One of the greatest Urdu poets of all time, Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) can be succinctly described as the voice of conscience. Born in Sialkot, Faiz began his career in 1935 as a lecturer in English at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Amritsar and subsequently moved to journalism. His poetry is a tireless crusade against injustice and tyranny – the manner in which he interweaved his social concerns with the traditional themes of love and beauty remains unparalleled. Studded with profound metaphors and rich imagery, his revolutionary writing caused much flutter in political circles but he fearlessly carried on speaking for the oppressed and the underprivileged. His efforts towards promoting harmony won him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. Over the years, Faiz has turned into a symbol of hope – his poems like Bol, ke lab aazaad hain tere and Hum dekhenge have become anthems of protests and keep on inspiring and empowering people to stand up to unfairness. The influential views of Faiz have frequently traversed the literary arena to mingle with pop culture and other art forms like theatre, music and cinema.
Although Faiz never wrote anything exclusively for Hindi cinema, his poetry has been a regular presence in films through the decades. Nargis’ mother Jaddanbai was the first to utilise his work for her home production Romeo and Juliet (1948). She formally sought the poet’s permission to use his ghazal Dono jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke (composed by Husnlal-Bhagatram and sung by Zohrabai Ambalewali and Khayyam – this song marked Khayyam’s entry in films). Faiz’s poems feature extensively in films like Aagaman (1983), Anjuman (1986) and In Custody (1993). Shankar-Jaikishan once carried out an interesting experiment with the track Raat yun dil mein in Janwar (1965). They strung together several Faiz couplets and got Mohd. Rafi and Asha Bhosle to recite it in tarannum for the onscreen pair of Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree. As Faiz’s powerful words turn increasingly relevant in modern times, his relationship with Hindi cinema continues with newer movies like Haider (2014), Daas Dev (2018) and Manto (2018); his thoughts add heft to the soundtrack of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013) as well.
Faiz’s work has also been a source of inspiration for other lyricists. Maine rakha hai mohabbat apne afsaane ka naam/Tum bhi kuchh achchha sa rakh do apne deewaane ka naam, written by Javed-Anwar in Shabnam (1964), clearly has its roots in the Faiz couplet Hum se kehte hain chaman waale ghareebaan-e-chaman/Tum koi achchha sa rakh lo apne veeraane ka naam. In Izzat (1968), Sahir Ludhianvi wrote, Hazaaron gham hain is duniya mein, apne bhi paraaye bhi/Mohabbat hi ka gham tanha nahin, hum kya karein. The similarity with the famous Faiz line Aur bhi dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke siva is unmistakable. Then, there are instances where Faiz’s verse has been used verbatim in songs. In the tradition of Urdu poetry, this isn’t considered plagiarism but a way of paying tribute to the original poem. In fact, there’s a specific term to describe this custom – tazmeen. Here’s a selection of 5 such film songs where various lyricists doff their hats to the genius of Faiz.
1. Song: Teri aankhon ke siva – Chirag (1969)
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music: Madan Mohan; Singers: Mohd. Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar
While Faiz’s landmark poem Mujh se pehli si mohabbat meri mehboob na maang talks of a love soaked in pain and misery, Majrooh Sultanpuri borrowed an evocative line and wove a purely mushy song around it. The story goes that director Raj Khosla, a big fan of Faiz, wanted Majrooh to use the line Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai for a song in his film Chirag (1969). The poet refused to do it unless Faiz gave his consent for the same. Faiz graciously obliged and a timeless song was born. In the film, the song appears twice – first as a Rafi-Lata duet when things are all rosy for lovers Ajay (Sunil Dutt) and Asha (Asha Parekh), and then as a Lata solo when the couple, now married, is faced with trying times. The lyrics acquire tragic overtones in the second version as it takes place after Asha has lost her eyesight in an accident.
