Ahmad Faraz birthday special: A toast to the poet who said no to Bollywood

Way back in 1964, the great showman Raj Kapoor phoned the legendary Pakistani Urdu poet Ahmad Farz, requesting him to write a number for his film Sangam.  But Faraz politely refused the redoubtable Raj Kapoor, albeit generously allowing him to cherry-pick any of his ghazals. The poet who penned the immortal ghazals like Ranjish hi sahi…, Ab ke bichhde toh khwaabon mein... and Karoon na yaad magar, among others never ‘stooped’ to writing for films, whether Bollywood or Lollywood (Pakistani film industry). Not just Raj Kapoor, other stalwarts from the film industry also tried to rope him in for writing songs in films, but he always declined. 

Ranjish nahin kisi baat se mujhe/ Faqat qalam ko maia’ar chahiye (I’ve no gripe against anything/But my quill needs that lofty standard). His oblique couplet explains why Faraz never wrote for films.

During my rather long stay in Pakistan for a Doctoral research on Mohammad Rafi’s tonal quality in 2004, I’d often meet Faraz sahab. An MA in Persian from Peshawar University, he’d often visit Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi Universities to teach classical Urdu poetry and Persian.

Since my mother tongue is Persian, I’d often meet and interact with him in Persian, which had a slight influence of Dari (Afghan variant of Persian) and Pashto. I even got an opportunity to interview him in Pakistan’s only Persian daily Farda (Tomorrow, now defunct). I asked the same question: Why he never condescended to write for films?

Faraz had no disdain for the level of poetry in cinema and was all praise for the poet-lyricists Sahir Ludhianavi, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Qateel Shifai (he mostly wrote for Pakistani films) among others. But writing a number according to a given situation didn’t appeal to him. Asha’ar nikalte hain qalam se/ Bina kisi ke hukm ke (Couplets ensue from my pen without anyone ordering me to do that). He never liked the idea of a director suggesting what’s to be written. Apne shauq se likhta hoon, apne zauq ki khaatir (I write for my own self for my own pleasure), he’d often say.

To him, poetry was a passion not a means to earn pelf. A completely self-effacing person, he never believed in chest-thumping and blowing his own trumpet. Likh diya, zamane ka ho gaya (I wrote and the very next moment it belonged to the world) was his simple mantra.

He was pleasantly surprised when I told him that Sunil Dutt quoted his couplets in the film Nartaki (1963) and that a number of films in India used his ghazals, esp. Ranjish hi sahi… as a background number. His refrain was, Meri khushnaseebi, karam Allah ka (My good fortune because of the grace of Allah). Always a very candid person, Faraz lived life on his own terms. The great poet would have turned 90 today.

(The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, cultures, religions and civilisations. He teaches linguistics, psycho-linguistics and philology at world’s premier varsities and contributes to world’s leading publications and portals in various languages.)

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