This piece is written by Archana Gupta. It first appeared as part of the Guzra Hua Zamana series on Sangeet Ke Sitare, a music group on Facebook.
When a man tells a prospective bride “Main aag hoon, paani ban kar rah sako to shaadi karoonga”, it should come as no surprise that at some point in the future, he will be best known as a firebrand, revolutionary poet and songwriter whose words shall have the power to inspire and instigate millions of cine-goers in pre-independent India, or that his best remembered poetic endeavors will be of patriotic nature and will be sung at national level programs long after he is gone, or that he will be awarded the title of “Rashtrakavi”! Indeed, the gentleman in question, is Kavi Pradeep, best remembered for his immortal song, “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo” that is to date broadcasted over public address system as the Indian Prime Minister drives down Rajpath to pay homage to slain soldiers at Amar Jawan Jyoti before start of the Republic Day Parade, fifty three years after it was first sung at a slightly different function associated with Republic Day Celebrations.
Travesty is, as it often is the case for poets and lyricists, that while we remember their words and songs very well, we hardly ever think of crediting them for their songs – the songs are most often associated with the singers and then with the music directors in most people’s minds. Almost never do the people who write the songs get their due. That is the norm in our film Industry but there are a few notable exceptions to this norm like Gulzar and Sahir. Kavi Pradeep is also for most part a happier story and is well respected, decorated and awarded. But in his case also, we remember his songs far more than the man behind them. While not unexpected, it is alarming that he is still such an unknown, especially amongst the younger generation. Let’s take a look at what we know about the gentleman.
Early Years (1915 – 1938) – A Spark Flies, a Fire Ignites
Pradeep was born Ramchandra Dwivedi, on February 6th, 1915, to Narayanji Bhatt Dwivedi of Badnagar (बड़नगर), Malwa (in present day Madhya Pradesh). His father was the village priest and a reasonably well to do farmer. Ramchandra was his elder sister and brother’s pet and was lovingly called “Ramu” by the family. His mother was a good singer and Ramchandra inherited her musical talent. His early “education” in music came from listening to his mother sing bhajans. His temperament, on the other hand, was reportedly inherited from his father and the “fire” in him, which was apparent from an early age, caused considerable hurdles in continuity of his education. A well-known story goes that when Ramchandra was a student in the local primary school, he was once punished by the local school teacher. He refused to fulfill the condition of the punishment as he believed it was undeserved and left the classroom to never return. That decision did not change even after the teacher apologized!
Since his education was interrupted, he was sent to Ratlam to his maternal uncle’s place in an attempt to let his studies continue there. One fine day, his aunt spoke harshly to him and that hurt his self-respect. He left his uncle’s home also and walked back to Badnagar – a distance of about 42 Kms, as the crow flies! He then studied in Indore for a little while before deciding to complete his intermediate education in Allahabad. At this time, the whole country was engulfed in the struggle for independence and patriotic fervors were running high. Allahabad was also a center of major political and revolutionary activities that Ramchandra was naturally exposed to. It was in the backdrop of events like Gandhi’s Dandi March, Simon Commission Protest & Lala Lajpat Rai’s death, Chandrashekhar Azad’s assassination & Bhagat Singh et al’s bombing of Central Legislative Assembly and subsequent execution, that young Ramchandra’s thoughts and poetic endeavors started shaping up. The fire that was to become “Pradeep” was ignited and was quietly smoldering, biding its time.
He finished his Intermediate from Allahabad and then completed his Bachelor’s degree from Lucknow. He also trained to be a teacher for a while but finally decided against joining this profession. He himself told in an interview that in those days teaching was considered such a respectable profession that he was under tremendous pressure from the family to join this profession but did not personally think that there were enough prospects and the salary was also too low to attract him.
During his student days in Allahabad itself, he honed his keen interest in poetry by reading the works of the Chhaayavaadi poets of the time and started writing poems. “Drum Drum Goonj Uthi Shehnai” was his first poem. Subsequently, he adopted the nom de plume of “Pradeep” and started participating in kavi-sammelans. Soon he had to his credit some notable poems like “Panipat”, “Aaj Mat Jao Pravasi”, “Sneh Ki Ye Baat Ri Sakhi”, and “Murali Ki Chhed Sureeli Taan” etc. His impressive personality, melodious voice and expressive poetry combined to make him a very in-demand poet at these poetry gatherings. Amongst his notable admirers was the pillar of Chhaayaavaad – Suryakant Tripathi Nirala who even wrote an article in his praise in “Madhuri”, a literary magazine in 1938, in which he said (and I paraphrase) that even at this young age, Pradeep is probably the brightest of the newer Hindi poets. Great poetess, Mahadevi Verma, also considered him amongst the next custodians of the Chhaayavaad tradition.
