The Journey of the Lyrics in Hindi Films

Javed Akhtar
By Dr. Priyaankaa Mathur
Masters of poetry have ruled the Indian cinema since the time of its inception. This year being the centenary year of Sahir Ludhianvi Filmifiles pays a tribute to the legends of poetry and lyrics in India, who have ruled the Industry by storm from the early 50s,having penned the most popular songs in the Hindi Films till date.
The lyrics have played an integral part in the narrative of the films to convey not only the progression in sequences, but also to sketch the character moods, more succinctly without dialogues. Well depicted by visual sequences which were accompanied by vocal and background music along with appropriate orchestration both in popular commercial movies and art cinema. It is interesting to know that the presence of a song in the Hindi film narrative can be traced back to the age-old storytelling folk theatre tradition of Nautanki, which is still prevalent in rural India.
Some of the finest lyrics have been written in India for the Hindi film songs which expressed not just romance or lost love, but of beauty, various deities, feelings of nationalism and communal harmony, our seasons, festivals, God’s and Goddesses, inspiring the human spirit in social and economical crises.
The poetic language used by the scholarly poets in the Indian cinema was a meandered combination of thumri, Urdu Shayari and Parsi theatre which was like a dream language that needed a sort of refined training. Also, there used to be a hook line in their songs, which became an apt formula for a hit song, and only an accomplished writer would dare to break that trend to be successful. The key lies in evolving with time, yet standing strong with poetic principles.
Sahir Ludhianvi
One of the ace lyricists of his times was Sahir Ludhianvi. Born with the name  Abdul Gayee, he once stumbled upon the word ‘Sahir’ which means an enchanter and so took it as his pen name. His timeless lyrics chanted a spell over the movie goers then and even today after 70 years.From Guru Dutt’s Pyasa to Amitabh Bachchan’s Kabhie Kabhie, Phir Subah Hogi, Naya Daur, Hum Dono, Chitralekha way back in the 50s, Sahir not only threw light on the plight and exploitation of the marginalised, oppressed classes, but also attacked the aristocratic elite with his strong verses.
His lyrics had a distinct sense of appeal from being personal and intense at one point and moving and provocative at the other which can be seen in the lines from the song from the film Pyasa, “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye Toh Kya Hai” wherein he pinpoints shrewd materialism which had unfortunately taken prominence over humanistic values, while his lines”Yeh daulat ke bhookhe rawaajon ki duniya” he depicts the greed and futile rituals in the society, while he compares the love to be a business where sentiments are traded with the lines “Yahaan pyaar hota hai byaapaar ban Kar” giving a glimpse of the crude unflattering realities of the society. 
The lyrics of the song could have not made an impact without the utmost sensitivity and excruciating pain and pathos, with which it was rendered by Mohammad Rafi Saheb, reaching the climax where the lyrics say “Jala do, Jala do, Jala do, ise phoonk daalo yeh duniya” opening up the rage where Sahir expects the world to be burnt down to ashes depicting the limit of his discontentment in this disillusioned world, while the song reaches its climax with a musical orchestration bringing the song to its crescendo.”
Sahir Ludhianvi can be addressed as both a sublime poet to being an angry young man who created a deep connect with his poetry which ranged from being outspoken addressing the burning issues raising questions over bitter truths to being romantic and philosophical. He struck a right chord with the masses, as we can see in the song ‘ Main Zindagi Ka Saath’ from the film Hum Dono (1961) wherein his lyrics revolve around a happy go lucky spirit, while one needs to move on in life by forgetting setbacks. Well portrayed by Dev Saheb, the song was sung by Rafi Saheb who had put life to every word.
Majrooh Sultanpuri
Majrooh Sultanpuri
Considered as one of the finest avant-garde Urdu poets of 20th-century literature, Asrar ul Hassan Khan better known as Majrooh Sultanpuri was one of the finest poets of the Indian cinema, who ruled the film industry for over six decades. True to his pseudonym ( takhallus) Majrooh which means a ‘wounded soul’  Majrooh sultanpuri created haunting lyrics for soulful numbers. His lyrics somewhere showcased his pangs of an early heartbreak, like most Shayars experience once in life, which helped in creating immortal verses with his pain soaked ink. Little wonder even after 70 years his song “Jab dil hi toot gaya” from the film Shahjehan remains hugely popular till date.
Although, Majrooh was predominantly a poet than a lyricist as he called himself” Main ibtidai taur pe ek shayar hoon, Phir ek naghmanigaar”, he wrote some of the finest songs ever composed and sung. Being an established Hakkim Majrooh was a man of fine taste and was a well-versed shayar having studied Arabic and Persian languages and had learnt classical music in Lucknow. He began writing Nazms but soon his style turned towards the ghazals, which he started reciting at the Mushairas in Sultanpur where he became friends with the renowned poet Jigar Muradabadi.
