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24 May 2021

The Masters: Majrooh Sultanpuri

01.10.1919 - 24-05.2000

My love for poetry, specifically Hindi poetry, was influenced by the Karnataka SSC Board, which had decided to make Hindi one of our 1st language choices. This meant that apart from reading excellent Hindi literature, we were also introduced to some of Hindi poetry’s stalwarts – Mahadevi Varma, Sumitranandan Pant, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Suryakant Tripathi, Maithili Sharan Gupt, Harivanshrai Bachchan, as well as the dohas of Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, etc.

Growing up with my film-crazy father also meant that film music was an integral part of my childhood. When I listen to songs, while it’s the melody that initially captures my attention, it’s the lyrics that keep me engrossed. The words have magic. They transport me to other worlds, touch an emotional core within me, and express what I feel but cannot say. 

But for all my love of words, there were very few lyricists whose work I could identify solely by listening to their words. Yet, I ‘knew’ them – through their verse, their words, the emotions they expressed so beautifully. And in some of those songs, surely, I had ‘met’, known and loved Majrooh Sultanpuri?

Born Asrar-ul-Hasan Khan in Nizamabad, Azamgarh district, where his father Siraj Haq Khan was a police constable, the young lad first began writing poetry under the pen name ‘Naseh’. It wasn’t until he fell prey to unrequited love that his pen name changed to ‘Maj-rooh’ (literally ‘wounded soul’). ‘Sultanpuri’ was added because he worked as a hakim for a few years at Sultanpur.

Educated in the traditional manner, Asrar became proficient in Arabic and Persian, apart from Urdu and religious studies. He also studied Unani medicine, meaning to become a traditional hakim, but didn’t practice very long. Meeting legendary Urdu poet Jigar Moradabadi at a mushaira was a turning point. ‘Jigar’ would soon become Majrooh’s mentor, and while the latter never copied him, it is fair to say that Jigar’s poetry shaped his own writing.

It was Jigar who was also responsible for introducing Majrooh to films. At a mushaira in Bombay in 1945, Majrooh made the acquaintance of producer AR Kardar. Impressed by the young man’s talent, Kardar requested him to write the songs for his Shahjehan (1946). In an interview in later years, Majrooh narrated how he very nearly rejected the offer. It was Jigar, he said, who told him that writing for films would help keep his home fires burning.

When he passed music director Naushad’s ‘test’ of writing to a given metre (Jab usne ghesu bikhraaye baadal aaye jhoom ke), his career had officially begun.

Unfortunately, before he could establish himself as a lyricist, his leftist leanings got him into trouble with the authorities and he was jailed for two years. Then, in 1948-49, he collaborated with Naushad again for Mehboob Khan’s Andaz. However, fate conspired again – at a mill workers’ union meeting in 1949, Majrooh, disillusioned by Nehruvian socialism, recited a poem calling Jawaharlal Nehru a ‘slave of the commonwealth’ and ‘Hitler’.

 Aman ka jhanda is dharti pe kisne kaha lahraaye na paaye
Ye bhi koi Hitler ka hai chela maar le saathi jaane na paaye
Commonwealth ka das hai Nehru maar le saathi jaane na paaye
An arrest warrant was issued against him by Morarji Desai, then-Governor of Bombay, which forced Majrooh to go into hiding to elude arrest. Around this time fellow Progressive poets Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’ and Sajjad Zaheer were imprisoned for their alleged involvement in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Majrooh came out of hiding to participate in a protest meeting against their incarceration and was arrested and lodged at the Arthur Road Jail in Bombay for a year.  
Majrooh continued to be fiercely opinionated, courting arrest during the Sino-Indian War (1962) and even during the Emergency when, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, he fearlessly recited:  
Sutoon-e-daar par rakhte chalo saron ke chiraagh
Jahan talak ye sitam ki siyaah raat chale
But he was to soon be disillusioned with the communist party as well. When the Party split, the heart-broken poet wrote:
Hum ko junoon kya sikhlaate ho, hum the pareshaan tum se ziyaada
Chaak kiye hain hum ne azizo char garebaan tum se zyaada 

Majrooh’s poetry transcended romance, speaking instead of societal injustices and man-made barriers. Yet, for a man who dismissed his work in Hindi films, he had a long, eventful career that spanned five decades, collaborating with celebrated music directors from Naushad, Anil Biswas, Salil Choudhury and SD Burman to the generations that came after them – RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Jatin-Lalit, Anand-Milind etc.

