Shams-ul-Huda Bihari, the unsung lyricist of Hindi cinema

2022 marks his Birth Centenary

Venkat Parsa

Shams-ul-Huda Bihari, popularly known as S H Bihari, the renowned Poet-Film Lyricist of the Golden Era of Hindi Cinema, has produced some of the masterpieces of the Hindi film songs. People do enjoy his songs till this day, but not many know that these songs were penned by S H Bihari.

S H Bihari, like Shakeel Badayuni, is an inveterate romantic. The two of them steered clear of the Left-Revolutionary fire and produced highly romantic songs.

Despite his trail-blazing songs, hardly anyone remembers S H Bihari, although no one can stay away from humming the songs he wrote with such gusto and passion.

MS Education Academy

Strangely,  S H Bihari did not achieve the stardom that some other contemporary lyricists enjoyed even during their lifetime. Star lyricists include Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi and, to a great extent, Rajender Krishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Raja Mehdi Ali Khan.

Azeez Kashmiri comes closest to S H Bihari in penning magical songs. In Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Azeez Kashmiri wrote two mesmerizing, magical and memorable songs. One is Mohobat cheez hai kya, mohobat karke dekhenge, qaza kehten hsi kisko, ke suli chadh ke dekhenge and the other is Huzur-e-wala, jo ho ijaazat, to hum yeh saare jahaan se kehde, tumhaari adaaon pe marte hain hum, yeh kisne kaha hai ke darte hain hum.

S H Bihari’s was a life of constant ups and downs and relentless struggles. He had economic problems and suffered personal tragedies like losing his children. But he never allowed his tough and tumultuous conditions to affect his work, as he managed to come up with some of the most romantic songs ever penned.

Travelling in RTC buses in Mumbai while commuting to studios and home, S H Bihari would sometimes write down the mukhda on the back of the bus ticket. Later, he would develop the song by writing the antaras, on returning home.

Romantic to the Core

In an evergreen film, Ghazal, made in 1964, Nawab Baaqar Ali Khan (played by Prithviraj Kapoor) has a line, “Yeh mera yaqeen hi nahi, balke mera imaan hai, ke jo Allah ko nahi maanta, woh achhi Ghazal keh nahi sakta” (It is not only my firm conviction but my faith, that one, who does not believe in God, cannot compose a good poem).

S H Bihari is a shining example of this dictum, as he was a believer in Allah and romantic at heart.

Ironically, these twin traits also kept S H Bihari away from the limelight of the Mushairas, which were dominated by the Left revolutionaries, keeping out of the pale, the Believer-Romantic. S H Bihari was mostly out of the circuit of the Mushairas, where he could have possibly made a mark by reciting his Nazm or Ghazal.

The prevailing trend, in the 1940s and in the 1950s, was that of the Progressive Poets, like Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri, who ruled the roost. The Progressive Poets were, by definition, Leftists, popularly associated with being non-believers, and being more a revolutionary than a romantic.

Sailing against the popular trend, S H Bihari set a new norm in the world of Hindi cinema during its Golden Era.

Poets-turned-lyricists

Hindi cinema became known for its magical songs, with mesmerizing lyrics, only because renowned poets came forward to write lyrics for the film songs in those days.

S H Bihari was a poet, who decided to move to Mumbai to become a lyricist in Hindi films. It was his literary background that helped him to impart substance to Hindi film songs.

Apart from S H Bihari, other renowned Poets-turned-lyricists include Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi, Rajender Krishan and Raja Mehdi Ali Khan.

If Sahir and Majrooh were famous revolutionary poets-lyricists of the Hindi cinema, then, on the other hand, Shakeel Badayuuni and S H Bihari were the most notable romantic of the lot; and a class apart. They gave some of the most magical and memorable songs of the Golden Era of Hindi cinema.

While Shakeel Badayuni was hailed as the uncrowned king of romance, S H Bihari was equally instrumental in giving the Hindi cinema its greatest romantic songs.

Nazm on Gandhiji

Born in 1922 (date of birth is not known) in Arrah in Bihar, S H Bihari did his graduation from Presidency College in Kolkata. 2022 marks his Birth Centenary.

S H Bihari took to writing poetry since his college days, alongside playing football for the famous Mohun Bagan Club.

Following the horrendous and horrific assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, S H Bihari penned a Nazm and recited it on the All India Radio (AIR):

Kis muh se hum kahenge, Duniya se ab dobara,
Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan humara.

Imaan ka tha sachha, Bhagwan ka Pujari,
Ek umr jisne apni thi Jail mein ghuzaari.

Bas char-ghaz ke tukde pe jis ka tha ghuzara,
Paagal hai jisne aise Rishi ko mara.

Well-known music director Anil Biswas, who heard this tribute to Gandhiji on the radio, called for S H Bihari and signed him up to compose a song for the film, Chingari. But that did not prove to be a big enough break and his struggle continued.

