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Shakeel Badayuni: The Eternal Romantic

April 20, 2024 | By

Shakeel Badayuni’s forte was the myriad shades and hues of love, but he was adept at tailoring his words to fit any melody or situation, writes Anuradha Warrier

Shakeel Badayuni

Shakeel Badayuni

My childhood memories are inextricably intertwined with the radio. And my father. Because anytime my father was home, the radio was on, filling the living room with old Hindi film songs. These songs formed the soundscape of my life.

My favourite songs were those whose lyrics resonated with me. For many years, I filled notebook after notebook with lyrics which I jotted down, reading them over and over again. Because words have magic. They transport me to worlds I do not know, and express emotions I feel but cannot say. But, while I was familiar with the names of the lyricists, thanks to the radio, there were very few songs that I could identify as written by a particular lyricist solely by listening to the words. Yet, I ‘knew’ them – through their verse, their words, the emotions they expressed that touched my core. And among the myriad poet-lyricists of the golden period of Hindi film music, the name of Shakeel Badayuni shines like a lodestar.

Shakeel ‘Badayuni’ was born Shakeel Ahmed on 3 August 1916 in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh. He was conversant in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, and Hindustani. While no one in his immediate family had a talent for poetry, Zia-ul-Qadiri Badayuni, a distant relative was famed for his religious poetry. Poetically inclined, young Shakeel began attending musha’iras where his uncle recited his poetry. Soon, he began writing his own ghazals. In 1936, Shakeel joined Aligarh University. His poetry had brought him some renown and he was much in demand at inter-college musha’iras.

In 1940, when he was barely 24, he married Salma, a distant relative. In 1946, like many other young men who flocked to Bombay to earn their fortune, Shakeel too left his job in the government supply department in Delhi to try his luck in the film industry.

A R Kardar

A R Kardar

At a musha’ira, he chanced to meet producer AR Kardar, who introduced him to music director, Naushad Ali. The story goes that Naushad asked Shakeel to describe his skill, and the latter recited:

“Hum dard ka afsaana duniya ko suna denge
Har dil mein mohabbat ki ek aag laga denge.”

Impressed, Naushad signed him on for Dard. Success followed almost instantaneously – the songs of Dard, especially Uma Devi’s Afsana likh rahi hoon dil-e-beqaraar ka proved to be immensely popular. This laid the foundation for a long and very fruitful collaboration with Naushad.

Unlike his peers, Sahir, Shailendra or Majrooh (or even juniors like Kaifi Azmi and Jan Nisar Akhtar), Shakeel was consistent in his preoccupation with romantic poetry. Shakeel remained a thorough romantic at heart, saying that his poetry wasn’t that removed from his life. In his own words:

Main Shakeel dil ka hoon tarjuman
Keh mohabbaton ka hoon raazdaan
Mujhe fakhr hai meri shayari
Meri zindagi se juda nahin

[I am Shakeel, the interpreter of the heart
I am Love’s secret keeper
I am proud that my poetry
Is not separate from my life]

The nearest he came to ‘inquilaabi’ [revolutionary] thought in his poetry was when he wrote [in Mere humnafas mere hum nava]:

Mera azm itna buland hai ki paraaye sholon se dar nahin
Mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai ye kahin chaman ko jalaa na de

[My confidence is so great that I fear not others’ flames
I dread the fire hidden within the blossom that might set the garden ablaze]

Mohd Rafi with Shakeel and Ravi

Mohd Rafi with Shakeel Badayuni and Ravi (Pic:

Yet, it would be incredibly shortsighted to dismiss Shakeel as merely a romantic poet. Adept at writing lines to fit the tune, Shakeel’s pen was equal to the task of crafting lyrics to fit any situation in a Hindi film – whether it was a lori or a bidaai, a ghazal or a qawwali, a bhajan or a mujra.

Shakeel made history when he achieved a hat-trick at the Filmfare Awards, winning Best Lyricist for three consecutive years. (Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960) Gharana (1961) and Bees Saal Baad (1962). Shakeel also wrote poetry outside of films. His poetry anthologies such as Naghma-e-Firdaus (1948), Shabistan (1958), Ranginiyaan (1961), etc., are filled with verses by a poet who always heeded the call of his heart.

Today, on his 54th death anniversary, I present a few of my favourite Shakeel Badayuni songs.