Early Years in Films (1939 – 1947) – The Fire Rages and Blazes
While Ramchandra Dwivedi “Pradeep” was still trying to figure out what to do career-wise, he came in contact with journalist, artist and art teacher Ravishankar Raval. This contact proved very significant in the young poet’s life. Raval ji brought him to Bombay in 1938 where Pradeep participated in a small Kavi Sammelan. Here, he was spotted by film director N. R. Acharya who was extremely impressed with his voice. Very next day he introduced Ramchandra to Himanshu Rai, co-founder of Bombay Talkies, who heard one of his poems and offered him employment as lyric writer. While Ramchandra was still trying to decide whether or not to accept, the matter was clinched by an offer that dazzled him! He was offered an appointment letter at a salary of princely sum of Rs. 200 per month for writing lyrics! At Himanshu Rai’s suggestion, Ramchandra Dwivedi “Pradeep” dropped Ramchandra Dwivedi from his professional name and simply became “Pradeep”!
His first film for Bombay Talkies was Kangan in 1939. He contributed towards six songs in this film – four as a lyricist and three as a singer, one of which was an Arti composed by another Ramchandra, Ramchandra Pal (“Main To Aarti Utaroon Radheshyam Ki Re”), that he both penned and sang. The very first song he wrote was “Hawa Tum Dheere Baho”, composed by Saraswati Devi and sung by Leela Chitnis, who was Ashok Kumar’s leading lady in the film. It is a very pleasant song sung by a young girl waiting for her lover to arrive. The language in the song, while simple and colloquial (e.g. “Mere hiyaa mein uthat hilor”) clearly had some literary influence. The other two songs penned by him were “Radha Radha Pyari Radha” and “Sooni Padi Re Sitaar Meera Ke Jeevan Ki”. The film, directed by Franz Osten was a super-hit and marked a silver jubilee. Success of the film meant success of the music as well and Pradeep’s place in the studio, already secure, was even better assured.
Kangan was followed by Bandhan the very next year. Pradeep wrote nine songs for the film and sang two. While all the songs became popular, one stands out, has special historic significance in the struggle for Indian Independence and is remembered well even today. The song was “Chal Chal Re Naujawan”. It was used in four parts in the film and while it is primarily a motivational song, very patriotic in nature, it is extremely cleverly penned and the message is well veiled. The first part is disguised as a romantic duet that uses the same refrain (and tune) “Chal Chal Re Naujawaan” and serves to set the stage for the following parts that are far more directly inspirational. The language and the message caught on instantly with the youth of the time and the song gained immense popularity amongst the cinegoers and the freedom fighters alike. On one hand, it was adopted by the “Vanar Sena” founded by Indira Gandhi as their anthem to encourage the kids to tirelessly engage in activities against the British Government, while on the other it was reportedly sung in the assemblies of the provinces of Punjab & Sindh where it was even proposed to make it our national anthem! While “Chal Chal Re Naujawaan” is the most notable song of the film, there are a couple more very mention-worthy songs. “Chana Zor Garam Babu” is an extremely fun song that if I did not know was penned by Pradeep, I would not have associated with him. “Ruk Na Sako To Jao, Tum Jao” is a beautiful and sensitive song of gracefully letting someone you love go. Sung by a colleague, it superbly portrays the feelings of both the students & colleagues of the departing school master (Ashok Kumar) as well those of the lady who loves him (Leela Chitnis) with masterfully chosen words like
प्यारा रत्न बिछुड़ता हो जब पंथी
किसका हृदय न भर आता तब पंथी
किन्तु हमारे आँसू से तुम
कमज़ोरी न दिखाओ, तुम जाओ
जाने कब फिर मिलें पुराने साथी
जाने कब फिर मिले प्रेम की पाती
आज बिछुड़ने के पहले तुम
एक बार मुस्काओ, तुम जाओ
Success of Bandhan, especially Chal Chal Re Naujawan, clearly heralded the arrival of a revolutionary lyricist on the HFM scene! With this soundtrack, Pradeep had established himself very firmly and with Chal Chal Re Naujawan, he had sown the seeds of what was to later become not only his niche or trademark for several films to come, but almost his point of identification as a lyricist – the patriotic / nationalist songs!
