“Main akela chala tha jaanib-e-manzil magar
Log saath aate gaye, karavaan banta gaya.”
(Alone I started off towards my destination but then people came along and soon there was a caravan!)
Nothing could have summarised the life and career of Majrooh more succinctly than this couplet which he had penned himself. It’s a journey of a small town boy going on to become a legend, leaving behind countless admirers in its wake.
Born in 1922, Asrar Hassan Khan was destined to be famous as Majrooh Sultanpuri – a pen name which immortalised his home town Sultanpur situated in Uttar Pradesh. Although he practised as a Unani hakim early in his youth, he was smitten by poetry. Jigar Moradabadi – a noted Urdu poet then took him under the wings and presented him in a mushaira. The young hopeful immediately conquered the gathering with his impressive poetic rendition. A literary star was born. That year was 1945.
His poetic exploits soon opened a door of opportunity for him in Bombay’s film-world. A.R.Kardar – a leading film-maker offered him his film ‘Shahjehan’ (1946) as a lyricist. No less than the reigning king Kundanlal Saigal sang Majrooh’s first lyrical creations under Naushad’s baton and what creations they were! Who has forgotten Ghum diye mustakil and Jab dil hi toot gaya? Just marvel at the flow and the rhythm of the lyrical expression which was to become a Majrooh trademark :
Ghum diye mustakil, kitna nazuk hai dil,
yeh na jaana,
haaye, haaye yeh zaalim zamana!
Majrooh stamped his literary class on his film songs and showed that if one has the will and the talent to match, then even in commercially demanding and often absurd filmi situations, artistic and aesthetic lyrics could be presented and popularised. He maintained these high artistic standards throughout his career spanning more than five decades. In the august company of poet-lyricists Sahir Ludhiyanvi, Shakeel Badayuni and Shailendra, Majrooh was to prove time and again that film songs also could be classy and they have their own literary value which in terms of cultural impact, easily outweighs the more weighty literary creations.
Those were heady days for communism and Majrooh was an active member of ‘Progressive Writers Association’ (PWA) – a literary association with communist ideology. Once he even went to jail for staging political protests and spent a full year behind bars of Byculla jail! Seldom did he offer a clue to his political thinking. Like in ‘Aarati’, he wrote for a Lata song :
‘Gareeb hain to is liye, ki tum ameer ho gaye
Ki ek baadshah hua, to sau fakir ho gaye’!
But to his credit, unlike Sahir, he never made this socialistic thinking a hidden agenda in his film songs. In that respect I rate him higher as a lyricist than his more glamorous contemporary. In terms of penning songs according to the demands of the tune and the situation, he was on par with the inimitable Shailendra. Although, Majrooh had trained in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, he used simpler Hindustani language which any common man would understand. Remarkable clarity of thought and purity of expression set his songs apart.
He had tremendous versatility as a song-writer and that was one factor which helped him succeed within the constraints of film-milieu. If he could write something as heart-wrenching as Uthaye jaa unke sitam aur jiye jaa, then he could also come up with something as rib-tickling as Lekin pahele de do mera paanch rupaiya, barah aana. In fact, listening to his fun-songs like C-A-T – cat- cat maane billi, Eena –mina –dika and Ik ladki bheegi-bhaagi si, one is left wondering whether this is the same Majrooh who wrote songs as emotional as Shaam-e-ghum ki kasam, Rahete the kabhi jinke dil mein and Na tum humein jaano.
His greatest virtue was abhorrence of vulgarity. Even in the most sensual of songs like Yeh hai reshami zulfon ka andhera, Piya tu ab to aaja and Aao na gale lagao na, his lyrics never sounded cheap. Romance was his forte. Songs like Deewana mujhsa nahi, Jaaiye aap kahan jaayenge, Khaai hai re humne kasam and Jalte hain jiske liye repeatedly brought forth this mastery. And remember, many of them were written on an already conceived tune. No less than Khayyam vouched for his profound knowledge of swar and taal.
Lata fondly reminisces how ecstatic Madanmohan once bombarded the Majrooh’s tummy with mock punches after hearing the final take of that ‘Chiraag’ beauty Teri aankhon ke siwa duniya mein rakha kya hai! No doubt the lyricist deserved that ‘reward’ after writing lines as hopelessly romantic as
Yeh ho kahin inka saaya mere dilse jaata nahi
Inke siwa ab to kuchh bhi nazar mujhko aata nahi
Yeh uthe subah chale, yeh jhuke shaam dhale
Mera jeena mera marna inhi palkon ke tale!
Romantic duets penned by Majrooh brought in new zest and freshness. Legend goes that on listening to lamentations of composer S.D.Burman about the staleness of ideas in Hindi film duets, the great lyricist took up the challenge and came up with such youthful and mischievous duets as Aankhon mein kya ji, Chhod do aanchal and Aaja panchhi akela hai. Majrooh –S.D. pairing did wonders together in many films like ‘Kala paani’, ‘Teen deviyan’, ‘Paying guest’, ‘Chalti ka naam gaadi’, ‘Nau do gyarah’ and ‘Sujata’. But then he had a fruitful partnership with almost all the leading lights. In fact his long reign as a lyricist par excellence gave him a unique distinction of working across generations – from S.D.Burman to R.D.Burman, from Roshan to Rajesh Roshan, from Chitragupt to Anand-Milind and from Dharmendra to Bobby Deol.
In forties he wrote chart-busters like Tu kahe agar, in fifties he conjured hits like Haal kaisa hai janaab ka, in sixties his songs like Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera ushered in a new era, in seventies he gave trendsetters like Chura liya hai tumne jo dilko, in eighties his Papa kahete hain bada naam karega made the nation dance to its tune and in nineties he created a pop sensation with Jaanam samjha karo.
‘Filmfare’ award, ‘Dadasaheb Phalke’ award, ‘Kavi Iqbal sammaan’, ‘Poet of millennium’ award – all these awards reflect only a part of his contribution to Hindi cinema and Hindi-Urdu literature. Critics often panned him for not contributing enough to traditional literature apart from his well-acclaimed collection of poems ‘Ghazal’. Noted lyricist Javed Akhtar remembers how Majrooh described himself as a man selling mirrors in a city of blinds. His frustration for having to write in a commercial set-up which often didn’t give a dime to creativity was understandable but there was no denying the fact that it was this very set-up which made thousands aware of the beauty of his poetry through an unlikely medium of film songs.
The surreal beauty of his poetic expressions enriched many a melody and etched them in memory. That quivering uncertainty before letting out inner feelings in
Baat hai ik boond si dil ke pyale mein,
Aate aate hothon tak toofaan na ban jaaye ;
that dreamy lover’s wish in
O mere dil ke chain,
Chain aaye mere dil ko dua keejiye;
that echo of a broken heart in
Yeh raat kaheti hai, woh din gaye tere
Yeh jaanata hai dil ki tum nahi mere
and that indomitable spirit in
Ruk jaana nahi tu kahin haar ke
Kaanton pe chalke milenge saaye bahaar ke;
for me that is Majrooh – a wizard of words, a master of expressions!