In an illustrious career spanning over a few decades, there was no dearth of awards but the real reward is the adulation of the people which kept Majrooh Sultanpuri going till a ripe old age
The song, Chah Barbaad Karegi Hemen...’ from KL Saigal’s film, Shahjehan (1946) and ‘Papa kehte hain...’ from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1989) happen to be among the most popular songs of the era in which they appeared. Separated by more than four decades, one is full of expectations and hope besides uncertainties of future, while the other reflects a mood of despondency and being on the abyss of a deep depression. Both the songs stand in complete contrast to each other in style as well as meter. But despite the obvious generational gap, they have an organic commonality and that is the genius of Majrooh Sultanpuri.
Even as a student at Lucknow, Majrooh’s talent had become well-recognised on the Mushaira circuit. Inspired by poet Jigar Moradabadi and under the guidance of Rashid Ahmad Siddiqui of the Aligarh Muslim University, he was able to hone his skills as a ghazal writer and had almost become a celebrity at a very young age with invitations from all over the country.
It was his lucky break that during one such mushaira in Mumbai, the famous film producer of the 1940s, Abdur Rashid Kardar, was present. Kadar could immediately sense Majrooh Sultanpuri’s potential as a superbly talented poet and offered him the lyrics of Shah Jehan (1946). This was virtually a dream debut for Majrooh Sultanpuri beyond imagination as it was a Kardar film with music by Naushad. The icing on the cake, however, was that his lyrics were to be given the voice on-screen by none other than KL Saigal himself.
Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics for Shah Jehan was not only able to capture the mood of the character but also reflected the overall atmospherics of the film. Saigal became so obsessed with the song, ‘Jab dil hi toot gaya toh ji kar kya karenge’ that as willed by him, this song was played at the time of his cremation.
Majrooh’s language skills sharpened over a six-year period at Lucknow. This coupled with his natural talent as a poet helped him fine-tune his knack for penning down situational lyrics, befitting the character on screen and in line with the meter of the music and tune. He, in a way, became the pioneer in the field of writing lyrics to an already prepared tune, a trend which has continued ever since.
It was this felicity of Majrooh that endured him for over five decades and a few thousand lyrics to give us some memorable ghazals, songs on foot-tapping beats as well as pure classicals. Getting under the skin of a character, visualising the situation in context of the storyline and then writing lyrics on a tune can be a formidable challenge. Nevertheless, Majrooh not only handled it all with aplomb but went on to perfect this art as was seen in Mehboob’s works like Andaz, Bimal Roy’s Sujata, Suchitra Sen starrer Mamta, Nassir Hussain’s Yaadon Ki Baaraat, and Teesri Manzil and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimaan.
He was very well-equipped even to handle the inimitable yodelling of Kishore as in Jewel Thief (1967) with his song, ‘Yeh dil na hota bechara’, becoming a chartbuster or Panch rupaiya barah aana from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), both composed by SD Burman. Incidentally, Dada (as everybody called SD lovingly) and Majrooh shared a common date of birth and made a hit pair in films like Solva Saal, Kala Pani, Baat Ek Raat Ki, Teen Devian and many more.
After Dada, it was RD Burman who ushered a new wave in film music. Undaunted, Majrooh fitted into the new paradigm. It was as if they were made for each other. After Dada and RD, Majrooh had the distinction of transiting and working with the new generation wth effortless ease. For instance, he worked with Rajesh Roshan after Roshan and Anand Milind after Chitragupta. This signified his strength as well as flexibility to meet this youthful change without compromising on the core philosophy of his poetry.
Like all youngsters, Majrooh of the late 1940s was a firebrand poet and soon came at the forefront of the Leftist movement. In fact, the Bombay film world and the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) of the 1940s and the early 1950s had several towering personalities like Balraj Sahni, Chetan Anand, Kaifi Azmi and KA Abbas, who keept the Leftist movement alive. However, Majrooh was a step ahead of them in activities and had to even spend a brief period in Byculla jail.
In an illustrious career spanning a few decades, there was no dearth of awards for him but the real reward was the adulation of the public which kept Majrooh going even till a ripe old age. The usual Bombay film politics made sure that he got just one Filmfare award for Dosti (1964) but his crowning glory was the official recognition and the very first Dada Saheb Phalke Award (1993) as a lyricist. Later, a postage stamp was also issued by the Government in his honour.
Some of his Majrooh’s breezy hits include Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya from Shah Jehan (1946); Kahe Agar Jeevan Bhar from Andaz (1949); Chand Phir Nikla, Magar Tum Na Aaye from Paying Guest (1957); Jalte Hain Jiske Liye from Sujata (1959); Chahunga Main Tujhe Saanjh Savere from Dosti 1964 for which he got the best lyrisist award; Rahe na rahe hum mehka karenge from Mamta (1966); Yaadon Ki Baaraat from Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973); Ek Din Bik Jaayega Mati Ke Mol from Dharam Karam (1975); Kala Pani Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Kala Pani (1958); and Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Karega from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1989).
Having led the famous celebrated quartet of Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi and Qamar Jalalabadi (unfortunately Sahir passed away very young, way back in 1980) Majrooh was one of those Urdu poets who not only entertained but enriched the Indian cinema and its culture. In the current scenario, except for Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, who are carrying the torch forward, this rich legacy appears to be clearly in danger of being lost.
(The writer is a retired Delhi Police Commissioner and former Uttarakhand Governor)