With Taj Mahal as a backdrop, Shailesh Kumar, in Rafi’s golden voice, began to recite:
“Tere teer-e-neem kash ko, koi mere dil se poochhe
Yeh khalish kahaan se hoti, jo jigar ke paar hota.”
The tourists, at least some of them, would have been excused for thinking that Ghalib’s ghazal was coming their way even though the order of the first line had been changed; they must have also wondered why the singer had not started the ghazal with its first couplet - "Yeh na thi hamari qismat’"- and had leapt straight to this third couplet on the half-drawn arrow striking the heart, giving perpetual unease, rather than passing through it completely, bringing about instant death. When the couplet ended and the song "Phir Woh Bhooli Si Yaad" (Begaana, 1963) commenced, it must have dawned on them that the couplet was being used as a song opener. Thereafter, lyricist Shailendra went on to expound on the same theme in the main song.
Shailendra had done it several times.
“Rangi ko narangi kahe, bane doodh ko khoya
Chalti ko gaadi kahe, dekh Kabira roya.”
This doha of Kabir on the interplay of mind, reality and consciousness, was a song opener, sung by Mukesh, in "Zindagi khwab hai" (Jagte Raho, 1956). Shailendra built up on Kabir’s theme beautifully in simple language which was his forte. For good measure, the film-maker even threw in a poster of Kabir fixed on a lamp post which Motilal addressed while singing the first antara. Interestingly, this doha inspired the names of two films – Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Dekh Kabira Roya (1957).
In Chhote Nawab (1961), Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Chura ke dil ban rahe ho bhole’, again written by Shailendra, was introduced by Ghalib’s well-known couplet:
“Woh aaye ghar mein hamare, khuda ki qudrat hai
Kabhi hum unko, kabhi apne ghar ko dekhte hain”.
Shailendra struck once again. The title song of Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959) began with a couplet that is attributed to Ghalib. Its provenance is unclear but it ranks high in popularity stakes:
“Zahid sharaab peene de masjid mein baith kar/ Ya woh jagah bata de jahan par khuda na ho." Shailendra then built on it.
But the couplet that wins hands down, having been used in at least three songs, was not written by any legendary poet. Reportedly one Mahtab Rai Taban read the couplet during Sufi poet Khwaja Mir Dard’s mushaira when he was only 12 years. Mirza Mohammad Rafi 'Sauda' - the Urdu poet based in Delhi, was present at the mushaira. Sauda, overcome by the beauty of poetry, praised the boy and made him read the couplet repeatedly.
“Dil ke phaphole jal utthe seene ke daag se
Is ghar ko aag lag gai ghar ke chirag se”.
At least three songs used it as their introduction. One was a song by Lata Mangeshkar from Parichay (1954). Shailendra (yet again) continued with the theme beginning with the mukhra – “Jal ke dil khaak hua, aankh se roya na gaya, zakhm ye aise jale, phoolon pe soya na gaya.” The second song (where the couplet was sung by Rafi) was "Taqdeer ne hans hans ke mere dil ko rulaya, fariyad khudaya, fariyad khudaya" for Jallad (1956) sung by Asha Bhosle. The third song was the iconic KL Saigal’s “Andhe ki lathi tu hi hai, tu hi jeewan ujiyaaraa hai” from Dhoop Chhaon (1935).
The phenomenon is not limited to black and white films. The film Main Tulsi Tere Angan Ki (1978) had Lata-Asha duet "Chhaap Tilak Sab Chhini Re" whose curtain raiser was Amir Khusrau’s “Apni chhab banaikay, jo main pi kay paas gayi/ Chhab dekhi jab piyu ki, so apni bhool gayi.” Lyricist Anand Bakshi then expanded on the theme.
The list goes on and on.
Why do we have the couplets at the start of the song? These are well-known couplets known to most music listeners. Their theme is already known. The discerning are aware of the meaning – both literal and metaphorical. They serve as a preamble to a song written on the same concept. The public knows what to expect. They add heft and substance to the song that follows. It is a double-edged sword though, and not easy for the lyricist. The curtain-raiser gives a snapshot of the motif to come. If the lyrics that follow do full justice to the concept, the song is a success. If not, then the introduction looks contrived and its purpose unnecessary.
In Urdu poetry, there is nothing untoward regarding this phenomenon. It is part of the Urdu tradition. You may use it ‘as is’ or modify it somewhat without losing its essence. There is a longstanding tradition of treating a great master’s work as the starting point from where the poet can push off on his own lyrical voyage. Since one borrows from an already known poet, there is no need for any formal acknowledgement. The cognoscenti already know.
