Sahir Ludhianvi’s name is synonymous with both Urdu poetry and literature. On Monday last, his innumerable fans celebrated his centenary by paying glowing tributes to this legendary literary figure, who without doubt could be considered as the greatest Urdu poet of the last century.
Sahir’s powerful lyrics and his command over the language propelled him to fame, which many of his contemporaries could never achieve. Some years ago, largely because of the efforts of former Delhi Police Commissioner and later Uttarakhand Governor, Dr K.K. Paul, President Pranab Mukherjee released a commemorative stamp in his honour at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was a small token for his contribution to the field of art, culture and literature, although he deserved much more and surely the Bharat Ratna.
Sahir was the first poet in the Indian film industry, who after the release of Guru Dutt’s “Pyaasa”, inspired by his life, commanded a price of Rs 1 lakh per film. The success of the movie also led to serious differences with music maestro, Sachin Dev Burman, on whether the songs of the film became superhits, due to the composition or the lyrics. The two never worked together after that.
In fact, one of the songs, “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Per Woh Kahan Hain…”, had satirical undertones which irked the ruling dispensation of the time, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru banned the song from being aired on the All India Radio. This song for many years could only be heard on Radio Ceylon. Such powerful were the words that they reflected poorly on those in power.
Super Star Dev Anand was a great fan of Sahir, and when he decided to produce “Hum Dono”, he signed the poet to pen the lyrics. Burman who was the primary composer of most movies produced under the Navketan banner, declined to do anything with the film and this provided his chief assistant, Jaidev, an opportunity to make his debut.
The result was that the combination churned out what till today is considered to be the most romantic song of the silver screen. “Abhi Na Jao Chhod Ke, Ke Dil Abhi Bhara Nahin…” become an instant hit and inspired many songs written in the same genre. The music, lyrics and the movie became a blockbuster with Dev Anand scaling new heights.
Sahir also combined very well with the rebel composer and rhythm king, O.P. Nayyar and the music of B.R. Chopra’s, “Naya Daur”, bagged a Filmfare award for the gifted composer and accolades for the lyricist. It was in this movie that another song, regarded by many as the most patriotic number, was picturized. This evergreen song, “Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka, Albelon Ka, Mastano Ka” is remembered for the kind of energy and patriotic fervor it reflects.
Sahir was a permanent fixture in all B.R. Chopra films and subsequently of Yash Chopra when the two brothers separated. In “Dhool Ka Phool”, Mohammad Rafi sang another unforgettable song, this time composed by N. Dutta that is considered as the truthful depiction of real secularism. The song, “Tu Hindu Banega Ya Musalmaan Banega, Insaan Ki Aulad Hai Insaan Baneyega”, is an integral part of the Indian film music.
Similarly, when B.R. Chopra decided to make an unconventional movie on adultery in the early 1960s, Sahir again rose to the occasion and created, along with composer Ravi and singer Mahendra Kapoor, another immortal number, “Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se, Ajnabi Ban Jayen Hum Dono”, in “Gumraah”.
Sahir’s film journey continued and he achieved one landmark after the other, the ultimate being when in Yash Chopra’s “Kabhi Kabhie”, also inspired by his life story, the poet with iconic composer, Khyaam, produced some unforgettable compositions, the best recollected being, “Mein Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon”.
Sahir was initially influenced by Iqbal but surpassed him subsequently. He was rusticated from Government College, Ludhiana when some jealous classmates reported to the authorities that he and his Sikh girlfriend, Ishwar, were holding each other’s hands in the college premises. The girl in question was also expelled and later eloped to Bombay with a tutor engaged by her parents to teach her at home. Sahir, who was madly in love with her, followed her to the film capital. By that time, many of his immortal songs had already been written by him and featured in his earlier books, “Talkhiyein” and “Sahir aur Uski Sahirka”. His name was also linked with Amrita Pritam but it was his first love that was what made him to write his best-known lyrics.
In the mid-1970s, before the release of “Kabhi Kabhie”, he would often visit our house in Moti Bagh; my maternal uncle and mother were contemporaries in the Government College, Ludhiana, though both were younger to him. He would arrive in a taxi from the Greater Kailash guest house of his publisher carrying a metallic tin of State Express 555 cigarettes and talk about his poetry and experiences, being fully aware that we were all his ardent fans.
Sahir was exceptionally close to his mother and therefore, all his songs on women being wronged, such as “Aurat ne Janam Diya Mardon Ko, Mardon Ne Usse Bazaar Diya…” from “Sadhna” presented his world view on injustice to women. He was a champion of the underprivileged and a reputed progressive writer.
It is 40 years since this genius passed away. However, his poetry and his contribution to both the world of cinema and literature remains undiminished. Sahir shall always be remembered. Between us.