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Remembering Sahir Ludhianvi, the rare ‘poet’ among Bollywood lyricists

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Sahir Ludhianvi was Bollywood’s foremost poet-lyricist for three decades, till a heart attack ended his journey on 25 October 1980.

Chandigarh: The epithet ‘poet’ can seldom be applied to Hindi film lyricists. But it certainly sits well on Sahir Ludhianvi.

Caught in the necessities of rhyme and rhythm, most lyricists take the route of ‘tukbandi’ (finding random rhyming words and filling out lines to go along). Very few have had the talent to grow an idea outwards, like a poem should. Gulzar certainly springs to mind, but before there was Gulzar, Sahir was Bollywood’s resident Urdu poet-lyricist, the kind whose shayari formed the crux of Guru Dutt’s melancholy poet character in the classic Pyaasa (1957).

After a troubled childhood marked by his parents’ divorce and battle for his custody, the man from Ludhiana found an outlet in Urdu shayari, publishing his first collection Talkhian (Bitterness) in 1943, when he was just 22 years old. He was in Lahore editing journals at the time.

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A few years later, Sahir shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai), and by the mid-1950s, had established himself among the leading lights of Hindi film music, becoming a favourite of directors and composers like Guru Dutt, S.D. Burman, Yash Chopra, Ravi, Roshan and Khayyam.

Sahir ruled this kingdom for nearly 30 years, till a heart attack ended his journey on 25 October 1980. But even 38 years on, Sahir’s words are foremost in the minds of the millions who love Hindi film music. Sample some of these absolute gems:

The early hits

Sahir’s first superhit song, Thandi hawayein lehrake aayein, came in the film Naujawan, composed by S.D. Burman and sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

But the songs that really brought him into limelight were from Guru Dutt’s directorial debut, Baazi, starring Dev Anand, also scored by the senior Burman. Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le is a prime example.

Over the next six years, Sahir and S.D. Burman combined to give 1950s Bollywood a fresh musical identity, parallel to the Shailendra-Hasrat Jaipuri-Shankar-Jaikishan combination that Raj Kapoor had promoted.

In Jaal, this same combination produced memorable numbers like Yeh raat yeh chaandni phir kahan and Chori chori meri gali aana hai bura.

Pyaasa — the turning point 

Perhaps the most significant milestone in Sahir’s Bollywood sojourn was Pyaasa, which belonged as much to him as to actor-director Guru Dutt.

Numerous songs and a host of dialogues were based on his bitter, cynical poetry, including Yeh kooche yeh neelaam ghar dilkashi ke; Jaane woh kaise log the jinke; Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai; Jinhe naaz hai hind par wo kahan hain and Tang aa chuke hain kashmakash-e-zindagi se hum.

The same year, 1957, saw the break-up of the Sahir-Burman partnership, and the formation of a new one between Sahir and O.P. Nayyar, beginning with the famous Naya Daur and Ude jab jab zulfein teri.

The next year came an underappreciated classic called Phir Subah Hogi, set to music by Khayyam and starring Raj Kapoor.

The film, most famous for the song Woh subah kabhi to aayegi, featured one of Sahir’s most brilliant creations — a critique of Nehruvian India through the subversion of Allama Iqbal’s Cheen-o-Arab humara, which itself was a spin on his Saare jahan se achha Hindustan hamara.

Sahir wrote Cheen-o-Arab humara, Hindustan humara, rehne ko ghar nahin hai, saara jahan humara.

On the flip side, Sahir showcased his romantic prowess with Phir na keeje meri gustaakh nigaahi ka gila.

By 1960, Barsaat Ki Raat had made Sahir the emperor of his trade. The double qawwali composed by Roshan, Na to kaarvaan ki talaash hai/Ye ishq ishq is among Sahir’s greatest masterpieces.

Hum Dono — the two Sahirs

Dev Anand-starrer Hum Dono (1961) took Sahir to new heights in both the romantic genre and the philosophical.

Built around Jaidev’s memorable tune that played when Dev Anand flicked his cigarette lighter, both Abhi na jaao chhod kar and Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya are songs that even those born after the millennium have taken to heart. Also in this film were the amazing bhajan Allah tero naam, ishwar tero naam and the despondent Kabhi khud pe kabhi haalat pe rona aaya.

After an inconsequential 1962, the next year brought with it another all-time great song in Laaga chunari mein daag from Dil Hi To Hai, as well as Chalo ik baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayein hum dono from Gumraah.

He won his first Filmfare Award for Jo waada kiya wo nibhaana padega from Taj Mahal, composed by Roshan.

Waqt was another milestone, featuring legendary songs like Aye meri zohra jabeen and Aage bhi jaane na tu, as well as the ethereal Hum jab bhi simat ke aap ki baahon mein aa gaye.

Decline and return to the top

Over the next few years, Sahir went off the boil. But genius can only be kept down for so long.

In 1973, he returned with Aa Gale Lag Jaa, scored by R.D. Burman, which featured the peppy Vaada karo nahin chhodogi tum mera saath and the sentimental Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi.

Yash Chopra’s first independent production Daag (1973) saw Sahir once again at the top of his game with Laxmikant Pyarelal compositions like Mere dil mein aaj kya hai, Ab chaahe maa roothe ya baba, Hum aur tum and Ni mein yaar manana nee chahe log boliya bole. And yet, it was Rajesh Khanna’s recitation of his iconic poem Main to kuchh bhi nahin that stays in the mind forever.

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The year also saw Kishore Kumar render Sahir’s Kiska rasta dekhe from Joshila with just the perfect emotion.

In 1975, Sahir wrote songs for Deewar, but it was a lesser-known film Ek Mahal Ho Sapnon Ka that got Sahir more attention, thanks to Dil mein kisi ke pyaar ka, performed by Lata, and Kishore’s Dekha hai zindagi ko itna kareeb se.

And then came Kabhi Kabhie, perhaps the first whole album (and film) since Pyaasa to carry Sahir’s stamp so completely.

Through the likes of Trishul and Kala Patthar, Sahir showed his ability to adapt to the changing sensibilities of the audience, while retaining his philosophical thought — Ik raasta hai zindagi from the latter film being a prime example.

Sahir’s final projects before his untimely death were Chambal Ki Kasam, Insaaf Ka Tarazu and Ravi Chopra’s The Burning Train, which featured perhaps his parting shot to the world — the metaphor of life through an ill-fated train journey:

Pal do pal ka saath humara, pal do pal ke yaaraane hain.

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  1. He lives in the hearts of every music lover with his unparalleled excellence. Thanks for a nostalgic run .

  2. Feeling nostalgic after reading this article..He gave the best songs ..Thanks for reviving old days…just loved the article

  3. Excellent article. Thanks for reviving the nostalgia about Sahir Ludhianvi-S.D.Burman songs. Please allow me to add one more to your list. (I hope the link works. It’s from a movie called FUNTOOSH.)

    You are right about Sahir’s unique place as an authentic poet-lyricist. There was also Shakeel Badayuni, who almost always teamed up with the legendary Naushad. They were all giants!

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