Celebrating the poetry of Sahir Ludhanvi thru film music

By Promod Puri

My introduction to Sahir Ludhianvi and his poetry was not through literary magazines or being a student of arts and literature. It was the stream of film songs in the golden era of Hindi film music of the ’50s and ’60s.

Sahir Ludhianvi’s birthday falls on March 8. He was born in Ludhiana, Punjab, in 1921.

Whereas tributes go to the man who enriched contemporary India’s literary and poetic landscape, salutations are also to the composers and artists who immortalized his lyrical genius superbly wrapped up in their musical and singing arts.


Sahir’s poetry did not confine itself within the limits of the elite literary genre.  Instead, his verses rhymed on the lips of ordinary folks like me who could sing, hum, whistle and enjoy them, as well relate to their own experiences and realities of life.     

The year was 1957, when I just entered grade 7, that I saw Guru Datt’s classic, Pyaasa. I remembered the songs rendered to tunes by music wizard S.D.Burman. It was much later in life that I felt the depth and truth in the words of the lyrics penned by Sahir Ludhianvi. If “Jinay naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai” was pertinent and a hit at the time, it adds more significance and relevance now. And who could be more apt artiste than Mohammad Rafi, capturing the mood, anger, and protest in this ever-popular number exposing the helpless, debilitated and exhaustive lives of brothel girls?

Sahir’s work as a lyricist in the film industry gave him financial stability. But in return, the Indian film songs got their merit, meaning, literary valuation, and a class in themselves through his lyrical brilliance. More so, India and the world gained much from his progressive thinking that challenged the established norms embedded in society’s social, religious, and political culture. That very thinking was an enlightened torch inspiring the generations to come.

Sahir’s versatile pen matches his temperament, fury and fire but cools down to the tender expressions of love and beauty.

His debut in the film world was in 1949 with Azadi Ki Raah Par, but it was to the credit of Sachin Da (S.D.Burman) that Dev Anand starring Baazi (1951) gave him the significant boost. Exposing the realities of life here is one of my all-time favourites in the voice of Geeta Dutt:

suno gajar kya gaaye samay gujarta jaaye
o re jine wale o re bhole bhale
sona naa, khona naa.

husn bhi fani aur ishk bhi fani hai
hans ke bita le do ghadi ki jawani hai.

And then in the Raj Kapoor starring Phir Subha Hogi (1958), the lyrics touched the paradigms of a complaint, protest and hope: Aasman Pe Hai Khuda, Chin-O-Arab Hamara, and

Woh subah kabhee toh aayegee
Inn akalee sadiyo ke sar se, jab raat kaa aanchal dhalakega
Jab dukh ke baadal pighalenge, jab sukh kaa sagar chhalakega
Jab anbar humm ke nachega, jab dharatee nagmei gayegee.

To give justice to his poetry inspired by the film’s title, Sahir insisted that Khayyam compose its music with singers like Asha Bhonsle, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh.

Besides S.D.Burman and Khayyam, Sahir’s worked with Ravi, Laxikant Pyarelal, N.Datta, O.P.Nayyar and Roshan to produce some of the most delightful and memorable gems reflecting his feelings, nature of human behaviour, the society, its rituals, customs, and traditions.

When N. Datta scored the music of Dhool Ka Phool, the following wordings in the sequential dialogue emerged as from the cocoon of traditions and customs:

Galat saare daaven, galat saari qasamen
Nibhengi yahaan kaise ulfat ki rasmen
Yahaan zindagi hai rivaajon ke bas men
Rivaajon ko tum,
Rivaajon ko tum todana chaahate ho,
Bade naasamajh ho, ye kya chaahate ho…

Rivaajon ki paravaah na rasmon ka dar hai
Teri aankh ke faisale pe nazar hai
Bala se agar raasta purkhatar hai
Main is haath ko,
Main is haath ko thaamana chaahata hun,
Vafa kar raha hun, vafa chaahata hun…

Sahir Ludhianvi, in his romantic mood, penned one of the most beautiful compositions adorned with equal passion by Talat Mehmood and Asha Bhonsle in the film Sone Ki Chidiyya (1958). Asha Bhonsle did not say a word in the song, but Music director O.P. Nayyar used her voice as soft ‘alaap,‘ enhancing the poet’s feelings.

Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin fir bhi
Tu bata de ki tujhe pyaar karun ya na karun

Mere khwaabon ke jharokon ko sajaanewaali
Tere khwaabon men kahin mera guzar hai ke nahin
Puchhakar apani nigaahon se bata de mujhako
Meri raaton ke mukddar men sahar hai ke nahin

Kahin aisa n ho paanw mere tharra jaaen
Aur teri maramari baanhon ka sahaara n mile
Ashk bahate rahen khaamosh siyaah raaton men
Aur tere reshami anchal ka kinaara n mile.

In our ride on Sahir’s train of multifaceted poetry, Barssat Ki Raat (1960) gives an altogether different joy with Roshan’s music. Qawalli’ gayaki’ got some evolution by Roshan and revolution in the lyrics of Sahir. Ishk, meaning love, got supreme lifting in all of the divine messages.

Naa toh karvan ki talash hai, naa toh humsafar ki talash hai
Mere shauke khaana kharab ko, teree rehgujar ki talash hai

Dil ishk jism ishk hai aur jan ishk hai
Iman ki jo puchho toh iman ishk hai

Kisi khanjar kisi talvar se roki naa gayi
Ishk majnu ki woh aawaz hai jiske aage
Koyi laila kisi diwar se roki naa gayi, kyonki
Yeh ishk ishk hai, ishk ishk –

Majhabe ishq ki har rasm kadi hoti hai
Har kadam par koyi diwar khadi hoti hai
Ishk aazad hai hindu naa musalman hai ishk
Aap hi dharm hai, aur aap hi iman hai ishk
Jis se aagah nahi shekho barhaman dono
Uss hakikat kaa garjata huwa ailan hai ishk
Ishk naa puchhe din dharm nu, ishk naa puchhe jata
Ishk de hatho garam lahu vich, dubiya lakh barata ke
Yeh ishk ishk hai, ishk ishk

Jab jab krishn ki bansi baji, nikali radha sajake
Jan ajan kaa man bhula ke, lok laj ko taj ke
Janak dulari ban ban doli, pahan ke prem ki mala
Darshan jal ki pyasi mira pi gayi vish kaa pyala
Aur phir araj kari ke
Laj rakho rakho rakho
Yeh ishk ishk hai, ishk ishk 

Allah rasul kaa farman ishk hai
Yae hafiz ishk hai, kuran ishk hai
Gautam kaa aur masih kaa arman ishk hai
Yeh kaynat jism hai aur jan ishk hai
Ishk sarmad, ishk hi mansur hai, ishk musa, ishk kohenur hai
Khak ko but aur but ko devta karta hai ishk
Inteha yeh hai ke bande ko khuda karta hai ishk

The zenith of Sahir’s poetry lies in the universal messages of love and peace, protest and ‘shikwa,’ romance and beauty that talented music directors and singers succinctly captured till eternity.

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