His journey to Mumbai was for attending a mushaira, where his ghazals and poetry impressed many connoisseurs including producer A R Kardar, who was amongst the listeners. Kardar approached Jigar Muradabadi to introduce him to Majrooh to write for his films, which he instantly refused initially, but Jigar persuaded him that it will give him better financial support to run the family. Later, Kedar introduced him to Khaiyaam Saheb and he was signed to write the lyrics for the film Shahjahan. His songs ‘Kar Lijiye Chal Ke Meri Jannat Ke Nazare’ and ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya’ sung by K L Saigal became extremely popular. Eventually, he wrote songs for S. Fazil’s (Mehndi) and  Mehboob’s (Andaaz) and Shahid Latif’s (Aarzoo) to  ‘Ek din bik jayega maati ke mol’ for Raj Kapoor eventually establishing himself as a lyricist of repute, while his songs ‘Pyaar Huya Ekraar Huya’ from (Shree 420) and  ‘Jaane Woh Kaise Log’ (Pyaasa) in 1957 became epics. 
RD Burman
Music director R D Burman manovered the entire course of Hindi music single-handedly by introducing the westernised tunes in songs in the 60s.He worked with over 75 lyricists in his musical career ruling the industry during his time. He treated each song as a different entity, with a different style and individualistic mood which he created with different percussions, acoustics, instrumentality. 
RD gave every song an individual identity with the way he treated it. In his initial years while he assisted his father S D Burman while he wrote notations, and arranged music  and coordinated with singers, he also learnt a lot by absorbing his father how he played with the sounds by using different regional percussions and instruments which he imbibed later to enhance the plot of the song.
RD Burman began his journey of creating music with poet-lyricist Shailendra for his debut film (Chote Nawab) in 1961 for the song ‘Ghar aja ghor aye’ which was a classical number wherein the lyrics depicted the pathos while the nayika calls for her beloved to come back home. RD worked with many lyricists in his initial phase to include Hazrat Jaipuri for (Bhoot Bangla), Anand Bakshi for (Teesri Kasam) for the romantic melody ‘Pyar ka fasana bana le dil diwana’ sung by Lata and Mukesh.
Anand Bakshi
Anand Bakshi
RD and Anand Bakshi had a very long partnership and did 594 songs in 97 films together to include films like Kati Patang, Amar Prem, Jawani Diwani, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Shalimar to name a few. Bakshi’s lyrics were sensitive and created an emotional appeal that a common listener could relate to. His songs like ‘Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo maqam’ by Kishore Kumar from (Aap Ki Kasam)in 1974 was a heart-wrenching song, which reflects towards a life’s journey, with its twists and turns, which has some turning points and unforgettable moments which may never happen again, while RD enhanced the song with western orchestration using various instruments like Congos, Guitars, Cuban Guiro to name a few.
RD’s career eventually took the flight with youth love stories wherein he blended the Indian elements with, Electronic Rock, Disco, Bengali folk and Jazz elements, which he introduced in songs like ‘Aisa na mujhe tum dekho’ and ‘Dum maro dum’, ‘Chura liya hain tumne jo dil ko’ and many more.
This was the era when the Orality was becoming the defining feature of the film medium which was breaking into an innovation. The language was increasingly defined by the script, and the script was increasingly associated in conflicting characters with a more western outlook, which changed 
the language which was once a Hindi Urdu, Hindustani mix in its written form. Thus, a potential crystallisation happened which opposed standardisation creating a neutral, unmarked form of the Hindustani language which became informal, unforced, unofficial, and perhaps even organic, a direct opposite of the formal, literary-institutional language as used by the earlier literary lyricists.
In 1966 RD worked with Majrooh Sultanpuri who eventually moulded his style to write a rock and roll number  “O haseena zulfone wali jaan-e-jahan” with a rare rock n roll feel, which made Shammi Kapoor groove on it in ‘Teesri Manzil’. Following which RD and Majrooh worked together on 402 songs for nearly 74 films. Eventually Majrooh mastered the then lyrical style by creating soul-touching intriguing stories for the screen as required by RD.
So when this transition from the 60s to 70s was happening, RD paired with another talented young lyricist Gulzar who had written for Bimal Roy’s  (Bandini) in 1969, starring Nutan and Ashok Kumar. With his lyrics ‘Mora gora ang lai le, more shaam rang daide’ Gulzar became an instant hit evolving into one of the finest wordsmith’s India owns to this day.Gulzar Saheb has won many hearts with the prowess of his thoughts which he knits through the words, transforming them into unforgettable touching melodies. 
From the 60s till the present, Gulzar Saheb has been continuously writing songs bridging the past from the present. Being a versatile writer he understands human emotions and relationships remarkably. While at one point his words can connect you to your twin soul who knows you inside out with his lines in the song ‘ Koi hota jisko apna’, or connect even the living with the non-living like in the song ‘Mera kuch samman’, or remind you with your sweet long travels in the song ‘ Musafir hoon yaron’ or create a dejavu with his lyrics in ‘ Wo shaam kuch ajeeb thi.