However, for Hindi film songs, listened to by the masses who may not be aware of the poet concerned, the issue is whether the original poet needs to be acknowledged. This is particularly the case when the couplets are not in the introduction. But sharing of credit is not part of the Hindi film writing convention. Moreover, much of popular Bollywood music anyway borrows heavily from folk songs without as much as a doff of the hat.
Many times, a couplet, or a line thereof, is inserted inside the song where it becomes a part of the lyrics and the neat differentiation between the introductory couplet and the song that follows, discussed above, gives way to the song absorbing it.
Agha Mohammad Taqi Khan Taraqqi wrote:
"Duniya ke jo maze hain, hargiz woh kam na honge
Charche yuheen rahenge, afsos ham na honge.”
It underwent a subtle change to “Yeh zindagi ke mele, duniya mein kam na honge, afasos hum na honge” in Mela (1948) in the Shakeel Badayuni written and Naushad composed song sung by Rafi. To that extent, this is not Shakeel’s creation. And since the mukhra and repeats itself in the song, it constitutes a considerable value addition by the poet without receiving any acknowledgement.
Legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz's nazm “Mujhe se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang” appeared as a song in the film Qaidi (1962). It contained the following lines: “Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakkha hai”. Seven years later, this nazm would inspire Majrooh Sultanpuri's "Teri aankhon ke siwa duniya mein rakkha kya hai" in the film Chirag (1969). Even here, these lines are repeated throughout the song making Faiz a co-lyricist. But his name does not figure anywhere.
Gulzar did it in Mausam (1975), using Ghalib's couplet: "Ji dhoondhta hai phir wahi fursat ke raat din/Baithe rahe tasavvur-e-jaanan kiye hue" as the first line of the song sung by Bhupinder and Lata Mangeshkar. Gulzar simply changed the first word from ‘ji’ (heart) to ‘dil’ (heart), retaining the rest of the couplet. In the book In the Company of a Poet, based on a series of conversations with author Nasreen Munni Kabir, Gulzar recounted how he wrote it and expanded the thought into a poetic account of the lover’s feelings.
This was not the only time Gulzar was inspired by Ghalib. He went a step further in the song "Satrangi Re" (Dil Se, 1998), in which he wove Ghalib’s couplet into his lyrics:
“Ishq par zor nahi, hai yeh woh aatish Ghalib
Ki lagaye na lagey, aur bujhaye na bane."
He did not do any favour to Ghalib by mentioning him – his name already appears in the couplet, which is the maqta (last stanza) where the poet’s name appears.
However, Anand Bakshi credited the poet in the title song "Ek duje ke liye" (Ek duje ke liye, 1981) when Lata sang: "Ishq par zor nahin, Ghalib ne kaha hai isiliye..."
Gulzar courted controversy when he modified the first two lines of a poem by the Hindi poet Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, who died in 1983. Gulzar changed “Ibn Batuta/ Pehen Ke Joota” to “Ibn Batuta Ta Ta/Bagal Mein Joota” for the film Ishqiya (2010).
Momin Khan ‘Momin’ wrote: “Tum mere paas hote ho goya, koi doosra nahin hota”. Hasrat Jaipur, in the love song, “O mere Shah-e-Khubaan’ (Love in Tokyo, 1966) changed the line slightly and used it in the song. Incidentally, another couplet from this same ghazal: "Haal-e-dil yaar ko likhoon kyunkar, haath dil se judaa nahin hota” was used as part of the qawwali "Phir tumhari yaad aayi ae sanam" from Rustom Sohrab (1963).
“Saare jahaan se achcha, Hindostan hamaara” of Iqbal was used in the beginning of the song by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan in Bhai Bahen (1959). He then tweaked the rest of the lines and added some of his own but retained the patriotic flavour of the original poem. Iqbal was however parodied by Sahir Ludhianvi in his hard-hitting and cynical "Cheen-o-Arab hamaara" (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958).
Meer Taqi Meer’s “Patta-patta boota-boota, haal humara jaane hai/ Jaane na jaane gul hi na jaane, baagh to sara jaane hai” was used in Ek Nazar (1972) as the mukhra. Majrooh penned the lyrics for the rest of the song.
