Shailendra by Raj Kapoor.
Wednesday, 14 December, 1966. Worker’s day was being celebrated at R K Studios. Pooja was over and on the huge set of ‘Mera Naam Joker’ erected on the sound stage, the assembled workers were receiving their bonds from Raj Kapoor. Twice during the proceedings, Raj Kapoor was called to the phone. At the other end was Mukesh, speaking from the Northcote Nursing Home where the previous afternoon, Shailendra was admitted.
While the workers had their lunch, Raj and his colleagues sat by the phone in his cottage. Shailendra was in coma. Another call, Shailendra was on oxygen. Yet another call to inform they were giving him blood transfusion. Everyone’s spirits rose cautiously. This was hope. Twenty minutes later, Mukesh called again. Shailendra was dead at age 43 and the celebration of worker’s day at R K Studios meant it was Raj Kapoor’s 42nd birthday.
On lyricist Shailendra’s birthday today (30-Aug), we reproduce below an open letter published in Filmfare, written by an anguished Raj Kapoor at his friend’s premature death.
In Raj Kapoor’s words;
A part of my soul has gone. It is not fair. I break down and weep at this snatching away of one of the fairest roses in my garden. What a noble and selfless person he was, what a vital part of my being! Now he is gone forever and all one can do is weep for him, cherish his memory.
Time rolls back. It takes me to the crucial years of the Forties. Dreams were being dreamt. Ambitions were on the highway to fulfillment. I was making ‘Aag’ (1948). We were at the Prithvi Theater at Opera House and just a stone’s throw away, at the IPTA office, was a fiery and idealistic young poet, a composition of whose I had admired. I was convinced that he was the only poet who could do justice to the theme-song of ‘Aag.’
I shall never forget the day I approached him and asked him to write it. He was restless, contemptuous even of the film medium and asserted that his poetry was not for sale. “l am not interested in money!” he stated categorically.
I knew that to be true. He was working as a welder in the G.l.P. now the Central Railway, living in their tenements at Parel. He was keenly conscious of politics, an idealist. He had participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1942 and gone to jail. Moreover his study of the writing of Jawaharlal Nehru, M. N. Roy and his leaning towards the Marxist doctrines shaped him an ideology that influenced his progressive writing.
I accepted his flat refusal but continued to watch his work. After ‘Aag’, we began ‘Barsaat’ (1949). Back then, we had our office at the Famous Cine Laboratory at Mahalaxmi. One morning Shailendra walked into our office aggressively. “I need five hundred rupees,” he said, “In return, you can take what work you please from me.” I gave him the money – and a “mukhda” I had in mind: “Barsaat mein hum se mile tum sajan tum se mile ham.”
It was when we worked together on this film that our relationship was born and we quickly found ourselves responding to the thoughts, aspirations and ideals of the other. From those days to the day of his death, we have thought and felt in unison, vibrated on the same plane, each giving of our best to the other.
Now that he is gone, the panorama of his greatness parades before my eyes. Have people ever paused to consider how much Shailendra contributed to the popularity of Raj Kapoor in Soviet Russia and other foreign lands through his simple and poignant lines? Be it “Awaara hun” or “Mera joota hai Japani,” “Mere naam Raju gharana anaam” or “Hoton pe sachaai rehti hai” from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960). It was Shailendra’s keenness of perception that his initial contempt for the film medium soon changed into a tremendous regard for it as he recognized that here was the common man’s art form as effective as the poetry he wrote – and how well he functioned in it.
He brought the little man’s colloquialisms, his effective simplicity of speech to the expression of the most profound thoughts. For example, who could say so potently, “kuch log jo ziada jaante hain, insaan ko kum pehchante hain.” (Jis Desh Mein Gangs Behti Hai). You could see his poetry in terms of visuals, in terms of shots. And in no small measure it was Shailendra who was responsible for contributing so vitally to the creation of the image of Raj Kapoor, symbol of the common man. His songs, which grace all my films as well as the films of so many others were all the essence of minimalism, yet more poignant and compelling than the bombast of many poets.
Many of his close associates and friends at RK Studios felt that Shailendra’s most tragic mistake and one which was perhaps ultimately responsible for his death in the prime of maturity, was his plunging into film-production. He was too trusting, blissfully ignorant of film business and finance and soon got into hot waters. That the film ‘Teesri Kasam’ (1967) was completed and released is in itself no small miracle and a tribute to close colleagues like Mukesh, Shankar – Jaikishen and others who stood by him.
But he made the film with integrity and poured some of his best poetry into it. I remember one night when we witnessed a private projection of the film at RK and afterwards all present were invited to write any suggestions they had to offer. The consensus of opinion was that it needed more of the conventional box-office ingredients thrust into it. After reading all the opinions, Shailendra wrote in my diary – and l still have those lines with me – “I shall make this film as I like.”
His financial involvement resulting out of ‘Teesri Kasam’ harmed him immensely and made him sick in body and soul. Yet through it all, he wrote many haunting lyrics and three songs of ‘Mera Naam Joker’ (1970) plus the opening verse of its theme song.
I had the first line for this, from years ago with me but could not nail him down to sit and proceed with it. Then one night he came to my “Cottage” and wrote the verse -— and signed it. And when he did that, when he put his signature at the bottom of the page, it meant that was final, unchangeable. That was Shailendra’s ‘Jeena yahan, marna yahan, iske siwaa jaana kahan.’
He never spoke a word in flattery or insincerity. He was the most uncompromising critic of my work, during all stages of making of my films. And yet he was so childlike, utterly simple and lovable. I cry out to the creator, it is not fair but who listens. So he has taken away my Shailendra, a part of my creative faculty, a part of my soul.