Majrooh Sultanpuri: The Reluctant Lyricist
A dominating musical force of commercial Indian cinema – Majrooh was also a powerful poet and an important figure in the Progressive Writers' Movement
It was sheer irony that a poet who didn't aspire to be a lyricist, became the most sought after versifier of Bollywood. As he mastered the craft, he would write songs on any situation or composition. Probably, he would have found a mention in the Guinness World Record for writing all the songs of the film, Miss Coca Cola, in a mere twenty-four hours.
He was born as Asrar-ul-Hasan Khan in a small town of Nizamabad in Uttar Pradesh on October 1, 1919. After his initial school education, Asrar gave up his studies in Arabic at Allahabad University, to fulfill his father's desire and attained Alim – a diploma in Unani medicine. While practising as Hakeem in Sultanpur, he also indulged in writing poetry and soon opted for a pseudonym, Majrooh – the wounded one.
Since Sultanpur had an amiable atmosphere, he added Sultanpuri to his name, even though he was not born there. He started attending mushairas (poetry symposiums), and at one such mushaira in 1941, Jigar Moradabadi, the greatest traditional shayar of ghazals of the 20th century introduced him to the urban audiences.
In 1945, Majrooh accompanied Jigar Saab for a mushaira in Bombay, where producer-director A R Kardar approached him to write songs for his films. Majrooh was reluctant but Jigar Saab insisted he accept the offer. Majrooh wrote a few songs for the film Shahjehan (1946). And those songs composed by Naushad were sung by the all-time classic actor-singer K L Saigal. The same year, Kardar produced Keemat, for which Majrooh and Naushad were teamed up again. Majrooh never looked back and remained a constant for over five decades.
The poet in Majrooh was always hyper-conscious, given his literary pursuits. He had strong leftist leanings, and like his other leftist contemporaries, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azami and Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh was a member of the Progressive Writers' Association. Imprisoned in 1946 for his leftist ideologies, right after the grand success of his debut film, Shahjehan, Majrooh had to wait for three years to work with Naushad in Mehboob Khan's magnum opus Andaz, starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Naushad used Mukesh's voice for Dilip Kumar and Rafi's for Raj Kapoor.
Majrooh was again sent to jail in 1950 after the grand success of Andaz by the Home Minister of the Bombay State, Morarji Desai. This time Majhrooh was disillusioned by the Nehruvian vision and wrote a couplet, Kaun kehta hai is dharti pe aman ka jhanda lehrane na payein, yeh bhi Hitler ka chela hai maar de saathi jaane na payein. Majrooh was asked to apologise if he wanted to be released. Majrooh didn't bow down.
Interestingly, during these two sentences, Raj Kapoor, a young actor-producer-director, visited him in jail and asked him to write songs for him. Majrooh wrote a mukhda – Duniya banane wale kya tere man mein samayi, kaahe ko duniya banayi. Raj Kapoor offered a royal sum of Rs 1,000 and Majrooh needed every penny to support his family. This mukhda was used in Teesri Kasam and Hasrat Jaipuri had completed the song. When Majrooh wrote songs for Raj Kapoor in the film Dharam Karam in 1975, he refused to accept a fee for this song and told Raj Kapoor, "I was paid for a song while in jail."
Majrooh got to work with Naushad in Saathi after 29 years in 1968. Saathi had some popular melodies: Mere jeevan saathi kali thi main to pyasi (Lata), Husn-e-jaana idhar aa (Mukesh), and a duet, Mera pyaar bhi tu hai, yeh bahar bhi tu hai (Suman Kalyanpur-Mukesh).
Majrooh joined Guru Dutt and O P Nayyar with film Baaz. It was co-produced by Geeta Bali's elder sister and Guru Dutt. Though Guru Dutt was to direct the film, he was forced by Geeta Bali to face the camera and play the lead. The film didn't fare well at the box office but its songs, Zara aankh mila zara saamne aa, tera shukriya kar doon ada (Geeta) and Mujhe dekho hasrat ki tasveer hoon main (Talat) became very popular.
When Guru Dutt set up his own production house, Majrooh and Nayyar joined him. Its maiden venture, Aar-Par, starring Guru Dutt, Shayama, Shakeela and Kumkum, was the musical hit of 1954 with songs like Kabhi aar kabhi paar laaga teer-e-nazar (Shamshad); Hoon abhi main jawan; and two duets, Sun-sun zalima pyaar humko tum se ho gaya and Mohabbat kar lo jee bhar lo ( Rafi-Geeta).
