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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Relating a Poet to a Songster

On August 18, Sampooran Singh 'Gulzar' completed 75 years. A leading
Urdu broadsheet called him ' ek umda naghmanigaar ' (a good lyricist). But it doesn't rate him very highly as a poet. In fact, it subtly questions his poetic ' abilities.' This has been the tragedy of all poet-lyricists. Granted, Gulzar can never be considered as a poet par excellence but the man has penned a few beautiful non-filmi ghazals like, " Shaam se ankhon mein nami-si hai / Aaaj phir aapki kami-si hai / Dafn (not dafan) kar do humein ki saans aaye / Nabz kuchh der se thami-si hai...(Album: Marasim, 1994) " (There's a dampness in my eyes / Since the evening has set / I feel your absence once again today/ Bury me, so that I can catch my breath / My pulse has stopped throbbing for quite some time..).

The same fate had befallen Sahir Ludhianavi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi among others. Cinema, despite being a very potent artistic medium, has surprisingly never catapulted poetry and music to the level they deserve. This is strange. To make it clear, playback singing is still to be categorised in a particular genre and is often casually called ' popular music' which's frowned upon by the purists. In spite of astoundingly great singers like Muhammad Rafi, Kundanlal Sehgal, Lata and Asha, they've never been included in the mainstream traditional music. Neither the poetry of poet-lyricists has been recognised by the high-brows of poetry and literature.

This prompts one to question whether cinema as a creative medium really accommodates poets and musicians and gives due importance to them? Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who sang just one thumri for 'Mughal-e-Azam', that too, when K Asif implored, was disdainful of film music and went to the extent of advising the great Rafi not to sing for cinema. ' Filmon mein gaana aapko zeb nahin deta..' (Singing for cinema is unbecoming of you), Bade Ghulam Ali Khan admonished his favourite disciple Muhammad Rafi (refer to ' Maiyaar-e-mausiqi-e-cinema ' by Farhat Rizvi, Aligarh, 1981). Great Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi penned a few songs for cinema in the forties and fifties but stopped because the very tag of film songs did injustice to his immense talent as one of the foremost Urdu poets of the sub-continent.

 Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri never wrote for cinema as he didn't want to trivialise his image as a great poet. He got so many offers but declined. " Cinema caters to all walks of life, especially the lowest denomination. That's the reason, till mid forties, girls belonging to respectable families dared not venture into this field and courtesans came to act. Even in the west, very cultured actresses and actors were a rarity in those days. So whatever cinema represented in all eras, it became a banality, something appreciated by the commoners but abused by the class," wrote the late film critic Iqbal Masood in ' The Cinematic Irony'. 

Lyricists therefore never became so great as poets because they could not part with their fixed cinematic image of a lyricist and a singer remained in the shadow of actors despite his / her unquestionable singing skills. Cinema indeed relegates a poet to an ordinary songster and an exponent of singing to a mere roadside crooner.    

                                                    ----Sumit Paul

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