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FLASHBACK: WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

June 10, 2018

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Masroor Anwar (right) wrote memorable lyrics for many composers including Nisar Bazmi with whom he had close personal and professional relationships | Photos by the writer
Masroor Anwar (right) wrote memorable lyrics for many composers including Nisar Bazmi with whom he had close personal and professional relationships | Photos by the writer

It is sad that while singers and composers get credit for the success of a song, the person who lays the foundation of a song by writing the lyrics is generally ignored.

His name did not appear on the 78 rpm gramophone records for quite some time, nor was it mentioned by announcers of film music programmes, until the veteran broadcaster Amin Sayani made it a point to announce the name of all those involved in the creation of the ditties, except of course the technicians, in his highly popular hit parade — Binaca Geetmala, later renamed Cibaca Geetmala.

Ironically enough, Filmfare Awards instituted in 1954 did not have a trophy for Best Song Writer until 1959. Nigar Awards which enjoyed the same reputation in Pakistan was in this sense a shade better. The Best Lyricist category was added in 1958 — only one year after the awards were first given.

Writing lyrics for movies is more difficult than writing poetry for publication. A lyricist has to keep in mind the situation in the movie and the character, who is supposed to ‘sing’ the number. For example, if the person is a rickshaw driver, one can’t expect him to ‘render’ a ghazal, which can be left for a poet or just a highly educated person.

If it had not been for film songs, Urdu and its poetry would not have reached the masses

Most film songs are penned to ‘fit’ on to the tunes created by music composers. It is highly difficult to opt for words without going off the music track set by the music director. It is advantageous if the composer happens to have an ear for poetry. Khwaja Khurshid Anwar in Pakistan and Madan Mohan in India are two prime examples. And then, of course, there is Naushad, who wrote poems for his own pleasure. They have all passed away, but they live on through their ditties, hence one is tempted to use the present tense, instead of the past tense.

Take the case of two earlier poets — Arzoo Lakhnavi and Bahzad Lakhnavi. Both contemporaries, but Bahzad could not click in films because he could not write successfully within the parametres of poetry for film songs. Arzoo clicked and so did D.N. Madhok and Nakhshab, belonging to more or less the same generation. They also ventured into film direction, but without achieving the same measure of success as they did in penning film numbers.

Celebrated film lyricist Shakeel Badayuni is reading his song to help Asha Bhosle jot it down in Devnagri script
Celebrated film lyricist Shakeel Badayuni is reading his song to help Asha Bhosle jot it down in Devnagri script

Take the case of two more poets. Josh Maleehabadi, a front-ranking Urdu poet, who penned the lyrics of Man Ki Jeet in India and Aag Ka Darya after migrating to Pakistan, and a much younger film lyricist Masroor Anwar. What a contrast! While the senior bard’s success wasn’t consistent, Masroor, belonging to the second generation of film lyricists in this country, wrote with aplomb songs for any situation and for any character, without compromising on lyrical qualities of the numbers. He wrote national songs too without stooping to become a chauvinist. It’s a pity that Masroor Anwar passed away when he was still in his mid-50s.

Another successful film poet to call it a day early was Suroor Barabankvi, who was based in Dacca (as Dhaka was then known). When filmmakers Ihtesham and Mustafiz were making their first Urdu film in 1962, they had a hard time looking for a film lyricist. On a friend’s suggestion they went to the head office of the Anjuman-i-Tarraqi-Urdu, where Suroor was employed. Much to their and music composer Robin Ghosh’s good fortune, the poet was alive to the demands of writing film ditties. He proved to be an asset for the growing number of filmmakers in East Pakistan and was intelligent enough to shift with his family to what remained of Pakistan before the creation of Bangladesh.

Shailendra, a leading Hindi poet, was even younger. He was perched on the top rung of the ladder when he passed away at 43. Though his domain was Hindi, Shailendra wrote ghazals for movies too in much the same way as Urdu poets of the calibre of Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi and more recently Gulzar and Javed Akhtar wrote Hindi geet as well. So did many Pakistani lyricists when the film situation demanded. At the risk of being labeled too subjective, I would like to recall Tanveer Naqvi’s geet from Jhoomar (1959): ‘Mohe piya milan ko jaane de bairanya / Teri binti karoon mein payon paroon/ mohe ik baar mil aane de bairanya’. Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s tune and orchestration left nothing to be desired. To say that Mussarrat Nazir had put up an excellent performance while lip syncing the song is to state the obvious.

On the other hand, many a good songs were disappointing when seen on the screen, Noor Jehan’s ‘Mujh se pehli si muhabbat mere mehboob na maang’ from Qaidi (1962) and Mehdi Hasan’s ‘Gulon mein rang bharey’ from Farangi (1964), both memorable poems by none other than Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were very poorly picturised.

One point that merits special mention is that if it had not been for film songs, Urdu and its poetry would not have reached the masses. Only a fraction of people in non-Urdu speaking world would have known who Ghalib was.

And as for connoisseurs of Urdu poetry, one may say that books such as Gata Jai Banjara which carried Sahir Ludhianvi’s film verse make absorbing reading. The latest in this context is Gulzar’s Umar se Lumbi Sarkon Per. Vinod Khitan, a Hindi writer, has transcribed his film songs in Devnagri script and its success inspired Pakistani film music enthusiast Sultan Arshad to transliterate them in Urdu, the language in which the poet expresses himself. The book has been published in Pakistan by a reputed publishing house. While leafing through the volume one would realise how close his songs have been to the poems that he had written for literary magazines.

Pakistan’s two poets, both veterans, Tanveer Naqvi and Qateel Shifai were invited to write lyrics by Indian filmmakers. Faiz’s poems were also used by Indian music composers.

It goes without saying that music, like poetry, has no borders. Habib Jalib’s revolutionary film songs and Ahmed Faraz’s romantic ghazals fascinated Indian listeners too. Habib Wali Mohammad’s rendition of Fayyaz Hashmi’s ghazal ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’, tuned by Sohail Rana, recorded by him for Badal aur Bijli and sung by him in concerts was rendered by Farida Khanum and later by Asha Bhosle, for a non-film recording session. And if I am not mistaken, the recording made no mention of the Pakistani composer and lyricist, let alone the original singer.

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 10th, 2018