In 1993, Majrooh was the first lyricist to be awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Twenty years later, the Government of India issued a postal stamp commemorating him. 


Majrooh’s simple turns of phrase expressed the most profound emotions. With more than 6,000 songs in over 300 films to his credit, Majrooh’s poetry traversed the gamut from the soulfully romantic to philosophical, cynical and devotional. As with the other music directors, singers and lyricists whose work I’ve chronicled, it is difficult to choose just a handful of songs – I’ve tried to illuminate his versatility, but mostly, these are songs that I love. 

 1. Gham diye mustaqil
Shahjahan (1946)
Singer: KL Saigal
Music: Naushad 
I’m not a great fan of Saigal, but there are some Saigal songs that touch me deeply, and this is one of them. Though it was titled Shahjahan, the movie focused more on the travails of a lovelorn poet, Suhel (KL Saigal), Roohi (Nasreen), the object of his affections, and Amir Ali Shirazi (P Jairaj), his rival for Roohi’s affections.
Saigal spends a lot of time with his arms akimbo singing sad love songs, and in this, Majrooh captures the intensity of a poet’s heartbreak.
Dil ke haathon se daaman chhudakar 
Gham ki nazron se nazaren bachakar 
Uth ke woh chal diye 
Kahte hi rah gaye hum fasaana 
Haay haay ye zaalim zamana
Arzoo (1950)
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Music: Anil Biswas 
Majrooh didn’t get his takhallus for nothing – he knew the pain of a wounded heart. 
Here, a small ghazal that is a soft ode to heartbreak, lending pathos to the journey of a man who desires nothing more than to be left alone with the ache.
Jaa kar kahin kho jaaun main 
Neend aaye to so jaaun main 
Duniya mujhe doondhe magar 
 Mera nishaan koi na ho…
3. Beqaraar hai koi
Shama Parwana (1954)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Suraiya
Music: Husnlal-Bhagatram
We all know great songs that transcend the films they are in. Shama Parwana is a boiling hot mess (pun intended) but Husnlal-Bhagatram composed a round dozen songs for the movie. 
This one talks of the restlessness of lovers for whom every moment of separation is an aeon. Majrooh uses metaphors – Dasti hai naagin si furqat ki raatein and very descriptive phrases -
Hansna hai bas mein na rona hai bas mein 
Mahlon mein rah kar woh qaid-e-qafas mein 
- to describe the lovers’ plight. 
4. Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji 
Mr & Mrs 55
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Geeta Dutt
Music: OP Nayyar 
 Majrooh’s collaboration with OP Nayyar produced some very fine songs indeed, so the choices were infinite. I wavered between Hoon abhi main jawan ae dil from Aar Paar, while my husband suggested Meri duniya lut rahi thi Finally, I picked Jaane kahaan mera jiga gaya ji, since it is a fine example of the conversational song for which Majrooh was justly famous.  
The poor man (Johnny Walker) has lost his ‘jigar’, or so he says. If he was hoping for sympathy, he isn’t getting any - ’Yahaan use laaye kaahe ko bina kaam re?’  As flirtations go, he isn’t getting very far with her, though the sparks are there. 
And Majrooh was clearly having fun with the lyrics:
Kahin dar ke maare chooha toh nahin ho gaya 
Kone kone dekha na jaane kahaan kho gaya

And since they do spend some time looking for the missing jigar in the corners, between the files, under the tables… a rollicking good time is had by all. 

