Film Lyrics – The first 40 years
The early lyric writer was cloaked in anonymity. Employees such as clerks or ‘munshis’ of the producers often moon lighted as lyricists as well. Becoming a case of peanuts for monkeys, this extreme cost cutting measure led to these writers being paid an unbelievable sum of a mere eight annas or less (one rupee consisted of sixteen annas).
Not just that the quality of lyrics remained pedestrian, often the songs were downright vulgar. Even such a distinguished poet as Josh Malhabadi came under heavy fire for his allegedly obscene description of the female anatomy in one of his lyrics for ‘Man Ki Jeet’ (1944).
Note: Please click on highlighted song title to view the song.
In sharp contrast, the lyrics in the Bengali films drew on the songs of Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam and showed the Hindi film lyricist was not only neglected but was reduced to the unenviable task of inserting words into already composed alien tunes. Calcutta’s New Theatres’ films like Chandidas (1934), Devdas (1936) and Bidyapati (1937) clearly displayed this paucity of talent in Bombay. As one prominent lyricist complained, it was a case of cart pulling the horse and pulling it a bit too far.
The lyrics were rhymed dialogue fitted in to a pre-composed tune. Music was the essential feature of films then and a powerful draw at the box office, while lyrics were just hastily inserted items, serving possibly to stretch the music a bit. But with the introduction of dances in films, lyrics acquired a new importance.
A new era of lyric-oriented films began in Bombay when poet Pradeep wrote for BombayTalkies the famous songs Hawa tum dhire baho (Kangan, 1939) and Chal chal re naujawan (Bandhan, 1940). Even before Pradeep, D. N. Madhok wrote for films but he mostly provided words for a musical compositions already there.
Usually script writers wrote the lyrics too. Narottam Das Vyas who later published religious literature, was a lyricist then as was Arzoo Lukhnavi of New Theatres who wrote lyrics mainly for Rabindra Sangeet compositions.
The novelist Sudarshan was both script writer and lyricist for ‘Dhoop Chhaon’ (1935) but quit films in disillusionment soon after.
Others to quit were Upendra Nath and the famed poet Sumitranandan Pant who wrote the lyrics for the film Nal Damyanti (1933) and Kalpana (1948) then moved out of the celluloid world. Why did all the famous Hindi poets, including Bhagwati Charan Verma (Chitralekha, 1941), who tried to write for films, leave in disappointment and frustration?
One major reason attributed to this failure was that Hindi writers and poets were inclined to live and think in an ivory tower, considering it beneath their dignity to communicate with the illiterate millions who were bewildered by the intellectual message in their compositions.
Urdu poets on the other hand, cared for the common man and celebrated him in verses which were simple yet meaningful. Hindi song writers, though they began to invade films earlier, could not make a success of their efforts. In the forties Sudarshan and Bhagwati Prasad Bajpai wrote lyrics and dialogue respectively.
The veteran V. Shantaram engaged the services of Hindi writers Pandit Indra and Narottam Vyas. When the lyricist Pradeep left Bombay Talkies, Pandit Narendra Sharma succeeded him. Both of them continued to write lyrics for films, though sporadically. Narendra Sharma last wrote lyrics for the much talked about ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ (1978).
The fact remains that only those lyricists survived and became successful in films who could convey their poetic thoughts in simple rhythmic language.
As cinema progressed to an art form, the songs too changed considerably, revealing a certain depth and emotion formerly unknown to the lyric.
In the forties, mellifluous lyrics like Chal chal re naujawan (Bandhan, Pradeep, 1940), Aawaz de kahan hai (Anmol Ghadi, Tanvir Naqvi, 1946), Jab dil hi toot gaya (Shahjahan, Majrooh, 1946), Afsana Likh Rahi Hun (Dard, Shakeel, 1947), Hum Aaj Kahin Dil (Andaz, Majrooh, 1949), Barsaat Mein (Barsaat, Shailendra, 1949), Tu Mera Chand (Dillagi, Shakeel, 1949) were great hits all over the country. Less popular were the lyrically complicated Sarovar lahraye or Roun main Sagaar ke kinare (Nagina, 1951)
Like films, the lyric had now been fashioned into a new art which often attained high poetic standards. Many of the songs written between 1950 and 1970 had much literary value. The famous lyricists of this period included Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Shakeel Badayuni, Naqsh Lyallpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Rajinder Krishan, Gulzar, P L Santoshi, Saraswati Kumar Deepak, Hasrat Jaipuri, Qamar Jalalabadi, Anand Bakshi and Hindi poets Inderjeet Sinsh Tulsi, Balkavi Bairagi, Neeraj, Ravindra Jain and Yogesh.
