Shailendra is regarded as one of the greats when it comes to lyricists of Hindi cinema. He was born in Rawalpindi in pre-partition Punjab in 1923. A sensitive poet, he moved to Bombay in search of work and ended up working as a welder in the Railways. An idealist at heart, he was a member of IPTA (Indian People’s Theater Association) which sought to promote India’s freedom struggle by staging plays for the masses.
In 1947, heartbroken at the partition of his beloved Punjab, he wrote a poem called “Jalta hai Punjab” (Punjab is burning). One of his recitals at IPTA was attended by the thespian Prithvi Raj Kapoor, the patriarch of the famous Kapoor family and his son Raj Kapoor, one of the great actors, producers and directors of Indian cinema. After the performance, Raj Kapoor, who was yet to achieve fame, sought Shailendra out and introduced himself as the son of Prithvi Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor was working on his maiden production and making his directorial debut with the movie “Aag” (Fire). He asked Shailendra if he would write for his move. Shailendra replied curtly that he did not write for money. He said cinema did not inspire him, he wrote on topics that he saw and experienced.
Shailendra went on to get married and he and his wife Shakuntala shared a tiny one-room flat in Parel. Money was scarce and they lived on his meager income. When Shakuntala was pregnant with their first child, it was decided that she would go back to her parent’s house in Jhansi. It was then that Shailendra went to meet Raj Kapoor.
The documentary “Virasat” (Legacy) on Shailendra has Raj Kapoor recollecting that he was in his office at Mahalaxmi when his peon informed him that the poet Shailendra had come to meet him. Raj Kapoor remembered his last meeting at the IPTA performance. Shailendra now looked worried, tense and also angry. He asked Raj Kapoor “Do you remember when you came to me asking me to write a song for your movie? I need Rs 500 now. You can let me know what work you think is appropriate for this sum of money”. Raj Kapoor gave him the money. Shailendra handed it to his wife and sent her to Jhansi for her delivery.
A few months later, Shailendra met Raj Kapoor and handed over the Rs 500 that he owed him. Raj Kapoor, smiled and gently pushed his outstretched hand back and told him I need two songs for my movie “Barsaat” (Rain), please write them. Shailendra returned with “Barsaat mein humse mile tum sajan” (In the rains, I met you) and “Patli Kamar hai, tirchi nazar hai” (Slim of waist, you cast sidelong glances). Released in 1949, the movie and songs (rest were mostly written by Hasrat Jaipuri) went on to become a massive hit. In fact “Barsaat mein” is considered the first title song of Hindi cinema, where a song is framed around the title of the movie. Thus was forged a partnership between Raj Kapoor, Shailendra, music directors Shankar & Jaikishan and singers Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar that produced many memorable songs. In many ways, these iconic songs, penned by Shailendra fashioned an identity for Raj Kapoor.
Circumstances had forced an idealist to turn to a medium he had initially scorned. Success brought money and Shailendra bought a house in Bombay and named it “Rhimjhim” (Rain Shower). Despite his success, Shailendra stuck true to his roots writing many socially themed songs during his career. Had he stayed a poet without venturing into movies, his verse might have been read by a select few individuals. With the medium of cinema, he reached millions and his lyrics continue to enthrall listeners today.
Here are the lyrics that Shailendra wrote for Raj Kapoor in “Anari” (Naive)
Kisi ki muskurahaton pe ho nisaar
Kisi ka dard mil sake to le udhaar
Kisi ke waaste ho tere dil mein pyaar
jeena isi ka naam hai
I can never capture the beauty of the original verse, but I would roughly translate this to:
Sacrificing to bring a smile to someone’s face,
Shouldering the burden of someone’s pain,
Harboring love for another in your heart,
This is the essence of living!