24 May 2000: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Indian poet and songwriter, died

Main akela hee chala tha janibe manzil magar, log saath aate gaye aur caravan banta gaya!

(Translation: I set off alone towards my goal, but, people came along and it began to turn into a caravan!)

~ One of the most famous verses by Majrooh Sultanpuri.

Majrooh Sultanpuri was the man behind over five decades of Hindi film song lyrics starting 1945 till his death on 24 May 2000. A renowned Urdu poet and songwriter, this lyricist legend from the Sultanpur village of Uttar Pradesh, gave Indian cinema words and expressions that lyricists still use and follow. He is best known for his versatility, which ranged from Jab dil hi toot gaya from Shahjahan, to C A T-cat, cat mane billi from Dilli Ka Thug, to Aaj main uupar aasmaan neeche from Khamoshi, and many more. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lifetime of work has left us with a treasure chest of some of the best songs ever written in Indian films. In addition, his first love, shayari and ghazals also garnered much praise from ardent listeners and fans.

Born in an orthodox Muslim family on 1 October 1919, Majrooh Sultanpuri earlier (actual) name was Asrar Ul Hassan Khan. His father, a police constable under the British regime was ironically against giving his children an English education. Asrar, therefore, studied in a madarsa and later went to the Takmeel-ut-Tib College of Unani in Lucknow, to become a hakim, as per his father’s wishes. Medical career was, although, not his career choice. Even though his father disliked his love for shayari, Asrar after becoming a hakim spent more time in writing poetry and attending mushairas, than treating patients. He changed his name to ‘Majrooh’, which means ‘wounded’ and suffixed it with the place he was from, to perhaps establish his future as a shayar.

Journey from Mushairas to Movies

Majrooh Sultanpuri’s movie career was more of a financial decision than a dream. His passion lied in writing Urdu shayari and ghazals, and performing in mushairas. He was considered as one of the best shayars in and around Sultanpur. His mentor, Jigar Moradabadi, an eminent shayar in his own right, took his shagird (pupil) to various places around India for mushaira performances. In one such mushaira in Bombay (now Mumbai), A R Kardar happened to listen to Majrooh’s shayari. Impressed by his impeccable diction and tune, Kardar approached Majrooh to write songs for his upcoming movie. Majrooh Sultanpuri did not think highly of films, and therefore he rejected the offer then and there. Kardar then asked Jigar Moradabadi to help him get across to Majrooh. Moradabadi managed to convince Majrooh to take up the film offer, saying that it pays better and will ensure better financial condition for his family. Majrooh agreed and after writing a sample for music composer Naushad, he was signed for A R Kardar’s next production. Thus, began the Hindi film industry’s tryst with Majrooh Sultanpuri’s verses.

His contribution to Indian Cinema

Majrooh Sultanpuri’s career in films was nothing less than a kick start! His first set of songs in Shahjahan was a huge hit. Soon he became a well known face in the industry. Despite his communist political ideologies that got him into trouble with the government and he was sent to jail, his popularity did not diminish at all. His lyrics of Andaz (1949), Aarzoo (1950), Baaz (1953), Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955), CID (1956), and many more, in the first decade, created a buzz among the public. His songs were enjoyed by people of all age groups and class. His entire repertoire consisted of over 300 films, with blockbusters musical hits like, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Sujata (1959), Dosti (1964), Mamta (1966), Teesri Manzil (1966), Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), Caravan (1971), Pakeezah (1971), Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973), Anamika (1973), Abhimaan (1973), Anari (1977), Kaalia (1981), Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Love (1991), and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). The song Chahunga main tujhe saanjh savere for Dosti, won him the first and only Filmfare Award.

Majrooh Sultanpuri had the opportunity to work with a number of musicians including Naushad, S D Burman, R D Burman, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Ravi, O P Nayyar, and later Laxmikant Pyarelal and A R Rahman. The decades of 1950s and 1960s was ruled by the “formidable quartet” of lyricists – Shakeel Badayuni, Shailendra, Sahir Ludhiyanvi, and Majrooh Sultanpuri himself. They made the time the golden era of Hindi film music adorning each song with a rich dose of beautifully sweet Urdu words. Majrooh is cherished for introducing Urdu words like sanam, nasha, dilruba, dilbar, and the most prominent today, mohabbat.

Versatility is considered as the main reason for Majrooh Sultanpuri’s illustriousness. He could dole out any kind of song, from folk and ghazals, to comedic and romantic renditions, easily. He was therefore, comfortable with both Naushad’s classical tunes to R D Burman’s rock and roll style of music. His colleagues and contemporaries remember him as being “young at heart.” This may have been the reason that Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics in the 20th century, are still regarded as true to its age and still rich in their expressions. Majrooh was comfortable writing Ai Kaash Ke Hum for Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and even Jaanam Samjha Karo for the movie of the same name. His later works include Andaaz Apna Apna (1994), Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), Guddu (1995), and Pukaar (2000), all celebrated for their music.

Majrooh Sultanpuri was honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 for his contribution to Hindi cinema. He is in fact, the first and only lyricist to have been recognised with the highest honour. Apart from this, the poet in Majrooh never left him and his anthology named Ghazal won an award from the Maharashtra State Urdu Academy.

His Death

Majrooh Sultanpuri for long had suffered from lung disease. A severe pneumonia attack was the reason for his demise. He was 80 years of age, when he expired.

Also on this day:

1973 – Shirish Kunder, Indian director, editor, producer, and screenwriter, was born

2010 – Tapen Chatterjee, Indian actor, died


A song for the asking, interview with Majrooh Sultanpuri by Saba Naqvi Bhaumik, September 1996


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