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20 Shailendra songs that define the magic of his simplicity

From the inspiring to the romantic and philosophical, Shailendra's lyrics captured the highest ideals in the simplest terms. On the poet's 96th birth anniversary, we look at 20 songs that define this effortless simplicity.

Shriram Iyengar

In an interview with Livemint.com in 2012, poet-lyricist Gulzar said of Shailendra, "I have always believed that Shailendra was the best lyricist of Hindi cinema. I know he was actively involved in the films he worked on and knew filmmaking very well. He shaped his songs to suit the characters and through his lyrics added other dimensions to the story."

Among the three S-es (the others being Sahir Ludhianvi and Shakeel Badayuni) who shaped the lyrics of Hindi cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, Shailendra stood out for the simplicity of his language that did not dilute the high romance of his idealism.

A maintenance worker at the railway engineering workshop at Matunga, central Mumbai, Shailendra would often participate in mushairas (poetry conventions). At one such convention, Raj Kapoor was moved to try and hire him for his films. The poet declined the offer. 

As destiny would have it, it was Raj Kapoor to whom Shailendra turned when he did eventually decide to join the film industry. Beginning with Barsaat (1949), the lyricist formed an immortal team with RK regulars Shankar-Jaikishen and Hasrat Jaipuri.

But it was in the simplicity of his verses that Shailendra stood out. Writing in simple Hindi, unlike the Urdu of Sahir and Shakeel Badayuni, the lyricist's verses touched a chord with the common man. That was also why Raj Kapoor chose him to give words to his lovable tramp.

On Shailendra's 96th birth anniversary (30 August), we look at 20 songs that embodied the inimitable simplicity of his lyrics. 

1. 'Barsaat Mein Tum Se Mile Hum' – Barsaat (1949) 

Having refused Raj Kapoor's offer once, Shailendra fell into financial trouble in 1949. Kapoor offered him money as payment for two songs. One of them was this evocative number from Barsaat. It was the first step for the great lyricist. 

2. 'Awara Hoon' – Awara (1951)

Unlike most lyricists, Shailendra never took up a project without a complete idea of the film. The story goes that Raj Kapoor took Shailendra along to a reading of Awara's script by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. After Abbas finished narrating the story, Kapoor turned to Shailendra and asked if he had understood the gist. The poet replied: Awara tha/Gardish me tha/Aasman ka taara tha/Awara tha (He was a vagabond/lost in the crowds/A star from the skies/A vagabond). 

The song has since grown to become a signature of the showman Raj Kapoor himself. It was also one of the first Hindi film songs to go international, recreated in Turkey, Afghanistan and the erstwhile Soviet Union. 

3. 'Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke' – Do Bigha Zamin (1953) 

A prominent member of IPTA, or the Indian People's Theatre Association, the lyricist wrote this inspirational song for Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin. The tune, composed by Salil Chowdhury, takes its opening bars from a Red Army marching song.

4. 'Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh' – Shree 420 (1955) 

Even when he was playful and flirtatious, Shailendra tempered his verses with some idealism. Sample this cabaret number that talks about evolving to conquer a constantly changing world. The verses are picturized on a tuxedoed Raj Kapoor, who sheds his tramp look to become Shree 420.

5. 'Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwala' –Shree 420 (1955) 

The genius of Shailendra lay in his ability to say the darkest of things with a smile. 'Dil Ka Haal' is one such parody that portrays the struggles of a poor man in a capitalist society, without losing the inherent joy of life.

6. 'Mera Joota Hai Japani' – Shree 420 (1955)

Few songs evoke a sense of patriotism like this one. Long before 'Make In India' was a germ in the think-tank's mind, the lyricist created this Chaplinesque anthem for India's common man. Laced with dark humour and pride, the song is both praising and despairing of the newly born nation. 

7. 'Zindagi Khwab Hai' – Jagte Raho (1956) 

A poet who admired the philosophy and dohas of Kabir, Shailendra employed the saint's verses to open this parody about life. Filmed on the great method actor Motilal, the song describes the silliness of a selfish, capitalistic world. 

8. 'Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai' – Yahudi (1958) 

This song won for Shailendra his first Filmfare award for Best Lyricist. Filled with a sense of longing, it is a declaration of immortal love. The pain, longing, and melancholy in the song are brought out perfectly by the understated acting of the 'King of Tragedy' Dilip Kumar. 