2. Song: Hum mehnatkash – Mazdoor (1983)
Lyrics: Hasan Kamaal; Music: R.D. Burman; Singers: Mahendra Kapoor and chorus
Around 25 years after B.R. Chopra highlighted the man versus machine conflict in Naya Daur (1957), his son Ravi Chopra made an extension to the theme in Mazdoor (1983). The voice-over at the beginning of the film makes a direct connection between the two by calling a mazdoor the ‘naye daur ka nirmaata’. The story is about exploitation of a textile mill’s workers and Dilip Kumar, the lead actor of the earlier film, is once again the underdog staring at insurmountable odds. Dinanath (Dilip Kumar), an honest and hardworking mill worker, refuses to bow before an unscrupulous owner Hiralal (Suresh Oberoi) and quits his job. He manages to buy a defunct old mill but soon realises that it won’t be easy to set it up. Just when things are looking bleak, a bunch of his co-workers at his previous job join hands with him. The group breaks into a song celebrating the worth of workers and lyricist Hasan Kamaal reworks Faiz’s Hum mehnatkash to good effect. Interestingly, Saathi haath badhaana in Naya Daur also carried a similar thought: Hum mehnat waalon ne jab bhi mil kar qadam badhaaya/Saagar ne rasta chhoda, parbat ne sheesh jhukaaya.
3. Song: Chand roz aur – Sitamgar (1985)
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music: R.D. Burman; Singer: Kishore Kumar
When the shadows of oppression get too dark, one can start wondering if life is a muflis ki qaba (poor person’s gown) covered with dard ke paiwand (patches of pain). In such grim conditions, what do you say to a loved one? Well, you say that this too shall pass – Chand roz aur meri jaan, faqat chand hi roz. It’s an extraordinary nazm about courage in the face of extreme despair and the adaptation by Majrooh Sultanpuri in Sitamgar (1985) admirably retains the spirit of the original line. The life of Jai (Rishi Kapoor), who owns a dance school, is turned upside down when he’s falsely implicated for a murder. On the run from the law, a slippery mercenary and the real criminals, he reassures his beloved Nisha (Poonam Dhillon) that all would be well soon: Haath khul jaaye, daagh dhul jaaye, phir yeh hawa hai mehmaan chand roz.
4. Song: Yeh safar bahut hai kathin magar – 1942: A Love Story (1994)
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar; Music: R.D. Burman; Singer: Shivaji Chattopadhyay
Her father has just been killed and she doesn’t know where her relationship with her lover Naren (Anil Kapoor) is headed. The life of Rajjo (Manisha Koirala) is enveloped in a pall of gloom. The fervent revolutionary Shubhankar (Jackie Shroff), a protégé of her father, tries to comfort her with an uplifting song. Beautifully suffused with words of optimism by Javed Akhtar, Yeh safar is one of the several memorable compositions of R.D. Burman in his glorious parting shot. The song, which shares its soul with the Sitamgar number, opens with a Faiz couplet (from his ghazal Hum par tumhari chaah ka) – one that can fire hope in the most despondent of hearts:
Dil na-ummeed to nahin, nakaam hi to hai,
Lambi hai gham ki shaam magar shaam hi to hai
5. Song: Gulon mein rang bharey – Sikandar (2009)
Lyrics: Neelesh Misra; Music: Justin-Uday, Sandesh Shandilya; Singers: Mohit Chauhan (for J-U), K.K. (for SS)
Neelesh Misra used the matlaa (opening couplet) of Gulon mein rang bharey, one of the most widely sung – the Mehdi Hassan rendition being especially popular – and equally widely interpreted ghazals of Faiz, and created two songs in Sikandar (2009). The story of the film revolves around Sikandar (Parzaan Dastur), a Kashmiri teenager who dreams of being a football player but unwittingly gets caught in a dangerous game being played out between politicians, militants and the armed forces. The film begins with a montage of children playfully walking through the streets of Kupwara as Mohit Chauhan’s Gulon mein rang bharey plays in the background. Faiz’s debt was acknowledged next to Misra’s name in the opening credits (‘A tribute to Faiz Ahmed Faiz’). Portions of the original poem, written by Faiz while serving time under the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, also happened to make its way into another Kashmir-centric film a few years later – Haider (2014).