There were a few others whose poems created a sensation though they were never very famous. For instance a Ramesh Gupta wrote Bharat ki ek sannari ki hum katha sunate hain for (Ram Rajya, 1943) taking the country by storm and the Urdu poet Nakshab wrote Ayega, ayega aanewala (Mahal, 1949), another rage of the day.
Most lyricists loved to work in tandem with selected composers or directors as team. Like tuning a musical instrument, their understanding and appreciation of each other’s art and craft was a pre-requisite to quality output.
Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri were most comfortable with Shankar Jaikishan and Raj Kapoor while Sahir loved working with Guru Dutt, the Chopra Brothers (Baldev Raj and Yash Raj) and music director Roshan.
The shy Shakeel Badayuni mostly stuck to his brother-in-law Naushad and Ravi while Kaifi Azmi was partial towards Chetan Anand and Madan Mohan. Majrooh loved S D Burman as much as Gulzar loved R D Burman, their chemistry impeccable to the last.
Among the thousands, representative gems, songs like ‘Jane woh kaise log thay’ (Pyaasa, 1957, Sahir), ‘Waqt ne kiya’ (Kaghaz ke Phool, 1959, Kaifi Azmi), ‘Aurat ne janam diya’ (Sadhna, 1958, Sahir), ‘Yeh Ishq Ishq hai’ (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960, Sahir), ‘Chaudvin ka Chand ho’ (Chaudvin Ka Chand, 1961, Shakeel), ‘Sab kuch sikha humne’ (Anari, 1959, Shailendra), ‘Mora gora ang laile’ (Bandini, 1963, Gulzar), Chahunga main tujhe (Dosti, 1964, Majrooh), ‘Sajan re jhoot mat bolo’ (Teesri Kasam, 1967, Shailendra), ‘Mere Desh ki Dharti (Upkar, 1967, Gulshan Bawra), ‘Chhodh di sari duniya kisi ke liye’ (Saraswatichandra, 1968, Indivar), Dil ke Jharoke mein (Brahamchari, 1969, Hasrat Jaipuri), Phoolon ke Rang Se (Prem Pujari, 1970, Neeraj), Kahin Door Jab (Anand, 1971, Yogesh), Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (Black Mail, 1973, Rajinder Krishan) are cinema’s gift to Hindi/Urdu poetry and literature.
During this period, a lot of literature was adapted for films. Bhagwati Charan Verma’s ‘Chitralekha’ (1941), a number of Sarat Chandra novels, and Premchand’s famous novel ‘Godaan’. However, the lyrics written for them did not always hit the jackpot.
No doubt Urdu poets, Sahir, Shakeel and Gulzar had their moorings in the literary field but it is cinema which shot them to fame. Many of the lyricists did not seem very happy writing film songs as to sell a composition for the sake of livelihood often meant painful subordination of personal creativity.
Many song writers felt that writing lyrics to fit a given film situation was one of the main causes of this unfortunate development. Further, Anjan commented that if one is not famous, his original composition may allegedly end up being plagiarized.
Varied opinions were expressed by song writers and music directors on the synergy of lyrics and music composition. Gulzar felt that sometimes a well-set tune inspired the writer. C. Ramachandra vehemently stated that it is the weakness of the music director which prompts him to have a song written on the preset tune. Kalyanji Anandji believed in offering as far as possible, the greatest independence and latitude to lyric writers.
By the seventies, with the old guard retiring, a few lyricists monopolised the trade. In a 1975 survey of 75 films, three lyricists (Anand Bakshi, Indivar and Majrooh Sultanpuri) wrote for 30 films. Anand Bakshi, the ‘Janata’ poet, alone cornered 15.
New talent was not nurtured with the result that by the time we were boarding the eighties, film lyrics had been almost euthanized into meek submission.