The good old times of the 50s and 60s were Hindi music at its finest. Both in terms of melody and lyrics. While the composers crafted beautiful tunes, the writers embellished them words, deep and meaningful. Yet these songs were relatable because of their simplicity. One such lyricist of those times was Shankardas Kesarilal, popularly known by his pen name Shailendra.
Hindi cinema’s ‘greatest lyricist,’ as his contemporaries and successors put it, would have never made it to Bollywood, had it not been for Raj Kapoor. The actor first spotted Shailendra at a poetry soirée. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Here are some of the legendary lyricist’s best works.
1. Ajeeb Dastaan – Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960)
If I could dedicate only one song to separated lovers, this would be it. This one’s a timeless, generational favorite.
It’s an absolutely gorgeous Hawaiian-themed rendition where fatalism and melancholy dig deep into your emotions.
The lyrics find both happiness and heartbreak in the tragedy of losing a lover to someone else.
Ye roshni ke saath kyun, dhua utha chirag se
Ye sham jab bhi aayegi, tum humko yaad aaoge
There is a hint of anger in the words Kisi ke itne paas ho, ke sabse dur hogaye.
But it’s subdued, which was the hallmark of the 1960s era, when elegance held priority over sensation.
2. Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua – Shree 420 (1955)
Shailendra’s iconic words are as much responsible as the images of Nargis and Raj Kapoor for this number being probably the most romantic moment in Indian cinema.
The lyrics ponder over the tender hesitation that every lover goes through before committing to love.
The song is as much about convincing your lover as about convincing yourself.
In the first stanza, both lovers seek assurances of each other’s undying love.
Kaho ki apni preet ka geet na badalega kabhi
Tum bhi kaho iss raah ka meet na badalega kabhi
Pyaar jo toota, pyaar jo chhoota
Chand na chamakega kabhi
While in the second stanza, they dream of the wonderful life they would have if they commit to each other.
Raatein dason dishaaon se, kahengi apni kahaaniyaan
Geet humare pyaar ki, dohraegi jawaaniyaan
Main na rahungi, tum na rahoge
Phir bhi rahengi nishaaniyaan
Countless films have tried to recreate this, but a wizard of words like Shailendra comes once in a lifetime.
3. Tere Mere Sapne – Guide (1965)
Shailendra weaves the thin line of fatalism and destiny in this song.
The confession of love is of the purest form in these lyrics.
There is no grand gesture of love. Instead, the lyrics are all about giving.
The uncomplicated and selfless act of giving the best of you and taking the worst of your spouse makes these words so profound and relevant for every generation.
The lovers have fought against all odds in this film and Shailendra takes the situation forward beautifully as he tries to convince that this is their destiny.
The fact that the audience cares so much for Waheeda Rahman and Dev Anand proves how successful Shailendra was with this one!
Tere mere dil ka, tay tha ek din milna,
Jaise bahar aane par, tay hai phool ka khilna
4. Kisi Ki Muskarahaton Pe – Anari (1959)
Great writers have a fascination for human emotions.
Shailendra’s adoration for the most fundamental aspects of life like smiling and helping others is apparent in this song.
The lyrics are simple and to the point. And are perfectly in sync with the theme and situation of the film.
In an era of post independent India where forgery, cheating and nepotism made life difficult for the common man, such lyrics provided a slimmer of hope that living a good life is about more than just money.
It is about helping people and being part of their lives in a way that inspires them to be good.
And who better than Shailendra, Raj Kapoor and Hrishikesh Mukherjee (director) to show us the way to a fulfilling life?
Mite jo pyaar ke liye wo zindagi,
Chale bahar ke liye wo zindagi,
Kisiko ho na ho hame hai aitbaar
5. Jeena Yahaan – Mera Naam Joker (1970)
Shailendra managed to explain profound philosophical thoughts through the naiveté of a clown when presented with the daunting task of writing a song for a circus joker.
Raju’s life comes full circle in the film, as he ends up being the same person he was in his youth, a clown.
There is severe sadness and yet no hint of bitterness in his words when he says Gardish mein tare rahenge sada, bhuloge tum bhulenge hum, par hum tumhare rahenge sada.
The beauty of the lyrics is in the fact that they can be interpreted in a negative as well as positive sense.
Jag ko hasane behrupiya, roop badal fir aayega.
Shailendra’s love for fatalism springs up again as we understand there will always be a jester who must cheer up everyone when his own life is damaged beyond repair.
It gives us hope, yet makes us empathise with the ill-fated person behind the mask.
6. Chalat Musafir – Teesri Kasam (1966)
These are probably Shailendra’s most fun lyrics. There is no hidden profound thought involved here, but the lyrics blend perfectly with the rustic bhojpuri folk feel of the song. It reminds you of a bunch of local gawaiyyas who sing words seeped in folklore with innuendos and fast-paced music.
Some say the lyrics are a satire on the shopping habits of women while others consider it an admiration of the community’s ‘bulbul’ (an attractive girl of marriageable age). The verdict is divided, just like for all folk songs.
Even today, films are trying to ape/rehash (case in point, Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya) the song. Such is the impact. Manna Dey’s expert rendition of rustic pronunciations and Shankar-Jaikishan’s music (especially the harmonica) make this song an all-time classic.
7. Aaj Phir Jeene Ki – Guide (1965)
There is just so much to admire in Vijay Anand’s classic Guide. I could do a thesis on every song in the film. Shailendra’s lyrics are way ahead of his time with progressive ideas like phool hi phool zindagi bahar hai, tay kar liya. A simple thought like ‘happiness is a choice’ is expressed so beautifully.
There’s elation and excitement in the new found freedom. And the burden of the ‘uncertainty the future holds’ is lifted in the most playful way. The words instantly cheer you up.
The hallmark of a great lyricist is in how well he understands and interprets a character’s emotions. Shailendra masterfully weaves Waheeda Rahman’s youthful exuberance and hope for a better tomorrow in these timeless lyrics.
Kal ke andheeron se nikalke,
Dekha aankhen malte malte,
Phool hi phool zindagi bahar hai, tay kar liya
By Shridhar Kulkarni