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Majrooh Sultanpuri: Film Poet Of The Millennium

March 24, 2014 | By

Majrooh could write any kind of lyrics tailor-made for the situation in the film.

Majrooh Sultanpuri

Majrooh Sultanpuri (R) with Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd Rafi
(Pic courtesy:

When Majrooh Sultanpuri won the Dada Saheb Phalke award, it led to a heated debate on whether a “mere” lyricist should be conferred the nation’s highest film honor, rather than a wholesome filmmaker. But one thing remained unquestioned – Majrooh’s sheer versatility in writing over 2000 songs in a career spanning five decades.

“Easily the most versatile lyricist in Hindi cinema, Majrooh Sultanpuri was also the most prolific without ever being profane. In a career spanning half a century, he is the only lyricist who wrote songs for heroes ranging from Saigal to Shah Rukh Khan and leading ladies from Nargis to Madhuri Dixit with aplomb, relinquishing somewhere along the way, his initial qualms about film music being too flippant,” writes Ganesh Anantharaman in his book Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song.

Though basically a Unani medicine practitioner and sensitive “shaayar”, Majrooh could write any kind of lyrics tailor-made for the situation in the film. Be it the peppy “Hum hain rahi pyar ke” (Nau Doh Gyarah) or the nonsense lyrics of “C-A-T cat, cat maane billi(Dilli Ka Thug) to “Aaj main upar aasman neeche(Khamoshi – The Musical), Majrooh became the undisputed king of the “situational song.”

C-A-T cat, cat maane billi (Dilli Ka Thug, 1958)

Take for instance, the film Abhimaan (1973) where each of the six songs were not put in as mere musical relief but as links through which the story progressed. Music director S. D. Burman won the Filmfare Award for it and the songs still rate among the evergreen hits. Be it Lata Mangeshkar solos such as “Piya bina piya bina,” “Ab toh hai tumse har khushi apni” or the Lata-Kishore duet which became one of their biggest hits together“Tere mere milan ki yeh raina”, the songs of Abhimaan portrayed Majrooh’s powerful command over lyrical poetry as well as a deep understanding of a woman’s psyche.

Tere mere milan ki yeh raina (Abhimaan, 1973)

With S. D. Burman, Majrooh struck up one of the most lasting relationships. Sometimes the two would create such beautiful compositions that the filmmaker was forced to “create” situations to accommodate it.

Who can ever forget “Jalte hain jiske liye” rendered in the highly romantic voice of Talat Mahmood that forced Bimal Roy to include a scene of Sunil Dutt singing it to Nutan over the telephone in Sujata, though it was not there in the original script.

Jalte hain jiske liye (Sujata, 1959)

From “Hai apna dil to awara” which had the debonair Dev Anand flirting with Waheeda Rehman in Sohlva Saal (1958) to the strictly classical “Tere naina talaash karen” by Manna Dey in Talaash (1969), from the classic roothna-manana song “Achchha ji main haari chalo maan jao na” in Kalapani (1958) to the boisterous song of the three harum-scarum brothers in their madly driven jalopy “Baboo, samjho ishaare” in Chalti Ka Naam Gadi (1957), the Majrooh-Burman Dada team delivered hit after hit.

Achha ji main haari chalo maan jaao na (Kalapani, 1958) SD Burman / Asha Bhosle and Mohd Rafi, 

Majrooh had got his first break as a lyricist in A R Kardar’s Shah Jahan in 1945, penning the last classic by K L Saigal “Jab dil hi toot gaya”. Saigal loved the song so much that he wanted it played in his last journey, which happened soon after the film’s release.

His lilting compositions in the Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Nargis starrer Andaz in 1949, was his first big success, remember the lilting Lata Mangeshkar number “Uthaye jaa unke sitam”? But amidst all the pomp of Bollywood film music the ‘shaayar’ in him who was a popular figure at mushairas (poetry gatherings), craved to come out.

