Do you enjoy listening to vintage Hindi film songs? If you do, then you must have heard some evergreen and unforgettable melodies rendered by Pankaj Mullick, K L Saigal, K C. Dey, Kanan Bala, Rajkumari, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar and other yesteryear singers. Ever wondered who wrote famous numbers like, ‘Challey pawan ki chaal, jag mein chale pawan ki chaal’, ‘Guzzar gaya wo zamana kaisa’, ‘Aaj apni mehnaton ka mujh kol samra mil gaya’, “Mahak rahi phulwari hamri mehak rahi…‘, “Karun kya aas niraas bhayee’, “Preet mein hai Jeevan jokhon…”‘Ik bangla bane nyara’, ‘Ik raje ka beta le kar udne wala ghora’, ‘Jeevan been madhur na baaje’, ‘Yeh kaisa anyaye data, yeh kaisa anyaye’, and many other such haunting songs? Name of the poet and lyricist who wrote these beautiful, thought-provoking songs was Arzoo Lakhnavi.
In the heyday of his glory, the creator of these songs, Arzoo Lakhnavi, was a name to reckon with. He was not simply a film song writer, but also an Urdu poet of repute. But, unfortunately, film historians of yore never much bothered to chronicle the life of this poet and lyricist for posterity. So, the information available about him is rather scrappy and insufficient.
Arzoo Lakhnavi was the first Urdu poet who tried to simplify Urdu by taking it away from the pedantic influence of Arabic and Persian. In both his film and non-film ghazals, he avoided using difficult Persianized Urdu. A C Tuli writes on film issues For instance, in his non-film ghazals, Arzoo used very simple words, but these words left a deep and lasting impact on the listeners’ minds.
Here is the first stanza of one of his non-film ghazals which KL Saigal immortalized in his resonant voice. The language is so simple that even those who have no knowledge of Urdu can understand it well. “Ghar yeh tera sada na mera hai, raat do raat ka basera hai…”, “Idhar phir bhee aana udhar jaane wali, arre jee ke bechain kar jaane waale…”, “Bahut us gali ke kiye herey phere, yeh jin ke liye thaa, hue wo na mere…”, “Matwale panney se jo ghatta jhoom padi hai, chhaati se dhooan utha hai jo boond padi hai…” and many such others. Arzoo Lakhnavi whose real name was Syed Anwar Hussain was born in a respectable Shia family at Lucknow. There is no authentic record of the year in which he was born.
His father and elder brothers were also poets. Arzoo was still in his teens when he started writing ghazals, nazms, and geets. But in those days no budding poet could aspire to earn name and fame unless he had an ‘Ustaad’ to back him. In fact, the tradition of ‘Ustad- Shagird’ was well entrenched and scrupulously adhered to in the early twentieth century. Arzoo’s ustad was Jalal Lakhnavi. When Jalal died in 1909, Arzoo was unanimously elected as his successor. Arzoo was a nationalist to the core. But even then the British Government honoured him for his contribution to Urdu poetry. The then Commissioner of Lucknow, Mr. John Darling, delivered a speech at Hardoi, highlighting Arzoo’s achievements as a poet. He also pinned a medal on Arzoo, but all this did not much please Arzoo. He wanted India free from British rule. Though Arzoo was born in a well-to- do family, he was not in very comfortable circumstances in his middle age.
So, he went to Calcutta, where he joined a theatre company called Corinthian Theatrical Company. He wrote several plays for this company and all of them were staged successfully. It was, however, his association with BN Sarkar’s New Theatres in Calcutta that proved to be the most creative period of his life. Those were the golden days of Hindi film music. Pankaj Mullick, K L Saigal, and K C Dey were then considered the trinity of Hindi film music. Arzoo wrote some of the finest lyrics for these singers. Lyrics which are considered classics of Hindi film music. In all, he wrote lyrics for about 20 films produced by New Theatres. Of these ‘Mukti’, ‘Street Singer’, ‘Doctor’, ‘Adhikar’, ‘President’, ‘Dushman’, ‘Kapal Kundala’, and ‘Lagan’ are well known. All these films were box-office hits of their time, and their songs became so popular that even today, more than seven decades after their first recording, these have not lost their popularity.
Arzoo’s greatest contribution to Urdu language was his book ‘Nizam- e-Urdu’, which he painstakingly wrote over a period of twenty years. In this book he tried his hand at writing Urdu free from heavy Persian and Arabic words. He incorporated in their place simple Hindi words. Thus, Arzoo gave to Urdu a base of Hindi words. Arzoo’s book of poetry entitled ‘Sureeli Bansuri’ was written by him without using a single word of Arabic or Persian. ‘Sureeli Bansuri’ was published in both Urdu and Devnagri script. Arzoo supported the Swadeshi Movement and the NonCooperation movement. About charkha, he wrote “Chokha maal, khara bazaar, Kapda ban kar ho tayyar, sona chandi sab haath aaye, charkha bigde kaam banaaye”. In the early 1940s, Arzoo shifted from Calcutta to Bombay. Here he wrote lyrics for some films.
The songs of Bombay Talkies’ film ‘Milan’ 5 (1946), starring Dilip Kumar, Ranjana, and Pahadi Sanyal were written by two lyricists, P L Santoshi and Arzoo Lakhnavi. The most popular song of this film, ‘Suhani beliya beeti jaye’ sung by Parul Ghosh was written by Arzoo. Some other Bollywood films for which Arzoo wrote the lyrics are Khel’, ‘Raat Ki Rani’, ‘Sawan Aaya Re’, ‘Beqasoor’, ‘Nakhre’, and a few more which now lie buried under the dust of time. His songs for ‘Beqasoor’ (1950) which were sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Rajkumari became very popular. For ‘Raat Ki Rani’ (1949), Arzoo wrote a ghazal which Mohammed Rafi sang in the fashion of a poet reciting his creation at a mushaira.