5. Saanwle salone dekho din bahaar ke
Ek Hi Rasta (1956)
Singers: Hemant Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Hemant Kumar 
A film lyricist must be versatile, writing songs that for various milieus, encompassing various emotions, and for every context under the sun. 
Here, a little family – father (Sunil Dutt), mother (Meena Kumari), son (Daisy Irani) – is on a happy cycling jaunt through the countryside. Hemant Kumar composes – and sings, in tandem with Lata Mangeshkar – a light, frothy tune complemented by Majrooh’s lyrics that notes the flowers, the call of the koel, the river side, etc., distilling the very essence of springtime.
Jhoom ke pawan dekho chali 
Pyar ke nashe mein khili kali 
Phoolon ke dar pe ye bhanwra pukar
Aaye deewane tere intezaar ke
6. O nigahein mastana
Paying Guest (1957)
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle
Music: SD Burman
The SD-Majrooh collaboration began in earnest after Pyaasa and continued until the former’s death. Like the OP Nayyar-Majrooh collaboration, it is hard to pick just one song. I’ve already done one post on some of my favourite songs of the duo, and so my choices whittled down to Hothon pe aisi baat (Jewel Thief) and Hai apna dil to awara (Solva Saal) before I picked this for its lyrics. 
Majrooh writes about a man so intoxicated by his beloved’s gaze - her eyes are as soft as muslin, he says, how can he not be maddened by them? The tone may be playful, but the feelings are intense.
Koyi dekhe nasheeli aankhen malmal ke 
Dil kaise bane na deewaana 
Shama kare hai ishaare jab jal jalke 
Kaho kya kare parwaana 
7. Desi kya bidesi
Lal Batti (1957)
Singers: Shamshad Begum, Manna Dey
Music: Salil Choudhury 
Shamshad Begum sang only three songs for Salil Choudhury. This rollicking number is one of them. This is not a typical Salilda tune, neither are the lyrics typical Majrooh (nor are they usual for the time). 
Tum ko thokar maari 
I'm very sorry 
Tum ko hamaara salaam hai 
Jaao ji dii maafi
Itna hi hai kaafi 
Ulfat ka banda ghulaam hai  

Lal Batti is also significant for the fact that it was co-directed by Balraj Sahni (with Krishna Chopra) and supposedly, this song was picturised on him and Sulochana. However, the film also (supposedly) starred Mala Sinha, Shashikala and Jawahar Kaul, or so says IMDB.

The other Salilda film for which Majrooh wrote the lyrics was Apradhi Kaun – the delightful Koi dekhe to kahe was on my shortlist.

8. Tere khat leke sanam
Ardhangini (1959)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Vasant Desai 
One thing I have noticed about the best male lyricists (and this includes Sahir, Shakeel and Shailendra) is how attuned they are to women’s feelings. Here, for instance, is Majrooh, describing the joy of waiting (and getting) for a letter. The surge of excitement when you hear the postman’s bell, the quick steps slowing down just as you reach the door (or in this instance, the gate) so you can pretend you weren’t waiting, holding the letter but not opening it just yet…
Is mein jo baat hogi badi qaatil hogi 
Teri aawaaz bhi in baaton mein shaamil hogi
Ye dil thahre zara, nazar thahre zara 
Sun phir teri sadaa hum 
Tere khat leke sanam paanv kahin rakhte hain hum

Chhaya (Meena Kumari) knows who the letter is from, and she can also guess at its contents. But she’s so delirious with joy at hearing from him that she needs to take a moment to calm down before she can read it.

9. Kaun ye aaya mehfil mein
Dil Deke Dekho (1959)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi, Usha Khanna
Music: Usha Khanna
It is hard enough to write poetry, but it is harder still to write to a definite metre. Most lyricists learn quickly enough to do so. Here, it is interesting to see how a song, a straight lift of Paul Anke’s Diana, is transformed into an anthem of young love’s rebellion. When Raja/Roop (Shammi Kapoor) is told he has to stay away from Neeta (Asha Parekh), his reaction is to precipitate the very showdown that his mother is trying to avoid. 
And so, Majrooh strikes a defiant tone:
Leke mera dil yun tu ne 
Aankh jhuka li kyun tu ne
Tu ne yahi socha hoga 
Sunti hai mehfil kya hoga 
Kya hoga ye kis ko padi 
Hosh kahaan jab aankh ladi 
Aankh ladi dil haar diya 
Teri ada ne maar diya, dilruba… meri Neeta!