After Bandhan came Punar Milan in 1940 and Naya Sansar, Jhoola and Anjaan in 1941. All these films had good music and Pradeep’s songs were well appreciated. Anjaan had another song that was very much inspirational in nature but very well veiled lyrics wise. Its words referred to as the clouds from the West (Britishers) that have cast a shadow over the East (India) and implored the youth to wake up. One has to listen to the words to appreciate the genius of the man who penned them.
आई पश्चिम से घटा नौनिहालो जागो
छाई पूरब में घटा नौनिहालो जागो
लो ज़माना जागा सारा आलम जागा
तुमने करवट भी न ली, नौनिहालो जागो
आज जो सोवोगे कल तुम्हीं रोवोगे
माँ मुसीबत में पड़ी, नौनिहालो जागो
In 1943, came another film that proved to be a landmark success in Pradeep’s career – Kismet! In 1942, Mahatma Gandhi had initiated Quit India movement. In this period, World War II was at its peak, Japanese had advanced to Burma and Indian troops had been drawn into the war. Against this backdrop, Pradeep gave the country a song that, ostensibly, was a warning to Axis powers (mentioned not bowing to German or Japani by name) but in reality was also a strong and direct wake up call to the Indian population to unite and stand up against the British occupation of India, to join the struggle for Indian Independence, to openly stand in support of the Quit India movement! Read the words below and note the line “Shuru hua hai jang tumhara, jag utho Hindustani”, it purportedly referred to the Indian troops going to war against the Axis powers but was accurately interpreted by the public as a call to mobilize in support of “Quit India” movement.
आज हिमालय की चोटी से फिर हम ने ललकरा है
दूर हटो, दूर हटो, दूर हटो ऐ दुनियावालो हिन्दुस्तान हमारा है
जहाँ हमारा ताज-महल है और क़ुतब-मीनारा है
जहाँ हमारे मन्दिर मस्जिद सिखों का गुरुद्वारा है
इस धरती पर क़दम बढ़ाना अत्याचार तुम्हारा है
दूर हटो, दूर हटो, दूर हटो ऐ दुनियावालो हिन्दुस्तान हमारा है
शुरू हुआ है जंग तुम्हारा जाग उठो हिन्दुस्तानी
तुम न किसी के आगे झुकना जर्मन हो या जापानी
आज सभी के लिये हमारा ये ही क़ौमी नारा है
दूर हटो, दूर हटो, दूर हटो ऐ दुनियावालो हिन्दुस्तान हमारा है
Millions responded to the message in the song. As Pradeep himself recounted in an interview, the film opened amidst tense political milieu where several political leaders were jailed. As the song played, it brought the hall to its feet and people sang along with fervor. When the song ended, the theatre was in an uproar with calls to repeat the song abound. The screening had to be paused to replay the song before the film could be resumed. And this became a norm in several cities around the country! The import of this was not lost on the British Government either. While the censor board had been fooled initially, soon an arrest warrant was issued against Pradeep and he had to go underground for a while in order to avoid being arrested!
Meanwhile, the film became a runaway success, in good part on the tails of the popularity of this song and others like “Dheere Dheere Aa Re Badal” and “Papeeha Re” but primarily Door Hato, all composed by the inimitable Anil Biswas. It broke several records of the time. It was screened on a single theatre in Calcutta continually for 44 months! The film, bought by the distributor at a cost of INR 60000, raked in profits of over a crore! Once again, Pradeep’s position, as a writer of successful songs in general and Patriotic lyrics in particular, was unmistakably underscored.
After the death of Himanshu Rai in 1940, Rai Bahadur Chunnilal and Devika Rani landed into several disputes and there were practically two rival camps within Bombay Talkies headed by the two. When all sort of compromises failed, finally in 1943, Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, Sashadhar Mukherjee & Ashok Kumar left Bombay Talkies to establish Filmistan. Pradeep was amongst those who left Bombay Talkies with them and joined Filmistan. By now, he was being compensated at the rate of Rs. 1500/- per month.
Filmistan’s first production was Chal Chal Re Naujawan in 1944. Pradeep wrote about ten songs for this film whose music was composed by Ghulam Haider. Despite some very nice songs that gained some popularity, the film flopped badly unlike the song from which it borrowed its title. While Pradeep was at the zenith of his popularity, he was under exclusive contract first with Bombay Talkies and then with Filmistan and wrote only about 67 songs for a grand total of 8 films! At this point Pradeep developed some differences with Rai Bahadur Chunnilal and was served a notice. Due to these contractual limitations, he assumed an alias of “Miss Kamal” and wrote a few songs for films of other production houses in order to keep the home fires burning. These films were Kadambari in 1944, Aamrapali in 1945, and Sati Toral and Veerangana in 1947 and he penned about forty odd songs for these.
