By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
Shailendra, poet and lyricist of extraordinary ideas and a weaver of words, the man who immortalised himself with Raj Kapoor’s collective team of geniuses such as Mukesh, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and Shankar Jaikishan, passed away on December 14th, 1966. Ironically, December 14th is also Raj Kapoor’s birthday. Raj Kapoor always referred to Shailendra as Kaviraj and that title suits him so well as none in the Bombay cinema come close to Shailendra in terms of range of his poetry and its impact on the masses. Cinema in fact was completely dominated by Urdu speaking elite, and of course Shailendra himself was not unknown to it. It is said that Shailendra made “Teesari Kasam” with great zeal and hope but after the failure of the film he was crestfallen and suffered a lot as his health got impacted. Raj Kapoor got the same with the failure of “Mera Naam Jokar”, as he adjusted himself, changed his perception, and rebranded his RK banner. A filmmaker can do that but a poet cannot. Shailendra did not have the option like Raj Kapoor to change, though many of the old time veteran poets have changed for the sake of surviving and therefore ended up writing vulgar lyrics. Shailendra suffered as he was uncompromising.
Shailendra started writing in Hindi though Urdu was actually the language of cinema and romance. Hindi can never come near to it in those expressions and feelings but Shailendra brought the ideas and vocabulary of the Hindi heartland into cinema and poetry of cinema. I still do not wish to refer to Shailendra merely a ‘lyricist’. In fact, it is the greatest harm done to him by confining him to merely a ‘geetkaar’ when he was a legendary poet, supremely talented and far superior to those who we have been given to read and recite in our Hindi text books because Shailendra was a poet of change. It is also true that the elite circle of ‘literature’ never really acknowledged Shailendra that way as it acknowledged ‘others’ in the cinema. Was it because Shailendra hailed from Dalit community? I think not, but it may also be true that Kaviraj was not comfortable with revealing his identity to the people those times perhaps because he might have feared discrimination. Hindustani cinema was progressive, but on the issue of caste, it still remained highly prejudiced.
Shailendra’s poetry actually flourished under Raj Kapoor’s pro-people cinema. Two giants who come from Peshawar in Hindustani Cinema were Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, who turned 98 just a couple of days back. Look at their friendship, relationship and achievements. Dilip Kumar remains an art in acting and any one who is in the cinema and acting can not really work anything unless he knows about Dilip Kumar. Unlike his friend Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor was a genius of collective work and encouraging talent. I would say, Raj Kapoor represents the collective success of a team of deeply committed artists. He was the first one who understood the importance of music and poetry for his cinema and that is the reason Shailendra became inseparable from RK films, though he was not confined to it. Some of his absolutely stunning poetry happened with Navketan banner of another legend Dev Anand for “Kala Bajar” and “Guide” — like “Tere mere sapne ab ek rang hai, aaj phir jeene kee tamanna hai” and “Gaata rahe mera dil.” Of course, Shailendra’s romantic poetry under Salil Chowdhury’s enchanting composition of film “Madhumati” was one of the biggest hits of Dilip Kumar and Vaijayantimala, with unforgettable “Suhana safar aur ye mausam Hansi’ and Dil Tadap Tadap ke kah raha hai aa bhi jaa”.
Art, cinema and poetry flourish according to the social and political climate of the country. So when the under nation has an inspiring leader and the political climate is pro-people, poetry is futuristic. It also gets strong in the times of dictators and authoritarian regimes, but it is more to give people hope. Shailendra grew up in Nehru’s India which was idealistic and secular in its approach. Raj Kapoor’s film and vision of “Sir pe laal topi rusi, fir bhi dil hai hindustani”, gave him more ideas of this futuristic vision. There is no doubt that each word written by Shailendra actually gave many people a voice – especially to those who were choking within our social system. In my youthful days, when I had no opportunity to read to big writers or philosophers, it was Shailendra’s poetry that actually saved me from deep dejection. Somewhere, I started loving his pathos like “Ye mera deevanapan hai”, “Aaja re ab mera dil pukaara”, “Jhoomati chali hawa, yaad aa gaya koi” or “O jaane waale ho sake to laut ke aana”. Shailendra remains most enlightening in his philosophy of life which are reflected through his songs such as “Mera naam raju gharana anam, bahati hai ganga jahaan meraa dham”, “Hum us desh ke waasi hai”, “Jis desh me ganga bahati hai”, and “Sab kuchh seekhaa hamne na seekhi hoshiyaari”. But the masterpiece and all times was “Kisi ke muskuraahato pe ho nisaar,/ Kisee ka dard mil sake to le udhaar,/ Kisee ke vaste ho tere dil me pyaar,/ Jeena isee kaa naam hai”, which lifts you to life and gives your life a new meaning.
