Majrooh Sultanpuri: The Poet For All Reasons
By Manek Premchand
First Edition: 2021
Blue Pencil, New Delhi
Among the four markers of a film song – the film in which it appeared, the singer, the music director and the lyricist – the last generally gets a raw deal. The music lovers identify a landmark song by the first three, and remembers the lyricist the least. Ironically, film experts and writers, too, tend to relegate the lyricists in the shadows. Manek Premchand’s latest book, “Majrooh Sultanpuri: The Poet For All Reasons” is an emphatic thumbs up for the importance of a lyricist – Majrooh Sultanpuri in the present case – in the creation of a song.
The girth of the book would give you an idea that it has everything you would expect from a book on a film personality. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s life history has been given in sufficient detail, and we get a lot of new information and details which most of us are not aware of. We all know that he had strong political leanings and he also served jail for over a year for his political activities. Not during the British rule for taking part in the National Movement or for being an ultra-left activist, but in Independent India. Majrooh Sultanpuritook the Transfer of Power as a great betrayal by the Congress leaders, especially Nehru, that they accepted a dominion status and agreed to be a part of the Commonwealth, which meant Mountbatten stayed on for sometime as the Governor General. He went underground in 1949 after reciting a highly disparaging poem about Nehru at a mushaira. Ironically, he was incarcerated when India had already become a Republic, Mountbatten long gone, Commonwealth was just a slender thread, and his friend, a liberal socialist Nehru, its PM.
Later, his song ‘Jaata kahan hai deewane’ (Geeta Dutt, CID, 1956) got the goat of the ultra-puritan Morarji Desai, then CM of Bombay. He summoned Majrooh Sultanpuri and Dev Anand and asked them sternly what they meant by ‘iffy’ in the second line, ‘Kuchh tere dil mein iffy, kuchh mere dil mein iffy’. Not satisfied with their explanation that these were meaningless words, Desai had the song censored, but the film’s album had already been released before the film’s release, as was the general practice those days. The song, of course, became very famous, leaving us to scratch our heads what in this word could have provoked Desai so much.
Similar absurd objections of the Censors followed Majrooh Sultanpuri from time to time. For example, they objected to the second line in the immortal, Ye raat ye fizaayen, phir aayen ya na aayen, which was originally ‘Aao shama bujha ke hum aaj dil jalaayen’. To satisfy them he changed it to ‘Aao shama jala ke hum aaj mil ke gaayen’ (Bantwara, 1961, Rafi and Asha Bhosle, S Madan), which, according to me, reduces the song a great deal.
You get a lot of such trivia about Majrooh Sultanpuri, as a person and as a lyricist. One which struck me as very interesting was about his famous couplet:
Main akela hi chala tha jaanib-e-manzil magar
Log saath aate gaye aur caravan banta gaya
When he first recited this at a Progressive Writers’ Association mushaira, his second line was:
ग़ैर साथ आते गये और कारवाँ बनता गया
Manekji does not spend much time on the change from ‘ghair’ to ‘log’, except that he did it at the suggestion of the other poets at the mushaira. But I have been thinking how radically the meaning changes by the replacement of a single word. The first line shows the poet to be a loner by choice as he does not find many who share his views. ‘Ghair’ in the second line complements his cynicism, and the couplet makes the poet bit of a misanthrope. May be this is what he wanted to express when this couplet occurred to him first. With ‘log’, the couplet becomes sanitised and quite positive and optimistic.
You can make a collection of some real trivia, such as the song in which Majrooh Sultanpuri used his name, or the songs which he jointly wrote with other lyricists, etc.
The book devotes 125 pages at the end giving Majrooh Sultanpuri’s complete filmography, both chronologically and alphabetically, and his complete discography of 1914 Hindi film songs, a few non-film ghazals and some Bhojpuri film songs. That makes him the most prolific lyricist, overtaken only by the later-generation Sameer and Anand Bakshi.
The aforesaid content itself would have made the book quite substantive, but there is a lot more. There is a long interview of the poet and his favourite daughter, Saba and her husband Raju, a son of Naushad. This reveals a great deal of the human Majrooh Sultanpuri. Though Manekji’s tone is generally hagiographic, you can’t miss that the poet carried a great deal of anger and bitterness in him, which is surprising because he was undoubtedly one of the most successful lyricists, having given a large number of everlasting songs for Naushad, SD Burman, OP Nayyar, Roshan, Chitragupta, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and RD Burman. There are some articles by guest authors, such as Manekji’s wife Lata Jagtiani, well known for her biography of OP Nayyar, who has expectedly written on Majrooh’s songs for him. Antara Nanda Mondal, the founder-editor of the publishing house Blue Pencil, and editor of quite a serious blog on film music, learningandcreativity.com/silhouette, has published this book, as well as some more books on film music. Antara has written on Majrooh’s songs for SD Burman. Monica Kar is another guest writer whose work I am familiar with; she has written on Majrooh-Chitragupta.
There is a very informative article on different forms of Urdu poetry, particularly its most popular form ghazal and its rigid structure regarding ‘beher’ (meter), ‘radeef’ (the last word which is repeated), and ‘qaafiya’ (the word/s coming before the radeef, and its rhyming word/s in the second line of all the couplets after the first). After reading this you wouldn’t commit the mistake of mentioning Sahir’s famous nazm ‘Chalo ek baar phir se’, as a ghazal.
But the meat of the book for those, who love the world of words, is dissection, interpretation of the poetry, imagery, detailed description with reference to the scene of the film, for hundreds of songs in a number of chapters on different themes. At the end of most of the chapters the author has given a big list of songs with some words or lines highlighted, leaving the reader to think over these with regard to the idea the author has floated.
But there is one issue which is likely to raise the hackles of people from the literary world. In Hindi literature, there is quite a strong barrier between literary poets and song writers. In any literary journal or compilation of the best poetry of the 50s, 60s, 70s, I doubt you are going to see the names of Shailendra, Bharat Vyas or Neeraj. In Urdu, the boundary is quite porous, because ghazal is the most common form in both, and many celebrated names in Urdu Adab, such as Sahir Ludhiyanavi and Kaifi Azmi, also had a successful career as film lyricists. Yet, if Urdu literary world treats Majrooh Sultanpuri primarily as a film lyricist, and not as a great adabi poet, so be it. One reason could be that his non-film output is less than one tenth of his film songs. But Manekji overstates his case to elevate him to the high table, at par with Faiz Ahmad ‘Faiz’. I think that also explains the turn of phrase in the title of the book.
But the book is a labour of love and a delight for the proponents of giving greater importance to the lyricists. Majrooh Sulatnpuri is among the best of them, having been honoured with the highest award for contribution to films – Dadasaheb Phalke Award.