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Majrooh Sultanpuri Biography

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Majrooh Sultanpuri
Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

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Majrooh Sultanpuri Biography

Majrooh Sultanpuri's reputation as a poet was ironically overshadowed by his being a lyricist for popular Bollywood films. It has happened very frequently that the real merit of a person is pushed into the background by some lesser work that is done for a medium with a bigger outreach or for some popular event. Though Majrooh was a very successful lyricist and his "geets" were hummed by millions of people in continents where Indian cinema is the rage, yet it would be unfair to judge him based solely on this lesser work. He was a serious poet who made significant contributions to the development of a sensibility and an idiom, that was truly inspired by the Progressive Writers Movement. In the early years after partition the poets felt hugely hemmed in by the their lack of reaching out to the people they were supposed to be addressing. Though they had a steady audience, it was very tiny compared to that enjoyed by popular media including that of the cinema. It was decided by a few poets and literary organisations to ride on the back of a popular medium to exploit the greater outreach of the cinema, and as it were, to spread the message. Pardeep, Sahir Ludhianvi, Qamar Jalalabadi, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Shakeel Badayuni, Saghar Nizami, Rajinder Krishen and Majrooh Sultanpuri, were all sucked into the insatiable vortex of the film world with Sahir having remained the most outstanding but Majrooh Sultanpuri being a close second. It may be said that when these poets agreed to write for the films the quality of poetry in the context of the film lyrics showed a vast improvement. If it was a loss to urdu poetry it was surely a gain for the "filmi" song text and the vast divide of serious writing and popular writing was narrowed a little by the Bombay films. Majrooh had earlier fought the hardest battle of his life as a ghazalgo. It was an article of faith with the early progressive poets that the stylised form of ghazal with its well wrought references and associated inferences was not suitable for the new sensibility which needed a new form. The same rationale was also behind the movement known as the naturi shairi of the mid nineteenth century but it was sponsored from the top by the establishment. Like all movements the Progressive Writers too took an extreme position and denounced much in the name of being a product of feudalism. Literature and the arts were seen in the framework of a one to one relationship and the entire effort seemed to be based on exclusion rather than incorporation. But Majrooh did not tow the line and held the position that ghazal could retain its glory through its ability to say new things for the new age. He was himself an outstanding ghazal poet and introduced new imagery and new diction into the heavily stylised format. He was able to maintain the lyrical quality of the ghazal which is its real spirit and test without losing on the vigour that was supposed to be an integral part of this new poetic idiom. The awareness of where the exploitation has taken the ordinary man and a whipping up of emotions for greater activism was the twin aim of these poets. Majrooh was not alone in this struggle. He had support from a contemporary, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who too was not keen on losing the rich referential and allusive matrix of the traditional ghazal while talking about the main contradiction of the class divide that cut across board. It was the awareness that the rejection of the ghazal would be a turning away from our tradition that made its acceptance and currency possible again by the fifties. When Majrooh appeared on the scene Faiz's Naqsh e Faryadi, Majaz's Aahang, Ali Sardar Jaffery's Parwaz, Jazbi's Ferozaan and Makhdoom's Surkh Sawera had already been published with leading critics like Ehtesham Hussain and Doctor Alim, being the real opponents of the ghazal, wanting to do away with this archaic form as a critical canon. Faiz and Majrooh gradually introduced the themes generally associated with the Progressive Movement, and transformed the ghazal without losing on its strength. During the fifties ghazal was gradually and grudgingly accepted as a legitimate form of poetry even by Ehtesham Hussain who wrote about it then. Poetry thus disengaged itself from being a mere slogan, and moved towards the lyrical and melodic richness generally associated with ghazal. It abandoned the harsh declamatory style meant to exhort the listener to take up arms against the sea of troubles for a more introspective mood where awareness became part of a larger collective consciousness. The Urdu poets found themselves being edged out in the new socio-cultural environment of India and saw their language shrink and the literate audience dwindle. Amidst the growing demand of Hinduising Urdu Majrooh stood his ground and fought for the rightful place of his language with a rich heritage. Perhaps history will judge Majrooh as a poet who partially frittered away his talent by writing for the films. The limited opportunity and the constraints of the situation do not let the poet grow and prosper in the same manner when he is just writing poetry as a an autonomous form. But Majrooh's contribution in giving a new meaning to the ghazal will keep the torch of his name burning for quite some time.

Majrooh Sultanpuri Trivia

He published an anthology of Urdu poetry, appropriately titled "Ghazal," for which he received an award from the Maharashtra State Urdu Academy.

Sultanpuri was the first lyricist to be awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. He was also a recipient of the Iqbal Samman from the Madhya Pradesh government and the Sant Gyaneshwar Puraskar of the Maharashtra government.

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