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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.



Avijit Ghosh, 50yrs on, Shailendra still finds space in hearts & Hollywood, Dec 14 2016 : The Times of India

Brij Khandelwal, Soon, memorial for late lyricist Shailendra in Mathura| TNN | Apr 28, 2015 The Times of India

Samarth Goyal, Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool opens with Mera Joota Hai Japani. Here’s why, Hindustan Times, Feb 12, 2016

His life. his songs

Avijit Ghosh, August 30, 2023: The Times of India

For decades, Awara hoon (film: Awara, 1951) was a passport to warmth for any Indian visiting the USSR, Turkey, Egypt, China and parts of Africa. The best-selling track even finds mention in dissident Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel, Cancer Ward (1966). And Mera joota hai Japani (film: Shree 420, 1955) makes appearances in films as diverse as Mississippi Masala (1991) and Deadpool (2016). The lyrics of Shailendra, whose birth centenary falls today, could remarkably create the universal from the local and the personal.

Shailendra’s life was his poetry’s wellspring. His roots lay in Dhuspur village near Bihar’s Arrah town. But he was born in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan), where his father worked as a contractor. When his father fell ill, the family fell on hard times and shifted to Mathura where they would subsist on “a meal a day and a beedi at night,” says the preface of Andar Ki Aag (2013), a book on his previously unpublished poems. 
The experience finds expression in the slum dweller song of Shree 420, ‘Bhookh ne hai bade pyaar se pala’. (hunger raised me with love). Only someone who had experienced hunger could dream of roti (bread) as he does in Ujala (1959): ‘Chulha hai thanda bada aur pet mein aag hai / Garma garam roti kitna hasi khwab hai’ (The hearth is cold and my stomach rages with hunger / To dream of bread is so beautiful). The book also talks about Shailendra’s real name (Shankardas Rao), his Dalit background and the caste slurs he faced playing hockey (‘Ab yeh log bhi khel khelenge’ (Now even these people will play the game) making him give up the sport.

Writer Sheoraj Singh “Bechain” says that during the Progressive Artistes era in the 1940s, many writers wrote on the oppressed.

“But as a Dalit, Shailendra had a first-hand experience of misery and caste discrimination. Distress isn’t just economic but also social and cultural,” says Bechain, a Dalit, and author of the acclaimed biography, ‘Mera Bachpan Mere Kandhon Par’.

Shailendra left Mathura for Bombay where he worked in the railways and became part of the Left-cultural forum, IPTA. The story of Raj Kapoor being impressed by his poem ‘Jalta Hai Punjab’, asking him to write in his films, Shailendra’s initial reluctance, and then later writing the last two songs of ‘Barsaat’ (1949) because he needed the money has been written before. In time, he would become a regular in films of Kapoor and Bimal Roy; his lyrics seamlessly fitting into their socially-conscious narratives.

A running thread in Shailendra’s celluloid verse is his empathy with the disadvantaged. “Staying within the matrix of the film’s script and the character’s needs, he commented on society and politics of the times. And he spoke up for the last human who’s uncared for by the government, the society and everyone else,” says radio personality Yunus Khan, who is writing a book analysing Shailendra’s poetry.

Lyricist Raj Shekhar (Tanu Weds Manu) adds to the view saying while many lyricists wrote emphatically about the marginalised, one can see a distance between the writer and those being written about. “But when you listen to Shailendra, you feel that distance has been dissolved. He seems to be one of them. And that’s because he is writing from lived-in experience,” he says.

In times when poets were often prisoners of pompous words that evaded ordinary people, Shailendra was accessible even to the rural illiterate. And yet as the late songwriter Dev Kohli once said, “Like the dohas (couplet) that Kabir wrote, he could encapsulate a world in a few words. ”

‘Sajan re jhoot mat bolo Khuda ke paas jana hai’ (film: ‘Teesri Kasam’, 1966) is simple yet profound. ‘Aa chalke tujhe main leke chaloon’ (film: ‘Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein’, 1964) imagines a world without discord (‘Jahan bair na ho’) and hope much like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ (1971). That he could also write, ‘Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe’ (film: ‘Junglee’, 1961) or the fun tracks of ‘Half-Ticket’ (1962) is a tribute to his versatility.

