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Sahir Ludhianvi (8 March 1921 – 25 October 1980) was a popular Urdu poet and Hindi lyricist and songwriter.

Sahir Ludhianvi is his pseudonym. He won the Filmfare Award twice, in 1964 and 1977, and in 1971 was awarded the Padma Shri.

It was on Sahir's insistence that the All India Radio started naming the lyricists along with the singers and the music composers for the songs being aired. Before Sahir, the music composer, followed by the play-back singers usually took credit for the popularity and success of the songs in films.

Early life

Sahir Ludhianvi was born into the wealthy family of a Muslim Gujjar as Abdul Hayee on 8 March 1921 in Ludhiana, Punjab in India. His mother's name was Sardar Begum. Sahir's parents had a very loose and estranged relationship. In 1934, when he was thirteen years old, his father married for the second time. At that time, his mother decided to take the bold step of leaving her husband, forfeiting all claims to the financial assets. Sahir's father then sued his mother for child custody but lost. He threatened to make sure Sahir did not live with his mother very long, even if that meant taking the child's life. Sahir's mother then found friends who kept a close watch on him and didn't let him out of sight. Fear and financial deprivation surrounded the formative years of this young man. His parents' divorce brought him and his mother face to face with poverty and struggle in life. The house in which Sahir was born, a red sand-stone haveli, stands in Karimpura, a Muslim neighborhood of Ludhiana, with a small plaque announcing its importance upon the arched mughal darwaaza - the only effort by this teeming industrial city to remember him.

Sahir studied at and graduated from Khalsa High School in Ludhiana. Upon Matriculation, he joined the Satish Chander Dhawan Government College For Boys, Ludhiana, from which he was famously expelled within the year 'for sitting in the Principal's lawn with a female class-mate'. Amrita Pritam became his most ardent fan in the college days at government college Ludhiana. She has openly acknowledged her love for Sahir in interviews and her books. He was quite popular for his ghazals and nazms in the college.

In 1943, after being expelled from college, Sahir settled in Lahore. However, inflammatory writings (communist views and ideology) in Savera resulted in the issuing of a warrant for his arrest by the Government of Pakistan. So, somewhere in 1949, Sahir fled from Lahore to Delhi. After a couple of months in Delhi, he moved to and settled in Bombay. A friend of his recalls Sahir telling him "Bombay needs me!"

Lyrics and Bollywood

Sahir lived on the first floor of the main building of an Andheri outhouse. His famous neighbours included the poet, Gulzar and Urdu litterateur, Krishan Chander. In the 1970s, he constructed Parchaiyaan ("Shadows"), a posh bungalow, and lived there till his death. Journalist, Ali Peter John, who knew the poet personally, says real-estate sharks have been eyeing Sahir's abode after the death of his sister. His belongings and trophies are in a state of ruin, according to the journalist.

Sahir Ludhianvi made his debut in films writing lyrics for the film Aazadi Ki Raah Par (1949). The film had four songs written by him and his first song was Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi.... Both the film and its songs went unnoticed. However, with Naujawaan (1951), he gained recognition. S.D. Burman composed the music for Naujawaan. His first major success came the same year with Guru Dutt's directorial debut, Baazi (1951), again pairing him with music composer, S.D. Burman. Thus he became, part of the Guru Dutt team, and after the success of Naujawaan and Baazi, the combination of Sahir Ludhianvi and S.D. Burman came out with many more everlasting songs.

Sahir worked with many music composers, including Ravi, S.D. Burman, Roshan and Khayyam, and has left behind many unforgettable songs for fans of the Indian film industry and its music. Later, Sahir Ludhianvi teamed up with composer Datta Naik in several films. Datta, a Goan, was a great admirer of Sahir's revolutionary poetry. They had already worked together to produce the music for Milaap (1955). Sahir wrote many unforgettable gems for Datta.

In 1958, Sahir wrote the lyrics for Ramesh Saigal's film Phir Subah Hogi, which was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. The male lead was Raj Kapoor and it was presumed that Shankar-Jaikishan would be the music composers. However, Sahir insisted that only someone who had read the novel could provide the right score. Thus, Khayyam ended up as the music composer for the film and the song Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi with minimal background music remains an all-time hit. Khayyam went on to work with Sahir in many films including Kabhie Kabhie and Trishul.

Admirers and critics rate Sahir's work in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa as his finest. Pyaasa, some say, bears resemblance to Sahir's early years as a poet. The onscreen poet, Vijay played by Guru Dutt, bears a strong likeness to the man whose poetry gave the film its soul.

Sahir Ludhianvi's work in the 1970s was restricted to films mainly directed by Yash Chopra. Though his output in terms of number of films had thinned out, the quality of his writing commanded immense respect. Kabhie Kabhie (1976) saw him return to sparkling form. These songs won him his second Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist, the first being for Taj Mahal (1963).

Last days

On 25 October 1980, at the age of fifty-nine, Sahir Ludhianvi died after suffering a massive heart attack in the midst of a card game. He was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. His tomb was demolished in 2010 to make space for new bodies.

Sahir's final works were released for the Hindi film Lakshmi (1982). He will always be remembered along with Kaifi Azmi as the poet who brought Urdu literature to Indian motion pictures. Over twenty-five years after Sahir Ludhianvi's death, his poetry and lyrics remain an inspiration for lyricists of the day. Composers and singers of Sahir's time swear by the depth, intensity and purity in his poetry. As singer, Mahendra Kapoor said in a Vividh Bharati interview, "I don't think a writer like Sahir Ludhianvi will be born again".


Although Sahir Ludhianvi remained a bachelor all his life, he had two failed love affairs with journalist Amrita Pritam and singer/actress Sudha Malhotra, respectively. These relationships could not be cemented in marriage because these women's fathers refused to let them marry a Muslim. In fact, Sahir Ludhianvi was an atheist. These relationships had left Sahir Ludhianvi an embittered man and he also had taken to drinking heavliy and drank himself deep into alcoholism. The tragedies and pathos of his personal life most truly reflected in his poignant poetry. He remained single all his life.

His relationship with Amrita Pritam was so passionate, that at one time while attending a press conference, Amrita wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper. The two of them would meet without saying a word and Sahir would puff away with his cigarettes, and after he left, Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left by him. After his death, she hoped the smoke from her cigarettes would meet him in the other world.


1964: Filmfare Best Lyricist Award: Jo Wada Kiya ( Taj Mahal)
1977: Filmfare Best Lyricist Award: Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein ( Kabhi Kabhie )


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