After his graduation, he briefly worked with Bata Shoe Company in Patna, when the poet in him nudged him to move to Mumbai, the city of dreams. In Mumbai, while working as assistant manager in Sahoo Brothers Shoe Factory, he recited a Ghazal during a rare participation in a Mushaira that proved to be a turning point:

Qadam-qadam pe yahaan dil-nasheen nazaare hain
Magar yeh aur baat hai ki yeh sab ke sab tumhaare hain

Mere junoon ke daaman mein khaaq bhi to nahi
Tumhaare reshmi aanchal mein Chand-Taare hain.

Tumhaare husn ko har cheez ka sahaara hai
Aur ek hum hain ke duniya mein besahaare hain.

Humaare vaaste toofaan chhupa hai sahil mein
Tumhaare vaaste maujon mein kanara hai.

Fazli Brothers, who heard him recite the Ghazal in the Mushaira, immediately commissioned him to write all the songs for their film, Duniya, starring Suraiya and Karan Dewan. One song in this film, rendered by Mohammad Rafi and Suraiya, became a super-hit during those times: Haye re tu ne kya kiya, mujh se yeh kya bataa diya, Dard jo meetha-meetha tha, aur use badhaa diya.

Life and Struggles

Despite the success of his songs in Duniya, he was still struggling to find work.

In 1953, S H Bihari got married. Prior to his marriage, he wrote a poem, Tumhe apna saathi banaane se pehle, meri jaan mujh ko bahut sonch na hai. It sets out his worries about looking after his wife, given his bad times. In 1985, in the film, Pyaar Jhukta Nahi, a similar situation arises, when a photographer plans to get married to a rich girl. This poem of S H Bihari was used as a song in Pyaar Jhukta Nahi, nearly 32 years after it was written in similar circumstances.

Baba’s Talisman

During the days of his struggles, his close friend and fellow lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan wanted to help him, but in a different way. Mehdi Ali Khan took S H Bihari to a Baba. The Baba asked S H Bihari to give him a coin of Chandi. The poet thought that this was the fee to be paid to the Baba. But the Baba tied that Chandi coin as a Talisman (Taaveez) on the poet, himself, assuring him that all will be well.

Time passed by, but there was no abatement in his troubles. One day, S H Bihari went to Filmistan Studio to meet renowned producer Sasadhar Mukherjee, popularly known as S Mukherjee, and father of Joy Mukherjee. Since early morning, till late afternoon, he waited for his turn to get an appointment, but to no avail.

Finally, a famished S H Bihari took out the Chandi coin and walked across the street to a restaurant, opposite Filmistan Studio, to have a sumptuous meal. As he stepped out of the restaurant, a person came running to call S H Bihari to meet S Mukherjee.

As long as the silver coin remained with him as a Talisman, Lady Luck did not smile on him. The moment the silver coin was spent, his fortune appears to have changed!

While the mystery of the Chandi coin was yet to be unravelled, S Mukherjee signed S H Bihari to write the songs for his next film, Shart, made in 1954. At least two songs written by S H Bihari had Chand in the mukhda: One song was, Dekho, woh Chand chhup ke karta hai kya ishaare and the other song was Na yeh Chand ho ga, na taare rahenge, magar hum humesha tumhaare rahenge.

Unmatched Gems

Hit songs that S H Bihari has delivered in the Hindi films during the Golden Era include, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi; Kashmir Ki Kali; Mohobat Zindgi Hai; Sawan Ki Ghata; Kismat; and CID 909. S H Bihari gave rare gems to the world of Hindi film songs.

In 1962 came the musical hit, Ek Musaafir, Ek Haseena. It had songs like, Bahut shukriya, badi meherbaani; Mujhe dekh kar aap ka muskurana, mohobat nahi to phir aur kya hai; and zubaan-e-yaar man Turki, oh man Turki nameedaanam. Others songs in the film were written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and Shewan Rizvi.

During the song-recording for Kashmir Ki Kali in 1964, when Shammi Kapoor came to know that S H Bihari was the lyricist and O P Nayyar the music director, he was apprehensive. He told the producer to go in for Shankar-Jaikishen, which meant, by default, lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, who have consistently been delivering hits.

After tasting such musical hits like Dil Tera Diwana in 1962 and Raaj Kumar in 1964 by Shankar-Jaikishen and their set lyricists duo of Hasrat Jaipuri-Shailendra, Shammi Kapoor was not in a mood to experiment with someone like S H Bihari.

A compromise offered was that Shammi Kapoor can hear a song and if he was not satisfied, then the musical score can be changed. It goes to the credit of S H Bihari that he cast a spell on Shammi Kapoor and the film went on to become a big musical hit.

