Shailendra – the lyricist and songwriter extraordinaire

Rupen Ghosh is a Delhi-based retired government officer with a keen interest in arts and literature.

Rupen Ghosh

The fifties and the sixties saw the finest hour of Urdu poetry with Sahir, Majrooh, Kaifi, Shakeel Badayuni, Rajinder Krishan, taking the film music to its zenith. Most of them came from the IPTA stable and had pronounced progressive leaning, which was reflected in their poetry of increasing disillusionment with the project of the nation state, of decadence creeping in, but also holding a note of optimism, and hoping all the while of India breaking free of its feudal shackles to emerge as a nation of reckoning, from its periodic crises. shailendra-with-nehru-ji

Hindi poetry was somehow missing, and the gap was so admirably filled by the great Shailendra, followed later by Kavi Pradeep and Neeraj. He was clearly the one of the greatest Hindi lyricists, songwriters and poets that the world of Hindi cinema had seen. His poetry, true to the local roots, had profundity as well as simplicity, creativity as well as sensitivity. Unlike some of his other IPTA fellow-poets and writers, his lyrics and songs didn’t in any way sermonise or propagate any ideology. They were just simple truths articulated without any pretensions, whatsoever.

shailendra-759Shailendra drew from the long tradition of folk poets that medieval India had like Kabir, Meera, Amir Khusro, as a biographer of Sahir once said so famously. Shailendra wrote for Raj Kapoor portraying him as the loveable tramp from the lower section of the society and who struggled against the viciously greedy big, bad world of lucre and greed. He became inseparable from Raj Kapoor all through the ‘50s and ‘60s with films like Awaara, Shri 420, Anari. It is an irony that Kapoor let him down so badly by interminably delaying the making of Teesri Kasam, a Phanishwar Renu classic, which eventually destroyed him financially, taking a toll on his health, more of when someone who had contributed so much to the making of Raj Kapoor, as the voice of the underprivileged and that of a trifle guileless and naïve man, who didn’t understand the machinations and intrigues of the corrupting influences of the world.

Shailendraji’s collaboration with SD Burman in Bandini, Anuradha and Sujata, and with the inimitable Salil Da in Madhumati led to some great musical epiphany. Simplicity was his forte to convey some of the deepest thoughts, so also the sincerity of expressions, that had a profound impact on the sensitive minds. His countless songs with great human values, timeless and eternal as they are, will linger in our collective memory for a very, very long time. Here, this song from the film Bandini, a period when we were in the last days of the British oppression, a story of a woman bound by the rigid social customs of the day, and also by love.

It’s a very touching portrayal of India of 1920’s and 1930’s, of freedom movement at its height and India trying to emerge as a modern nation, not tied to its past. It’s also a timely reminder to us not to judge events from the past, from today’s perspective, with the benefit of hindsight, and view events and happenings from an earlier period, from the standpoint and perspective of moral, cultural and social values of that era alone.

Those were different times, after all, and watching a film like this brings home a timely and welcome reminder that how far we have travelled in trying to bring a sense of equity and justice to all those who were tethered to a past, painful and seemingly hopeless to so many.

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