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Sahir Ludhianvi

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Sahir Ludhianvi (1921–1980)
Born Abdul Hayee
8 March 1921
Ludhiana, Punjab, India
Died 25 October 1980 (aged 59)
Bombay (now Mumbai)
Occupation poet, lyricist

Sahir Ludhianvi (8 March 1921 – 25 October 1980) was a popular Urdu poet and Hindi lyricist, who worked extensively in Hindi films. Sahir Ludhianvi is his pseudonym. He won the Filmfare Award twice, in 1964 and 1977, and in 1971 was awarded the Padma Shri.[1][2] The President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee released a Commemorative Postage Stamp on his birth anniversary on 8 March 2013 at Rashtrapati Bhavan.[3] His biography, Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, has been published by HarperCollins.[4]


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Lyrics and Bollywood
    • 2.1 Last days
  • 3 The person
    • 3.1 Personality
    • 3.2 Poetry
  • 4 Personal life
  • 5 Famous works
    • 5.1 Bollywood songs
    • 5.2 Published collection of Urdu poetry
    • 5.3 Stage plays, documentaries, books and TV productions on Sahir
  • 6 Awards
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links

Early life

Sahir Ludhianvi was born as Abdul Hayee on 8 March 1921 in Ludhiana, Punjab in India.[5] His mother’s name was Sardar Begum. Sahir’s parents had a very loose and estranged relationship. In 1934, when he was thirteen years old, his father married for the second time. At that time, his mother decided to take the bold step of leaving her husband, forfeiting all claims to the financial assets. Sahir’s father then sued his mother for child custody but lost. He threatened to make sure Sahir did not live with his mother very long, even if that meant taking the child’s life.[6] Sahir’s mother then found friends who kept a close watch on him and didn’t let him out of sight. Fear and financial deprivation surrounded the formative years of this young man. His parents’ divorce brought him and his mother face to face with poverty and struggle in life.[7]

The house where Sahir was born, a red sandstone haveli, stands in Karimpura, a Muslim neighbourhood of Ludhiana, with a small plaque announcing its importance upon the arched mughal darwaaza – the only effort by the city to remember him.

The auditorium in in Govt. college Ludhiyana, Sahir’s alma mater is named after him.

Sahir studied at and graduated from Khalsa High School in Ludhiana. Upon matriculation, he joined the Satish Chander Dhawan Government College For Boys, Ludhiana. He was quite popular for his ghazals and nazms in the college. He was famously expelled from the college within the year ‘for sitting in the Principal’s lawn with a female class-mate’.[8][9] About his expulsion, some accounts erroneously mention Amrita Pritam as the girl, but she never lived in Ludhiana. They met after the partition of India, when she arrived in Delhi from Lahore in 1949.

In 1943, after being expelled from college, Sahir settled in Lahore. Here, he completed the writing of his first Urdu work, Talkhiyaan (Bitterness). He then began searching for a publisher and, after two years, he found one in 1945. After his work was published, he began editing four Urdu magazines, Adab-e-Lateef, Shahkaar, Prithlari, and Savera; these magazines became very successful.[7] He then became a member of the Progressive Writers’ Association. However, inflammatory writings (communist views and ideology) in Savera resulted in the issuing of a warrant for his arrest by the Government of Pakistan. So, in 1949, Sahir fled from Lahore to Delhi. After a couple of months in Delhi, he moved to and settled in Bombay. A friend of his recalls Sahir telling him “Bombay needs me!”.[7]

His most famous love affair, however, was with Amrita Pritam, who became his most ardent fan. She has openly acknowledged her love for Sahir in interviews and her books.[10] Apart from Amrita, several other women too came in his life but he could never decide on accepting any of those as his life partner. He remained a bachelor all his life.[11]

In recent years there have been many attempts to chronicle his life and times. Many books about him were published both in India and Pakistan. In 2010 Danish Iqbal wrote a Stage Play ‘Sahir’ about his life which was directed by NRI Director Pramila Le Hunt. This Play became a commercial success and had a dream run in Delhi. For perhaps first time, in the history of Indian Theatre, songs were used as narrative to recreate the life and struggles of Sahir. Many of his misty eyed contemporaries, Ramesh Chand Charlie, Kuldeep Nayyar and few others, thronged the performance with nostalgic ache in their heart.

