04 February, 2014

Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet (Book Review)

There is a buzz around in bookshops and on twitter. Ever since I was sent the book on Sahir Ludhianvi for review, I’ve had a few enquiries from people online about it, not to mention that the last time I was at the local bookshop, I saw two copies fly off the shelf within the half hour I was there.

So, I must shamefully admit, before I start, that I hardly knew anything about Sahir Ludhianvi, including the fact that he is the lyricist of one of my all time favourite songs, the one I will occasionally hum when alone, “Main pal do pal ka shayar hun”. On a positive note, I was able to approach the book with fresh eyes. Having next to no knowledge about the person or his work, his life was about to open up like, well, a book, and that was extremely exciting.

Akshay Manwani’s book takes on the life of Sahir from different viewpoints; Sahir’s personal life which consists of his childhood and the contrasting impact his father and mother had on his life. Then there is his love life, and how from time to time his labours of love that never led to marriage had prominent influence on his writing. Manwani also rightly differentiates Sahir as the poet from Sahir, the foremost lyricist of the Indian film industry in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

Just as it should be, Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet is infused with poetry from the get go. Since my knowledge of poetry, let alone Urdu poetry is appalling, the English translations accompanying each and every poem or song is appreciated. This is important because Manwani beautifully explains in detail how different verses were in some way or another reflective of what Sahir was feeling at that time in his life. The various ups and downs of Sahir’s life were his main inspiration and he would often pour out his emotional turmoil through his poetry. Like a true poet, his state of mind and being reflected in his poetry and the author grabs hold of this fact.

In the book, Manwani also references a number of other works that have previously been written about Sahir. With this, we are able to get a much in-depth look into the life of the man that wove magic with words that have left people in awe even till this date. It is through interviews with his colleagues and acquaintances that Manwani presents us with the trials and tribulations and different moods of the artist. And, it is this want to tell the whole story that doesn’t let Manwani shy away from discussing the various “affairs” that Ludhianvi had during his life, especially influential relationships during his college years and those with Amrita Pritam and Sudha Malhorta.    

Manwani then looks at Sahir’s importance as a poet and his contributions to the Progressive Writers' Movement. The author also highlights how Sahir used his poetry as a tool for expressing his thoughts about the various developments around the world especially those concerning war, brutality, and not to mention Sahir’s continued displeasure in the declining influence of Gandhi, in terms of peace, and Ghalib, in terms of the literary world.

As is the case with Sahir’s life, most of the book is a compilation of his work in the Indian film industry. Manwani draws a picture of Sahir as someone who was very much aware of his talent and most importantly how he always considered the lyricist to be of more importance than the music director, a stance that lost him many working relationships. Manwani also devotes an entire chapter to the work Sahir did with the Chopras (B R and Yash) and how they supported and influenced each other during the making of multiple hits during the 1970s, an instrumental time for both Sahir and Indian films.

Anyone who is even moderately interested in poetry and vintage Hindi songs, not only those of Sahir, will find the book to be nostalgic and a true gem to have in their collection, but for those that are less versed in this art, all the information can be a bit overbearing at times. This is by no means a comment on the author for all he does is dive deep into Sahir’s poetry and gives us an almost exhaustive analysis of the same.

The book also makes one appreciate films from the perspective of its songs and primarily the lyrics. It showcases that while a film might mirror society and are at times a responsible medium for promoting change in attitudes, sometimes years in advance, the lyrics of songs work on a similar level and is an equally brilliant tool, when in capable hands, to get a glimpse of society’s burdens, desires, and expectations. Manwani in this manner is able to link up Sahir’s progressive thinking to his work.

Manwani himself sums up the imperativeness of the poet when he writes, "Sahir's unique ability to marry poetry and philosophy and take a contemptuous view of the world, even in a light number, places him several echelons above other songwriters" about a man who gave the one in love, the one with a broken heart, and the one longing for a companion something to sing about.   

Recommendation: Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet justifies a life that was no less than a Hindi film full of drama, tragedy, romance, love, joy, song, music, and especially in the case of Sahir, the dominance of the “Maa factor”. You not only get a glimpse into the life of one of the most prolific poets of the last century but the book doubles as a collection of some of his best works.

Beware: Reading the book will probably lead you to sing or hum some of the most memorable songs ever to have charmed cinemagoers, not to mention leave you with a strong urge to see some of the classics that have been an integral part of Indian cinema.

This is an unbiased review of the book that was sent by Harper Collins India. Thank you to the publishers for the opportunity.   


  1. Interesting book Raghav - will look forward to read it.

    1. Thanks, let me know what you thought of it once you read it

  2. I read few real life stories about Sahir saab in Gulzar's Half a rupee-Stories..This sounds interesting..Thanks for the review..:-)