Among the most popular posts on this blog are my top ten lists of songs. They’re also among my favourites; old Hindi film music is one big, big reason for my watching these films in the first place. Which is why I’ve ended up doing so many lists of songs—for music directors (S D Burman, O P Nayyar), singers (Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant, Manna Dey, Talat, Lata, Mahendra Kapoor), even for actors (Madhubala, Asha Parekh, Johnny Walker). But lyricists tend to get left out. A song wouldn’t exist without someone to write the words, would it? So, a post honouring one of my favourite lyricists: Sahir Ludhianvi, on his birth anniversary.
Born Abdul Hayee on March 8, 1921, Sahir Ludhianvi debuted as a lyricist for Naujawan (1951)—and went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s most respected poets. [Anecdote: When I was in school, one year my Hindi text book contained a poem by Sahir Ludhianvi. I realised only later, when I watched Jaal, that the poem was actually a song: Pighlaa hai sona door gagan pe]. Sahir created the standard love songs that are a dime a dozen in any old Hindi film, but his forte was the intense, insightful, deeply emotional and/or revolutionary poem: the song that spoke of bitterness and reality, of hope and the strength inherent in mankind, of things that were reflective of an emerging India.
Shukriya, Sahir sahib, for your words. May they live long.
And now, the list. Ten Sahir Ludhianvi songs from 50s and 60s Hindi films that I’ve seen. These are not exactly in order, but my favourites are right at the top. And, to make things a little more interesting, no two songs are from the same film. Since it’s difficult to find subtitled songs, I’ve created a separate document that contains the lyrics of each song, alongside a translation of the song. You can download the document here.
1. Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko (Sadhana, 1958): Some would call this song hackneyed, perhaps, for its portrayal of women. There’s some truth in that; by the late 1950s, Hindi cinema’s sympathetic but predictable depiction of the exploited, downtrodden Indian woman (Mother India is another front-runner in that category) was getting clichéd. What makes this song special for me is the way in which Sahir doesn’t mince words. He is brutal, harshly so. He pulls into this song all that is wrong with man’s treatment of women, and winds it up with the shocking imagery of a woman raped by her own son… unforgettable.
2. Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958): I love, deeply and completely love, this song. Not just because the music is so sublime or because Mukesh and Asha sing it with so much feeling, but because of the words. Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi alternates beautifully between present unhappiness—the dreams that are worthless, the ‘cups of poison that are drunk’—with the joy that is to come, the morning that will dawn and the nectar that will finally be in those cups. A wonderfully heart-warming song of hope.
3. Yeh mahalon yeh takhton (Pyaasa, 1957): Another of my favourites; I’ve already featured it in lists for music, vocals, and direction. So here we go again, this time for the brilliantly haunting lyrics of Yeh mahalon yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya. Sahir creates a bleakly realistic image of a world ruled by wealth and lust, a world that sets its hunger for things above all else. A world that he, speaking for the disillusioned poet Vijay, would not want to have anything to do with. This is very trademark Sahir: bitter, cynical, viciously outspoken.
4. Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt, 1965): On the surface, Aage bhi jaane na tu seems very different from the other songs I’ve listed. More glittery, elegant—but Sahir’s take on life comes through here too. The dominant note is one of grabbing every moment; of not letting one instant slip through one’s fingers. There is also a hint of fatalism (who knows what the next moment will bring?).
If you’ve seen Waqt, this song is an interesting reflection on what happens later in the film. While Erica Lal is exhorting the guests at the party to live life to its fullest because one doesn’t know what the future holds… the future, even then, is being shaped by events that will change the lives of many of the people at the party. One will be murdered; another will be accused; there will be a theft; and three long-lost brothers will eventually be reunited.
Note: Sahir had written lyrics in a similar vein for the song Ay meri zindagi aaj raat jhoom le, from Taxi Driver (1954).
5. Main zindagi ka saath (Hum Dono, 1961): A very short, seemingly extemporaneous insight into life. Sahir Ludhianvi offers a glimpse into the mind and heart of a young man forced by circumstances to take a look at his life, and then put that same life on hold—even perhaps for ever. What may have been cynicism is more a cheerful resignation, an acceptance of whatever destiny may throw at one. And it holds, for the rest of us, a lesson in life: that it is useless to weep over what has gone; it is better to celebrate the tragedies of one’s life and move on.
6. Pighlaa hai sona door gagan pe (Jaal, 1952): This song had to feature in my list, because of that long-ago association from my school days. But really, Sahir does have a way when it comes to describing nature, and Pighlaa hai sona is a lovely way of talking about the setting sun, the silence of twilight and the end of another day. Incidentally, another of my favourite Sahir poems about nature is Parbaton ke pedon par shaam ka basera hai, from Shagoon.
7. Mann re tu kaahe na dheer dhare (Chitralekha, 1964): I should perhaps have listed this song just before Main zindagi ka saath, because Mann re tu kaahe na dheer dhare seems like a precursor to that song. The hero here is still caught in the turmoil and angst of life, of a love that is unrequited. His attempts to explain to his heart that beauty is ephemeral, and that he is best off alone—who dies with another, after all?—are laudable. And yet also so sad; haven’t we all experienced rejection, known how difficult it is to try and get over it?
8. Tum apna ranj-o-gham (Shagoon, 1964): One of the main reasons I watched Shagoon was that its music featured the winning combination of Sahir Ludhianvi and Khayyam, both masters of their art (incidentally, also the combination that gave us Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi). Tum apna ranj-o-gham is the ultimate song of empathy, of a love so deep that it will gladly accept—even plead to be given—the loved one’s sorrows. A love that asks to be allowed to fight off the world, to take over one’s battles… if someone sang those words to me, I’d feel very comforted, very protected indeed.
9. Chalo ek baar phir se (Gumraah, 1963): It is said that Sahir Ludhianvi had originally composed this poem for Sudha Malhotra, whom he had wanted to marry but could not, because her family objected—they thought Sahir was a Muslim (he was an atheist, actually—which would probably have been even more of a no-no). Whatever its antecedents, this is a tragic song about two people, still passionate about each other, but unable to take that love any further. Sahir blends nostalgia superbly with a sense of impending loneliness, a useless passion that will not, cannot, be either forgotten or fulfilled.
10. Pyaar par bas toh nahin (Sone ki Chidiya, 1958): While Sahir may have been the master of the philosophical song, he was no stranger to the romantic song. Though, as one would expect, Sahir’s best romantic songs are not about the loved one flitting through one’s dreams, or of the moon and the stars and the popular shama-parwaana (‘lamp and moth’) analogy. Pyaar par bas toh nahin talks of the need for the loved one—the support she provides, the comfort her closeness brings—but does not assume that the love is returned. Or does it? Wouldn’t this song be sung only to one whose love one was sure of, really? Whatever; this is a sensitive and memorable love song.