According to writer Niilesh A Raje, While in college Sahir had established his reputation for being a good writer, wrote fiery speeches and was equally popular for his ghazals and nazms. Sahir was a restless person and could not sit in one place for long. It was evident he had the literary talent but that could not give him stability so he decided to contribute his work for Bollywood in a way to give him financial stability. Attempts are being made to convert this Play into a film on Sahir. Because the Play Sahir had characters like Guru Dutt, Yash Chopra and Amrita Pritam, it would be a tough task for the casting and depiction but it would be a nostalgic journey down the memory lane both for the public and his friends and admirers.

Lyrics and Bollywood

Sahir lived on the first floor of the main building of an Andheri outhouse. His famous neighbours included the poet, Gulzar and Urdu litterateur, Krishan Chander. In the 1970s, he constructed Parchaiyaan (Shadows), a posh bungalow, and lived there till his death. Journalist Ali Peter John, who knew the poet personally, says real-estate sharks have been eyeing Sahir’s abode after the death of his sister. His belongings and trophies are in a state of ruin, according to the journalist.[citation needed]

Sahir Ludhianvi made his debut in films writing lyrics for the film Azadi Ki Raah Par (1949). The film had four songs written by him and his first song was Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi… Both the film and its songs went unnoticed. However, with Naujawaan (1951), he gained recognition. S.D. Burman composed the music for Naujawaan. Even today, the film’s lilting song, “ठंडी हवाएँ लहराके आएँ…,” remains popular. His first major success came the same year with Guru Dutt’s directorial debut, Baazi (1951), again pairing him with Burman. Thus he became part of the Guru Dutt team, and after the success of Naujawaan and Baazi, the combination of Sahir Ludhianvi and S.D. Burman came out with many more everlasting songs.

Sahir worked with many music composers, including Ravi, S.D. Burman, Roshan and Khayyam, and has left behind many unforgettable songs for fans of the Indian film industry and its music. Pyaasa marked an end to his successful partnership with S.D. Burman over what is reported to be S.D. Burman’s displeasure at Sahir receiving more admiration (and thus credit for the success) from audiences for the words of the lyrics than S.D. Burman did for his memorable tunes.[citation needed] Later, Sahir Ludhianvi teamed up with composer Datta Naik in several films. Datta, a Goan, was a great admirer of Sahir’s revolutionary poetry. They had already worked together to produce the music for Milaap (1955). Sahir wrote many unforgettable gems for Datta.

From the time B.R. Chopra started producing and directing films under his banner ‘B.R.Films’ around 1950, Sahir Ludhiyanvi remained the preferred songwriter for his films. This association continued till Sahir Ludhiyanvi died, with his last composition for B.R.Films being for Insaaf Ka Tarazu. It was only after Sahir died that B.R. Chopra decided to use a new lyricist Hassan Kamaal for his films, starting with films like Nikaah. The association between Sahir and B.R. Chopra’s family continued for so long that despite B.R. Chopra using different music directors in his movies, Sahir always remained the lyricist for his movies. Not just this, but even Yash Chopra, who broke away from B.R. Chopra’s films and became an independent director and then producer of Hindi films, also used only Sahir Ludhiyanvi as the lyricist in all his movies, again an association which lasted till Sahir’s death.

In 1958, Sahir wrote the lyrics for Ramesh Saigal’s film Phir Subah Hogi, which was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. The male lead was Raj Kapoor and it was presumed that Shankar-Jaikishan would be the music composers. However, Sahir insisted that only someone who had read the novel could provide the right score. Thus, Khayyam ended up as the music composer for the film, and the song Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi with minimal background music remains an all-time hit. Khayyam went on to work with Sahir in many films including Kabhie Kabhie and Trishul.

Admirers and critics rate Sahir’s work in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa as his finest. Pyaasa, some say, bears resemblance to Sahir’s early years as a poet. The onscreen poet, Vijay played by Guru Dutt, bears a strong likeness to the man whose poetry gave the film its soul.