10. Thandi hawa ye chandni suhani
Jhumroo (1961)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Kishore Kumar 
Majrooh’s lyrics seem to suggest that it is the journey that is important – pause, reflect, walk on. Your destination may be unknown, but there’s joy to be had in the here and now. So, listen to your heart. 
Aise main chal raha hoon pedon ki chhaaon mein 
Jaise koi sitaara baadal ke gaaon mein
Mere dil tu suna koi aisi daastaan 
Jisko sun kar, mile chain mujhe meri jaan
Manzil hai anjaani…
11. Baar baar dekho
China Town (1962)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Ravi 
There is a mistaken notion that poetry must be serious to be ‘good’. But a good lyricist is one who can cut his suit to fit the cloth as the saying goes. 

Here, a young man (Shammi Kapoor), is serenading his beloved – he’s so in love with her he wants everyone to know how wonderful she is. So, when patrons of the restaurant get up to leave, he is not loth to tell them off – humorously, of course.
Balle balle, uth ke mister kyun chale
Pyar pe mere kaho kyun jale 
Baith bhi jaao meherbaan 
Dua kare mile tumhe bhi aisa dilruba
12. Dil ki tamanna
Gyaarah Hazaar Ladkiyan
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
N Dutta 
An often-overlooked music director, N Dutta had some fabulous compositions to his name. 
Here, Majrooh spins a ‘bewafa’ song, but the accusations are gentler, and there’s a gentle air of melancholy in:
Yaadon ki dhool aankhon mein hai 
Daaman ki hasrat haathon mein hai 
Khwaabon ke veerane mein tanha 
Thak gayi raahi chalte 
Yes, she gets the point.
13. Dil ka diya jala ke gaya
Akashdeep (1965)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Like N Dutta, Chitragupt had some fabulous melodies to his credit as well. This one is a particularly sweet one. 
Majrooh captures the wonder and joy of freshly awakened hopes and dreams in:
Khwaab jaagi aankhon se milne ko aaye
Pyaar armaanon ka dar khatkhataaye
Kitne saaye dol pade sooni si angnaayi mein
Dil ka diya jala ke gaya 
Ye kaun meri tanhaaii mein

What a beautiful, almost visceral description! Unfortunately, the film itself was allegedly a mess. (Dustedoff had once done a hilarious ‘review’ of this film.)

14. Thahriye hosh mein aa loon
Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain (1965)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi, Suman Kalyanpur
Music: Khayyam
This is a quintessential romantic song – the man (Shashi Kapoor) requesting his beloved (Nanda) to leave only after he regains consciousness. 
How long will they live apart? Come, he invites her, reside in his heart. But she is too shy to even admit her love. He has no patience for such shyness.   
Aisi kya sharm zara paas to aane deeje
Rukh se bikhri huyi zulfon ko hataane deeje
Pyaas aankhon ko bujha doon to chala jaaiyega
Thahriye hosh mein aa loon to chala jaaiyega
15. Chhupa lo yun dil mein pyaar mera
Mamta (1966)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar
Music: Roshan 
When l wrote about ghazals in films, I mentioned Rehte the kabhi jin ke – a scathing condemnation of a lover’s betrayal. This song, however, is quite the opposite – almost a prayer, so devotional is it in its expression of love. Well past the first flush of youthful passion, it’s a love that’s grown, deep and sincere, yet is constrained to remain silent. 
Majrooh draws upon the imagery of a lamp in a temple, a flower offered to the deity, the sacred ash, to reflect a love that is almost spiritual in its intensity, ending with a plea never to be separated again:
Ye aag birha ki mat lagaana 
Ki jalke main raakh ho chuki hoon 
Ye raakh maathe pe maine rakh li 
Ke jaise mandir mein lau diye ki
The love and devotion are mutual, and so is the heartbreak.

