Shailendra sahir-e-alfaaz aur musavvir-e-jazbaat thay.
(Shailendra was a wizard of words and a painter of feelings/emotions)
— Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in Urdu daily Inquilab
DECADES ago, Pt Bharat Vyas opined that “Hindi film jagat ki aatma uske sangeet mein basti hai” (The soul of Hindi film industry resides in its music). So very true. Music has been integral to Hindi films. Numerous singers have enriched music compositions and poets and lyricists have penned unforgettable numbers. The horizon has been so vast and the poet-lyricists have also been so good that it is practically a case of embarras de choix, too many to choose from. While there’s no denying the fact that Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi and Majrooh Sultanpuri were predominantly poets who also wrote immortal songs, it was Shailendra who got the sobriquet of Kaviraj (king of poets). In a constellation of great poet-lyricists, creating one’s own identity and forming a new idiom cannot be called a cakewalk. But he proved his mettle and went on to write nearly 900 songs in his rather short life. He passed away at the age of 43.
Having seen life from close quarters, Shailendra acquired a deep understanding of the vicissitudes of life. Whether it was ‘Barsaat mein tum se mile hum’ (‘Barsaat’, 1949), ‘Awaara hoon’ (‘Awaara’, 1951), ‘Dil ka haal sune dilwala’ (‘Shri 420’, 1955), ‘Chhoti si ye duniya’ (‘Rangoli’, 1962) or ‘Jeena yahan marna yahan’ (‘Mera Naam Joker’, 1970), Shailendra’s simple but highly effective language endeared these songs to the listeners of all hues. That’s the reason he is still equally adored by the masses and admired by the classes.
He never believed in philosophising life and intellectualising human existence. So, when he wrote ‘Wahan kaun hai tera’ (‘Guide’, 1965) or ‘Aaj kal mein dhal gaya din hua tamaam’ (‘Beti Bete’, 1964), the lyrics go straight to your heart, nay consciousness. Shailendra’s songs encapsulated wisdom expressed in commoners’ language. He was able to evoke a gamut of emotions. Just listen to ‘Ye raatein, ye mausam’ (‘Dilli ka Thug’, 1958) and ‘Khoya khoya chaand’ (‘Kala Bazaar’, 1960), and you are transported to a world where gossamer imaginations rule the roost. And when the word ‘gossamer’ appears, you instantaneously associate it with ‘Jaane kaise sapnon mein’ (‘Anuradha’, 1960). It warms the cockles of your heart. So do ‘Apni toh har aah ek toofaan hai’ (‘Kala Bazaar’, 1960) and ‘Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai’ (‘Guide’, 1965). The poignancy of Shailendra’s ‘Ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya ko babul’ (‘Bandini’, 1963) brings tears to the eyes.
‘Dost dost na raha’ from ‘Sangam’ is still verdant in public memory. So is that immortal lullaby, ‘Main gaaoon tum so jao’ (‘Brahmachari’, 1968). Shailendra was a master craftsman whose songs had uniqueness. ‘Din dhal jaaye hai raat na jaaye, tu toh na aaye teri yaad sataye’ (‘Guide’, 1965). This is the longest opening line in the history of Hindi film music in which lips don’t meet. This is known as nazawiz in Persian or oshth-vilag in Hindi (lips separated). Hum the line and you’ll see it for yourself!
Every woman’s favourite, ‘Ajeeb dastaan hai’ (‘Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi’, 1960), proves Shailendra’s emotive abilities as a soulful and discerning poet-lyricist. He had a masterly command of Hindi as well as Urdu. Listen to his ‘Hum aapki mahfil mein bhoole se chale aaye’ (‘Jab Se Tumhein Dekha Hai’, 1963). The way he used words like ‘gardish’ and ‘gila’, one is bound to appreciate his choice of Urdu words. The same Shailendra adroitly used the word ‘pakheroo’ (bird) in ‘Yaad na jaaye’ (‘Dil Ek Mandir’, 1963). He could seamlessly shuttle between Urdu and Hindi. Though he was able to emote and evoke in myriad ways, a close study may reveal that it was the lyricist’s embedded pain, pathos and aloneness that often surfaced in his songs: ‘Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamaar’ (‘Teesri Kasam’, 1966), ‘Dua kar gham-e-dil Khuda se dua kar’ (‘Anarkali’, 1953).
Shailendra’s poetry wasn’t cheap rhyming. It was a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings as William Wordsworth defined poetry. The quintessential example is ‘Dharti kahe pukaar ke’ (‘Do Bigha Zameen’, 1953). He had a fine rapport with Salil Chowdhury with whom he teamed up in films like ‘Madhumati’, ‘Heera Moti’, ‘Honeymoon’, ‘Parakh’, ‘Usne Kaha Tha’, ‘Ek Gaon Ki Kahani’, among others.
Shailendra’s song ‘O sajna, barkha bahaar aayee’ is still ensconced in the hearts of the cognoscenti. Can we ever forget ‘Toote hue khwabon ne’ or ‘Chadh gayo paapi bichhua’ (both from ‘Madhumati’)? Shailendra no doubt made the Raj Kapoor-Shankar-Jaikishan team complete, but he successfully worked with other composers of his time as well. Shailendra also wrote lyrics for several Bhojpuri films. He penned songs for Nazir Hussain’s ‘Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo’, the first Bhojpuri film. Its song, ‘Sonwa ke pinjra mein’ (composer Chitragupt Shrivastav), stands out.
The failure of ‘Teesri Kasam’, which was produced by Shailendra, proved fatal for the sensitive poet. His death was a veritable blow to Hindi film music, but his legacy continues and will continue to enthral those who have a refined taste for good and mellifluous music. This is his centenary year. Let’s play and listen to the gems that he penned many moons ago.
Making of a poet
“Shayari aur kahani muflisi mein soojhti hai” (Poetry and story-telling occur during penury), wrote Munshi Premchand, who himself lived in abject poverty and still produced a magnificent oeuvre of creative works. Shailendra also had a similar background. Born in Rawalpindi, his ancestors belonged to Ara district of Bihar. Born into a Dalit family, he lost his mother and sister at a young age. As a child, he had to face casteist slurs and jibes but that didn’t break him. Rather, his resolve to leave footprints on the sands of time increased manifold. His tryst with communism or his battles of navigating the world as a Dalit lent profundity to his poetry. His leftist and egalitarian leanings made him create the famous slogan “Har zor-zulm ki takkar mein, hartal hamara nara hai” (Strike is our weapon against every atrocity, every excess); this is used by protesters even today. As a taciturn and sensitive man, he let his written words speak as he believed that written words remain, spoken words vanish. Raj Kapoor called Shailendra the ‘Pushkin of India’ and Babu Jagjivan Ram called him ‘the greatest Dalit poet since Sant Ravidas’. The lyricist had five kids. One of the sons, Shaily Shailendra, also became a lyricist and another, Dinesh Shankar Shailendra, is a filmmaker.
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