With success, Sahir started displaying arrogance. He insisted on writing the lyrics first and then having them set to music unlike his other contemporaries who would be happy penning their verses to the tunes. His other insistence of being paid 1 Rupee more than Lata Mangeshkar created a rift between him and S D Burman and Lata. His attempt at promoting a new singer Sudha Malhotra who was also his love interest was another example.[12]

Sahir Ludhianvi’s work in the 1970s was restricted to films mainly directed by Yash Chopra. Though his output in terms of number of films had thinned out, the quality of his writing commanded immense respect. Kabhie Kabhie (1976) saw him return to sparkling form. These songs won him his second Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist, the first being for Taj Mahal (1963).

Last days

On 25 October 1980, at the age of fifty-nine, Sahir Ludhianvi suffered a massive heart attack and died in the arms of his friend Dr R.P. Kapoor. He was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. His tomb was demolished in 2010 to make space for new bodies.[13]

Sahir’s final works were released for the Hindi film Lakshmi (1982). He will always be remembered along with Kaifi Azmi as the poet who brought Urdu literature to Indian motion pictures. More than 30 years after Sahir’s death, his poetry and lyrics remain an inspiration for lyricists of the day. Composers and singers of Sahir’s time swear by the depth, intensity and purity in his poetry. As singer, Mahendra Kapoor said in a Vividh Bharati interview, “I don’t think a writer like Sahir Ludhianvi will be born again.”

Sahir also wrote songs for Laila Majnu and Daag

The person


While Sahir’s heart bled for others, he apparently never paid enough attention to his own life.

His friend Prakash Pandit once recalled how, after the Partition of India, Sahir was unhappy without the company of his Hindu and Sikh friends (they had all fled to India). A secular India was Sahir’s preference to an Islamic Pakistan.[14]

Late in his life, people who knew him say, the poet became moody and suspicious. He fought for, and became, the first lyricist to get royalties from music companies. Sahir insisted on writing the songs before the song was composed, against the Bollywood norm. However, some of his songs were written after the tunes were ready. For example, मांग के साथ तुम्हारा (Naya Daur 1957 – music by O.P. Nayyar). At the height of his popularity, Sahir is said to have demanded a rupee more for his songs than what was paid to Lata Mangeshkar for singing them. It was on Sahir’s insistence that All India Radio began crediting lyricists along with singers and music composers for songs it aired.


“मै पल दो पल का शायर हूँ, पल दो पल मेरी कहानी है

पल दो पल मेरी हस्ती है, पल दो पल मेरी जवानी है

मुझसे पहले कितने शायर, आए और आकर चले गए,

कुछ आहें भरकर लौट गए, कुछ नग़मे गाकर चले गए

वो भी एक पल का किस्सा थे, मै भी एक पल का किस्सा हूँ

कल तुमसे जुदा हो जाऊँगा, जो आज तुम्हारा हिस्सा हूँ”

A colossus amongst film lyricists, Sahir Ludhianvi was slightly different from his contemporaries. A poet unable to praise Khuda (God), Husn (Beauty) or Jaam (Wine), his pen was, at its best, pouring out bitter but sensitive lyrics over the declining values of society, the senselessness of war and politics, and the domination of consumerism over love. Whenever he wrote any love songs, they were tinged with sorrow, due to realisation that there were other, starker concepts more important than love. He could be called the underdog’s bard; close to his heart were the farmer crushed by debt, the soldier gone to fight someone else’s war, the woman forced to sell her body, the youth frustrated by unemployment, the family living on the street and other victims of society. His lyric from Pyaasa when lead actor Guru Dutt (Vijay) was passing through a red light area by singing this song, moved even Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Honourable Prime minister of India that time.

“ये कूचे, ये नीलामघर दिलकशी के,
ये लुटते हुए कारवां ज़िंदगी के,
कहाँ है कहाँ है मुहाफ़िज़ खुदी के?
जिन्हें नाज़ है हिंद पर,वो कहाँ हैं?”

Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry had a “Faizian” quality. Like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, he too gave Urdu poetry an intellectual element that caught the imagination of the youth of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He helped them discover their spine. Sahir asked questions and was not afraid of calling a spade, a spade; he roused people from an independence-induced smugness. He would pick on the self-appointed custodian of religion, the self-serving politician, the exploitative capitalist, and the war-mongering super-powers.

