in, but didn't. It really is a crying shame. But as long as there are people like you to write about them, there's hope :)

  15. Welcome back, Neha! How's married life treating you so far? :)

    I'm glad you liked the post. Yes, it is a shame that we forget the people who made our songs and films and oh, so many, many things possible. As I was saying to Banno, I'm beginning to wish I were back in India. I have this dreadful urge to go rooting out people from that generation (how many of them are left?!) and record their memories...

  16. Married life is all well, and against many friends who doubted by culinary abilities, I am cooking and quite well  haha.. Glad to be back and reading your blog!

  17. Ha ha ha! I'm glad you proved your friends wrong.

  18. namskar
     what about 1947 mohan movie ???

  19.  I didn't get what you mean - would you mind elaborating? Thanks, Anu.


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