Sahir Ludhianvi

There is a nice article about the great Urdu poet and film lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi in today’s Mid-Day (Mumbai) newspaper. I fell in love with his lyrics watching the 1958 movie Sadhna starring Sunil Dutt and Vijayanthimala. Fortunately for me, the songs were subtitled — and subtitled beautifully, I might add! (The major reason I really need to learn Hindi/Urdu is so that I can comprehend and appreciate the poetry of songs from older movies without having to depend on subtitles…but anyway, back to Sahir Ludhianvi.) By all accounts, his life was unhappy and he was considered very arrogant and difficult to work with. But he was a genius, and he knew it. Bless him!

His poetry was largely about social conditions and humanitarian issues. He felt injustice keenly, and was an atheist and a frustrated romantic. A kindred spirit! He didn’t compromise on his film lyrics either. Sadhna is the story of a man (Sunil Dutt) who pays a prostitute (Vijayanthimala) to pose as his fiancee in order to please his dying mother. The film is an indictment of the double standards of behavior held for women*, and Ludhianvi’s lyrics emphasize that point over and over. I’ve only seen the movie once (I am looking for it so I can own it), but I vividly remember how impactful the lyrics were.

I do have a translation (although not as graceful as it could be) of a song I love that he wrote for the movie Dhool Ka Phool in 1959 (the song title is “Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega.” The movie is about a man who adopts and brings up a child that he has found abandoned. He sings:

You won’t become a Hindu nor a Muslim will you become
a human child you are and a human being you will become

it is wonderful that so far no name you have
and no association with any religion you have
the knowledge that has divided human beings
no blame is on you, for none of that you have

the harbinger of changed times you will become
a human child you are and a human being you will become

each human being the Lord created
and out of that Hindu or Muslim we created
nature had blessed us with just one land
but here India and there Iran we created

the storm that breaks every barrier is what you will become
a human child you are and a human being you will become

The song is longer, but I think this makes the point. I don’t remember where I found this translation (plus I refined it a little), so apologies for not giving credit to the translator.

He also wrote the lyrics for the classic Hindi movie Kabhi Kabhie (1976). His romantic songs often had a bittersweet quality to them (he was not very lucky in love, poor man). This is a translation of the title song (from bollywhat.com):

Sometimes the thought crosses my mind
that you’ve been made just for me.
Before this, you were dwelling somewhere in the stars;
you were summoned to earth just for me…
Sometimes the thought crosses my mind
that this body and these eyes are kept in trust for me…
that the dark shadows of your hair are for my sake alone,
that these lips and these arms are charged to my care…
Sometimes the thought crosses my mind
just as the shehnaii sounds on the roads…
that it is my wedding night, and I am lifting your veil…
You’re shrinking for shame, blushing in my arms…
Sometimes the thought crosses my mind
that you’ll love me like this our whole lives through
that you’ll always lift a loving gaze to me like this.
I know you’re a stranger, but even so,
sometimes the thought crosses my mind

It occurs to me that I could go on forever on this subject. Well, read Lata Khubchandani’s article. And watch out for Sahir Ludhianvi’s name in the credits and PRAY for good subtitles if you need them.

*Dutt Saheb made many movies along these lines, which is one of many many many reasons that I love him

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7 Comments to “Sahir Ludhianvi”

  1. Sahir was one of the greatest poets / lyricists ever. He was a revolutionary type of guy who was disgusted with the establishment, the system. It comes out very strongly in many of his lyrics.

    Sadhana was of course one of his greatest works in terms of hard-hitting lyrics.

    But his songs in Pyaasa are also just brilliant. Also very hard-hitting.

    “Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai”, “Jinhe naaz hai apne hind pe kahan hain”…

    Not to forget the bitter “jaane wo kaise log they jinke pyaar ko pyaar mila”.

    Sahir combined well with SD Burman till, I believe, they had a misunderstanding. Apparently SD felt his music was more the reason for success of their songs than anything else. Sahir felt slighted.

    His song from Gumraah – “chalo ek baar phir se” – is still considered an absolute classic in terms of quality of lyrics.

  2. Sahir is my FAVOURITE lyricist and would be if Pyaasa were the only film he’d ever done. “Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai” is so close to my heart I wear it there, literally. I have a T-shirt with this on it:
    यह दौलत के भूखे रिवाज़ों की दुनिया
    यह दुनिया अगर मिल भी जाये – तो क्या है?

    and have recently decided to get another one printed with a mix of lines from that awesome song:
    यह इनसां के दुश्मन समाजों की दुनिया
    निगाहो में उलझन, दिलों में उदासी
    यह दुनिया अगर मिल भी जाये – तो क्या है?

    Sahir’s genius made a very good film into a truly outstanding masterpiece.

  3. If non-subtitled Sahir lyrics can’t get me to learn Hindi/Urdu, nothing will :(

  4. Dear Memsaab, if you do need to share certain rare pictures or certain trivia about Sahir do let me know. I have done a full research on him, met most of his still alive confidants, friends and co workers.

  5. How can i share certain images of sahir with you?

  6. JANAB MEESAM RAZA SAHIB.
    YOU ARE MOST WELCOME TO SHARE YOUR VIEWS AND RESEARCH ON SAHIR SAHIB, we have lot of proposals to do research on sahir ‘s life and work. we want sahir should be RE-INVENTED for our the purification of our Gen’Next thoughts.
    :sahir ludhianvi genius global research council, Hyderabad.India

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