Sahir’s poetry reflected the mood of the age. Whether it was the arrest of progressive writers in Pakistan, the launch of the satellite Sputnik or the discovery of Ghalib by a government lusting after minority votes, Sahir reacted with a verve not seen in many writers’ work. Kahat-e-Bangal (“The Famine of Bengal”), written by a 25-year-old Sahir, bespeaks maturity that came early. His Subah-e-Navroz (“Dawn of a New Day”), mocks the concept of celebration when the poor exist in squalor.

Perhaps Sahir is the first renowned Urdu poet, who, could express his view towards The Tajmahal in a complete different way. He wrote

“मेरे महबूब कहीं और मिला कर मुझसे, बज़्म- ए-शाही में ग़रीबों का गुज़र क्या माने. सबत जिन राहों पर है सतबते शाही के निशां उसपे उल्फत भरी रूहों का गुज़र क्या माने?”-

The poet asks his lover to meet him anywhere else but Tajmahal. A tomb which has been a symbol of luxurious monarchy for years, there is no need to make journey of love by two beautiful but not famous hearts there.[15]

Sahir will always be remembered as a poet who made his creation a lesson for all ages of Urdu poetry to come. In this way he contradicts his own creation: “kal aur aayenge naghmo ki khilti kalian chunnewale, mujhse behtar kehnewale, tumse behtar sunne wale; kal koi mujhko yaad kare, kyun koi mujhko yaad kare, masroof zamana mere liye kyun waqt apna barbad kare?” Translation: Tomorrow there will be more who will narrate the love poems. May be someone narrating better than me. May be someone listening better than you. Why should anyone remember me? Why should anyone remember me? Why should the busy age waste it’s time for me?

Personal life

Sahir Ludhianvi remained a bachelor all his life, he had two failed love affairs with writer Amrita Pritam and singer/actress Sudha Malhotra.[16][unreliable source?] These relationships had left him an embittered man. He took to drinking heavily and drank himself deep into alcoholism. The tragedies and pathos of his personal life most truly reflected in his poignant poetry.

His relationship with Amrita Pritam was so passionate that at one time, while attending a press conference, Amrita wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper. The two of them would meet without saying a word and Sahir would puff away with his cigarettes, and after he left, Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left by him. After his death, she hoped the smoke from her cigarettes would meet him in the other world.[15][citation needed]

It is said that when Sahir was courting Amrita Pritam, he built a taller house in front of Amrita Pritam’s residence in Ludhiana to show her father that he could afford a house. This statement is a fallacy derived from the Hindi film Tere Ghar Ke Samne. Sahir’s economic position at the time was pitiful, so ‘building a house’ would be out of the question; and secondly, Amrita Pritam did not belong to Ludhiana but to Gujranwala; and the “love of her life” was another Urdu shayar, Imroz, as detailed extensively in her autobiography, written in Punjabi for which she got a Sahitya Academy Award.

Famous works

  • English translations of Sahir’s poetry: LUDHIANVI, Sahir (1921–1980)
  • SHADOWS SPEAK tr. with intro. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas {Abbas, Khwaja Ahmad} pref. Sajjad Zaheer {Zaheer, Sajjad} English text only. P.P.H. Bookstall (Bombay) 129pp (intro. 7–12) 1958 paper only.
  • THE BITTER HARVEST tr. Rifat Hassan {Hassan, Rifat} Urdu & English texts. Aziz Publishers (Lahore) 169pp (pref. i–iii) 1977 cloth only.
  • SORCERY/ (Sahir) tr. with pref. Sain Sucha {Sucha, Sain} Urdu & English texts. Vudya Kitaban Forlag (Sollentuna, Sweden) 114pp (pref. 1–6, essay in Urdu 106–114) 1989 paper only.
  • Gaata jaye Banjara – A Collection of film lyrics

Bollywood songs

Sahir Ludhianvi penned some of the finest Bollywood songs.

