Image & Narrative contributed by Amla Shailendra Mazumdar, Dubai. U.A.E
This is a photograph of an incredible team who marked the beginning of a golden era in Hindi Cinema’s music. Shailendra, (my father, whom we called Baba) Hasrat Jaipuri, Shankar and Jaikishen came together to create some of the most powerful and beautiful songs of the Hindi film industry, and it was none other than Raj Kapoor who discovered and brought this foursome together.
My father, Shailendra (extreme right with a cigarette in his hands) came from a very humble background. As a young boy in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) he used to sing Bhajans (Religious Songs) in temples but after my grandfather lost all his money, they relocated to Mathura (Uttar Pradesh). It seemed that the times were always hard on his family. By 1948 he was an apprentice at a Railway workshop in Bombay and was struggling to make ends meet. Poetry, however was his savior & first love, and he wrote about social issues of the time and would often be invited to recite his poems at small cultural events. He came from Bihar,had lived in Rawalpindi, Mathura which made him skilled in various hindi & urdu dialects and their expressions.
On one such evening at a Poetry Soiree organised by the Progressive Writers’ forum, my father’s recitation of his poem on Partition of India, titled “Jalta Hai Punjab” caught the attention of another attendee, actor and director Raj Kapoor. It was about the massacre of Hindus and Muslims alike during partition and how it left those who witnessed it scarred for life. Raj Kapoor, who introduced himself to Baba as Prithviraj Kapoor’s son, insisted that he wanted the same poem for his then under production film Aag. Of course the firebrand poet that my father was, and barely 25 years old, he refused point blank with a terse comment “My poetry is not for sale!” Raj Kapoor then scribbled his name and address on a piece of paper and told him “If ever you change your mind, this is where you will find me”.
When my parents were expecting their first child, my brother Shailey, the hard times only got worse and Baba knew it was time for some tough decisions. He went back to Raj Kapoor who welcomed him and gave him the first break in ‘Barsaat’. The songs “Barsaat mein hum se mile tum sajan, tum se mile hum” and ” Patli kamar hai, tirchhi nazar hai” were to bear testimony to golden times ahead.
“Awara Hoon” and “Mera Joota Hai Japani” were two songs that won global acclaim and are popular even today. Both songs have been translated in several languages including Russian and Chinese. In fact the song ‘Aawara hoon’ even got a mention in Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‘s novel ‘The Cancer Ward.’
I think Baba’s genius was in his ability to express the deepest and most profound thoughts in plain and simple Hindi. His songs thus reached out to the masses but without compromising on their literary appeal.
His genius also lay in expressing a grievance without offense. In an industry where composers would recommend lyricists to producers, Shankar-Jaikishan promised Shailendra that they would recommend him around, but then forgot about it. Baba then sent them a note with the lines, “Chhoti Si Yeh Duniya, Pehchaane Raaste Hain. Kahin To Miloge, Phir Poochhenge Haal” (The world is small, the roads are known. We’ll meet sometime, and ask ‘How do you do?). Realizing the hidden meaning in the message, Shankar-Jaikishan then not only apologized but turned the lines into a popular song. The song was then featured in the film Rangoli (1962)
It was a meteoric rise for him since Barsaat, the movie that launched him. Amongst his memorable works are songs from Sangam, Sri 420, Jagte Raho, Madhumati, Guide, Kathputli, Bandini, Anarkali to name a few. He worked with each and every well known music director in the Industry, including the first ever Bhojpuri film “Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chhadaibo“, with music director Chitragupta. Baba also won three Filmfare awards. “yeh mera diwana pan hai“, from Yahudi, “sub kuchh seekha humne“, from Anari and “Main gaoon tum so jao“, from Brahmachari. The last was earned posthumously.
He also produced the film Teesri Kasam based on a story by Phaneswar Nath Renu for which he was awarded the President’s Gold Medal. The film was initially considered a failure and took a toll on Baba, but ironically over time won huge critical acclaim and is now considered a huge success.
Interestingly, Barsaat was the first film for all four people in this photograph. And Baba wrote lyrics for each and every Raj Kapoor film thereafter with Mera Naam Joker as his last. He passed away on December 14, on the birthday of his mentor Raj Kapoor. I think what Hasrat Jaipuri once stated in a TV-interview was accurate “Shailendra was the best lyricist the Indian film industry ever had.” His songs would never let us and his future generations forget that.
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This Post Has 7 Comments
baz24 Jan 2016
Yes, the songs awara hoo and mera juta hai japani were the most popular songs and the movies of Raj kapoor in Russia, where I watched first time. most old , even middle aged russian could sing even in hindi first several lines. I was a student there from Bangladesh and Raj Kappor was more popular in the asian parts and Azerbaijan , Georgia and Armenia than even in India as I observed. But did not know that the song written by your dad. Even a few care who wrote or composed, but when a written and composed, most benefits go to singers. Once Manna Dey told that main part of my songs is lyricists and composers and I just sang what they told. They could do with the other singers too.
In Bengali most popular was Pulak Banerjee,Gouri Prasanna Majumder, Mukul Dutta, Salil Chowdhury etc… God bless all those creators of good songs, which refreshes our minds and souls
V Maruthi Rao22 Jan 2014
How can anyone forget his immortal lyrics he penned for a score of super hit songs that he wrote for such legendary music directors like Shankar-Jaikishan, Salil da, Sachin Dev Burman. He distilled philosophy of life in such simple words that his songs carried profound meaning. ‘ Kisike muskurahaton pe ho nisar, kisika dard mil sakhe toh le udhar’ from Anari, “Hoton pe sachai rehti hai, jaha dil me safai rehti hai” from JDMGBH, and many many more such simple yet heart touching songs were his creations. A legendary poet.
Seshagiri Row KARRY21 Jan 2014
Our blind worship for SJ makes some blind to his other lyrics under other music maestri.Nothing more than that be read into that.
Kaushik Maitra7 Jan 2014
While talking about Shailendra, everyone refers to Shankar Jaikishan only. He worked successfully with other stalwart composers like S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury and many more. In fact, Salil Chowdhury himself was a big admirer of his poetry.
Jameela9 Oct 2013
He was what I would call a true songwriter, one who knew how to place words on musical notes. Others at that time were poets, having their poetry set to music. But Shailendra, god rest his soul, was not only a top class poet but also a songwriter par excellence. His many songs are unforgettable and superior to almost anything being put out these days. Thank you for your piece.
Joe19 Jun 2013
A well written tribute to a great artist.
Like that incident about “Chhoti Si Yeh Duniya, Pehchaane Raaste Hain. Kahin To Miloge, Phir Poochhenge Haal”
Some of his songs are still my favourite :-)
Geetali7 Feb 2013
Dear Ms. Amla Shailendra Mazumdar, thank you so much for sharing this photo and some unknown aspects of your late father’s biography. Shailendra lives on in the hearts of countless lovers of Hindi film music. His “Teesri Kasam” is a fine classic and a true jewel in the crown of our country’s cinema.