Uthaye jaa unke sitam (Andaz, 1949)

In the 1960s, two films stand out among Majrooh’s repertoire for  painting a sublime and honest, almost brutal picture of society through his lyrics. You can spot his “communist leanings” in Aarti (1962):

Bane ho ek khaak se,
To door kya qareeb kya

Lahu ka rang ek hai,
Amir kya garib kya 

Gareeb hai voh is liye,
Tum amir ho gaye
Ke ek baadshah hua,
To sau faqeer ho gaye 

Khata hai yeh samaaj ki
Bhala bura naseeb kya

Bane ho ek khaak se (Aarti, 1962)

The poignancy and agony stand out again in the scorching lyrics of Mamta (1965):

Rahate the kabhi jin ke dil mein 
Hum jaan se bhi pyaron ki tarah 
Baithhe hain unhi ke koochein mein 
Hum aaj gunahgaaron ki tarah

Rahate the kabhi jin ke dil mein (Mamta, 1965)

And the everlasting:

Rahein na rahein hum
Mehka karenge
Banke kali, banke sabaa
Baag-e-wafa mein

Rahein na rahein hum (Mamta, 1965)

Roshan created his career best compositions with these lyrics and not surprisingly, Lata Mangeshkar lists “Rahein  na rahein hum” as one of her 20 most favourite songs.

It was in Dastak (1971) that Majrooh wrote one of his memorable ghazals ‘Hum hain mataa-e kucha-o, bazaar ki tarah. Uthi hai har nigaah, khariddar ki tarah‘, set to music by Madan Mohan.

Just as traditional ‘shaayars’ sign their name in the last couplet of the ghazal, Majrooh wrote, “Majrooh likh rahein hain, woh ahl-e-wafa ka naam‘ – perhaps the only time such an attempt was made in a film song.

Hum hain mataa-e kucha-o (Dastak, 1970)

From composers like Laxmikant Pyarelal and Chitragupta to O. P. Nayyar and Roshan and later his son Rajesh Roshan, Majrooh worked with all the leading musical lights of the century.

“Mana janab ne pukara nahin” (Paying Guest), “Teri ankhon ke siva” (Chirag), “Yeh dil na hota bechara” (Jewel Thief), “Chhalkaye jaam” (Mere Humdum Mere Dost) are as popular today as they were when they had first hit the market.

Teri ankhon ke siva (Chirag, 1969)

As the golden era of the fifties and sixties, when melody and meaningful lyrics were held paramount, flowed into the rock-and-roll seventies, Majrooh kept pace with the rhythm-oriented music.

His alliance with R. D. Burman served up some of the biggest hits — “O mere sona re” and “Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera” (Teesri Manzil), “Chura liya hai tumne jo dilko(Yaadon Ki Baraat), “Bahon mein chale aao(Anamika), “Raat kali ek khwab mein aayee(Buddha Mil Gaya), Yeh ladka hai Allah (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin).

Chura liya hai tumne jo dilko (Yaadon Ki Baraat, 1973)

Born on October 1, 1919 in Uttar Pradesh, his 80-year long life saw Majrooh scale the highest peak in his career when he became known as the “film poet of the millennium.” His advancing age did not deter the young heart he had within which could pen lyrics as youthful and fresh describing the first fragrance of romance as “Pehla nasha pehla khumaar” in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992).

Pehla nasha pehla khumaar (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, 1992)

Till he breathed his last, he was still writing prolifically for composers like A R Rahman and recent films like Kya Kehna.

He used to say often, “Main to akela hi chala tha, jaanib-e-manzil magar, log saath aate gaye, caaravan banta gaya” (I walked alone towards my goal, people joined me and the caravan kept growing.)

The caravan is still on, although the leader is no more, the legacy lives.

Majrooh Sultanpuri – Biography

Some classic collections of evergreen hit Hindi film songs

Geet Mala ki Chhaon mein volume Ameen Sayani Presents Geetmala ki Chhaon Mein Suhaana Safar Lata Mangeshkar - The Ultimate Collection Legends Mohd Rafi

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Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
All Posts of Antara Nanda Mondal

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