Happy World Poetry Day! India of course has an amazing poetic tradition in every language. And for the past 70 years, a lot of the best poets have ended up working in film lyrics. And also some of the very worst poets. I’m going to do a quick post giving you a run down of worst to best. Even if you can’t understand the language, you should be able to tell just from the sound of it that some of these are very very good. And some are not.
This is one of my all time favorite song sequences, and favorite songs to sing along to. And yet, I am aware that the lyrics are unutterably stupid.
Another one of my favorite song sequences, with slightly better lyrics. Not quite “worthy of being memorized and recited just as a poem”, but very good as song lyrics.
Okay lyrics here, but I want to include it because they have the distinction of being the only lyrics written by Amitabh Bachchan. Sung by him too, which is less unusual, but still notable.
Amitabh’s father was a poet, and I love listening to Amitabh recite his poems. Agneepath, of course.
And also his famous Madhushala series. Now we are getting into the zone of “you don’t need to know what they are saying, you just listen to the rhythm of the words to recognize the talent.”
We are also getting into the realm of lyricists who are poets first and write for films second. Like Javed Akhtar, who comes from a family of Urdu poets. His dialogue was like poetry, and now he writes lyrics that could work just as well as printed poems.
And then sometimes there are poems which are turned into songs. Like “Ikk Kudi” from Udta Punjab which was taken from a poem by Shiv Kumar Batalvi.
“Ikk Kudi” is a poem specific to a particular region, but there are also the patriotic poems for the whole country. “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna”, for instance, which is used over and over again in film after film.
Going all the way back to the original Bhagat Singh film (although Bhagat Singh of course didn’t write this poem, it was written by Bismil, it is generally associated with him).
Even the less famous poets and lyricists in the golden age of films were enormously talented. Like Shailendra, who never found great fame outside of his lyrical work, but created indeliable songs. Gulzar himself says that he was the greatest lyricist in Hindi film.
And then there are poets who barely worked in film, but occasionally found the perfect film for their talents. Like “Shahryar”, who in his regular life rose to be the head of the Urdu department of Aligarh University and was sought after in literary gatherings for his poems. And found the perfect film to frame them in Umrao Jaan.
And finally, possibly the greatest poet to ever work in films, who helped turn Hindi films from just entertainers to a higher art form, Sahir Ludhianvi. One of his last films was Kabhi Kabhi, and not just the score was written around his lyrics (as he always insisted), but even the whole plot of the film was based around his poems.
But Sahir’s greatest work was for Pyaasa. The movie lives and breaths through his poems. The bitter ones (translation here courtesy of another blogger):
The sad ones (translation from another blog here):
The happy ones (translation here):
And even the silly ones (translation here):
And I don’t think I can end this better than with Johnny Walker telling us to cheer up, he can fix everything!