9. 'Suhana Safar Aur Ye Mausam Hasin' – Madhumati (1958) 

While he formed a telepathic partnership with Kapoor's team, Shailendra also wrote some wonderful songs for Kapoor's great rival Dilip Kumar. This picturesque song captures the visuals of Bimal Roy's Madhumati (1958). Shailendra paints a wonderful picture of the scenery around, that is captured perfectly by Bimal Roy. This, if nothing, was proof of the lyricist's capability to understand the situation and the director's vision. 

10. 'Woh Chand Khila Woh Taare Hanse' – Anari (1959) 

Poets often claim a right over the moon as muse. In this wonderful song, Shailendra used the moon as a silent witness to the budding romance between the shy Raj Kapoor and the beautiful Nutan. Sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh, the song remains a beautiful memory of more innocent times.

11. 'Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nisar' – Anari (1959) 

This optimistic jingle typified the life philosophy of the lyricist. Shot in a quiet, lost Bombay of the past, the song symbolized the ideals of the 'tramp' immortalised by Raj Kapoor. Again sung by Mukesh and composed by Shankar-Jaikishen, the song went on to become one of the most popular numbers of Shailendra's career. 

12. 'Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh' – Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960)

Few songs convey the bittersweet pain of heartbreak as effectively as this number from the Meena Kumari-Raaj Kumar starrer. While the visuals are quiet and serene, it is the song itself that brings about the drama on screen. 

13. 'Choti Si Yeh Duniya' – Rungoli (1962) 

In an age when composers would often select their lyricists, Shankar-Jaikishen promised the poet that they would choose him for their projects outside the RK banner too. However, the promise materialized only after Shailendra sent a note to the duo with these verses. The composers got the message, and promptly turned the poem into a song. 

14. 'Ab Ke Baras Bhej Bhaiya Ko Babul' – Bandini (1963) 

A rare Asha Bhosle gem in an era dominated by Lata Mangeshkar, this number from Bandini speaks about the emotional deprivation experienced by women in prison. When Shailendra writes 'Bairan jawaani ne chheene khilaune/Aur meri gudiyaa churaayi/Baabul main tere naazon ki paali/Phir kyun huyi main paraayi' (My youth took away my toys/ And my dolls/I grew up in your loving care/Then why am I now a stranger), he speaks of the persistent estrangement of women from their maternal homes in the guise of marriage. 

15. 'Aaj Kal Mein Dhal Gaya' – Beti Bete (1964) 

While he could tap into pathos with ease, this lullaby from Beti Bete remains a rare gem. The lyricist would later win a Filmfare award for an upgraded version of this very same lullaby in Brahmachari (1968).

16. 'Dost Dost Na Raha' – Sangam (1964) 

This is easily one of the more memorable songs of heartbreak in Hindi cinema. The simple verses carry within them the force of greater meaning. Picturized on the trio of Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayanthimala, the song begins with Kumar about to take a sip of wine. But once Kapoor's accusations start flowing, the cup never meets the lip.

17. 'Wahan Kaun Hai Tera' – Guide (1965)

Despite his joie de vivre in personal life, Shailendra's lyrics were often imbued with a deep sense of fatalism and spirituality. While Vijay Anand's iconic film was littered with stunning songs, this one had a deep philosophical touch that was in line with RK Narayan's book. Sung in the lilting voice of the great music director SD Burman himself, it was the perfect beginning to a film that is easily one of Hindi cinema's top 100 of all time.

18. 'Duniya Banane Wale' – Teesri Kasam (1966)

Teesri Kasam was the only film produced by Shailendra. Based on Phanishwarnath Renu's short story, Maare Gaye Gulfaam, the poet put his life's earnings and property on the line to get the film made. Despite critical acclaim, the film proved to be a commercial disaster. Disappointed, Shailendra passed away soon after. The pathos of disappointment with the world is best epitomized in this wonderful song written by him. 

19. 'Main Gaaoon Tum So Jaao' – Brahmachari (1968) 

This song won Shailendra his third and final Best Lyricist award. The verses are very similar to an earlier composition from Beti Bete (1964). However, Shankar-Jaikishen's mellifluous composition and Mohammed Rafi's mastery take the song to another level. 

20. 'Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan' – Mera Naam Joker (1970) 

As far as signature songs go, this nostalgic number from one of Raj Kapoor's most iconic films stands out. The poet's life philosophy blends in seamlessly with the life of the clown, played by Kapoor himself, in the film. With effortless simplicity, the poet reminds us of the temporal nature of life, fame and love in a changing world.