Amidst these early professional successes, Pradeep also reached a couple of major milestones in his personal life. He met and married Bhadra Ben in January 1942 after she consented to be the water-like calming and balancing force to his raging fire in their personal life. It was a union that lasted till death did them part after over fifty five years of togetherness. In 1946, they were blessed with a baby girl whom they named Sargam.
Pradeep in Independent India (1947 – 1968) – The Fire Scorches and Burns
The fire that was Pradeep was still burning, quietly, but steadily even though he had gone through a few years of relatively quiet period due to reasons mentioned above. Though Pradeep’s beginnings in independent India were less than ideal, he had not given up by any means. He had actually decided to venture into film production himself, likely a direct consequence of the altercation with Rai Bahadur in which he had gotten the short end of the stick. In 1949 he teamed up with Gyan Mukherjee & Amiya Chakrabarty to create a production house named Lokmanya Productions and produced a film named Girls’ School. The film was directed by Amiya Chakrabarty and music was given by Anil Biswas & C. Ramachandra. Naturally, all nine songs were penned by Pradeep. This was the first time Lata gave voice to Pradeep’s words as well as the first time CR set them to tune, though all the three did not collaborate on any one song yet. The film had some lovely songs, some which were different from Pradeep’s well known and expected style. For instance, while “Kuchh Sharmaate Hue Aur Kuchh Saham Saham”, a perky Lata solo, perfectly describes the feelings of excitement, anticipation and apprehension of a young girl who has just taken that first step towards falling in love, “Tum Hi Kaho Mera Man Kyun Rahe Udaas Nahin”, gives expression to a woman’s confusion. “Gori Ek Baat Sun Badi Mazedar Hai” and “O Shahar Ke Baanke Babu”, especially the former, are out and out light & fun duets by Shamshad & Chitalkar. Despite some lovely music, the film bombed badly at the box office and Pradeep lost a lot of money. This cured him of his itch to produce films and he settled back full-time into doing what he knew best, i.e., writing songs.
In 1950, some of the old Bombay Talkies’ crowd tried to revive the now flailing company via a film titled Mashaal (Samar was an alternate title for the same). It was directed by Nitin Bose and S. D. Burman composed its music while Ashok Kumar was the leading man. Pradeep penned seven songs for this film. Amongst these, most notable are “Oopar Gagan Vishaal”, a Manna Dey solo that marvels at this world, the ultimate creation of the ultimate creator, “Mere Man Hanste Hue Chal”; a truly motivational Lata solo that drives home the point that life undergoes change at all times and one must face all hardships calmly, tirelessly and with good attitude if one desires to emerge victorious in this battle of life; and last but not least, the very sweet and innocent Lata solo, “Aankhon Se Door Door… Kaun Hain Mere Wo” that is also a personal favorite. Preet Ka Geet was another 1950 film that Pradeep wrote songs for working with Shyam Babu Pathak as the composer. This was also the year when Geeta Dutt rendered Pradeep’s words for the very first time.
Over next three years, he wrote ten songs only, nine for a film called Chamki and one for Kafila. Of these, Chamki’s Lata solo “Pyar Ko Mat Kaho Koi Pyar” is remembered even now. Then came 1954, a watershed year for Pradeep. While one of the films for which he wrote the songs i.e. Ritu Vihar did not find a release, he had four releases this year in the form of Baap-Beti, Chakradhari, Nastik and Jagriti. It is these last two that were very significant in his career albeit in different ways.
Jagriti was sensitive film dealing with a wayward child, his relationship with an unconventional teacher and a handicapped model student. Its emotional appeal was tremendous but its most memorable feature was its songs. Pradeep wrote four songs for this movie, three of them the classic patriotic/inspirational songs that he had now come to be known for, and one mother-child song talking of a dreamland and all four of them went on to become classics. The first three are frequently played to date on National TV and in schools especially on National Holidays. “Hum Laaye Hain Toofaan Se Kashti Nikaal Ke”, “Aao Bachcho Tumhein Dikhaayein” and “Sabarmati Ke Sant” were all written to remind the younger generation of the tremendous sacrifices that various freedom fighters made to gain independence. While “Sabarmati Ke Sant” was dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and extolled the virtues of the doctrine of non-violence, “Hum Laaye Hain Toofan” was more generic and focused mostly on how to operate and live so as to preserve the hard earned independence and develop the country, issues that were of paramount import at the time (and still are to date). “Aao Bachcho”, also sung by Pradeep, tried to instill National Pride and reinforce feelings of Unity in diversity by listing the distinctive features of India and recounting the innumerable sacrifices made by different communities for independence and honor at various points in history, glorifying different states and their contributions as well as recalling the shared pain of atrocities the people had borne.