  • आना है तो आ (Naya Daur 1957), composed by O.P. Nayyar, sung by Mohammed Rafi.
  • Jane Kya tune kahi( Pyaasa 1957), composed by S.D. Burman, sung by Geeta Dutt.
  • Jane Woh Kaise( Pyaasa 1957), composed by S.D. Burman, sung by Hemant Kumar.
  • ये दुनिया अगर मिल भी जाए तो क्या है (Pyaasa 1957), composed by S.D. Burman, sung by Mohammed Rafi.
  • तू हिंदू बनेगा ना मुसलमान बनेगा (Dhool Ka Phool 1959), composed by Datta Naik, sung by Mohammed Rafi.
  • ये इश्क़ इश्क़ है (Barsaat Ki Raat 1960), music by Roshan, sung by Mohammed Rafi, Manna De.
  • ना तो कारवाँ की तलाश है (Barsaat Ki Raat 1960), music by Roshan, sung by Mohammed Rafi, Manna De, Asha Bhonsle and Sudha Malhotra.
  • अल्ला तेरो नाम ईश्वर तेरो नाम (Hum Dono 1961), composed by Jaidev sung by Lata Mangeshkar
  • चलो इक बार फिर से अजनबी बन जाए हम दोनों (Gumrah 1963), composed by Ravi(Sung by Mahendra Kapoor)
  • तुम अगर साथ देने का वादा करो (Hamraaz 1967), composed by Ravi, sung by Mahendra Kapoor.
  • मन रे तू काहे ना धीर धरे? (Chitralekha 1964), composed by Roshan, sung by Mohammed Rafi.
  • संसार से भागे फिरते हो, भगवान को तुम क्या पाओगे (Chitralekha 1964), composed by Roshan, sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
  • Tora Mann Darpan Kehlaye (Kaajal 1965), composed by Ravi, sung by Asha Bhosle.
  • ईश्वर अल्ला तेरे नाम (Naya Raasta 1970), composed by Datta Naik, sung by Mohammed Rafi.
  • मै पल दो पल का शायर हूँ (Kabhi Kabhi 1976), composed by Khayyam (Sung by Mukesh)
  • कभी कभी (Kabhi Kabhi 1976), music by Khayyam (Sung by Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar)
  • aye meri zoharjabin (waqt) by Manna Dey Music: Ravi
  • aagey bhi jane na tu (waqt) by Asha Bhonsle Music: Ravi
  • Saathi haath badhana-naya daur by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle
  • मेरे दिल में आज क्या है ( Daagh ) by Kishore Kumar Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal
  • Main zindagi ka sath nibhata chala gaya (Hum Dono 1961) by Mohammed Rafi Music: Jaidev

Published collection of Urdu poetry

  • Talkhiyan (“Bitterness”)
  • Parchhaiyan(“Shadows”)

Stage plays, documentaries, books and TV productions on Sahir

In recent years there have been many attempts to bring him in sharp focus by using Theatre and Television.

1. M S Sathyu directed Stage Play Amrita: A Sublime Love Story had the first part of the narrative built around his enigmatic presence. Written by Danish Iqbal this Play was staged in Delhi, Gurgaon, Patiala and Banglore etc.

2. Pramila Le Hunt directed Play Sahir is a lyrical tribute to the life and times of this great poet and his revolutionary spirit. Written by Danish Iqbal in 2010 this Play became a commercial success and had a dream run in Delhi. For perhaps first time, perhaps in the history of Indian Theatre, songs were used as narrative to recreate the life and struggles of Sahir. Many of his misty eyed contemporaries, including Ramesh Chand Charlie, Kuldeep Nayyar and few others, thronged the performance with nostalgic ache in their heart.

3. Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, written by Akshay Manwani, was published by HarperCollins in December 2013. The book is an outcome of several interviews and writings on Sahir by people who knew him intimately. Among the people interviewed and who reflected on their association with Sahir are the late Yash Chopra, the late Dev Anand, Javed Akhtar, Khayyam, Sudha Malhotra, Ravi Chopra and the late music composer Ravi Sharma. The book analyses Sahir’s poetry and lyrics in the context of developments in his personal life such as his dysfunctional childhood and his failed romances. Sahir’s contribution to the Progressive Writers’ Movement is also discussed.[17]

4. Few TV Series on Modern Poets had episodes devoted to Sahir.

5. Sahir Ludhianvi’s biopic would be next biopic by Farhan Akhtar[18][19] and Kareena Kapoor Khan would be in opposite to Farhan Akhtar as Amrita Pritam.[20]


  • 1958: Nominated – Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist: Aurat Ne Janam Diya (Sadhna)[21]
  • 1964: Filmfare Best Lyricist Award: Jo Wada Kiya ( Taj Mahal)
  • 1977: Filmfare Best Lyricist Award: Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein (Kabhi Kabhie)[22]


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