Majrooh had originally written the song as Pyaar mujhko tujh se ho gaya, but Guru Dutt asked him to change the lines. Majrooh insisted that grammatically it would be incorrect. At that point, Guru Dutt told him, "Majrooh, film dekhne wale gaane ka maza lete hain, unko grammar se kuchh nahin lena dena hota." Majrooh always remained thankful to Guru Dutt for this tip to woo the listeners. Majrooh and Nayyar sustained their magical spell in Guru Dutt's Mr & Mrs 55 and CID.
Majrooh worked with S D Burman in Paying Guest, which had such unforgettable numbers, Chand phir nikla (Lata), Haye haye haye, ye nigahen (Rafi), and a duet that Majrooh wrote in a dialogue style, Ah chhod do aanchal zamana kya kahega (Lata-Rafi). Majrooh joined Dev Anand's Navketan with Nau Do Gyarah.Vijay Anand, who made his debut with this film, asked Majrooh to write songs that would add to the pace of the story. Aankhon mein kyaji (Asha-Kishore), Kishore's evergreen number, Hum hain rahi pyaar ke and Kali ke roop mein chali ho dhoop mein (Rafi-Asha) became extremely popular.
Years later, Majhrooh teamed up again with Burman da in Jewel Thief, for which he wrote a variety of songs. An intoxicating number, Raat akeli hai bujh gaye diye; Kishore's everlasting number, Ye dil na hota bechara, and a duet, Aasman ke neeche hum aaj apne peechhe (Lata-Kishore) were the chartbusters of that year.
Majrooh did 74 films with RD Burman and the duo gave great hits like Kitna pyara vada, Chadti jawani meri chaal mastani (Lata-Rafi) in Caarvan, Piya tu ab to aaja, Monica, O my darling (Asha-RD Burman); in Buddha Mil Gaya, Raat kali ek khawab mein aayi; in Yadon Ki Baraat (1974), Chura liya hai tumne (Asha-Rafi), and Lekar hum deewana dil, Aap ke kamre mein koi rehta hai (Asha-Kishore).
Majrooh worked with all the ace producer-directors, Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Dev Anand, Vijay Anand, Nasir Hussain, and leading composers as well, Naushad, O P Nayyar, Khayyam, S D Burman, R D Burman, Roshan and Madan Mohan.
Majrooh was nominated multiple times for the Filmfare Awards but he missed the award for some great songs – Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukare chale gaye in Kala Pani, Jalte hain jiske liye in Sujata, and Pehla nasha in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander. Majrooh was the first lyricist to get the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1993 for his outstanding contribution to the film industry. Majrooh wrote almost 2,500 songs in a career spanning over five decades.
Some of the favourite golden nuggets of Majrooh Saab: Pukarta chala hoon main (Rafi) with O P Nayyar in Mere Sanam, Humsafar saath apna chhod chale (Rafi) in Aakhri Dao, Hum hain mata-e-kucho dar-o-deewar ki tarah and Mai ri (Lata) in Dastak with Madan Mohan; Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si (Kishore) in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Hai apna dil to awara (Hemant Kumar) in Solvan Saal and Chal ri sajni ab kya soche (Mukesh) in Bombai Ka Babu with S D Burman; Dil jo na keh saka (Rafi) in Bheegi Raat, Rahein na rehain hum (Lata) in Mamta with Roshan; in Jhumroo, Koi humdum na raha, with Kishore Kumar as producer, composer and singer; and for Khayyam, Sham-e-gham ki kasam (Talat Mehmood) in Footpath.
Majrooh never ceased to attend mushairas in India or abroad. His non-film poetry is available in his collection of ghazals, Mishl-e-Jaan and Chirag. His complete works have also been published in Kulliyat-e-Majrooh.
He was also awarded the Iqbal Samman, Urdu Sahitya Samman among several other honours for his commendable literary renditions. He passed away on May 24, 2000, at the age of 81. In a befitting tribute, maestro Naushad said, "The titles of films maybe forgotten, but not the songs, nor the words Majrooh Saab wrote".