Legend Majrooh Sultanpuri, like his name, was a 'wounded' soul

·7-min read
Legend Majrooh Sultanpuri, like his name, was a 'wounded' soul

An Urdu poet of sublime proportions, survival concerns kept him confined to writing film lyrics – something he self-deprecatingly dubbed as ‘nautanki’.

As part of the vigorous Progressive Writers’ Movement, which condemned social injustice, he felt disillusioned by the fading ideals.

As a Leftist, he felt cheated with the industrialisation and exploitation of the marginalised.

A connoisseur of Urdu, he was dismayed at the decline of the language, with preference for English.

An advocate of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, he was distraught with the politics of riots.

An aggrieved father, he had to deal with the loss of a son in his late years.

Being the most prolific lyricist, he still had to struggle to subsist being the sole breadwinner of his family.

Exhausted by reality, the rebel poet surrendered saying, “Hum ko junoon kya sikhlate ho/ hum the pareshan tumse zyada (you can’t teach me what passion is all about, at one point I was more stirred than you).”

Yet, genius has the gift of surviving generations.

Two decades after his demise, Majrooh Sultanpuri continues to be replayed in his 3000 songs. He’s as much part of remix podcasts (Monica O’ my darling) as he’s the voice of evangelists in a compromised world.

His oft quoted lines…

Main akela hi chala tha janib manzil magar

Log saath aate gaye aur karwaan banta gaya…

… remain an invigorating reminder that journeys of a million miles do begin with a single step, a single person...

Around Majrooh Sultanpuri’s 21st death anniversary, revisiting his life and times…

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Majrooh Sultanpuri was born on October 1, 1919 as Asrar ul Hasan Khan in a Muslim Rajput family in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. His father, a police officer, didn’t believe in English education. He sent Majrooh to a madrasa instead. The young boy completed a seven-year course of Dars-e-Nizami (religious affairs) along with Arabic and Persian.

Later, Majrooh joined Lucknow’s Takmeel-ut-Tib College of Unani medicine. But poetry continued to engage him. He once recited a ghazal at a mushaira in Sultanpur, which left Urdu poet/lyricist Jigar Moradabadi, impressed. Jigar made him his shagird (disciple).

In 1945, Majrooh recited his nazm at a mushaira at the Saboo Siddique Institute in Mumbai. Filmmaker A.R. Kardar, awed by his tarannum (tune) and talaffuz (diction), offered him Shah Jehan (1946). Majrooh relented to make ends meet.

Composed by Naushad, the songs of Shah Jehan, Jab usne gesu bikhraye and Gum diya mustakil turned popular. Moreover, singer K.L. Saigal willed that his dirge from the film, Jab dil hi toot gaya, be played at his funeral.


Majrooh was then signed for S K Ojha’s Doli (1947) and Shahid Latif’s Arzoo (1950). But riots broke out following the Partition.

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Penniless and fearful, Majrooh quit his kurta pyjama for a trouser and shirt and walked across the ‘maut ka raasta’ towards Ranjit Studio. 

There he met musician/producer Jaddan Bai (actor Nargis’ mother), who gave him shelter.

His breakthrough came with Mehboob Khan’s love triangle, Andaz, (1949) composed by Naushad. Tu kahe agar, Hum aaj kahin dil kho baithe and Uthaye ja unke situm… boosted Majrooh’s popularity.


Majrooh was also involved with the Progressive Writers’ Movement. He expressed his angst against exploitation through his poetry and dubbed ‘azaadi’ as a ‘fraud’.

Once during a labour rally in Bombay, Majrooh recited a poem panning Jawaharlal Nehru’s move of including India in the Commonwealth Nations. A warrant was issued against him. He was arrested at a mushaira in Bombay, where he had recited the poem, Teraa haath haath mein aa gaya to an invigorated audience.

Morarji Desai, then governor of Bombay, asked for an apology but Majrooh refused. He was jailed along with activist/actor Balraj Sahni. 

Majrooh’s family was left in penury. His eldest daughter was born during his imprisonment. In a magnanimous gesture, filmmaker Raj Kapoor asked him to write some lyrics, for which Majrooh was paid a hefty sum. One song he wrote was Ek din bik jayega maati ke mol, which was heard in RK’s Dharam Karam (1975) years later.


Majrooh, though a reluctant lyricist, was an esteemed part of the quartet, which included lyricists Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni and Shailendra.

The Naushad-Majrooh partnership ended abruptly with the composer teaming up with Shakeel Badayuni. Majrooh teamed up with music director O.P. Nayyar for Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar (1954).

Their effervescent numbers Babuji dheere chalna, Kabhi aar kabhi paar, Yeh lo main hari piya and Sun sun sun sun zalima from Aar Paar were a rage. The Guru Dutt-Majrooh-Nayyar team worked again on Mr And Mrs 55 (1955) giving melodies like Thandi hawa kali ghata and Jane kahan mera jigar gaya ji.