Kashmir Ki Kali had a magical score: Balma khuli hawa mein; Ishaaron-ishaaron mein dil lene waale, bata yeh hunar tu ne seekhaa kahaan se; Subhaan Allah, haseen chehra, yeh mastana adaayen, Khuda mehfooz rakhe har bala se; Haye re hai, yeh mere haat mein tera haat, naye jasbaat, to phir kya baat meri jaan bhalle-bhalle; Yeh Chaand sa roshan chehra, us par tera rang sunehra, yeh jheel si neeli aankhen, koyee raaz hai in mein gehra, taareef karun kya uski, jis ne tumhe banaya hai; Balma khuli hawa mein; Yeh dekh ke dil jhooma, li pyaar ne angdayi, diwana huva baadal; and Yeh duniya usiki, zamana usi ka, mohobat mein jo ho gaya ho kisi ka.

In 1966 came the film, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, the greatest musical hit.

Yehi woh jagah hai, yehi woh fizaa hai, yaheen par kabhi aap hum se mile the; Phir miloge kabhi, is baat ka wada karlo; Main shayad tumhare liye ajnabi hoon, magar Chaand-Taare mujhe jaante hain; Aap se maine meri jaan mohabbat ki hai, Jaan kya cheez hai, Imaan bhi le sakti hain; and, Mera pyaar woh hai ke, markar bhi tum ko, judaa apni baahon se ho ne na dega, Mili mujh ko jannat, to jannat ke badle, Khuda se meri jaan tumhe maang le ta.

In 1966 came yet another musical hit, Mohobat Zindgi Hai. It had songs like Na jaane kyon humaare dil ko tum ne dil nahi samjha, yeh sheesha tod dala, pyaar ke kaabil nahi samjha and Raaton ko chori-chori bole mora kangna.

Yet another musical hit in 1966 was the Manoj Kumar-Sharmila Tagore starrer, Saawan Ki Ghata. It had magical numbers like, Aaj koyee pyaar se dil ki baaten keh gaya, main to aage bhadh gayi, peechhe zamana rah gaya; Meri jaan tum pe sadqe, ehsaan itna kar do; Zulfon ko hataa le chehre se, muh raat ka kaalaa ho ne de; and Zara haulle-haulle challo more saajna, hum bhi peechhe hain tumhaare.

In 1967 came Feroze Khan-Mumtaz starrer, CID 909. It had songs like, Dhadka to hoga dil zaroor, kiye to ho ga tum ne pyaar, hum se chhupaao na huzur, hum hain tumhaare taab-e-daar, jaan-e-taabedaar and Yaar badshah, yaar dilruba.

In 1968, two runaway musicals were released, for which S H Bihari penned the lyrics. One was Joy Mukherjee-Sharmila Tagore starrer, Dil Aur Mohabbat, and two, Biswajeet-Babita starrer, Kismat.

In Dil Aur Mohobat, S H Bihari wrote two songs, with Azeez Kasmiri and Verma Malick writing the other songs. S H Bihari’s songs became a hit. Kahaan se laayi, oh jaan-e-man, yeh kitabi chehra, gulaabi aankhen and Haath aayaa hai jab se tera haath mein, aagaya hai Naya rang jasbaat mein.

In Kismat, all the songs were runaway hits, like, Aankhon mein qayamat ke kaajal, hoton pe ghazab ki laali hai, banda-parvar kahiye kiski taqdeer sanwar ne waali hai; Lakhon hain yahaan dilwale, aur pyaar nahi milta; and Kajra mohabbat wala, ankhiyon mein aisa dala.

In 1968, yet another hit was Humsaya, where he wrote lyrics alongside Shewan Rizvi and Hasrat Jaipuri. His two songs were Aajaa mere pyar ke sahaare, abhi-abhi and the other conjuring up the legendary love of Radha and Krishna, O Kanhaiya, Kanhaiya, Kanhaiya, aaj panghat pe hai teri Radha akeli khadi.

Similarly, in 1974, came Pran Jaaye, Par Vachan Na Jaaye. It had lilting songs like, Chain se hum ko kabhi, aap ne jeene na diya, zeher bhi chaaha agar, peena to peene na diya; and, Ek tu hai piya, jis pe dil aa gaya.

Unsung Lyricist

Starting from Shart in 1954, through the three successive decades, till at least Pyaar Jhukta Nahi in 1985, S H Bihari gave some of the finest and most lilting songs to the world of Hindi Cinema.

S H Bihari passed away on February 25, 1987. He was to write 6 songs for Janam, Janam, out of which he had completed only 4 songs when his end came at the age of 65 years.

The producer of the film turned to Majrooh Sultanpuri, who promised to complete the songs for the film but on the condition that he will write the remaining two songs but he would not take any money for it.

Instead, he said, the producer must honour the contract and make the full payment, as originally agreed, to late  S H Bihari’s wife, Safiya. Janam, Janam was released in 1988.

For someone delivering such romantic melodies and yet not getting the kind of recognition he deserved is rather very surprising. Perhaps such surprises do happen, as seen in the life S H Bihari.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi. He regularly contributes to Siasat.com.

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