The song "Dillagi ne di hawa, thoda sa dhuaan utha" in the film Dostana (1980) includes a line “Ankhon ka tha qusoor chhuri dil pe chal gayi”, which is from a ghazal by Jaleel Manikpuri, sung by Mehdi Hassan.Even Sahir could not resist the temptation. In the film Laila Majnu (1976), one song draws inspiration from the 18th century Sufi saint Sheikh Turab Kakorvi. His “Shahr mein apne ye Laila ne munadi kar di/Koi pathar se na maare mere deewane ko" was converted to "Husn haazir hai mohabbat ki saza paane ko/Koi patthar se na maare mere diwaane ko.”
In the song "O yaar zulfon waale" (Ek Musaafir Ek Haseena, 1962), Amir Khusrau’s “Zabaan-e-yaar-e-man Turki, o man Turki na mee daaanam” has been used by lyricist Shevan Rizvi.
Khusrau’s poetry has been used in other songs as well. His “Zehaal-e- miskeen makun taghaaful (Persian)/ Varaaye nainaa banaae batiyan (Khadi Boli)”, was used in Ghulami (1985) as:
“Zehaal-e- mmiskeen makun ba-ranjish
Ba-Haal-e-Hijraan bechaara dil hai
Sunnaaee detee hai jiskee dhadkan/tumhaara dil yaa hamaaraa dil hai.”
Amir Khusrau had penned this very passionate expression of the grief of a girl, in his poem ‘Kaahe Ko Byaahi Bides’. As the original lines go – “Khwaja ji, sun li hamre jiyara ki peerh/Ankhiyaan se bahe hai neer, kaahe ko byahe bides.”
It was used in a song from Suhaag Raat (1948) and also sung in Umrao Jaan (1981). “Ab ke baras bhejo bhaiyya” (Sujata, 1959) also drew its inspiration from it. Like Khusrau, Kabir has also been a contributor to the Hindi film lyrics.
His “Ramchandra keh gaye siya se, aisa kalyug aayega/hans chugega daana tinka, kauva moti khayega” was used in Gopi (1970). He was used in the song “Maati kahe kumar se, tu kya raunde mohe, ek din aisa aayega” (Adhikar, 1954). His “Lakdi jal koyla bhai/ Koyla jal bhayo raakh/Main paapan (in lieu of baawri) aisi jali/Na koyla bhai na raakh” was the song opener of "Mori Bali Re Uumariya", sung by Lata in Chhoti Chhoti Baatein (1965). In "Mohe Bhool Gaye Saanwariya" (Baiju Bawra, 1952) the song begins with “Jo main aisa jaanti preet kiye dukh hoye, nagar dhindora peetti preet na kariyo koye”— a couplet from Meera. This piece of poetry was used earlier the Shamshad Begum song "Nirmohi bansiwaale" (Veena, 1948).
Does this phenomenon still occur in Hindi film music? Baaghi 2 (2018) had a song.
“Allah mujhe dard ke qaabil bana diya,” which borrows from the old couplet - “Betaabiyaan (the song uses ‘bechainniyan’ instead) samet ke saare jahaan ki/ Jab kuchh naa ban sakaa to mera dil banaa diya”, credited to Najmi Naginvi though it is also often credited to Jigar Moradabadi.
Kabir’s “Jako rakhe saiyan maar sake na koe” was used in Batla House (2019) in the song “Nigaahein rakh aasmaan pe, Ghumade tu rukh dariya ke.” However, contrary to the extant film industry conduct, Varun Grover wrote a song “Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai" (Masaan, 2015) based on Dushyant Kumar’s poem “Main jisse odhta-bichhata hun/ Woh ghazal aapko sunata hun”, in which the line appears. Grover has acknowledged it. So did Irshad Kamil. The song "Aaj Din Chadiya" (Love Aaj Kal, 2009), for which Irshad Kamil won his first Filmfare Award, centered on the words written by late poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi - “Aaj din chadeya tere rang warga”. He took permission from Batalvi’s wife. The audio CDs gave credit to the poet and Kamil also dedicated his Filmfare Award to Batalvi.
Incidentally, in "Nadaan Parindey" (Rockstar, 2011) Kamil had borrowed lines from the 12th-century Sufi saint Baba Farid — “Kaga sab tan khaiyo, mera chun chun khaiyo maas/ Do naina mat khaiyo mohe piya milan ki aas.”
In his book of essays, The Sacred Wood, poet TS Eliot said:
“One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows… The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”
What would he have said of such Hindi film songs, had he been around?