Sahir Ludhianvi is one of the celebrated lyricists that Hindi film industry has ever had. Coming from Urdu background from Ludhiana Punjab (undivided then), Sahir was enormously gifted and this gift was exploited royally in Indian film industry. Born on 8th of March 1921 in Ludhiana, Sahir had to face parental separation during his childhood. Born as Abdul Hayee, Sahir adopted this pen name which has so deeply imbibed among people’s memories. He hails from a wealthy family and his grandparents and parents were zamindars in Ludhiana.
His father Fazal Mohammad and his mother Sardar Begum who was a Kashmiri went through a divorce when Sahir was just 13 years old. Both battled over his custody and it was his mother who got to keep him. She raised him with difficulty and hence he was not blessed with a colorful childhood. He was educated in Ludhiana at Khalsa High School and then Satish Chander Dhavan Government College. He was known for his frivolous speeches at college and his talent at ghazals and poetry was highly popular. He was no ordinary kind and he proved that. This bold personality was also an iconoclast and was severely criticized for his opinions on certain controversial religious (Islamic) issues.
In 1943 he got settled in Lahore and he began working on his book during early days of his life. He wrote Talkhiyaan, his first collection of poems in 1945, which was in Urdu. He was well-versed in Urdu as well as Hindi languages. He learned Urdu from his Maulana Faryaaz Haryanvi and also Farsi. He has also edited certain Urdu magazines during his time in Pakistan such as Adab-e-Lateef, and Savera. The partition between India and Pakistan affected this writer as he enjoyed the diverse friendships with people. He associated himself with Progressive Writers Association and was scorned upon by the Pakistan Government for his radical ideas in Prithlari magazine.
After the partition, Sahir could no longer live in Pakistan and hence he shifted to Delhi, finally settling down in Mumbai. Sahir was in the middle of an era (the 1950s and 1960s) where Hindi film industry had legends like ‘
’, S D Burman,
, ‘Khayyam’ and N Dutta. His friendship with Gulzar could only result good for Sahir, for soon he found himself writing lyrics for Hindi movies. His debut to the industry was 1948 movie, Azadi Ki Raah Par with the song Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi. It was not an instant success for both Sahir and the movie. But that did not stop Sahir from writing lyrics for the films. He was devoted to this industry and he did deliver some of the most memorable songs during his time.
In 1951, ‘Naujawan’ was released and Sahir’s songs were a super hit. It was followed by Guru Dutt’s film ‘Baazi’ which also was a hit with the melody. Both the movies had S D Burman as the music director. Sahir’s friendship with Burman went on to until 18 films and hence proving the remarkable partnership of the two in the industry. Sahir, from the beginning, did not identify himself with the love poetry genre. His lyrics for cinema as well as his poems do not typically belong to love poems filled with flowy words and the fantasy world of love. He is one poet who wanted to bring about social issues into the poetry he wrote.
Even as a lyricist, it seemed like art for when he wrote lyrics for a song he wrote about social realities in them. He was always hanging between the conflicting ideas of love and social perils in his work. He was known for his different style of lyrics and he was also accepted by the industry. Directors like Ravi, S D Burman, Roshan and Dutta had accustomed to it and so did the audience during those days. During his more than two decades career, he has been a successful lyricist with 733 songs to his credit from working with 122 movies. He was a respected man although, he demanded recognition for lyricists in the industry. He voiced to have equal recognition for the lyricists along with other movie heads.
He was known to have strong opinions about who produced his songs. He was also the kind of a lyricist who would write the lyrics and expect the directors to weave the movie/music accordingly and not the other way around. He tasted success very early in the industry and it lasted for quite a long time. Some of Sahir’s famous and well-received songs come from the movies Taj Mahal (a period film),
Phir Subah Hogi
, ‘Trishul’ and infamous
. The movie Kabhie Kabhie is considered to be one of the most successful movies with most popular songs penned by Sahir. The epic Taj Mahal movie got his first Filmfare award for Best Lyricist for the song Jo Wada Kiya in 1964.
The film Kabhie Kabhie, however, was breaking all records and Sahir got his second Filmfare for Best Lyrics in 1977 for the popular song Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein. Collaborating with S D Burman, Sahir was part of some of the famous movies like Taxi Driver, ‘Naujawan’, ‘
’ (1955) and ‘Munimji’. However, it was sad to learn that SDB and Sahir went separate ways because of a movie and stopped making music together. Dhool Ka Phool movie which sees Sahir working with the Goan musician Dattaram Naik is one of the notable works of Sahir. This was
’s directorial venture and the song Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega is the song to cherish.
Na Toh Karvan Ki Talash He, a song from Roshan’s Barsat Ki Raat depicts successful partnership of Sahir and Roshan. He went on to work with ‘
’ (Hum Dono), Madan Mohan (‘Gazal’) and Ravi’s ‘Waqt’ movie with songs like Aye Meri Zohra Zabeen which was a huge hit. Sahir, who was an excellent Urdu poet also worked with Yash Chopra. Sahir’s contribution to the music industry is incomplete without mentioning Khayyam’s Kabhie Kabhie. The movie was a critical as well as a commercial success with powerful music composed by Khayyam. The lyrics for this movie have said to be inspired by one of Sahir’s Urdu poems.
Sahir’s songs have been sung by some of the big names in the industry. His lyrics so powerful and yet realistic were given voice and added melody to it by names like
. Some songs have also been sung by
and Mohammad Rafi. However, he encouraged one singer in particular namely Sudha Malhotra. It is said that Sahir and Sudha shared a close relationship and this led Sahir to support and encourage her. Sahir’s poetry collection can be found in Talkhiyan and Parchaiyaan.
He was never married in his life although was rumored to have had partners in life. It often happened that his religion (Islam) was never accepted by his partners and hence they failed to get married. He died at an age of 59 on 25th of October 1980 due to a massive heart attack, ending his journey in poetry and movies. He is said to have died in the arms of
and was buried at Juhu Muslim Cemetry.