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 well over five decades, saw him writing some wonderful lyrics for over 300 films, many of them extremely successful at the box office. Majrooh Saab’s songs, it has to be said, touched the core of human experience and that is what them resonate so strongly with audiences. And although he came from a background of classical Urdu poetry, Majrooh Saab’s film songs mostly 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 as Asrar ul Hasan Khan in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, it is thought in 1919. The son of a police constable, he joined Lucknow’s Takmeel-ut-Tib College of the Unani (Greek) System of Medicine after earlier studying Persian and Arabic at a traditional Madrasa in Aligarh. He was a qualified ‘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 medical practice and begin writing poetry seriously. Soon he was a regular at several mushairas reciting his poetry. His early and best-known independent poetry was in the ghazal form.
Coming to Bombay for a mushaira at the Saboo Siddique Institute in 1945, his poetry impressed, long others, the well-known film producer-director AR Kardar. This led to Majrooh Saab making his film debut with Kardar’s KL Saigal starrer Shah Jehan (1946). His songs in the film included the latter’s ever popular Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya, which became a favourite of Saigal’s and the song he wanted played at his funeral. Majrooh Saab subsequently did films like Natak (1947), Doli (1947) and Anjuman (1948) but his major breakthrough came with Mehboob Khan’s immortal love triangle, Andaz (1949), where he penned 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. Another film of his, where his songs proved extremely popular, was the Shahid Lateef directed, Dilip Kumar-Kamini Kaushal starrer, Arzoo (1950). Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagah Le Chal from the film remains one of the finest songs filmed on Dilip Kumar.
However, just as things were looking up and it looked like he had arrived, Majrooh Saab’s inclinations towards the left and his anti-establishment poetry got him arrested with many other ‘leftists’ like Balraj Sahni in 1949. Refusing to apologize for his art, he was subsequently sentenced to prison for two years. Having to start his film career afresh, Majrooh Saab finally broke though again with the Guru Dutt films Baaz (1953) and especially, 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 was back with a bang. Thereafter, he never had to struggle again. Singer Geeta Dutt singled out Yeh Lo Main Hari Piya as among her ten best songs ever in a list she put together in 1957.
The Guru Dutt-Majrooh Sultanpuri-OP Nayyar team went even one better with Dutt’s following film, Mr & Mrs 55 (1955). 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, Salil Chowdhury, Chitragupta, Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal to name some, his associations with SD Burman and RD Burman stands out resulting in some outstanding songs.
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 light, ‘chhed-chhad’ playful, romantic songs like Chhod Do Anchal (Paying Guest), Aankhon Mein Kya Ji (Nau Do Gyrah), Achha Ji Main Hari Chalo Maan Jaao Na (Kala Pani) and Deewana Mastana Hua Dil (Bambai Ka Babu). But in the same films Majrooh showed just how beautifully he could write serious songs such as Chand Phir Nikla (Paying Guest), Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare (Kala Pani) and Saathi Na Koi Manzil (Bambai Ka Babu).
With RD Burman, though they did countless films together, his work, particularly, in the frothy Nasir Hussain musicals of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s stands out in films like Teesri Manzil (1966) – produced by Hussain and directed by Vijay Anand, Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), Caravan (1971), Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973), Hum Kissi Se Kum Naheen (1977) and Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981).
He continued writing ever so youthful songs even for the next generation – for Hussain’s son, Mansoor Khan, in the latter’s films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992). With the song Pehla Nasha from the latter, it’s difficult to believe just how beautifully Majrooh Saab captured that heady, ecstatic feeling of floating in the clouds that one feels when one falls in love for the first time as a teenager. After all, he was well over 70 when he penned this song! Age is clearly a state of the mind, he proved.
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 2 Ka 4 released after his death in 2001.