Majrooh Sultanpuri was part of the formidable quartet of lyricists that ruled Hindi Cinema in the 1950s and early 60s, the others being Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni and Shailendra. Majrooh Saab’s career, spanning over five decades, saw him writing wonderful lyrics for well over 300 films, many of them extremely successful at the box office.
Majrooh Saab’s songs touched the core of human experience. And although a product of the hoary adabi tradition of classical Urdu poetry, his film songs adhered to simple Hindustani, which struck a chord in both the commoner and the connoisseurs alike. To quote another well noted lyricist Prem Dhawan, “Majrooh blended popularity with purity of thought and expression”
Majrooh Saab was born Asrar Hussain Khan in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, the son of a police constable in 1919(?). After studying Persian in Aligarh, He then joined Lucknow’s Takmeel-ut-Tib College of the Unani (Greek) System of Medicine. He was an established ‘Hakim’ when he happened to recite one of his ghazals at a mushaira in Sultanpur. The ghazal was extremely well received with the audience and Majrooh decided to drop his prosperous medical practice and begin writing poetry seriously. His early and best-known independent poetry was in the ghazal form.
Coming to Bombay for a Mushaira, he impressed no other than film producer-director AR Kardar, which led to him making his film debut with Kardar’s KL Saigal starrer Shah Jehan (1946) which included the latter’s ever popular Jab Dil hi Toot Gaya – a favourite of Saigal’s and the song he wanted played at his funeral. Majrooh subsequently did films like Natak (1947), Doli (1947) and Anjuman (1948) but his major breakthrough was Mehboob Khan’s immortal love triangle, Andaz (1949), with hit songs like Tu Kahe Agar, Jhoom Jhoom ke Naacho Aaj, Hum Aaj Kahin Dil Kho Baithe, Toote na Dil Toote na and Uthaye Ja Unke Situm.
However, just as things were looking up, Majrooh Saab’s inclinations towards the left and his anti-establishment poetry got him arrested with other ‘leftists’ like Balraj Sahni in 1949. Refusing to apologize, he was sentenced to prison for two years. Having to start his film career afresh, Majrooh Saab finally broke though again with Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar (1954). With such successful songs like Babuji Dheere Chalna, Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar, Yeh Lo Main Hari Piya and Sun Sun Sun Sun Zalima among others, Majrooh Saab had truly arrived. Thereafter, he never had to look back.
The Guru Dutt-Majrooh Sultanpuri-OP Nayyar team went even one better with Dutt’s following film, Mr And Mrs 55. The songs are one of the reasons for the success of the film and numbers like Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata, Udhar Tum Haseen Ho, Jane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji and Chal Diye Banda Nawaz were hummed in every nook and corner of the country.
Although Majrooh Sultanpuri worked with all the top music directors of the day – Anil Biswas, Naushad, Madan Mohan, OP Nayyar, Roshan and Laxmikant Pyarelal, his associations with SD Burman and RD Burman stand out, particularly his work with the latter in the frothy Nasir Hussain musicals like Teesri Manzil (1966), Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973) and Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin (1977). He continued writing ever youthful songs even in Hussain’s son Mansoor Khan’s films – Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992). With SD Burman, his work in films like Paying Guest (1957), Nau Do Gyarah(1957), Kala Pani (1958), Solva Saal (1958), Sujata (1959), Bambai ka Babu (1960) and Jewel Thief (1967) is unforgettable! The list of hit songs he has written is huge as all these films had some extremely finely composed songs set to his writing. Few could match Majrooh Saab and SD Burman in frothy light chhed-chhad playful romantic songs like Chhod Do Anchal, Aankhon Mein Kya Ji, Achha Ji Main Hari Chalo Maan Jaao Na and Deewana Mastana Hua Dil.
Majrooh Saab was the first film lyricist to be awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his invaluable contribution to Indian Cinema. He has also been a recipient of the Iqbal Samman from the Madhya Pradhesh Government, the Sant Gyaneshwar Puraskar of the Maharashtra Government and an award from the Maharashtra State Urdu Academy for Ghazal, his collection of Urdu Ghazals. But perhaps the biggest injustice to his writing came from Filmfare which awarded him the Best Lyricist Award just once – for Dosti (1964)!
Majrooh Saab passed away in Mumbai on May 24, 2000. Among the last films he wrote for was the Shah Rukh Khan starrer One Two ka Four released after his death in 2001.