Eventually, RD and Gulzar as a duo became one of the most celebrated music director lyricist couples who churned 117 songs in 25 films.Their illustrious  journey began with the film Parichy for the song ‘Musafir Hoon Yaron’ which became an overnight hit. Gulzar wrote heart touching to romantic  lyrics on melodies of RD from ‘Aajkal paon zaamin par nahin padte’ (Ghar),Tujhse naraz nahin zindagi’ and ‘Huzur is kadar’ (Masoom), ‘Chhoti si kahani se’ and ‘Mera kuch samman’ (Ijaazat),’ Tere bina zindagi me koi shikwa’ (Aandhi) to name a few.
As per an interesting trivia, the song ‘Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa’ was inspired by the tune of a Bengali song created by RD “Jete jete pathe holo deri, tai to paari ni, jete paari ni” which Gulzar heard and asked him to reserve the tune for a Hindi song and thus, these lyrics were created later for that melody. The song with sterling performances by Suchita Sen and Sanjeev Kumar depicted well the grief of human relationships, when two lovers meet after decades to express their state of heart, while they failed to pursue the relationship, because of a political career.
The years 1973 & 1981 were the golden years of Hindi film music as RD reached the top of his career churning a range of songs across genres to give many hits with different lyricists namely Gulzar, Anand Bakshi and Majrooh Sultanpuri, Nida Fazli, Sahir Ludhianvi while each of them evolved their styles with the need and requirement of the script.
For RD Gulzar wrote for Basera, Angoor and Naram Garam, while Majrooh created exquisite  songs for his film Anamika, Bandhe Haath
Kudrat, Rocky, Kaalia, Yadon Ki Baarat.
While Anand Bakshi gave him eloquent verses for his songs for Barsat ki ek raat, Heera Panna, Jaise ko taisa, Jheel ke us paar and Harjaee with Nida Fazli.
RD eventually also worked with Sahir Ludhianvi after patching up a rift between Ludhianvi and his father for the film Joshila for  Yash Chopra. Later the pair got signed to do (Aa gale lag ja) produced by AK Nadiadwala. In 1975 the duo signed two more films under the Yashraj Banner (Deewar) and (The Burning Train).
While the western influence was predominant in his works, RD was certainly a King of Indian music too, and so did his Qawaali’s picked up a trend where the Urdu Shayars like Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri again took the centre stage. Majrooh injected an infectious spirit and a lively challenge in the song  ‘Hum kisi se kum nahin’ which became very popular and almost became proverbial amongst the masses. While Sahir’s ‘Pal do pal ka saath’ from (The Burning train) picked the heartbeat of the then youth depicting co-passengers who travelled and sang this melody till in the climax the train starts burning, giving a strong message to live in the moment and enjoy the journey, who knows what happens next!
Javed Akhtar
RD Burban was still churning exotic melodies when Yash Johar signed him with Javed Akhtar for Dharma productions to write for (Duniya) in 1984, following which they worked on many films where Akhtar wrote not only songs but the story, the screenplay and dialogues for films in his eloquent authentic linguistics style. RD and Akhtar did 8 films and 44 songs together to include 1942 A Love Story (1990) ‘Ek Ladki ko Dekha’ which was a soulful, soothing melody wherein a lover describes his lady love with all possible adjectives he could use,while he saw her for the first time,” Ek jadki ko dekha to aisa laga… Jaise khilta gulab…Jaise shayar ka khwab… Jaise ujli Kiran…Jaise ban the main hiran”… describing her like a blooming rose or a dream of a poet, like the first rays of the dawn or like a doe in the forest’…With perfect rhyming words, his poetry’s thought could so well reciprocate with the present generation of die heart romantics, while it was easy to understand.The song  became an out and out romantic hit, remarkably rendered by Kumar Shanu and lataji, while Shanu’s version became more popular for its vibrancy, while Lataji’s was more deeper with pathos.
As a lyricist, Jawed Saheb maintains in his poetry, the metres, rhyme schemes and poetic images so perfectly, while he balances it with a lucid language creating a sense of wonder in everything which looks otherwise simple.
The 80s also brought disco music with Bappi Lehri’s Disco Dancer(1982),there after the era can be marked as the beginning of the deterioration of music which was high-on-noise and low on lyrics. The 1990s churned out almost nothing substantial except for musical hits other than 1942 a Love Story (1994) and Saajan (1991).
There was a time the lyricist accorded a place of pride in the Indian cinema which eventually diminished because of the most notable developments in the change in the vocabulary of songs and the lack of musicality.
This is indeed the apt moment to quote Javed Saheb who wrote in his book ‘Talking Songs’ to guide the new generation of lyricists saying, “The younger generation of writers need to equip themselves with a language, because while they call themselves “cool” they don’t have to be inane or non-literary. There can be simplicity in lyrics, but, it cannot be extremely vague and symbolic. A poetic piece needs to have an element of mystery and beauty that should never be compromised. Each sentence should be complete in itself, without waiting for the sense of the stanza to be revealed in it’s last line.”
The reason why Lyricist like Javed Saheb and Gulzar Saheb have flourished till the  present era is that they have adapted  the ease of expression, without compromising with the key priciples of the language, thus have written contemporary songs like ‘Dil chahta hai’ or ‘Bidi jajaile’ with an exemplary understanding of the current trends and taste of the audiences.

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