Qamar Jalalabadi

Qamar Jalalabadi

Old is Gold
Qamar Jalalabadi
(1917 - 2003)

(Compiled from conversations with Mr. B.R. Ishara, Mr. Sudhakar Sharma and his daughter Mrs. Subhashini Swar)

There was an era when Hindi film songs were suffused with a splendid lyrical quality and the masses flocked cinema halls to witness life in its myriad colors with soulful melodies thrown in for good measure. It was a time when magicians of poetry wrote for films and it’s because of their sheer brilliance that the songs of 40’s, 50’s and 60’s are still favorites of music lovers and have passed all litmus tests amidst changing times.

One such genius writer behind the catchy lyrics of few of those most melodious numbers like “Ik Dil Ke Tukde Hazaar Hue” (Pyar Ki Jeet, 1948), “Ik Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya” (Phagun, 1958, Singers: Asha Bhonsle Mohd. Rafi, Music: O.P Nayyar ), "Aaiye Meherbaan, Baithiye Jaan-e-Jaan” (Howrah Bridge, 1958, Singer: Asha Bhonsle, Music: O.P Nayyar), "Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu” (Howrah Bridge, 1958, Singer: Geeta Roy, Music: O.P Nayyar ), “Dum Dum Diga Diga” (Chhalia, 1960, Singer: Mukesh, Music: Kalyanji Anandji ) and “Main To Ik Khwaab Hoon Is Khwaab Se Tu Pyaar Na Kar” (Himalay Ki God Mein,1965, Singer: Mukesh, Music: Kalyanji Anandji) was none other than Qamar Jalalabadi.

Qamar saab was born in a Punjabi family in 1917 in a small town called Jalalabad (near Amritsar). His parents had named him Om Prakash Bhandari but little did they know that he would not carry this name for long. To the dislike of his family members, he started writing poetry in Urdu at an early age and was chiseled by Amarchand Amar a senior Urdu poet whom he considered his guru and to whom he dedicated half of his earnings all life-long. He also acquired his ‘takhallus’ Qamar, which means moon, through Amarchand. Jalalabadi was added a little later in keeping with the trend of writers naming themselves after the towns they hailed from.

He also worked as a journalist, writing for Lahore based newspapers like Daily Milap, Daily Pratap and Nirala. Lahore was also the city where the film making

business had first started to shape up. Qamar got interested and made many friends in the growing industry. From Lahore the film Industry shifted to Poona which was soon bustling and brimming with Film studios including the famous Prabhat Studios. The desire to write for the silver screen brought Qamar to Pune in the early 40’s. The first film he wrote lyrics for was Zameendar (1942) produced by Pancholi Pictures.

As the industry moved to Mumbai, so did he and began his illustrious career which went on for nearly 4 decades. His memorable lyrics were sung by golden voices of legendary singers like Noor Jehan, G. M. Durrani, Zeenath Begum, Manju, Amirbai Karnatqi, Mohd. Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Geeta Roy, Suraiya, Shamshad Begum, Mukesh, Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar.

Qamar saab’s effervescent songs were sweet results of him teaming up with nearly all the prominent music directors of his time like Ghulaam Haider, G.Damle, Pandit Amarnath, Khemchand Prakash, Husnlal Bhagatram, S.D. Burman, Anil Biswas, Shyam Sunder, Sajjad Hussain, C. Ramchandra, Madan Mohan, Sudhir Phadke, Sardar Malik, Ravi, Avinash Vyas and also the later generation of composers namely O.P. Nayyar, Kalyanji Anandji and Laxmikant Pyarelal. Qamar saab was a familiar figure in the recording studios, feverishly penning his lyrics.

In his long career span he worked for studios like Prabhat Film Company, Pancholi Pictures, Filmistan Ltd., Famous Pictures, Minerva Movietone, Prakash Pictures, Wadia Films Ltd., Filmkar Ltd., Sippy Films, N.C Sippy Films, Shri Shakti Films, Mitra Productions and many more.

As a lyricist he wrote on a wide range of subjects, handling various moods with equal deftness. His songs were delightful pieces written around deep agonies and the longing that one faces in life especially while going through the jeopardy of falling in love. They also reflected upon his gentle personality while his word play always had sublime innocence. His lyrics encompassed love songs, patriotic numbers, geets, bhajans and even the lustful numbers picturized on Madhubala and Helen in Howrah Bridge.

His comical song “Aaj Pehli Taareekh Hai” (Pehli Tarikh, 1954, Singer Kishore Kumar, Music: Sudhir Phadke) became a cult song and is still played on the first of every month. His mesmerizing duets like “Sun Mere Sajana Dekhoji Mujhko Bhool Na Jana” (Aansoo, 1953, Singers: Lata Mangeshkar / Mohd. Rafi) are still remembered far and wide. ‘Aansu’ (1953) was also one of the two films produced by him including ‘Chhoti Bhaabhi’ (1950). He even wrote the dialogues for about a dozen films, including the film ‘Sikandar-e-Aazam’ (1965) which starred Dara Singh and Prithviraj Kapoor.

