Friday 31 January 2014

The Magician

Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon

 Pal do pal meri kahani hai

 Pal do pal meri hasti hai

 Pal do pal meri jawani hai


For a long time we did not have much literature available on the iconic film personalities of Hindustani cinema. It is difficult to say what was the exact reason for the same but maybe it had something to do with the reading habits of the people and a general lack of critical analysis of the personalities and films with respect to their social and cultural affect. Things however started to change in the last the 10 to 15 years and now we have a regular flow of books on cinema, though of uneven quality. I think Nasreen Munni Kabir’s Guru Dutt-A Life in Cinema (OUP 1996) was amongst the earliest of serious efforts to document the life of an icon of Hindustani cinema.
Akshay Manwani’s book Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet (Harper Collins 2013) is a welcome recent addition to the list. A book on Sahir, considered by some to be the greatest lyricist ever of Hindustani cinema, was long overdue. Sahir was already an established poet before he came to Bombay in 1949 (his first collection of poems, Talkhiyan, was published in 1943 to critical acclaim) and from 1951 onwards he wrote songs for more than 100 films till his  death in 1981.His best work was in the 50s and 60s (considered to be the golden era for Hindustani film music). His songs for Pyaasa , Naya Daur (both in 1957) and Phir Subah Hogi (1958) firmly established him as a ‘conscience keeper’ for the common man and went a long way in establishing these movies as ‘Classics’ of Hindustani cinema. However, there was much more to Sahir. Be it a romantic number (Hum aapkee ankhon mein from Pyaasa) or a comic song (Sar jo tera chakraye, again from Pyaasa), a bhajan (Allah tero naam from Hum Dono) or a qawwali (Na to karwan kee talaash hain from Barsaat ki Raat) or a patriotic number (Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka from Naya Daur) - he excelled in all forms. During his time there was formidable talent writing in Bombay including Shailender, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badaiyuni, Kaifi Azmi amongst many other poets. Still, he was able to hold on his own by his sheer talent and depth of his words. Initially in his career, he formed a hit partnership with S D Burman (Baazi, Jaal, Devdas ) but they fell out after the success of Pyaasa (each claiming credit for the success of the film’s music) but  such was Sahir’s talent that he still went on to give memorable songs with the then  less-established  music directors like Ravi and Khayyam.

Akshay’s well researched book traces Sahir’s life right from his troubled child hood  (his father was a wayward wealthy landlord and Sahir’s mother soon moved out and brought up Sahir entirely on her own) and graduation in Ludhiana and his subsequent movement first to Lahore and then eventually to Bombay after a brief stay in Delhi. Sahir shared a deep bond with his mother and his health started deteriorating rapidly after her death in 1976. He went into a shell (as Yash Copra quotes Sahir, ‘Kuch mazaa nahin aa raha likhney ka’) and never came out of it.

The author has managed to interview a host of non-film and  film personalities who were directly or indirectly associated with Sahir - Dev Anand, Khayyam, Ravi, Javed Akhtar, Ravi Chopra, Ramesh Talwar  and of course, Yash Chopra, a fellow Punjabi and a close friend (as long as Sahir lived, all films directed by Yash Copra had songs by him).

Sahir did not marry but had his share of affairs and heart-breaks. His relationship with Amrita Pritam is well known and the interview with Imroze (Amrita Pritam’s husband) is one of the highlights of the book. In the 70s, the film industry was undergoing a change with the emergence of the angry young man persona of Amitabh Bachchan but yet Sahir-Khayyam duo was able to give us a gem in the form of Kabhi -Kabhi in 1976.The title song is one of my personal favorites and infact introduced me to the magic world of Sahir. Amitabh’s soliloquy (Kabhi-Kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai) still gives me goose pimples.

I would have liked the author to ask Sahir’s close associates like Yash Chopra and Javed Akhtar as to what did they do to preserve his legacy(I remember reading a few years back that  his grave in Bombay had been vandalized). Could they have converted his house into a memorial ? Still this is a commendable effort and I am sure will attract a host of new generation fans towards Sahir and his  immortal lyrics. Next I would like to see an English translation of Takhiyan. Will someone oblige?

Kal aur ayenge nagmon ki khilti kaliyan chunnewale
Mujhese behetar kahenewale tumse behetar sunnewale
Kal koi mujhko yaad karhey kyon koi mujhko yaad karhey
Masroof zamana mere liye kyon waqt apna barbadh kare
Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon


  1. Thank you for taking us on lovely trip with Sahir ji.

    1. Sangeeta-All his published works-Talkhiyan,Aao koi khwab bunein and Gaata jaye banjaara are available in hindi (hind books)..I recommend them for all his fans. :-)