The language and expression of these songs, much like Pradeep’s previous endeavors, struck a chord with the general population of the country whose wounds from the struggle of Independence, subsequent partition and then the Kashmir War were still fresh. These songs as well as the film, all became overnight successes, so much so that the film was copied/remade as Bedari in 1957 in Pakistan. Not just the film but all of its four songs were also copied. Hemant Kumar’s music was retained almost unchanged though it was credited to Fateh Ali Khan and Pradeep’s fiery lyrics were only slightly modified by Faiyyaz Hashmi by switching some words around to adapt them to Pakistani context while leaving a lot of the thought process and all central ideas intact! Examine this:
The Jagriti song by Pradeep reads:
पासे सभी उलट गए दुश्मन की चाल के
हम लाए हैं तूफ़ान से किश्ती निकाल के
देखो कहीं बरबाद न होवे ये बग़ीचा
दुनिया के दाव पेंच से रखना ना वास्ता
ऐटम बमों के जोर पे ऐंठी है ये दुनिया
आराम की तुम भूल भुलय्या में न भूलो
And the parallel Bedari song by Fayyaz Hashmi:
पासे सभी उलट गए दुश्मन की चाल के
हम लाए हैं तूफ़ान से कश्ती निकाल के
देखो कहीं उजड़े न हमारा ये बग़ीचा
दुनिया की सियासत के अजब रंग हैं न्यारे
तुम राहत-ओ-आराम के झूले में न झूलो
Déjà vu? Well, the story repeated in the other three songs as well. Since imitation is the highest form of flattery, this was certainly a great compliment for Pradeep that a so called bitter enemy nation inadvertently paid him, especially when these songs gained immense popularity in Pakistan as well.
The other film of note in 1954 was Nastik with music by C. Ramachandra. Three songs of this film are noteworthy – “Gagan Jhanjhana Raha”, a Lata-Hemant duet, devotional/motivational combo, “Kanha Bajaye Bansuri” a sweet Radha-Krishna solo by Lata and last but not least “Dekh Tere Sansar Ki Haalat”, a dejected and glum but accurate analysis of the society and country of the time that is even more true and relevant today than it was then with words like:
आया समय बड़ा बेढंगा, आज आदमी बना लफ़ंगा
छल और कपट के हाथों अपना बेच रहा ईमान,
राम के भक्त रहीम के बंदे, रचते आज फ़रेब के फंदे
... and the para that expresses not only the pain of partition but rings true for every incident that has been a result of racial, class-based or communal violence in India - then and now
जो हम आपस में न झगड़ते
बने हुए क्यों खेल बिगड़ते
काहे लाखों घर ये उजड़ते
क्यों ये बच्चे माँ से बिछड़ते
… A song, and one of many similar ones in this phase of Pradeep’s career, that has stood the test of time, has proved that this man’s pen was timeless and forever relevant.
Unfortunately or fortunately, Nastik also gave Pradeep a second label beyond Patriotic – that of a religious / devotional lyrics writer and this was a label that sort of relegated him to B-Grade films over next several years. As the landscape of the Hindi Film Music evolved rapidly, Pradeep somehow seemed to lose pace though the flashes of earlier brilliance showed throughout in the form of one or two substantial and expressive songs per soundtrack or so.
Amongst his notable creations in later half of fifties are “Tere Dwar Khada Bhagwan” from Waman Avtar (’55), “Koi Laakh Kare Chaturai” from Chandi Puja (’57), “Tune Khoob Racha Bhagwan Khilauna Maati Ka”, “Aaj Nahin To Kal Bikharenge Ye Baadal” (mukhda similar to earlier Mashaal song), “Pinjre Ke Panchhi Re, Tera Dard Na Jane Koy” (I find this one particularly moving) all from Naag Mani (’57), “Bigul Baj Raha Azadi Ka … Kahni Hai Ik Baat”, an early warning against internal terrorist and corrupt elements from a far-sighted poet from Talaq (’58), “Jhuk Jhuk Jhola Khaye Re”, “Mukhda Dekh Le Prani” and “Main Natkhat Ik Kali” all from Do Behnen (’59), “O Dildaar Bolo Ek Baar” and “Taar Taar Baj Raha Dil Ke Surbahar Ka” from School Master (’59).
