Straight from the heart

As we celebrate Shakeel Badayuni’s birth centenary, let’s go back to the life and times of the instinctive poet-lyricist.

Among the composer-singer-lyrist triumvirate of the music world, the lyricist is the one whose contribution is denied due recognition. Overshadowed by the other two, stalwarts such as Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and Shakeel Badayuni are marginalised by the print media. Unlike composers and singers, there is hardly any tribute paid to the lyricists on their birth and death anniversaries. Until the late 1940’s there was hardly any mention of their names on the gramophone records. So much so, that even the names of illustrious poets like Mirza Ghalib, Zauq, Daagh and others were omitted, what to say about the lesser mortals.

This reminds me of an incident at Begum Akhtar’s memorial concert organised at the India Habitat Centre. The performing artist was requested to sing the popular number “Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo”. The organiser told the audience that the artist would sing it if anyone in the audience would name the writer of this famous ghazal. Interestingly, no one in the audience of over three hundred gave the correct answer. The writer was Fayyaz Hashmi, a prolific lyricist who had penned over 500 songs before moving to Pakistan in 1947. These included most of the popular non-film songs sung by Jagmohan, Hemant Kumar and Pankaj Mallick in 1940s.

It was against this background that the lyricists of the Hindi film industry struggled to attain recognition. Shakeel Badayuni, an outstanding poet-lyricist after overcoming initial hurdles turned a legend in early 1950s. Born in 1916, Shakeel hailed from a literary family. He had earned name and fame as a poet during his Aligarh Muslim University days, winning awards at many mushairas. He moved to Bombay in 1946 and thanks to Naushad, then a renowned composer, Shakeel got his first break in Kardar’s film, “Dard” (1947). As the story goes, Naushad had asked him to sum up his poetic skill in one line and Shakeel said, “Hum dard ka afsana duniya ko suna denge-Har dil mein mohabat ki ek aag laga denge”. This was the beginning of the Naushad-Shakeel partnership that was to continue for over the next two decades. The songs of “Dard” were a great hit especially the one by Uma Devi (Tun-Tun) “Afsana likh rahi hun”. Shakeel was a rare phenomenon who was crowned with success with his very first film. Soon, Naushad-Shakeel team became one of the most sought after duo by the film industry. Their box office hits included “Deedar” (1951), “Baiju Bawra” (1952), “Mother India” (1957), “Mughal-e-Azam” (1960), “Gunga Jumna” (1961) and “Mere Mehboob” (1963). Shakeel turned a household name after his all time-favourites of “Baiju Bawra”, “O Duniya Ke Rakhwale” and “Man Tadpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj”. These songs endorsed his command of the Hindi language as well. Then there was “Na milta gham to barbadi ke afsane kahan jate”in “Amar” (1954), which prompted Sahir Ludhianvi to compliment Shakeel as the best ghazal writer in Hindi cinema. Shakeel reached the zenith of his fame with “Mughal-e-Azam”, with each song being a runaway hit and one of them, “Pyar kiya to darna kya” turning an all-time classic. Incidentally, with “Mughal-e-Azam”, the best of Naushad was over and so was the partnership with Shakeel.

Shakeel also teamed up with the composer, Ravi and wrote lyrics for his film “Gharana” (1961), “Ghungat” (1963) and also the famous “Chaudwin Ka Chand” (1960), whose title song rendered by Mohammed Rafi, earned the Filmfare Award for Shakeel as the best lyricist in 1961. Shakeel was also associated with Hemant Kumar and his two films “Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam” and “Bees Saal Baad” (1962) were both box office hits with the former emerging as Guru Dutt’s all-time classic. Its songs “Na jao saiyan chhuda be bahian” and “Chale aao-koi dur se awaz de” continue to delight the music lovers especially their sensational picturisation of Meena Kumari.

Even before coming to the film world Shakeel had attained recognition as an eminent Urdu poet through his participation in mushairas where he was showered with praise and superlative compliments both for his poetry as well as his recitation. He had little interest in political ideology or social causes and did not join the contemporary galaxy of progressive poets such as Faiz, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Sardar Jafri, Makhdoom Mohiuddin and others. He applied his talents to describe the beauty, love romance, emotional, sentimental and passionate experiences as well as joys and sorrows of life. The tremendous popularity of his film lyrics taught him that even the most serious and thought provoking ideas when expressed in simple words would appeal to the listeners. No wonder, his ghazals became extremely popular with the leading contemporary ghazal exponents such as Begum Akhtar and Talat Mehmood. Jigar Moradabadi, the doyen of Urdu poetry has aptly described Shakeel as ‘Shair-e-fitrat’ or an instinctive poet as his poetry was not a play of words but a true reflection of his own life. His privations and adversity did not turn him sour as he transformed pathos into love.

Ali Sardar Jafri, a staunch progressive writer though not much impressed by Shakeel’s literary style did acknowledge his mastery in penning down heart rendering ghazals. Ghazal is the predominant form of Urdu poetry. The great Urdu poets, Wali Deccani, the father of Urdu poetry, Zauk, Sauda, Daagh and Ghalib owe their fame and popularity to their mastery in the field of ghazals. Commenting on Shakeel’s poetry, Sahir noted that after Jigar and Firaq, Shakeel was the only one of his generation who chose to dedicate himself and apply his talents to the field of ghazal. He not only preserved the traditional rich literary heritage but also introduced new elements to enhance its appeal.

I recall Shakeel’s immense popularity with the All India Radio artists in 1950s and 60s. Above all, Begum Akhtar at every concert, Radio and DD programmes invariably sang two or three popular ghazals of Shakeel. These included “Mere hamnafas, mere hamnawa”, and “Ai mohabat tere anjam pe rona aaya”. Talat, on the other hand always sang his favourites “Hangama-e-gham se tang aakar and ‘Gham-e-ashiqi se keh do”. Once he paid tribute to Shakeel by singing in his memory the following:

‘Aankhon se dur subha ke tare chale gaye,

Neend aagayi to gham ke nazare chale gaye.

Jalwe kahan jo zauq-e tamasha nahin Shakeel,

Nazren chali gayin to nazare chale gaye’.
Shakeel passed away in the prime of his life in 1970. Professionally, he was then no more in great demand by the film industry. So, in a way he was spared the pain of dejection that was the fate of many stalwarts of the 1950s and 60s including Naushad.