Majrooh worked with celebrated music directors like Anil Biswas, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Hemant Kumar, Ravi and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. But his chemistry with SD Burman and RD Burman is unique. Chhod do anchal (Paying Guest), Aankhon mein kya ji (Nau Do Gyarah), Achha ji main haari (Kala Pani), Deewana mastana hua dil (Bambai Ka Babu) and Hothon pe aisi baat (Jewel Thief) between 1957 - 1969… testify their synergy.

Majrooh-SD Burman’s score for Abhimaan is a fine example of a situational soundtrack. Majrooh wove in mythology and folk allusions to match Burmanda’s similarly inspired tunes.

Majrooh and Nasir Hussain first came together for Paying Guest (1957). Their later collaborations include Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963). Majrooh introduced R.D. Burman to Nasir. The trio worked in seven films – Teesri Manzil, Baharon Ke Sapne, Pyar Ka Mausam, Caravan, Yaadon Ki Baraat and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen between 1966 to 1977 – all bestselling albums.

For Raj Khosla’s Chirag (1969), Majrooh had to pen an elegy to a visually challenged character. He happened to listen to Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ghazal Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang sung by Noor Jehan on radio. The lines, ‘Teri ankhon ke siva duniya mein rakkha kya hai…’ suited his brief. He called up Faiz requesting his consent to use those lines as the mukhda of the song. Faiz, of course, agreed.

Majrooh could strike an equation with young musicians too. Like he wrote for Nasir Hussain’s son, Mansoor Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992). He worked with Rajesh Roshan (Doosra Aadmi, 1977) after having worked with father Roshan (Aarti 1962). 

He allied with Anand-Milind (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak 1988, Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka 1989) after writing for father Chitragupta (Oonche Log 1965).

Majrooh’s hits in ’90s include Woh toh hai albela and Ai kaash ke hum for Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and the sprightly title song for Jaanam Samjha Karo. His lyrics for Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), Khamoshi (1996) and Pukar (2000) were also appreciated. Shah Rukh Khan’s One Two Ka Four released after his death in 2001.

Majrooh won the Filmfare Best Lyricist Award for Chahunga main tujhe (Dosti 1965). He’s the only film writer to have received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1994). He summed up his achievements wryly saying, “Aadha ilm (knowledge), aadha film.”


His position as a lyricist was formidable. But what distressed Majrooh was being unable to devote time to his first love – Urdu poetry, given the pressure of economics. In fact, his famous ghazal for Dastak, “Hum hain matai koocha-o-bazaar ki tarah/ Uthti hai har nigah kharidar ki tarah,” somewhere alludes to this anguish of having to commodify his art.

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Such was the virtuosity of his poetry that Urdu critic, S.M. Mehdi, reportedly called Majrooh ‘a natural poet’, even superior to Faiz in the ghazal genre. 

His collections of poems titled Ghazal and Mashal-e-Jaan (The Torch Of the Soul), prove that socio-political views can have poetic expression. 

He was honoured with the Ghalib Award and the Iqbal Samman, the highest Urdu literary award. He’s also credited for weaving Urdu words like ishq, sanam, nasha, dilruba, dilbar and mohabbat into Hindi lyrics.


Majrooh had a five-decade run in showbiz yet remained essentially friendless. Apart from professional frustrations, he was also battling a lung ailment. What dimmed his sanguinity further were the 1993 Bombay riots, which negated a lifetime of kinship.

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“For a week the man, who regaled the country with his songs of love and hope, paced the floor of his terrace… afraid his family would be attacked. His own words, penned for Bambai Ka Babu (1960), best describe his pain: Galiyan hain apne desh ki/ phir bhi hai jaise ajnabi/ kis ko kahe koi apna yahan ),” thus reads an excerpt from a 1996 article on Majrooh in India Today.

In his personal life too, Majrooh faced several challenges. He lost his eldest son in 1995 but the aging Majrooh had to contain his grief. With his other son struggling to direct a film, 70-plus Majrooh continued to roll out lyrics to maintain his family of seven.

The crusader, who wanted to revolutionise the world, had now limited his world to just his family. “If I stop even for two months, the kitchen fires will not burn… Once upon a time, I wanted to change the world. Today, I am content to feed my family,” he was quoted saying (India Today).

Towards the end he developed severe pneumonia. The end came on May 24, 2000 at Lilavati Hospital in Bandra. He was 80.

"Hamaare baad ab mehfil mein afsaane bayaan honge,

bahaare hum ko dhoondhegi, na jaane hum kahaan honge…”

Thus wrote Majrooh for Baghi (1953) expressing the evanescence of life. But while men are mortal, melodies are not.


Unravelling the world of classic Bollywood cinema - here’s more from Farhana Farook.

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