Milestones traced: how Bollywood songwriters found inspiration in Urdu poets
By Vikas Datta
Several cultures postulate a cyclical construction of time, instead of a linear one. This may or may not be valid for history, but it manifests itself prominently in human culture. Literature, on the other hand, considering how motifs, plots, and expressions crop up again and again over time, or are repeated even in its most popular form – movie lyrics. Bollywood is a good example.
Do you remember the phrase “Awaaz ki duniya ke doston…”? Most movie buffs would instantly place it as Rajesh Khanna’s catchphrase in the hit musical drama “Anurodh” (1977).
However, it actually dates back to the song “Sitam the zulm the aafat the intezar ke din/Hazaar shukr ke dekhenge ab bahar he din”, or more commonly “Man darpan hai jag sara”, sung by KL Saigal in “Dushman” ( 1939), with him, Prithviraj Kapoor and Leela Desai. The lyricist was ‘Arzoo Lakhnavi’.
It would be easy to pass this off as imitation, but we must remember that literature, like other forms of culture, and in all its spheres, is a human construction, and although it is subject to imitation, the most appropriate term would be inspiration. Or more importantly, his role in rescuing many forgotten poets from obscurity.
If so, how many beyond Urdu poetry connoisseurs/Bollywood historians would remember the name Syed Anwar Hussain “Arzoo Lakhnavi” (1873-1951)?
Yet in his day he was highly respected for his poetry, in and outside of films, responsible for crafting the lyrics of early superstars – Saigal (“Karun kya aas niras bhayi” in “Dushman”, 1939); Kanan Devi (“Lachhami murat daras dikhaaye” in “Street Singer”, 1938); as well as some of the early emerging stars such as Madhubala (“Aayi Bhor Suhani” in “Beqasoor”, 1950).
It’s not a modern phenomenon either – it was there in Saigal’s heyday too.
At this time, there was another notable lyricist, by the name of Pandit Sudarshan, whose work was the rather gloomy “Andhe ki lathi tu hi hai, tu hi jivan ujiyaraara hai…” for Saigal’s “Dhoop Chhaon” (1935).
As Saigal aficionados may recall, it begins with a spoken verse: “Dil ke phahole jal uthe seee ke daag se/Is ghar ko aag lag gayi ghar ke chiraag se”, and although Sudarshan may s’ credit the song, these lines were inspired by an 18th-century prodigy.
Pandit Mehtab Rai ‘Taban’ was 12 years old when he recited: “Sholaa bhadak utha mere est dil ke daagh se / Aakhir ghar ko aag lag gayi ghar ke chiraagh se” in a Delhi mushaira, impressive Khwaja Mir Dard, who was here.
And here it is important to stop and emphasize that this is not plagiarism or even imitation, but a key part of the Urdu poetic tradition, where even a couplet, or even a line , may be used by another poet, as it stands, or modified appropriately for another context.
Another major example is that of Dilip Kumar-Nargis’ starring “Mela” (1948), which saw the genesis of a triad that was behind some of the most impactful, moving and moving songs in the Hindi film industry – music director Naushad, lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, and singer Mohammed Rafi.
The iconic movie classic “Yeh zindagi ke mele…” was not entirely Shakeel’s brainchild, however.
“Yeh zindagi ke mele, yeh zindagi ke mele, duniya mein kam na honge/Afsos ham na honge…” is inspired by the 18th century Faizabad master poet Mirza Mohammad Taqi ‘Taqi’, who once declaimed: “Duniye ke jo maze hain hargiz woh kam na honge/Charche yahin rahenge afsos ham na honge.”
The trend has continued over the years.
In 1969, Majrooh Sultanpuri, a poet and lyricist without much fame, borrowed a line from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s immortal “nazm”, “Mujh se pehli se mohabbat mere mehboob na maang” (already used in the Pakistani film “Qaidi “) for the opening of “Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai…” rendered by Rafi in “Chirag” (1969), with Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh.
Majrooh then went on to use the opening verse of Mir Taqi Mir’s “Pattaa pattaa buta buta hal hamare jane hai…” to begin a song titled the same in “Ek Nazar” (1972), featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri , although the rest of the lyrics are his own.
Gulzar followed suit in “Mausam” (1975), using Ghalib’s verse “Dil dhoondhta hai phir wahi fursat ke raat din / Baithe rahe tasavvur-e-jaanan kiye hue…” to initiate the name song sung with emotion by Bhupinder and Lata Mangeshkar.
Even Sahir Ludhianvi couldn’t resist this trend. In Bollywood’s remake of this tragic Middle Eastern love story, a key sequence – and resulting song – in “Laila-Majnu” (1976) is inspired by an 18th-century Sufi saint living near of Lucknow who was an autodidact. ‘shayar’.
The “Shahr mein apne Laila ne manadi kar di/Koi pathar se na maare mere deewane ko” by Sheikh Turab Ali Qalandar Kakorvi is better known to us in this form: “Husn haazir hai mohabbat ki saza paane ko/Koi patthar se na maare mere deewane ko”. It is then that the heroine challenges – and simultaneously manages to pacify – a bloodthirsty gathering.
In 1981, Anand Bakshi was the true best with the trend. In another tragic crossover romance that introduced Kamal Haasan to a pan-Indian audience, the title track “Ek Duje Ke Liye” has the heroine (Rati Agnihotri) saying, “Ishq par zor nahi, Ghalib ne kaha hai isiliye. .. “There can hardly be a better use.
But in “Bazaar” (1982), starring Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Shaikh, Smita Patil and Supriya Pathak, the creators turned to some greats of Urdu poetry.
Record “Karoge yaad to, har baat yaad aayegi”, which was written by Bashar Nawaz, “Dekh lo aaj hamko ji bharke/Koi aata nahi hai phir marke” is the 18th century master poet Mirza Shauq Lakhnavi; “Phr chhidi raat, baat phuulon ki” is from the great Makhdoom Mohiuddin of the 20th century; and “Dikhai diye yun ki bekhud kiya” is the third or fourth “sher” of Mir Taqi Mir ghazal, which begins with “Faqeerana aaye sadaa kar chale/Miyan tum khush raho ham dua kar chale”, but only uses four of the 15 -odd ‘shers’ in it.
There aren’t many such examples since then and now. The quality of most of the lyrics since then doesn’t have much to say, it’s also possible that the new breed of lyricists weren’t so comfortable or even aware of the Urdu literary tradition or sought to switch to a new idiom and style of speech.
And then, in our present age, with people’s ever-decreasing attention spans, shortened ways of conversing, and concentration on other means of recreation, poetic traditions don’t seem destined to attract so much attention. .
Finally, there is another example, but only peripherally related to Bollywood.
From the 1970s, the Indian brand of whiskey “Bagpiper” used various actors for its advertisements – direct and then substitution as laws changed. Remember Shatrughan Sinha, then Dharmendra’s invitation: “Khoob jamega rang, jab mil baithenge teen yaar — aap main aur Bagpiper.”
It also derives from a sher of Ghalib’s poetic disciple Mian Dad Khan “Sayyah” who had said: “Qais jangal mein akela hai mujhe jaane do / Khub guzregi jo mil baithenge deewane do.”
Linguistic purists may argue that it’s two that make company, not three – but then mass advertising, especially when it involves celebrity endorsements, moves by its own internal logic.