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Sunday, April 18, 2021

On Sahir Ludhianvi’s 100th birth anniversary, remembering his timeless, passionate lyrics

Born as Abdul Hayee, he is said to have taken the pen name of Sahir after chancing upon the word while reading Iqbal's poems. Sahir, an Urdu word, means enchanting, or someone who can work a spell on you with his magic. Now isn't that perfectly fitting?

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
March 8, 2021 10:57:28 am
sahir ludhianviSahir Ludhianvi was a renowned poet-lyricist. Today marks his 100th birth anniversary. (Photo: Express Archive)

“Muhabbat jo anjaam tak pahunchi nahi, Wahi muhabbat hai, baaqi kuchh nahi,” Indian poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi once wrote for his collection titled Talkhiyaan. Loosely translated, it means “Love which never gets its happy ending, is the only kind of love which should dare itself to call love, everything else means nothing.” These are the kind of verses Sahir Ludhianvi wrote — personal, moving, sometimes provocative and intense, but never sentimental. After his untimely death in 1980, Mumbai, Sahir left a gaping hole in the world of arts. From writing socio-political poetry to penning lovely songs for Hindi movies, the artiste experimented continuously. Today, on his 100th birth anniversary, as a film journalist, it seems fitting to remember Sahir Ludhianvi’s contribution to what we now know as Bollywood today.

sahir ludhianvi birthday A young Sahir Ludhianvi strikes a pose for the camera. (Photo: Express Archive)

Poetry and Sahir Ludhianvi’s film lyrics are linked in a synonymous fashion. This is primarily because Sahir would often present a watered-down version of his poems in the lyrics he wrote for Hindi movies. One can find many of his timeless lyric-writing in his poetry book called Talkhiyaan. Songs from both Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) and Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Kabhie Kabhie (1976) can be found in the aforementioned poetry collection. Sahir Ludhianvi’s romantic tracks were breezy but impactful. His lyrics might have been given a commercial flavour to appeal to a wider audience, but the poetry in his songs remain visible. A good example is Kabhie Kabhie’s title track.

Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai
Ki jaise tu mujhe chaahegi umr bhar yoohin
Uthegi meri taraf pyaar ki nazar yoohin
Main jaanta hoon ki tu geir hai magar yoohin
Main jaanta hoon ki tu geir hai magar yoohin

“Sometimes I wonder whether your love is eternal; will you love me like this forever as you do in this very moment? Sometimes I wonder whether you will always look at me with love in your eyes. But I know that you are not mine, you were never mine. But I couldn’t help myself.” Things get lost in translation, and this is the case with Sahir’s lyrics as well. Literal translation can never do justice to his words, all you can try and do is capture the essence and elegance of his phrases. In the Kabhie Kabhie song, Sahir writes of an eternal kind of love while bemoaning its unrequited quality in the same breath. The track is both a tribute to love and reminder to self of the hard truth — ‘she was never his.’ Today, when all that is left of Bollywood music is pedestrian remakes and catchy tunes, Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyricism serves as a gentle nudge, that lyric writing is an art form that only a few can achieve.

Sahir was a conscious lyric writer. He was alive to life’s dilemmas, its struggles. His range was immense. The lyricist could be both fun and passionate, sometimes evoking these sentiments in the listener simultaneously. Sample Naya Daur’s “Udein Jab Jab Zulfein Teri.” Not only were the lyrics light and flirty, they had a sense of innocence about them. Dilip Kumar’s screen presence certainly helped matters. This is not to say that we don’t have good lyricists working in the industry today. We do — Varun Grover, Prasoon Joshi, Swanand Kirkire, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Rashmi Singh, Irshad Kamil, and the veterans Gulzar and Javed Akhtar to name a few, who have been working for decades in the Hindi film industry. But what are we doing with such talent? The movie producers and the audience are to blame. It is that egg-chicken cycle again. Makers think that the only way to catch the attention of viewers is to make easy, repetitive tracks, and the audience validate their beliefs by making chartbusters out of these songs. Sahir showed us that you could entertain as well as engage with the audience on an emotional level by choosing your words with care. From the hummable “Yun To Humne Lakh Haseen Dekhe Hai” to the hopeful “Wo Subah Kabhi To Aayegi,” Sahir Ludhianvi had the capacity to leave his listeners spell-bound.

Many biographers of the lyricist have written of his intense romantic relationship with the poetess Amrita Pritam, and have even gone on to claim that much of the romanticism in his songs sprung from the affection he had for her. But theirs was a love that never came to fruition, as Sahir, despite his feelings for Pritam, could not bring himself to commit to her wholeheartedly. Some say that he harboured deep love for his mother and hated his father as he had walked out on them when Sahir was a mere infant. Born as Abdul Hayee, Sahir started writing from a very young age and is said to have taken the pen name of Sahir after chancing upon the word while reading Iqbal’s poems. Sahir, an Urdu word, means enchanting, or someone who can work a spell on you with his magic. Now isn’t that perfectly fitting?

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