Shailendra produced ‘Teesri Kasam’. The Basu Bhattacharya-directed film, now hailed as a classic, flopped then. The poet passed away the same year. But even today much of his poetry remains quotable and relevant, none more than the line from ‘Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai’ (1960): ‘Mil jul ke raho aur pyaar karo, ek cheez yahi jo rehti hai’ (Stay together in harmony, love each other, this is all that lives in the end). As Bechain says, “His poetry rises above caste and religion, and seeks to establish a bond between humans. ”

Life and career

Shailendra was born in Rawalpindi on August 30, 1923, as Shankardas Kesrilal Shailendra. he wrote lyrics for several successful Hindi film songs in the 1950s and the 1960s. Among other well-known songs for which he gave lyrics are 'Awara hun, gardish mein hun asmaan ka taara hun,' 'Ramaiya Vastavaiya', 'Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh', 'Mera Joota Hai Japani', 'Gata Rahe Mera Dil' and 'Khoya Khoya Chand'.

He studied and spent his formative years in Mathura where, in 2016, a road was named after him

He was employed with the Indian Railways.

In the book, The Hundred Luminaries of Hindi Cinema, Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari narrate a revealing anecdote that explains his transformation to a film lyricist. The story goes that Raj Kapoor was impressed by his poem, Jalta Hai Punjab, and wanted him to write songs for Aag. Shailendra, then a member of the Left cultural association IPTA, refused. But when he needed money during the birth of his son, he approached Kapoor. “For a sum of Rs 500, Kapoor had Shailendra write two Barsaat (1949) superhits: Barsaat mein humse milein tum sajan and Patli qamar hai,“ the article says.

As his film career soared, Shailendra showcased his versatility. He not only wrote Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamaar (Teesri Kasam) but also Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe (Junglee); not only Din dhal jaaye hai (Guide) but also Aiyaiya sukoo sukoo (Junglee).

Shailendra produced the film, Teesri Kasam. It is said he died of a broken heart after it flopped. He was 43. Since then, the film's reputation has grown. This reporter was witness to a Housefull board outside Ranchi's Ratan Talkies when the film was re-released in the early 1980s. In a song for the Bimal Roy classic, Do Bigha Zameen, Shailendra wrote, “Apni kahani chhod jaa, kuchch to nishani chhod jaa.“

The lyricist died in 1966 at the rather young age of 43. The three-time Film Fare Award winner for his lyrics also had a commemorative stamp released in his name in 2013.

Shailendra lived in the railway colony and his two friends were Dwarika Seth and Babu Lal Sharma. But their family members fondly recall the times. Dwarika named his son after Shailendra.

Shailendra's son Dinesh is a film director in Mumbai and [in 2015 was] making a documentary on his father's life. Another son, Shaily, completed one of his father’s songs for Mera Naam Joker and, for a few years beginning 1970, inherited his father’s mantle as lyricist for A list films.

Mathura MP Hema Malini reminisced how Shailendra was instrumental in getting her launched in Raj Kapoor's 'Sapnon ka Saudagar'.

Mr Vinod Viplav, an activist for scheduled caste causes, writes, ‘the songs penned by Shailendra have been quite popular but for a long time few were aware that he was a Dalit and had to struggle to reach the position that he ultimately did.’

His songs

His best-known songs came in films such as Barsaat, Awara, Shree 420, Anari, Junglee, Guide, Madhumati and Teesri Kasam. Popular songwriters of Hindi cinema spanning different generations admit that he was the lyricist that aspiring lyricists wanted to be.

In an era when polished, high-falutin words were inseparable from a cinema poet's lexicon, Shailendra walked a new line. Sab kuch seekha humne (Anari), Ae mere dil kahin aur chal (Daag), Honton pe sachaai rehti hai (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai), Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai (Guide) are just a few examples of his unpretentious minimalist poetry . And yet it is deep and reflective. “When he writes, Tumhare mahal choubare, yahin reh jayenge saare in the song, Sajan re jhoothh mat bolo, you can sense an Indianness as well as Leftist thought,“ says Raj Shekhar.


