Shailendra - His Life Was A Song

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

In an era where the top lyricists pat their backs unashamedly in the full media-glare for writing something as mundane as Ik garam chai ki pyali ho, reviving memories of the times when film music had a dazzling array of great lyricists, has assumed even greater value.

Poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badyuni, Pt. Narendra Sharma and Kavi Pradeep enriched film music by penning film songs worthy of competing with best of their poems. In a way all these glittering names belonged to poet-lyricists genre, who did their bit in films as well as in Hindi-Urdu literature. But there was one penman in that golden era who remained a quintessential lyricist all throughout, who used almost all his literary genius for writing great songs which were poems in themselves and in my opinion, he was second to none. His name was Shankardas Kesrilal Shailendra – for his countless admirers he was simply- Shailendra!

Shailendra was born on 30th August 1923 at Ravalpindi. Later in his childhood their family moved to Mathura in U.P. His father hailed from Bihar. This U.P. – Bihar cultural influence was to show later in his folk-style film songs. The origins of  Chadh gayo paapi bichhua, Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamar and Ab ke baras bhej bhaiya ko babul thus can be traced to this family back-ground.

Poetry was his first love but family situation forced him to take up a job of a railway mechanic. He used to work in the railway workshop at Parel. His colleagues would later recall amusedly how they thought this ‘crazy’ man was ‘wasting’ his time writing and reciting some ‘meaningless’ poems!  How they were to know that the same man would later proudly proclaim through his song – Kaam naye nit geet banana,
 geet banake jahan ko sunana, koi na mile to akele mein gaana! 

This poetic zeal and passion appealed to a young film-maker called Raj Kapoor who was in the audience of a stage programme where Shailendra recited his patriotically charged poem Jalta hai Punjab. Raj was making his first film Aag then and he immediately approached Shailendra to ask whether he could write songs for his film. The poet flatly refused the offer saying that his poetry was not for sale!

The worsening financial situation finally forced Shailendra to forego any reservations about writing film-songs. After all how long, he could debate with his wife whether they should use one potato for the lunch or for dinner! So he came to the very man, whose offer he had so audaciously turned down. He came to Raj Kapoor who was now in the process of making his second film Barsaat and said, “ Now I am in need of money. Is your offer still open?” Raj welcomed him to his fold with open arms. From then onwards, he was to become the permanent member of the famous R.K. musical quartet – Shankar, Jaikishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra!

This group of talented artists was to remain together for years and make some of the greatest songs. Shailendra worked mainly with Shankar and this team was responsible for almost all the theme songs of R.K. movies. Through this association we got so many evergreen songs like Barsaat mein hum se mile tum, Mera joota hai japani, Awara hoon and Dost dost na raha. Shailendra’s relationship with Raj always remained special. Later on, even in his heydays when he was commanding a then whopping 10,000 rupees per song from others, he worked on a fixed, monthly salary of Rs.500/- for R.K. films.

There was such comraderie among Shankar, Jaikishan and Shailendra that many songs were conceived on spur of the moment, based on real life incidents. Mud mud ke na dekh mud mud ke (Shri 420) was born out of the friendly banter between Shailendra and Jaikishan when the latter kept on looking back at a young beautiful passer-by – obviously from the fairer sex! Ramaiya vasta vaiya from the same film was inspired by a folk song sung by some building workers in the neighbourhood. Once after a tiff with the composer duo, Shailendra wrote mockingly- Chhotisi yeh duniya, pahchane raaste hain,
kabhi to miloge, kahin to miloge, to poochhenge haal. That later became a hit song in Rangoli. 

Barring Naushad and O.P.Nayyar, he worked with almost all the leading composers of the era.  As with S.J., he also had a special rapport with Sachindev Burman for whom he penned such wonderful songs like O jaanewale ho sake to lautke aana (Bandini), Na main dhan chahoon, na ratan chahoon (Kaala bazaar)  and Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai (Guide). But then he wrote beautiful lyrics for every composer, that’s why we got gems like Toote huye  khwabone in Salil Choudhury’s Madhumati, Haaye re woh din kyon na aaye in Pt.Ravishankar’s Anuradha and Kuchh aur zamana kaheta hai in Anil Biswas’s Chhoti chhoti baatein.

Shailendra’s poetic genius was in his ability to convey deepest of thoughts in simplest of words. It was amazing because here was a man penning a film song which had its own commercial demands, most of the times juggling to tailor his words to suit an already conceived tune and in spite of these constraints he was almost always able to create something which was not only musically stirring but which also shone with literary brilliance. Vivid imagery and intensity of expression in his lyrics made a profound impact on a sensitive mind.

That dreamy recall of a love-lost moment of rain drenched togetherness in Aisi hi rimjhim, aisi fuharein, aisi hi thi barsaat, jag se juda aur khudse paraye hum dono the saath (Guide), that stark, dark view of a starry night through sad and lonely maternal eyes in  Aag ke phool aanchal mein daale huye, kab se jalta hai woh aasman dekh le  (Parakh) and that superb metaphoric expression bringing forth the feelings of a young bride missing her innocent, carefree childhood  in Zaalim jawaani ne chheene khilone aur meri gudiya churayee (Bandini) – all these lyrics  were moving experiences in themselves.

Simplicity and sincerity of his expressions made his songs immortal. He had a tremendous sense of music and never did his words fail to fit like hand in glove to the tune. He brought many of his personalaty traits into his songwriting. His romantic nature expressed itself through songs like Khoya khoya chaand. His fun loving persona showed itself in songs like Yahoo…chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe. His supreme self-confidence peeped through when he said Gardish mein hoon, asmaan ka taara hoon. His patriotic feelings so touchingly came across in Aa ab laut chale…tujhko pukare desh tera. His fatalistic thinking gave itself away through expressions like Jin raaton ki bhor nahi hai, aaj aisi hi raat aayee.   

His film project Teesri kasam proved to be his undoing. He couldn’t handle the stresses and strains of film-making. As the film bombed at box-office initially, Shailendra found himself at the center of an emotional storm, not to mention its economic implications. He was deserted by those whom he had considered his friends. It was as if he was reliving his own nightmarish prophecy – Main akela to na tha, the mere saathi kai, ek aandhi si uthi, jo bhi tha leke gayi! Raj Kapoor – who had worked free for the film and Mukesh were his only supporters in those dark days.

His health suffered in this setback. On 13th December 1966, he was told to get admitted in hospital. While on the way to hospital, Shailendra and his wife stopped over at Raj Kapoor’s cottage where the showman reminded his friend that he was still to complete the theme song for Mera naam joker. The lyricist jokingly told Raj to finish off his next day’s Tamasha. (Raj’s birthday fell on 14th December.) But that song was never to be completed by the great man. On 14th December 1966, Shailendra left the world for his final journey. That incomplete song was finally completed by his son Shailey Shailendra and still ranks as one of the all time greats. That song was Jeena yahan, marna yahan, iske siwa jaana kahan!

Such was a strange twist in the tale that Teesri kasam – the same movie which had brought the doomsday and finally death for Shailendra, then went on to win ‘President’s Gold Medal’ and also became a commission earner.

His songs with their rich human values will keep his memories lingering on. Maybe that’s what he meant when he wrote these lines in Anari -

Rishta dil se dil ke aitbaar ka,
Zinda hain hum hi se naam pyaar ka
Ke marke bhi kisi ko yaad aayenge
Kisi ke aansuon mein muskurayenge
Kahega phool har kali se baar baar
Jeena isi ka naam hai!


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