Mohe bhool gaye saanwariya
Baiju Bawra (1952)
Music: Naushad
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

Naushad composed a wonderful classical raga-based score for this film. Every song is a lovely fusion of music, lyrics and vocals. This song, sung on screen by a broken-hearted Gauri (Meena Kumari) is a perfect example. Starting with a verse from a Meera bhajan: Jo main aiso jaanti preet kiye dukh hoye/Nagar dhindora peet ti ki preet na kariyo koye, Shakeel gives us an inspired view of a young woman’s complicated feelings of grief and anger at a beloved who has abandoned her without a second thought.

Dil ko diye kyn dukh birhaa ke
Tod diye kyun mahal banaa ke
Aas dilaa ke o bedardi pher li kaahe nazariya…

… she sings, only to follow it up with a resolute denunciation of not only her beloved but of love itself and the world in general. These are emotions that will resonate with anyone who has ever fallen in love and suffered a broken heart as a consequence.


Dil mein chhupaake
Aan (1952)
Music: Naushad
Singer: Mohammed Rafi

It is hard to believe that this is the same duo who gave us such a ‘heavy’ classical score and heart-rending emotions in Baiju Bawra the same year. This is such a light rollicking ghoda-ghadi number, with Rafi doing what he does best – infusing the song with such gentle humour that one feels he must have been smiling as he recorded it. That feeling is only cemented when you watch the song on screen – a smiling, teasing, absolutely charming Dilip Kumar trying to coax a stern-faced Nadira out of her sulks. (Considering that the princess has been abducted by the commoner – even if that happens to be Dilip Kumar – one cannot blame her!) This would fall under the ‘stalking-as-wooing’ song when viewed through today’s lens, but those were more innocent times and it is hard not to smile when you listen to someone singing that he’s hiding the storm of love in his heart!


Teri mehfil mein kismet aazmaakar
Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
Music: Naushad
Singers: Shamshad Begum, Lata Mangeshkar

My favourite songs from this film are the piteous Humein kaash tum se muhobbat na hoti and the plaintive na’at Bekas pe karam keejiye. But this rousing qawwali, not just a tug-of-war between two women for the prince’s attention, but a clash of ideologies is a masterclass in lyric writing.

This song was a visual treat as much as an aural one. Proud, imperious Nigar Sultana is Bahaar, a court dancer, who aspires to the crown of Hindustan. While Madhubala, glowing, gorgeous Madhubala, is Anarkali, the courtesan for whom a prince (a dashing Dilip Kumar) was willing to sacrifice both a throne and a nation. The difference between the two women is most marked in this song – almost a competition, where both Bahaar and Anarkali describe their (contrasting) views of love.

Muhobbat karne waalon ka hai bas itna hi afsaana
Tadapna chupke chupke aah bharna ghutke mar jaana
Kisi din ye tamaasha muskuraa kar hum bhi dekhenge… sings Bahaar.

[The tale of those who love is constrained
To agonize and sigh in silence, and to be consumed by love
Some day, I’ll witness this farce and smile]

Mughal e AzAM

Muhobbat karne waalon ka hai bas itna hi afsaana

For Anarkali, Shakeel pens:

Muhobbat hum ne maana zindagi barbaad karti hai
Ye kya kam hai ki mar jaane pe duniya yaad karti hai
Kisi ki ishq mein duniya lutaa kar hum bhi dekhenge

[‘Tis true, I concede, that love can destroy your life
But is it any less that the world will extol you after your death
And so I’ll give my all for love and see what ensues]

And so, while Bahaar likens her love to a rose, Anarkali is content with its being a thorn – ‘Kaanton ko murjhaane ka khauff nahin hota‘, she says. [Thorns do not fear withering].

It is a competition that Bahaar wins (the prince offers her a rose), yet loses; Anarkali loses, yet wins (her prince has laid his heart at her feet) – until she loses everything she holds most dear in the end, in one last throw of the dice. The fates are not kind to lovers. 


Dhoondho dhoondho re saajna
Ganga Jamuna (1961)
Music: Naushad
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

Shakeel proved that he wasn’t just proficient in Farsi, Hindi or Urdu; he could also write eloquently in Bhojpuri. Here, in a song where a young woman is complaining that she has lost her earring (a specific item of jewellery called a ‘baala’) and is asking her beloved to help her search for it. She patiently describes it to him, explaining how dear it is to her, and how much she wishes to get it back. And in doing so, Shakeel manages to bring out the affection between the two of them, showing us that romance need not be obvious to be sensuous.


