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Who is...Pandit Narendra Sharma?

The lyricist for Raj Kapoor's philosophical Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Pandit Narendra Sharma's contribution to Indian cinema extends into the domain of literature and radio as well. 

Shriram Iyengar

In any industry, for every pivotal moment that takes place in plain sight, there are many more that happened behind the scenes. Nowhere else is this truer than in Indian cinema. Often the contributions of poets, writers, extras and producers who work behind the scenes are forgotten in the stardust of actors and directors. Pandit Narendra Sharma is one such talented lyricist whose contributions have shaped the history of Indian cinema. A Hindi Urdu scholar, he combined the tradition of Kabir and Meera with the lyricism of ghazals and Urdu poetry to provide Indian cinema with the Hindi language that was rich in the literature of Allahabad and Ganga.

Born in 1913, Pandit Narendra Sharma completed his MA in English literature from Allahabad University before participating in the struggle for Indian independence. His travails during those times helped shape his morality and thirst for literature. Belonging to the same batch as another illustrious peer, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Sharma immersed himself in Hindi poetry. His works were viewed with great respect and love among his peers as well as his readers. It was in 1942 that Bhagwati Charan Varma, author of 'Chitralekha', brought him to the city of Bombay to work as a lyricist with the famed Bombay Talkies.

During this time, Devika Rani's best team had disbanded. Kavi Pradeep, the foremost lyricist of Bombay Talkies had already had his differences and left the studio. Bhagwati Charan Varma, who wrote 'Pratima' for Bombay Talkies, suggested Narendra Sharma's name to Devika Rani. Pandit Narendra Sharma's first film as a lyricist was for Raj Kapoor and Devika Rani starrer 'Hamaari Baat' (1943). Under the maestro, Anil Biswas, he found a composer who understood the tone and the  temperament of his classical lyrics. Sharma's next film was the debut of a young, handsome man named Yusuf Khan. The only problem was that the young man did not wish to be featured under his own name. So, the writers of Bombay Talkies were tasked with the job of coming up with a name for their hero. It was Pandit Narendra Sharma who suggested the name 'Dilip Kumar'. It would go on to become one of Indian cinema's most recognised and influential names for the next century. The classical lyrics of his songs found the ideal singer in Lata Mangeshkar. Her rendition of 'Jyoti kalash challke' and 'Satyam shivam sundaram' remain the most memorable. Another very popular number is 'Naach mayura' in the melodious voice of Manna Dey.

Films were not the only benchmark by which Pandit Narendra Sharma's contribution to Indian cinema can be measured. In 1952, he was invited by Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to manage the new branch of All India Radio. They named it 'Vividh Bharati'. Under Pandit Narendra Sharma, Vividh Bharati grew to become one of the main public media in India. Its listenership grew to a record 97% by the year 1970. Some of the most important radio programmes like Binaca Geetmala took the country by a storm. This programme was vital to regenerating an interest in Hindi film songs and its lyrics.

One of his most famous works is the title track of Raj Kapoor's Satyam Shivam Sundaram. The philosophical lyrics of the song weave an intricate thread about beauty and truth and their divinity. The popularity of this song and its complexity earned the lyricist his first Filmfare nomination. On 11th February 1989, the great lyricist breathed his last. A poet who spoke about the presence of divinity in everything, Pandit Narendra Sharma's lyrics evoke the greatest truth of art - Art is truth and truth is beauty.