Introduction: The year was 2013. I got an invite to attend a programme in the Sahir Ludhianvi auditorium in Govt. College Ludhiana. It was a pleasant surprise. I found the auditorium full of fans of Sahir Ludhianvi who created such a visible memoir for this son of soil, that four hours just slipped like a blip and there was no hurry to conclude it! I had then decided to write about this legendary poet and lyricist and the brain gave a gentle nudge to write about him as a part of the series celebrating 75 years of Independence through cinema. The occasion served when his death anniversary was celebrated on 24 October 2022.
After having returned from Pakistan good (Sahir told he did not find Hindus there, so he returned), he came to Mumbai to try his luck as a lyricist. Though he made his debut as a lyricist in 1948 with AZADI KEE RAH MEIN. 1950 was the year when he announced his arrival with a bang with the song- Thandi Hawaein from the film NAUJAWAN that was composed by S D Burman, and it caught the imagination of the nation. Here was a lyricist who invoked nature and then moved to romance – from periphery to the core – and it was for the first time that such eloquent exposition of romance by associating it with elements of nature was unravelled cinematically. Interestingly he did write Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon (PATANGA 1949). From then onwards Sahir Ludhianvi never looked back until he moved from this world in 1980. It is altogether a different aspect that Thandi Hawaein was a ghazal which was converted into a song by S D Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi was quite livid about it initially, but subsequently calmed down after the success of the song. As a matter of fact, Dev Anand had shared that the song Thandi Hawaein used to be played at Jodhpur Air Force Station by the Air Force Band. (Manwani, 2013)
As S D Burman was the main composer for the Navketan banner, ipso facto Sahir Ludhianvi became the main lyricist for the Navketan banner. During the 25 years that he wrote lyrics, Sahir Ludhianvi was associated with the major milestones of musical landmarks of Hindi cinema to include, PYAASA, NAYA DAUR, FIR SUBAH HOGI, CHAUDHWIN KA CHAND, CHITRALEKHA, GUMRAH, TAJ MAHAL, KABHI KABHI, KALA PATTHAR. Sahir Ludhianvi was perhaps rare of those lyricists who worked with father (ROSHAN) and son (Rajesh Roshan). His passion to continuously present nature in most innovative ways continued for Rajesh Roshan as well to give him one of his most famous songs- Ek Raasta hai Zindagi from KALA PATHAR (1979). Particular reference to the lines- wo husn ke jalwe ho, ya ishq kee aawajein, azad parindon kee rukti nahi parwadein– underlined the unique template Sahir had created and hone to perfection and also immortalized Rajesh Roshan in KALA PATTHAR.
During his growing years, as he had lived along with his mother after separation from his father, he had seen first-hand the struggles his mother had to endure in bringing him up. It found repeated manifestation through Ye mahlon ye takhton ye tazon ki duniya (PYAASA 1957), Aurat ne janm diya mardon ko… (SADHANA 1958), to main tujhe doodh na bakshoongi tujhe yaad rahe (TRISHUL 1978), the sufferings that a woman and a mother has to endure in Indian society came out with distinct profoundness.
Were it not for Sahir Ludhianvi, Yash Chopra’s banner may not have scaled those heights from the time of first film DHOOL KA PHOOL (1959) to KABHI (1976). Actually, Sahir Ludhianvi was also associated with the cult hit NAYA DAUR (1957), made by B R Chopra. He had amazingly nuanced approach mastery to situational meter of the lyrics. So, on the one hand he was lamenting and invoking the failure of the founding fathers of the nation through PYAASA- jinhe naaz hai hind par wo kahan hain, on the other hand he was eulogizing the virtues of emerging nation through – Ye Desh hai veer jawanon ka albelo ka mastano ka (NAYA DAUR). Till he was alive, Sahir Ludhianvi was the lyricist for Yash Raj Films banner.
Some critics had used the quote from the song from PYASA jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hai supposedly to buttress the argument about the present state of political discourse taking Sahir Ludhianvi as reference that he would have supposedly hung his head in shame. They however forget the fact that in the same year when PYAASA was released, Sahir Ludhianvi also wrote for NAYA DAUR – ye desh hai veer jawanon ka about an India aspiring to grow.
To Sahir Ludhianvi goes the credit of infusing the literary genre into the songs of cinema and creating phenomenal fan following for his lyrics, inclined more towards Urdu in the initial stages. However, to him also goes the credit for giving a masterpiece of lyrics in literary Hindi in CHITRALEKHA (1964), which was set to score by Roshan. Worth mentioning aspect of CHITRALEKHA is the song – man re tu kahe na dheer dhare sung by Mohd. Rafi. This song is credited as being one of the best songs of all times selected by a jury of Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi (Outlook, 2006). Roshan’s ascendance as a music director of eminence was catalysed by the lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi. The amazing aspect of Sahir and Ludhianvi and Roshan lay in the fact that the orchestration was most of the times kept at bare minimum, and lyrics were focused upon, idea being that the fans should be able to hum the songs.
It was perhaps for the only time that a poster of the film was re-released highlighting lyricist as it happened with Sahir Ludhianvi in case of PYAASA and it triggered souring of relationship between him and S D Burman. To Sahir Ludhianvi also goes the credit of initiating the mechanism of referring about the lyricist as well during AIR (All India Radio) announcements and thenceforth lyricists got the due recognition. He was also the first lyricist who earned royalty for his work. He was also perhaps first among the equals as lyricist who was paid tribute for his prowess of written words, by Anurag Kashyap through GULAL (2009).
Sahir Ludhianvi also carved the template of bhajans during the course of his lyrical journey in Hindi cinema though he belonged to the Progressive Writers Movement which was an avowed practitioner of atheism. Amongst the popular bhajans written by him and which acquired the cult status include, Aan Milo Aan milo (DEVDAS, 1955), Aana hai to aa rah mein (NAYA DAUR, 1957), Tora Manwa Kyon Ghabrae (SADHANA, 1958), Allah Tero Naam (HUM DONO, 1961), Tora Man Darpan kehlaye (KAJAL, 1965).
Sahir Ludhianvi indeed was a Har pal ka shayar and continues to live through the repertoire of lyrics that he has left behind. One only hopes that as a part of the celebrations of 75 years of Independence, the city which he immortalized by adapting it in his pen name instead of his original name (Abdul Hayee) – “LUDHIANVI”, also as a tribute to the son of soil dedicate a road in his name. Ludhiana still is known as the Manchester of England in a random Google search, but not as a city whose identity was established all over the world through Sahir Ludhianvi. Not a big ask?
- Outlook, 26 June 2006
- Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet:2013, Akshay Manwani
- Mumbai Mirror, dated 09 March 2019
- K A Abbas: Sone Chandi ke Buth: Writings on Cinema 2022