One film of this period, that deserves special mention, is Paigham (’59), composed by C. Ramchandra. The film featured a couple of really nice songs like “Badla Saara Zamana”, a hard-hitting comment on how much social and moral degradation had occurred in the society in the first decade after independence disguised as comic song, and a lovely romantic duet by Asha-Rafi “Jawani Mein Akelepan Ki Ghadiyaan Humko Na Bhaayein”. However, the real gem in the soundtrack that once again set the general public’s sentiment ablaze and proved Pradeep still had his finger on people’s pulse was this Manna Dey song “Insaan Ka Insaan Se Ho Bhaichara”. Full of hope and desire for social justice and equality for all in a class-less society with strong basis in kinship & solidarity amongst its citizens, this song once again brought Pradeep to forefront of cine-goers and film music listeners’ mind.
Early sixties continued in the same vein with a number of average films and songs peppered by a few hits and some songs of substance. A few that warrant a mention are “Sanwariya Re Apni Meera Ko” – a sweet love song with parallel from Krishna-Meera by Suman K, “Gaa Rahi Hai Zindagi” – a supremely sweet duet, “Tu Har Ek Museebat Ka Muqabla Kar” – an inspirational number, all from Aanchal (’60), “Aaj Ke Is Insaan Ko Ye Kya Ho Gaya” and “Laakhon Log Chale Hain Bilakhte”, both expressing the pain of partition and events that followed, both from Amar Rahe Ye Pyar (’61), “Kateeli Kateeli Nasheeli Nasheeli”, “Na Jaane Kahan Tum The”, both from Zindagi aur Khwab (’61), “Jagat Bhar Ki Roshni Ke Liye”, “Main Ek Nanha Sa, Main Ik Chhota Sa Bachcha Hoon”, “Meghva Gagan Beech Jhaanke”, all from Harishchandra Taramati (’63), “Jhuk Gayi Re Palak Aayi Ang Mein Lachak”, “Main Tum Pe Teer Chala Doon”, both from Veer Bhimsen (’64), etc. He wrote for six more films between 1965 and 1968 but none of the songs really stood out in any significant way.
Most of the sixties would have passed more or less uneventfully except for two spectacular honors that got bestowed on Pradeep. In 1961, Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama recognized Pradeep’s immense contributions to films and conferred Sangeet Natak Akademi Award on him. It is the highest recognition given to practicing artists in India!
In 1962, when the country was in the midst of a war with China, Pradeep was very impacted by stories of valor of service men. He himself mentioned being so moved by news items about martyrdom of Brigadier Hoshiyar Singh on Sela Pass and Param Vir Major Shaitan Singh Bhati in Laddakh that he thought he must write about them. One day, while he was walking in Mahim, Mumbai, a half-line came to him, “Jo Shaheed Hue Hain Unki Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani”. He noted that half line on the foil of a cigarette box by borrowing a pen from a passerby. And that was the humble beginning of this iconic song that we know as “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo”! A few weeks later, he was approached to write a patriotic song for a special show in Delhi that was being organized around Republic Day (1963). The main purpose was to re-instate a nation’s wounded pride due to the lost war and music seemed like a reasonable way to provide a salve. Pradeep roped in longtime associate, C. Ramachandra to provide music and was extremely keen to have Lata Mangeshkar render it. According to one of his interviews, he wrote rest of the words of the song keeping Lata’s voice and persona in mind. This was the time when Lata & CR were not even on talking terms with each other so getting them to agree to work together was certainly no piece of cake. While CR agreed readily, it took a lot more to get Lata to agree and she only agreed on the condition that Pradeep would be present at all rehearsals. The song was written, composed and was ready to be sung and the D-Day arrived. Tragically, Pradeep, the man who got the song to the point where it was ready for show time, was not even invited to the show! The song was performed on January 27th, 1963, in the presence of several luminaries and dignitaries including then President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, then Prime Minister Pt. Nehru, several film industry stalwarts like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar etc. and as is well known now, moved Pandit Nehru to tears. When he met Lata after the show, he enquired about the lyricist of the song and was disappointed to not find him there! He later met with Pradeep in Bombay on March 21st, 1963 and even had him perform the song at a meeting that evening. For writing this song Pradeep was conferred the honor of "Rashtriya Kavi" (National Poet) by the government of India and thus Ramu became Kavi Pradeep! At the same time, Kavi Pradeep decided in consultation with Lata & CR to donate all proceeds from this song to the War Widows fund. Lata and all the musicians worked for free to prepare a recorded track of this song and gave the track to HMV on the condition that all royalties forever would be donated to War Widows Fund! In my mind there is no doubt that this is the one song that even by itself would have been enough to secure Kavi Pradeep’s position as a Patriotic poet of the highest order had he done no other work at all in his life! Such is the power of his words in this song.
