Jihne naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai
One of the best things to happen to Hindi movie industry was the arrival of Urdu poets. Before that, songs were highly mediocre in nature, like Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon, Kiya Hai Wahan Se Telephoon, Tumhari Yaad Satati Hai, Jiya Mein Aag Lagati Hai (My husband has gone to Rangoon, Has telephoned from there, Your thought troubles me, And it sizzles my heart).
However, with the advent of Urdu poets, all that changed and Hindi movies saw some of the brightest poets and lyricists writing songs. Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaspuri, actually became so popular that they went on to become almost house-hold names. The greatest and most popular of them was Sahir Ludhianvi. His songs mesmerized people across the Indian sub-continent for decades and will probably continue to do so for many more years.
Sahir was born in Ludhiana, Punjab, on March 8, 1921 into a wealthy family of property owners, as Abdul Hayee. His childhood suffered a setback when his feudal-minded father married for a second time, forcing his first wife, i.e. Sahir’s mother to flee, along with the young child. Sahir was thirteen years young then.
Sahir studied at the Khalsa High School in Ludhiana and later at Government College, where Amrita Pritam, the famous author, became his most ardent fan. He was quite popular for his ghazals and nazms while in college. He was expelled from the college at the behest of Amrita Pritam’s father. The story goes like this- Amrita Pritam's father did not like Sahir as a suitable match for his daughter because she was a Punjabi and Sahir a Muslim and because he was poor.
Disillusioned with the expulsion, he left for Lahore, in 1943. He almost settled down there and started a career as editor of many Urdu publications. It is pertinent to mention that he was deeply influenced by communist world-view; he was a member of the Progressive Writers Association. In 1949, his writings in “Savera”, an Urdu magazine, were viewed as inflammatory and prompted the Pakistan government to issue arrest warrants against him. To escape arrest, he fled Lahore and came down to Delhi, and finally then to Mumbai. His friends recalled that Sahir was deeply upset with the partition and that in any case, he would have preferred secular India to an Islamic Pakistan.
Sahir made his debut in films writing lyrics for the film Aazadi Ki Raah Par (1949). The film had four songs written by him and his first song was Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi.... Both the film and its songs went unnoticed. But two years later, he gained recognition for his lyrics for the movie Naujawan (1951). The film's lilting song Thandi Hawayen Lehrake Aaye remains popular even today. However, his first major success came the same year with Guru Dutt's directorial debut, Baazi, again pairing him with composer S.D. Burman. The best of Sahir and S.D. Burman came in the movie Pyaasa (1957). His critics and admirers rate Pyaasa as his finest. He was very versatile and wrote a range of songs and worked with many music composers, like Ravi, Naushad, Roshan, O.P.Nayyar and Khayyam, Jaidev and Dutta.
In 1958, he wrote the lyrics for Ramesh Saigal's film Phir Subah Hogi, which was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. The male lead was Raj Kapoor and it was presumed that Shankar-Jaikishan would be the music composers. Sahir was insistent that only someone who had read the novel could compose music for the songs. Thus, Khayyam ended up as the music composer for the film. The song Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi even today remains an all-time hit. Khayyam went on to work with Sahir in many films including Kabhie Kabhie and Trishul. One of the characteristics of Sahir was his ability to bring constrasting emotions in the same song. For example, in the song Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez hai, he glorifies love in the first stanza (mohabbat ke dam se hai duniya ki raunak…) only to ridicule it in the very next (kitabon mein chchapte hai chahat ke kisse…). Similarly, in the movie, his concern for the poor comes out very well when he says har cheez hai daulat walon ki, muflis ka sahara dil hi to hai, meaning everything on this earth belongs to the rich, for the poor the heart is the sole consolation.
Sahir was the first lyricist to insist on royalty for his songs from music companies. At the height of his popularity, he demanded an excess payment of one rupee more over and above paid to Lata Mangeshkar, the most popular playback singer and a legend by then. He was instrumental in ensuring that All India Radio mentioned the names of lyricist for songs that were aired; the earlier practice was to mention the names of playback singer and music composer alone. Sahir won Filmfare Awards twice, once for his songs for the movie Taj Mahal (1963) and another for the movie Kabhie Kabhie (1976). Apart from this, government of India honored with the National Award in 1971 for his contribution to Hindi cinema.
Sahir died on October 25, 1980 at the age of 49 as a result of a severe heart attack. At the time of his death, he had some collections of songs when became part of the movied Lakshmi in 1982.
Sahir leaves behind a legacy that will be cherished for ever. He was not the poet who would praise God, liquor or beauty forever. Instead, he was quite vocal in bringing out the bitterness, declines values of society, the foolishness of conflicts and the dominance of materialism over love. Even his love songs were often filled with sufferings of the poor, umemployment, war-mongerings arrogance of the rich and exploitation of the poor, particulary women.