Indrajeet Singh, August 30, 2023: The Times of India

Released in India in 1951, ‘Awara’ was first shown in Russia in September, 1954. The film was dubbed in Russian but the songs remained in Hindi. The title song became an anthem of Indian culture and friendship for Russians. Tagore, Premchand, Kabir are also very popular in translation. But Shailendra’s songs were embraced by Russians in their original form. I have lived in Moscow for six years and a witness to the immense popularity of Raj Kapoor and Shailendra.

I was told by a Russian scholar of Hindi, E Chelishev, in 2003 that he had edited a collection of poems, ‘Poets of India,’ in Russian way back in 1958. The collection also included two poems by Shailendra: ‘Janmabhoomi’ and ‘15 August. ’ When Shailendra visited Moscow in March 1962, he was very happy to learn that two of his poems had been translated into Russian.

Shailendra was fond of the great Russian poet Pushkin. There was a similarity between the two. Both were great poets of love and revolution. Both died at a relatively young age. Raj Kapoor used to address Shailendra as Pushkin.

The author’s monograph, Bharatiya Sahitya ke Nirmata: Shailendra is out.

Folk idiom

Avijit Ghosh, August 30, 2023: The Times of India

Shailendra also performed cameos in a few films such as ‘Boot Polish’ (1954) and ‘Musafir’ (1957). In ‘Boot Polish’, he lip syncs a folk song he wrote, ‘Chali kaun se desh’ (singers: Talat Mehmood and Asha Bhonsle, music: Shankar-Jaikishan). Indeed, he was a master at writing songs flavoured with folk.

Sahitya Akademi recipient poet Anamika says that Shailendra was especially sensitive to soundscapes and was all ears for the chitchat on the footpaths and the folksongs floating in the villages of Bihar, Punjab and Maharashtra. “This is what gives his lyrics an epical dimension and makes him a popular writer of chorus,” she says.

Anamika also points out Shailendra’s sensitivity to “the push and joy of women’s language especially in the folkloric mode and the subversive quality of their humour which hoots out and titillates in the same go”. ‘Paan khaye saiyan hamaar, (film: Teesri Kasam) is a case in point.

Shailendra’s some other noteworthy folk songs include ‘Ho daiya re daiya chadh gayo papi bichhua’ (film: ‘Madhumati’, 1957) and ‘Lali lali doliya pe laali re dulhaniya’ (film: Teesri Kasam). He also wrote the songs of the first Bhojpuri film, ‘Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo’, 1962), including the classic, ‘Sonwa ke pinjra mein’ (singer: Mohd Rafi, composer: Chitragupt).

International recognition

Mera Joota Hai Japani

The Shankar-Jaikishan/ Shailendra song Mera Joota Hai Japani, from the film Shree 420 (1955), caught the attention of contemporary popular audiences in the Soviet Union partly because its lyrics said ‘I wear a red [i.e. communist] Russian cap on my head.’ It was, without argument, the most popular Indian song abroad (mainly in the USSR and China) during that entire era, till the late 1980s, when Filmistan started going international.

Decades later, even after the USSR had disintegrated and Uzbeks were no longer categorised as ‘Russian,’ in 2012 Uzbek Singer Bobomurod Hamdamov released his cover version in perfect Hindi-Urdu.

More was to come, 61 years after the song was first released.

The 2016 superhero film, Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds uses the iconic song Mera Joota Hai Japani (Shree 420) in the opening and the closing scenes.

A source close to the film said that director Tim Miller had fallen in love with the song after he had heard it in a pub in New Zealand. “Tim Miller had heard Mera Joota hai Japani in one of the pubs, a long time back. He loved the song so much that it got stuck in his head. He would often hum the tune.”

See also


Hasrat Jaipuri


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