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Shailendra’s everlasting songs in Bimal Roy’s Madhumati – 95th birth anniversary special

The great lyricist, who was born on this day (30 August) in 1923, wrote nine masterful songs for the supernatural drama which was released 60 years ago.

Sonal Pandya

Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958) succeeded beyond the expectations of the film’s cast and crew. The reincarnation drama, with elements of the supernatural, written by Ritwik Ghatak, went on to win nine Filmfare awards, including for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Music Director and Best Female Playback Singer.

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While director Bimal Roy, music composer Salil Chowdhury and singer Lata Mangeshkar were honoured, so was lyricist Shailendra, but for a different film.

The lyricist won his first Filmfare trophy for 'Yeh Mera Diwanapan Hai' from another Bimal Roy film, Yahudi (1958). He was also nominated for the song 'Meri Jaan, Meri Jaan' from the same film and beat out Sahir Ludhianvi for 'Aurat Ne Janam Diya' from Sadhana (1958).

With all the accolades Madhumati received for its storytelling, performances and music, Shailendra’s name somehow crops up last in the conversation. The fact remains that Madhumati’s soundtrack, with 10 songs, remains the complete package. Only one song, ‘Tan Jale Man Jalta Rahe’, was written by Majrooh Sultanpuri; the rest were penned by Shailendra.

From 'Suhana Safar', sung by Mukesh, to the sublime 'Aaja Re Pardesi' by Lata Mangeshkar, the album has a song for every mood. Shailendra had to mould his lyrics for the intense love story directed by Bimal Roy after Chowdhury had composed the tunes.

In a 1991 interview published last year by Quint.com, the composer remembered his wonderful partnership with the lyricist. "We both helped each other," he recalled. "He knew Bangla very well. I used to write in Bangla and Shailendra used to translate it in his unique way."

The duo drove over to the Khandala ghat for inspiration where, after hearing a goatherd call for his flock, Chowdhury composed the opening of ‘Suhana Safar’. The composer, who did not have a reputation in the industry as a hit music director before this film, delivered on every count for this soundtrack.

Book excerpt – Bimal Roy’s Madhumati: Untold Stories from Behind the Scenes

Shailendra’s songs fit each tone of the film — from the joyous wonder of Dilip Kumar's Anand in 'Suhana Safar' as he visits the area around the Shyamgarh timber estate which is under his supervision as estate manager to the eagerness of new love in the duet 'Dil Tadap Tadap Ke Kah Raha'. Wonderfully, 60 years after the film was released on 19 September 1958, the songs retain every emotion of that era and remain relevant even now.

'Aaja Re Pardesi', the difficult solo by Lata Mangeshkar, was rendered by the legendary singer in a few hours. She recalled, “Actually it was recorded very quickly. I don’t think it took more than a few hours. Shailendraji was very happy with the way I sang it, so he gave me a huge bunch of flowers!”

In the book, Madhumati: Untold Stories from Behind the Scenes, author Maithili Rao gave new meaning to Shailendra’s words. “Madhumati is a lyrical celebration of the erotic," she wrote. "The very first song 'Suhana Safar' is pregnant with symbolism. Woh aasman jhuk raha hai zameen par, yeh milan humne dekha yahin par evokes the primal symbolism of the union of prakriti and purusha, so central to Indian thought both spiritually and metaphorically. 'Bichua' is an obviously erotic song that likens love’s sting to a scorpion’s bite, as true love drains out the poison. Though the dance itself is decorous, the lyrics are seeded with simple eroticism.”

The songs of Madhumati (1958) matched Bimal Roy’s ambitious vision for a sprawling tale of love across lifetimes. The passion emanating from the songs is evergreen and today the combined effort of the film’s songs can easily contend for one of Hindi cinema’s best soundtracks.

Shailendra, often associated with composers Shankar-Jaikishan and filmmaker Raj Kapoor, also had a winning collaboration with Bimal Roy and Salil Chowdhury with his wholehearted lyrics. Madhumati’s album is proof.