16. Tumne mujhe dekha
Teesri Manzil (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: RD Burman 
I was initially going to choose Daiyya ye main kahaan aa phansi because it is such a whackadoodle song in its music, picturisation and lyrics – I mean, how does one come up with ‘Kali si murgi ud gayi kidhar tu ru tu ru/ Deke anda kahaan ja phansi’? But this song, with its unintended irony - he has written her a letter revealing a terrible secret, and assumes she is here because she’s forgiven him) and inherent pathos (this was the first song that Shammi Kapoor shot for after Geeta Bali’s death)? Majrooh’s lyrics not only convey his love for her, but also his gratitude, of things that were, and now is.
Kahin dard ke sehra se rukte chalte hote 
In hothon ki hasrat mein tapte jalte hote
Meherbaan ho gayi zulf ki badariyaa 
Jaaneman, jaan-e-jaan…
And her journey too, ends here –
Aakhir woh mere dil tak kadmon ke nishaan pahunche
Khatm se ho gaye raaste sab yahaan…
17. Hum hai mat’a-e-kuucha-o-bazaar ki tarah
Dastak (1970)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Madan Mohan 
Dastak had one lovely song after another, with Mai ri being a particular favourite. But this one – a ghazal not originally written for this film – is particularly scathing, with its plaint of a woman who, by a twist of fate, is objectified by the men who surround her. Their constant leering upsets her husband (they live in a house that was previously occupied by a prostitute) who constrains her from singing or dancing lest it bring more unwarranted attention. 
But now, forced by circumstances to sing for an old client of the previous occupant, Salma (Rehana Sultan) can only express her anguish through her song, even though she feels like a commodity doing so.
‘Majrooh’ likh rahe hai vo ahl-e-vafaa ka naam
Hum bhi khade hue hain gunahgaar ki tarah

Madan Mohan would win the only award of his career – the National Award – for the score of the film.

18. Roz shaam aati hai
Imtihaan (1974)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
There’s a hint of wistfulness in this song, almost as if she’s surprised by the difference that he has made in her life.
Roz shaam aati thi magar aisi na thi 
Roz roz ghata chhaati thi magar aisi na thi 
Ye aaj meri zindagi mein kaun aa gaya….
It’s also a song of hope, of fresh beginnings, of learning to trust and of letting herself believe in these new feelings. Majrooh’s lyrics capture the nuances very well indeed.

19. Pehla nasha pehla khumar
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992)
Singer: Udit Narayan,
Sadhana Sargam
Music: Jatin-Lalit
If there’s one song that shows you how relevant Majrooh remained, it is this lovely song that talks of the rush of first love. The intervening decades had brought about a sea change in the man-woman relationship, in the expression of love, and even in its language. For Majrooh, then in his seventies, to be able to express all of it with such youthfulness, such freshness, showed a new generation of Hindi film [song] lovers that you didn’t necessarily have to be young to be youthful.
Udta hi phiroon in hawaaon mein kahin  
Ya main jhool jaaoon in ghataaon mein kahin
Ek kar doon aasmaan aur zameen 
 Kaho yaaron kya karoon ya nahiin
Pehla nasha pehla khumaar 
Naya pyaar hai naya intezaar
Kar loon main kya apna haal Ae dil-e-beqaraar,
Mere dil-e-beqaraar, tu hi bataa… 
The beauty of the lyrics lay in its simplicity, in the unabashed joie de vivre of the young who believe that love is theirs by right, but who, like their parents and their grandparents before them, begin to realize that falling in love turns everything topsy-turvy. The dreams of doing the impossible, the confusion of not knowing what exactly to do, Majrooh’s pen painted these fragile emotions with a delicate hand. 
Majrooh's journey can be summed up in his couplet: 
Main akela hi chala tha jaanib-e-manzil magar
Log saath aate gaye aur kaarvaan banta gaya 
And we are indeed privileged to be part of that caravan. Which songs of Majrooh's would you add?

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