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Shakeel Badayuni: Crafting Ghazals to Perfection

Shakeel’s poetry revolved around life, love, romance and separation – he didn’t need brewed spirits, he was intoxicated by his very existence and sought artistic inspiration from a variety of elements in life

Three things were common between Majhrooh Sultanpuri and Shakeel Badayuni. The duo was discovered by producer-director A R Kardar in mushairas (poetry symposiums); made their debut with music maestro Naushad Ali, Majhrooh with Shahjehan (1946) and Shakeel Badayuni with Dard (1947); and were shagirds of Jigar Moradabadi, the acclaimed poet renowned for his timeless ghazals. The only thing that set them apart was that Shakeel had no inclination for leftist ideology and kept a safe distance from the Progressive Writers' Association.

On August 3, 1916, a newborn arrived in the house of Maulana Mohammad Jamaal Ahmed Sokhta Qadiri in Badayun (western Uttar Pradesh), once the capital of Delhi Sultanate. Named Shakeel Ahmed, Maulana Saab engaged a private tutor to teach Shakeel Persian, Arabic and Urdu at home. Reading the kalams of Persian and Urdu classical poets in his formative years, this child blossomed while browsing through the works of Hafiz Shiraji, Sheikh Saadi, Jallaluddin Rumi, Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal. He was naturally drawn towards poetry and nurtured a passionate literary streak.

Shakeel left for Aligarh to pursue higher studies and this is where he befriended another fellow poet Gopal Das, who was penning verses with a pen name Neeraj. They would share their shayari and exchange notes. And since the tradition of mushairas was a way of life in Aligarh, Shakeel religiously marked a presence at these congregations, and even accepted offers to participate as a poet.

After graduating from Aligarh Muslim University, Shakeel came to Delhi and took up a clerical job in the supply department. But the muse was a constant companion and the versifier remained prolific with his pen and continued to be a fixture at mushairas across the country. In 1946, at one such mushaira in Bombay, he got his maiden break to write lyrics for the film Dard. Although, the film didn't fare well at the box office, its musical score and songs hit the popularity charts, as Naushad had introduced the new voice of Uma Devi along with Suraiya and Shamshad Begum.

The very first song that Shakeel wrote for Dard was Hum dard ka afsana duniya ko suna denge (Shamshad & chorus). Uma Devi sang few more hits for Naushad and Shakeel in Natak (1947) and Anokhi Ada (1948). Unfortunately, Uma Devi's singing career was nipped in the bud, as she failed to get offers from other composers. But it was truly a blessing in disguise, and Uma Devi was rechristened Tun Tun by Naushad Saab, and she embarked on a new journey as an actor with his film Babul (1950).

Incidental opportunities also go a long way in moulding careers. Whenever Majhrooh Sultanpuri was away at mushairas and not available for Naushad Saab, he would bank on Shakeel. When Mehboob Khan set up his banner Mehboob Productions, he chose the actor-singer-composer Rafiq Ghaznavi for films Nazma and Taqdeer. When he was launching his film Anokhi Ada, he spread the word that he was looking for a lyricist. Kardar and Naushad readily recommended Shakeel Badayuni.

Later, Shakeel and Naushad teamed up with Mehboob Productions for several films. And, after the stupendous success of Anokhi Ada, they gave other super hit songs in Mela. Among these unforgettable numbers were Gaaye ja geet milan ke (Mukesh), Ye zindgi ke mele (Rafi), Mohan ki murli baajey (Shamshad), Phir aah dil se nikli (Zohra); and the memorable duets were Mera dil todne wale, Mein bhanwara tu hai phool, and the iconic haunting melody, Dharti ko aakash pukare (Shamshad-Mukesh).

Naushad again turned to Shakeel to write lyrics for his forthcoming films Chandni Raat, Dillagi and Dulari (1949) after Majhrooh was sent to jail. Chandni Raat had two pensive songs, Dil ho unhe mubarak (Rafi) and Do din ki khushi (Samshad). Dillagi had debonair Shyam and singing star Suraiya; its songs are still fresh in the memory of vintage music lovers. Dulari had the landmark numbers of Rafi, Suhani raat dhal chuki, Lata's Ae dil tujhe kasam hai, feisty Shamshad's Chandni aayi banke pyaar, and a peppy duet of Lata and Rafi, Raat rangeeli mast nazare.