Through his piece I am not merely remembering Raj Kapoor and Shailendra or Mukesh whom I loved listening to but also to other legends of that era Dilip Saheb as well as Dev Anand. Look at them, such a success would have made them mad but take time to listen to interviews of these greats and you will realise how humble they are or were. I listened to the last interview of Raj Kapoor when he got the Dada Saheb Phalke Award and the only thing he remembered was his friends such as Shailendra, Mukesh, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas saying, “Kal khel me hum ho na ho,/ Gardish me taare rahenge sada,/ Bhoolenge wo, bhuloge tum,/ Lekin tumhaare rahenge sadaa.” Just a few weeks back, I came across Dev Anand’s interview with Simi Grewal and I would suggest everyone watch it. What an incredible man he was, full of life and positivity uncaring about what people think about him and his films. Listen to any lengthy interview of Dilip Saheb and you will see the depth of language, class and thought in him. A few days back, I came across a beautiful interview of Dilip Saheb about making of the film “Mughal-e-Azam”, and he narrated about late Prithvi Raj Kapoor and how he used to be called as “Papa ji”. In this interview, Dilip Saheb informs us how close both were close family friends. For journalists, they were two ‘competing’ actors, but the fact of the matter is, they were very close and had no tantrums of being ‘stars’ or superstars.
Art and poetry is part of our political process. You cannot delink them. If 1950s and 1960s developed class films and enchanting life giving music, much of the credit goes to not only the brilliance of the poets but also their ‘kadradans’ or patrons. Shailendra, Sahir and Majrooh Sultanpuri flourished in the era when the film fraternity was humble, worked hard to speak people’s language and gave them hope and aspirations. Both Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar came from Peshawar and definitely Hindi was not their first language. Look at the films and their language. No Bhojpuri actor can come close to making a classic like “Ganga Jamuna” or “Teesari Kasam”. Who is going to write poetry such as “Nain lad jai hain to manwa ma kasak hoibe kari” or “Chalat musafir le liyo re, pinjade waalee muniyaa.” For good cinema, we need poetry with pro-people ideas and not those who vilify people’s movement. If Shailendra and Sahir are so popular even after so many years, then we must realise that their poetry challenged social norms and social evils at every step. Today our leaders want to control love, about which Shailendra wrote so beautifully, “Pyaar karne waale, pyaar hee karenge, jalane waale youn hee jal jal marenge.” and Sahir challenged the entire notion in revolutionary words in “Dhool Ka Phool” “Rivaajo kee parwah na rashmo kaa dar hai,/ Teri aankh ke faisle pe nazar hai,/ Bala se agar raasta purkhatar hai,/ Mai is haath ko thamna chaahta hoon,/ Wafa kar rahaa hoon, wafaa chaahata hoon.”
Shailendra further strengthens the argument that it is love and love alone which will be remembered by future generations.. Look at this beautiful song from “Shri 420”: “Raate daso dishaao me,/ Kahengi apnee kahaaniyaa,/ Geet hamare pyaar kee doharayengi jawaaniya,/ Hum naa rahenge, tum naa rahoge,/ Fir bhi rahengi nishaaniyaa.”
One thing is clear that art and films stood up with people and raised a banner of revolt against social evil and injustice. Art and cinema can never be a propaganda tool of the power. If it becomes that, it will die and will lose creativity. Raj Kapoor or Shailendra or Dev Anand or Sahir are remembered because they spoke of their mind, stood up with people’s rights and spoke the truth. If cinema today wants to be part of the propaganda machinery to justify social evils and vilify the opponents then it will end up with mediocre films without any mention in the future books. Cinema must remain revolutionary and challenge the popular notions and only then it will be remembered by people.
Raj Kapoor and Shailendra remain the most iconic combination of Hindustani cinema, immortal who gave hope and words to millions of people. Let us celebrate their creative accomplishments.
*Human rights defender