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A poet’s untold story

Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet, by Akshay Manwani, is a book that unravels the many secrets of the poet’s life from anonymity to Bollywood stardom

A poet’s untold story

Book review

Bollywood has a rich history and many actors, filmmakers, music composers and playback singers have played their part in making it one of the most successful film industries in the world. However, there was one gentleman named Sahir Ludhianvi who did what his heart desired, wrote what he wanted and didn’t like to be dictated by anyone. Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet by Akshay Manwani is a book about that one eccentric man who gave Bollywood a new direction and set a trend that is followed even today.

In the early years of Bollywood, there were no songs in films as most of the movies were silent. Songs became an integral part of films in the ‘30s and by the time Sahir Ludhianvi came on the scene, they had become inseparable. In fact, by 1949 (when he wrote the lyrics for his first film), songs were the best way to decide whether the film was to be watched or not. Sahir Ludhianvi went from poet to lyricist and then his position elevated from being just a songwriter to the best there was; this is something you get to know in this well-researched book.

The author begins the book with Sahir’s earlier days in Ludhiana, where his mother Sardar Begum separated from his father Chaudhri Fazl Mohammad, to his school days where he was accompanied by guards (for the fear of abduction by his ‘then’ estranged dad).

Until Sahir made his takhallus his identity, he was referred to as Abdul and due to his troubled childhood, Abdul suppressed feelings of an angry young man, venting on everything from religion to people. The book also tells us that it was Sahir who changed the trend of writing lyrics in Bollywood; before him the poet was given a composition so that he could write according to the music. Sahir demanded music composers make music around his lyrics and when they didn’t comply, he chose not to work with them. Those names included S. D. Burman or O. P. Nayyar.

There are many things in this biography that one never knew about Sahir but what surprises the younger generation is his being the inspiration behind Amitabh’s role in Trishul. No wonder he was able to channel his inner anger into beautiful lyrics that went onto be known as evergreen song ‘Tu mere saath rahega munney’. In the book he talks about a mother’s struggle to raise her son single-handedly and how she handled her fears, her woes and her love towards the kid, something Sahir witnessed first-hand in his youth.

Then there is a lot about Sahir’s left-wing ideology, his doomed romances and inspirations. We get to know that the young Abdul was inspired by Allama Iqbal, Daagh Dehlvi and the mature Sahir loved the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Majaaz and Josh Malihabadi. He was too egoistic for a poet and that’s one of the reasons why he didn’t work with Lata Mangeshkar for a few years in the ‘60s.

The purpose – he wanted to prove that his words were the reason of the songs’ success, not Lata’s vocals. Furthermore, the author takes us back in time and discusses in detail the famous Taj Mahal poem in which Sahir blasted Emperor Shah Jahan for mocking the love of impoverished souls and was criticized for doing so.

‘Ek shahenshah ne daulat ka sahaara lekarHum gareebon ki mohabbat ka udaaya hai mazaak’

The writer manages to talk to various celebrities who had worked with Sahir and that includes the now-departed Dev Anand, Yash Chopra and others. He also tells us that Sahir’s mother was the centre of his existence and everything revolved around her.

The only problem with the book is that Urdu words are written in Roman and with that, they lose their charm. Otherwise it discusses his journey well – from a wannabe songwriter to one on whose life Kabhi Kabhi was based, initially.

7 things you didn’t know about Sahir Ludhianvi

Real name: Sahir Ludhianvi’s real name was Abdul Hayee and it was only when he started writing poetry did he adopt his now-famous alias.

Trishul was inspired by Sahir’s ‘story’: Director Yash Chopra never admitted it but his blockbuster flick Trishul was sort of inspired by Sahir’s own struggles in life.

Education, incomplete: He was not a model student in college but he wasn’t all bad; he may have been expelled from college but the auditorium at the Satish Chander Dhawan Government College For Boys, Ludhiana is named after him.

Poet and his muse: Sahir never got married but was involved with two women – poet and novelist Amrita Pritam and singer Sudha Malhotra.

The ‘importance’ of Taj Mahal: Sahir wrote a poem on Taj Mahal that was criticized by the public; he got his first Filmfare Award for film Taj Mahal’s song ‘Jo Waada Kia Woh Nibhana Parega.’

Religious or not religious: According to his relatives, Sahir wasn’t a religious man but he knew many verses of the Holy Quran by heart.

The fear of stairs: He was scared of stairways and throughout his life, never took the stairs.

One comment

  • I love Sahir and revere him God may bless his soul in Heaven.

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