Beqaraar kar ke humein yun na jaaiye
Bees Saal Baad (1962)
Music: Hemant Kumar
Singer: Hemant Kumar

Biswajit and Waheeda Rehman in Beqaraar kar ke humen yun na jaiye (Bees Saal Baad)

Biswajit and Waheeda Rehman in Beqaraar kar ke humen yun na jaiye (Bees Saal Baad)

While Shakeel’s longest and most prolific collaborator was Naushad, he did work with other composers – one of whom was Hemant Kumar. In this quiet, wooing number, Shakeel gets the freedom to write about what he writes best – love. A man (Biswajeet) is asking his beloved not to leave because…

Dekhiye woh kaali kaali badliyaan
Zulf ki ghata na chura le kahiin
Chori chori aake shokh bijliyaan
Aap ki adaa na chura le kahiin
Yun qadam akele na aage badhaaiye
Aap ko hamaari kasam laut aayiye

Shakeel’s words are laced with gentle humour and affectionate teasing, each verse ending with a plea to return. And when she doesn’t listen, the words change tack to warn her of the dangers on the path she’s travelling, telling her she has to choose a companion…

Zindagi ke raaste ajeeb hain
Is mein is tarah chalaa na kiijiye
Khair hain isi mein aap ki huzoor
Apna koi saathi doodh liijiye
Sun ke dil ki baat yun na muskuraaiye
Aap ko hamaari kasam laut aayiye

And Waheeda’s impish smile shows both her affection for this man as well as her willingness to tease him a little.


Piya aiso jiya mein
Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962)
Music: Hemant Kumar
Singer: Geeta Dutt

Chhoti Bahu (Meena Kumari), tired of her husband’s lack of interest in her as a woman, has turned to Mohini sindoor to save her marriage. Now, sure that her husband will be seduced by its charms, she sits eagerly at the dressing table, making herself up carefully, leaving the pièce de résistance – the sindoor – for the last.

Shakeel’s lyrics reflect the restlessness of a woman in love, waiting for her husband to return, dressing up in anticipation of his arrival, listening to footfalls outside and wondering if it is him after all, her anticipation veiled by her innate shyness…

Har aahat pe samjhi woh aaye gayo re
Jhat ghoonghat mein mukhda chhupaa baithi
Maine sindoor se maang apni bhari
Roop sainyaa ke kaaran sajaaya
Is dar se kisi ki nazar na lage
Jhat nainan mein kajraa lagaa baithi

Geeta Dutt’s sensuous voice expresses every fluttering emotion – happiness, anticipation, shyness – that is mirrored on Meena Kumari’s exquisite face.


Yaad mein tere jaag jaag ke hum
Mere Mehboob (1963)
Music: Naushad
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi

Anwar (Rajendra Kumar) and Husna (Sadhana) meet and fall in love, but are separated by barriers of class and status. Not wanting family honour to be besmirched, they mutually decide to part ways. Only, it is not as easy as it seems.

Shakeel’s pen evokes the distinct emotions that are felt by each.
Jabse tune nigaah pheri hain
Din hai soona raat andheri hain
Chaand bhi ab nazar nahin aata
Ab sitaarein bhi kam nikalte hain…

[Since you turned your eyes away
My days are lonely, my nights filled with gloom
The moon never rises any more
And fewer stars appear in the sky]

…she mourns, while he is agonized. Does she know what his constraints are?

Kya kahein tujhse kyun huyi doori
Hum samajhte hain apni majboori
Tujhko maloom kya ke tere liye
Dil ke gham aansuon mein dhalte hain 

[How can l tell you why I stay away
Only I am aware of my own constraints
Do you know that my sorrowful heart
Weeps for you]


Ek Shahenshah ne banwaake haseen Taj Mahal
Leader (1964)
Music: Naushad
Singer: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar

ek shahenshan ne banwa ke haseen Taj Mahal dilip vyjayanthimala

The story goes that Sahir Ludhianvi was the original lyricist for Leader. * Given the context for the song – a man serenading his lover near the Taj Mahal (itself a symbol of enduring love) – Sahir wrote:

Ek shahenshah ne daulat ka sahaara lekar
Hum gariibon ki mohabbat ka udaaya hai mazaaq

[An emperor, using his enormous wealth
Has mocked the romance of ordinary folk like us]

Obviously, this wasn’t what the director had in mind. Naushad then turned to his favourite lyricist who, inspired by Sahir’s she’r but keeping in mind the context, wrote:

Ek shahenshah ne banwaake haseen Taj Mahal
Saari duniya ko muhobbat ki nishaani de dii

[An emperor, having built the beautiful Taj Mahal
Has given the world a symbol of love]

Shakeel’s lyrics eulogize the Taj Mahal throughout the song, describing it as a sanctuary for lovers, whether rich or poor.