After the 1965 war also Kavi Pradeep and C. Ramachandra created a song dedicated to war widows “Pranaam Un Dulhanon Ko” that was sung by Asha Bhosle at then Prime Minister, Sh. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s residence. While it is a very nice song, it suffers from comparison with “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo” and that magic could not be recreated. Not unexpectedly, this song never caught the public’s imagination and is now all but lost in oblivion.
On the personal front, by this time Kavi Pradeep and Bhadra Ben were parents of two baby girls. Their younger daughter, Mitul, was born in 1956.
Later Years (1969 – 1988) – The Fire Smolders, Embers Glow
In 1969, Sashadhar Mukherjee brought Kavi Pradeep and O.P. Nayyar together for the first time. This pairing of a “romantic” music director and “serious” lyric writer clicked and worked defying all odds. The result of this pairing was the soundtrack of Sambandh featuring twelve songs. Multiple songs in this soundtrack focused on parent-child relationships – both mother-son and father-son. Amongst all the twelve songs, one song, the very first one that they had created together, simply stood out. The song was “Chal Akela Chal Akela, Tera Mela Peechhe Chhoota Raahi, Chal Akela” prodding one to keep going even if they are left alone in their journey of life and no one is there to support them. The words certainly reflected some of poet’s own feelings as by this time he also, like many others of his generation, was slightly disillusioned with conditions prevalent in India, especially the moral degradation of the society in the post-independence era. Once again, Kavi Pradeep’s simple but heartfelt words resonated with the audiences. The song became a super hit and brought Kavi Pradeep back to limelight.
In 1971, Kavi Pradeep wrote couple more philosophical songs, namely “Samay Ke Haath Ka Kathputla”, and “Kabhi Dhoop Kabhi Chhaon”, both from film named Kabhi Dhoop Kabhi Chhaon, that gained some popularity. Otherwise 1970s were a time that Kavi Pradeep spent engulfed in a wave of religious films. He must have written songs on scores of Hindu Gods and Goddesses during this time. While this trend started right with Nastik, 1971 onwards Kavi Pradeep was almost exclusively a lyric writer for religious films only. Unprecedented success of Jai Santoshi Ma’s songs like “Main to Aarti Utaroon Re”, “Madad Karo Santoshi Mata”, and “Yahan Wahan Jahan Tahan” etc., further ensured that this trend continued through the 1980s too.
From 1971 to 1985, Kavi Pradeep wrote songs for only 22 films out of which 17 were religious or mythological and in one of the remaining five, he only contributed one song and that too a bhajan! Mid-eighties saw the rise of Disco and lewd lyrics. From 1985 to 1988, Kavi Pradeep wrote lyrics for 6 films of which four of them only featured one song each by him. It was fairly obvious that Kavi Pradeep was not the right fit for writing lyrics in these times.
If one examines the songs that Kavi Pradeep wrote for various films, especially the religious ones, two things become amply clear. Firstly, he was very deeply entrenched in the Hindu traditions and mythology. This is apparent from the varying references to different mythological tales and characters that find their way into his lyrics. Some of it, of course, must have been a function of the story lines and situations in the films, but his words leave a distinct impression that he knew the intertwined stories well and once in a while, these references come up in non-religious films’ songs as well. Secondly, it appears that he was basically a storyteller. He has told so many mythological and historical tales in detail in the songs he wrote. For instance, “Kuchh Yaad Karo Apna Pawansut Wo Baalpan” from Bajrangbali (‘76) recounts various childhood exploits of Hanuman, “Dekho Logo Ye Leela Lalaam” from Balram Shri Krishna (’68) tells the tale of Sudama’s visit to Sri Krishna in great detail, “Suno Sunaoon Tumhen Ek Kahani” from Chandi Puja (’57) is obviously a song that tells a tale, and then there is the almost 12 minute long Ramleela sequence in verse form from School Master (’59), all bearing a testimony to his propensity as well as mastery in telling tales through songs.