Babul had a star cast of Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Munnawar Sultana. This musical hit of 1950 had 13 songs of Shakeel that busted the charts. Some of them are Panchhi ban mein piya piya gaane laga, Lagan morey mann ki (Lata); Mera jeevan saathi bichhad gaya and Husn walon ko na dil do (Talat); Na socha tha ye dil and a vidai geet, Chhod babul ka ghar (Shamshad), and two duets of Shamshad and Talat, Duniya badal gayi and Milte hi aankhe dil hua deewana kissi ka.

The 1950s witnessed a change in the compositions of C Ramchandra, Shankar Jaikishan and OP Nayyar, as they seemed to be influenced by the West. Naushad and Shakeel also emulated this trend in Dastan (1950) and Jaadu (1951). Dastan had a star cast of Suraiya, Raj Kapoor, Suresh, Veena and Al Nasir, with many foot-tapping numbers. Jadoo also had racy numbers, Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet, Ulajh gaya jiya and Gin-gin tare (Lata), besides Shamshad's Roop ki dushman paapi duniya and Ae ji thandi sadak hai.

Naushad and Shakeel's other musical hit was Deedar (1951) with evergreen numbers, Leja meri duaein (Lata) and Chaman mein rahke (Shamshad). Shakeel and Naushad were back in Mehboob Khan's Aan (1952), and regaled with several hits: Dil mein chhupa ke, Maan mera ahsaan, Takra gaya tumse, Dil hi to hai (Rafi); Aag lagi tan man mein (Shamshad); Aaj mere mann mein sakhi (Lata); and two chorus, Khelo rang hamare sang (Lata-Shamshad), Gao tarane mann ke (Lata- Rafi-Shyam-Shamshad).

Shakeel and Naushad accomplished 30 films together commencing with Dard (1947) to Sangharsh (1952). Their finest hour came soon in Baiju Bawra (1952). Even though Shakeel was not the first choice of producers Vijay Bhatt and Shankar Bhatt, who wanted Pradeep to write the lyrics, Naushad was able to convince them that Shakeel would certainly do justice to the subject. All the 15 songs of the film became extremely popular with many all-time greats. Naushad roped in ace classical singers Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit DV Paluskar for the playback voices of Tansen and Baiju Bawra.

Shakeel and Naushad did three more films with Mehboob Khan – Amar (1953), Mother India (1957) and Son of India (1962). Amar bombed at the box office, but it had beautiful melodies by Lata: Na milta gham and Jaane wale se mulaqat, and Rafi's superb rendition, Insaaf ka mandir hai ye. The duo gave their best compositions in Mother India, but the subsequent Son of India tanked at the box office, more so, it even lacked the magic of Naushad and Shakeel.

The musical kitty of this duo that delighted cine lovers were the films: Shabab, Udan Khatola, Leder, Kohinoor, Mere Mehboob, Mughal-e-Azam and Ganga Jamuna. Naushad Saab confirmed that though he had made several tunes on Shakeel's lyrics, only 13 were retained in the film. It was amazing that Shakeel penned hundred versions of this haunting song, Pyaar kiya to darna kya. Naushad Saab not only used Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's voice for two songs picturised on actor Surendra who played Tansen, but also over hundred voices for the chorus accompanying Rafi's sole solo, Zindabad, Zindabad.

Shakeel wrote soulful songs in Bhojpuri for Ganga Jamuna starring Dilip Kumar and Vyjayantimala. After this film, he slowed down owing to his ill-health. Shakeel worked with other composers too, and had the honour of being the only lyricist to have received three Filmfare Awards consecutively – for the title songs, Chaudhvi ka chand ho ya aftab ho (1961), Husn wale tera jawab nahin for Gharana (1962); and Kahin deep jale kahin dil for Bees Saal Baad (1963).

Besides writing for films, Shakeel kept his literary pursuits alive. His collections of poetry ran into five volumes, and his private ghazals were immortalised by Talat Mehmood and Begum Akhtar.

Interestingly, Shakeel was much into sports and played badminton with Naushad and Rafi, and his competitors in flying kites were Dilip Kumar and Johnny Walker.

At 53, Shakeel succumbed to tuberculosis, and passed away on April 20, 1970. A grounded existentialist, he had once summed up his philosophy of life with the most appropriate words, "Mujhe fakr hai meri shayari zindagi se juda nahin (I'm proud that my poetry is not isolated from my life)."

Sharad Dutt

Sharad Dutt

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