Taj woh sham’a hai ulfat ke sanam-khaane kii
Jis ke parvaanon mein muflis bhi hain zardaar bhi hain
Sangemarmar mein samaaye gaye khwaabon ki qasam
Marhale pyaar ke aasaan bhi hain dushwaar bhi hain

[The Taj is that flame that illuminates the temple of love
That attracts both the indigent and the rich
I swear upon the dreams entombed in marble
That the phases of love are both simple and arduous]

*[It makes for a nice story, but I don’t know how much of it is true. Sahir’s lyrics were used in another film that same year – Ghazal; the music director was Madan Mohan.]


Koi saaghar dil ko behlata nahin
Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966)
Music: Naushad
Singer: Mohammed Rafi

What can you do when you realize that not even your newfound wealth and social position can make you acceptable in the eyes of your beloved’s family? When Shankar (Dilip Kumar) returns to seek the hand of his beloved Rupa (Waheeda Rehman), he’s dismayed to find that Rupa’s brother Ramesh (Pran) is as intractable as when they were children. Mired in her memories, Shankar realizes that not even several goblets of wine can help him forget Ramesh’s taunts or his own love for Rupa. Each verse sees him go through a different stage of grief, until finally, he yearns for ‘life’s mirror’ to be shattered (rather, his life to end) as it no longer reflects anything he wishes to see.

Zindagi ke aaine ko tod do
Is mein ab kuchh bhi nazar aata nahin
Koyi saaghar dil ko bahlaata nahin
Bekhudi mein bhi qaraar aataa nahin

Shakeel’s ghazal evokes both Shankar’s melancholy and his sense of abandonment as rendered exquisitely in Rafi’s voice and reflected in Dilip Kumar’s performance.


Aaj purani raahon se
Aadmi (1968)
Music: Naushad
Singer: Mohammed Rafi

From the gentle pathos of Koi saaghar dil ko behlaata nahin to the acceptance and resolution of Aaj puraani raahon se… Shakeel writes of making a clean break from a painful past. It is time to look to the future, not wallow in the sadness of what might have been.

Beete dinon ki yaad thhi jin mein main woh taraane bhool chuka
Aaj nai manzil hai meri, kal ke thikaane bhool chuka

It is the plaint of a man who has firmly resolved to put his past behind him.

Sadly, Shakeel died young; he was only 53. In his own words:

Na fanaa mirii na baqaa miri mujhe ae Shakeel na dhoondhiye
Main kisi ka husn-e-khayaal huun, mira kuch vajood-o-adam nahin

[Do not search for me, Shakeel /Neither mortality nor immortality is mine
I’m non-existent, I’ve no identity, I’m but a figment of imagination]

Perhaps. But what Shakeel left behind is an immense body of emotions expressed in the most lyrical terms. And as long as old Hindi film music remains a part of each succeeding generation, Shakeel will never be fanaa.

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Anuradha Warrier is an editor by profession, a writer by inclination, and is passionate about books, music and films, all of which she writes about on her blog, Conversations over Chai.
All Posts of Anuradha Warrier

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2 thoughts on “Shakeel Badayuni: The Eternal Romantic

  • Rajan NS

    “A very interesting write up on Shakeel Badayuni with songs to match. Naushad was associated with Majrooh Sultanpuri from ‘Shahjahan’ (1946) until Andaz (1949) when Majrooh became unavailable owing to some issues not related to films or music. By the time Majrooh resurfaced two years later, Naushad and Shakeel had struck a bond that lasted for two decades. They created hundreds of great songs and one attempting to pick a few of them as outstanding has an unenviable job on hand. Shakeel was that rare poet capable of writing for Baiju Bawra with as much flair and originality as for Mughal e Azam, separated by a decade, with gems such as ‘Kohinoor’ and many others between. They were twins who gave the best of music and songs for films.
    Thank you for recreating the wizard of words that Shakeel was.”

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