Considering that Kavi Pradeep has this huge (and well deserved) association with patriotic lyrics, one tends to overlook his pen’s versatility. In his half a century long career as a film lyricist, he has penned songs of varying moods and hues. Other than patriotic, inspirational, philosophical and devotional songs that have already been discussed at length above, one also finds songs of romance (“Mere Jeevan Ke Path Par” - Anjaan ,“Na Jaane Kahan Tum The” - Zindagi Aur Khwab, “Taar Taar Baj Raha” – School Master, “Gaa Rahi Hai Zindagi” – Aanchal), songs characterizing familial affection (“Apne Bhaiyaa Ko Naach” – Bandhan, “Ae Maa Too Kahan”,” Ae Meri Aankhon Ke Taare” - Aankh Ka Tara, “Apni Mata Ke Dulare Bachche” - Sambandh), and light-hearted or comic songs (“O Meri Saas Ke Ladke” – Chakradhari, “Gori Ek Baat Sun Badi Mazedar Hai”, “O Shahar Ke Baanke Babu” - Girls School) including satires like “Badla Sara Zamana” from Nastik in Kavi Pradeep’s oeuvre. There are even a couple of mujra or nautanki like songs thrown in for a good measure though his lyrics remain fairly restrained in those numbers as well.
Kavi Pradeep’s language generally remained simple, what one would call ‘bol-chaal ki bhasha’ with only ever so slight tilt towards sanskritized Hindi. His lyrics occasionally showed a slightly stronger chhayaavaadi language influence, especially in the earlier songs (check “Runak Jhnak Chapal Charan” from Amrapali) but not overtly much. His lyrics never relied on any unusual or hard Urdu words either – “Saral” and “Saras” is how I would describe his language.
In his almost half a century long career, he wrote about 525 songs for about 75 films and sang fifty odd songs.
After 1988, though Kavi Pradeep did not write any more film songs, he continued to write poetry. His poetry as usual reflected what he absorbed from his surroundings. In an interview, he recited this one piece that seems to be his call to people in positions of eminence to examine their own behavior and values and is universally applicable to all of us.
कभी कभी ख़ुद से बात करो, कभी कभी ख़ुद से बोलो
अरे अपनी नज़र में तुम क्या हो, ये मन की तराज़ू पे तोलो
हरदम तुम बैठे न रहो शोहरत की इमारत में
कभी कभी ख़ुद को पेश करो आत्मा की अदालत में
केवल अपनी कीर्ति न देखो, अपनी कमियों को भी टटोलो
अपनी नज़र में तुम क्या हो ये मन की तराज़ू पे तोलो
कभी कभी ख़ुद से बात करो, कभी कभी ख़ुद से बोलो
It is an absolutely natural message from a man who, by his own admission, never asked for anyone else’s opinion on his work. He once recounted that he has another “Pradeep” inside him whom he brings out whenever he is ready with a new piece of poetry. He reads the piece to his alter ego and figures out from his reaction whether the piece is ready or needs more thought – what a personification of a conscience at play! In all there are about 500 – 600 non-film poems of his with his daughter Mitul Pradeep, some of these have been previously published in magazines but there is no book or compilation yet.
In 1997, Kavi Pradeep was honored with Dada Sahib Phalke Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements and contributions to Indian Cinema. It is the highest award in cinema in India as of today! I believe Kavi Pradeep is amongst very few individuals who have received both the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award as well as the Dada Sahib Phalke Award!
This extremely proud and principled poet breathed his last on December 11th, 1998 at the age of 83 leaving behind his wife of almost fifty seven years and two daughters. His younger daughter, Mitul Pradeep, set up and manages Kavi Pradeep Foundation. An award, Rashtriya Kavi Pradeep Samman, has also been constituted in his memory and veteran poet Gopaldas Neeraj was its first recipient on March 24th, 2015.
On his 99th Birth Anniversary in February 2014, a crossing in Ville Parle, Mumbai was also dedicated to him and is now known as Rashtriya Kavi Pradeep Chowk.
May the memory of this inimitable poet live on forever via his rich and meaningful legacy.
List of Composers Kavi Pradeep Collaborated With
1. Ajit Merchant
14. Hari Prasanna Das
27. Ramchandra Pal
1. Kangan (1939)
28. Ram Navami (1956)
52. Mahasati Saavitri (1973)