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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 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.
Mera Joota Hai Japani: international recognition
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.”