Qamar saab was a highly acclaimed adabi shayar as well, and used to grace mushaayras all over India. But people found it extraordinary that he never displayed any traits commonly associated with poets and people with artistic temperament. He was a teetotaler and a non smoker. As a person he was a simple man who practiced thorough discipline and mostly wrote at his home.

There is a small anecdote that illustrates his straightforwardness and clear thinking. He had written for Punjabi films, penning hit numbers for Husnlal Bhagatram. One of those songs, originally in Punjabi, was “Dilwalyea Di Galli Jaayan Naa Karo Sajana Nu Ainna Sataya Na Karo.” Qamar recited its tune to O.P. Nayyar and wrote another Hindi song for it. The song was “Ik Pardesi mera Dil Le Gaya.” Husnlal Bhagatram was very angry. He upbraided Qamar for this and asked him why he had lifted his tune. Qamar calmly replied “It wasn’t your tune in the first place! It is one of the compositions of the holy Gurubaani.”

As highly principled and religious man he would begin each day with prayers that consisted of loud chanting of excerpts from The Bhagwad Geeta, the Koran as well as the Bible. He was also deeply into transcendental meditation. Other than this it was his writing that kept him busy. A true Karma yogi as well, he took care of his ailing parents, nurtured his brothers and sisters, even gave up a bungalow in Khar in his heyday to one of his married sisters to save her from a difficult marriage, and shifted to simpler accommodation in Juhu with his family. He was a benevolent and kind father and fought against all odds to provide for his seven children (three sons and four daughters).

Qamar saab’s relationship with his wife Leelawati, whom he lovingly called Neelima, was also unique in a way that though she was the traditional housewife, she was also a friend and confidante to him. He was a devout husband and they shared a rare bond of togetherness as he preferred to sit at home and chat with her over a cup of tea. Such was his innocence that once when a starlet had been flirting with him on the sets (smitten by his lovable personality, of course), he got home feeling uncomfortable and confessed it shyly!

Among friends he was good at cracking jokes. But even in the company of closest of pals, his shy nature did not leave him. On one occasion his polite reply to the question “Have you ever really loved?” was a simple “I guess I like Naseem ji (Naseem Banu, mother of Saira Banu)” which set everyone laughing. Some of his dearest friends were celebrated lyricists Majrooh Sultanpuri and Laksh Lyallpuri along with music directors such as Kalyanji and O.P. Nayyar. Famous actor Manoj Kumar and director B. R. Ishara, lovingly referred as Babuda; were his long-term associates. It’s ironical to know that Babuda, who himself has directed-produced- written over 50 films, had first worked at Qamar saab’s residence as a domestic servant when he was 16 years of age. At that time he had no inclination towards films and gradually developed and realized his own artistic aspirations observing Qamar saab. It’s a chapter of his life Babuda gets emotional while narrating. In a queer twist of fate, Qamar saab spent his last years with B. R. Ishaara.

Like many great artists Qamar Jalabadi also fell prey to the upheavals that the Film Industry heaps onto the tender artistic souls. In his last days he was battling with loneliness and a destitute existence. His wife had died after 39 years of marriage and all the children had moved out of the country. His close friends have seen him changing houses and moving from one place to another.

Sudhakar Sharma, a lyricist of a much younger generation has been one of Qamar saab’s foremost well-wishers and has many stories to narrate. He has seen him sleeping in a temple at night near his house in Indira Nagar at Juhu Tara Road. Once, Sudhakar arranged for an interview of Qamar saab with a channel and went to him inquiring about his fees. Qamar wanted just Five Hundered rupees but had a problem. He didn’t have money to travel to the studio. Sudhakar took him there. After the interview as they were leaving, Qamar saab was given an envelope which contained 1500 rupees. He took out 500 rupees and asked Sharma to take the rest because he had demanded just 500 rupees earlier. And this was when he was in desperate need of money! Of course, Sudhakar didn’t take his cut and the two went and celebrated with glasses of lassi.

Similarly, in another incident, Qamar saab had agreed to write a song for a thousand rupees. Sudhakar Sharma who was mediating, forwarded his demand. The shrewd producer took it from there, went straight to Qamar and got his song done in free. When asked why he had given him the song for free, “That poor man didn’t have much money” was Qamar’s answer!

Apart from being one of the most prominent lyricists of the Golden age of Hindi film music, he is also remembered for reasons other than his writing skills. His affectionate personality and elegant demeanor endeared him to one and all. His dogged endeavors to ensure respect and solidarity for the fraternity of writers are also well remembered.

Qamar Jalalbadi was one of the founders of the Film Writers Association when it officially began in 1960. But the effort to bring together writers under one group had started in the 50’s. Writers like Ramanand Sagar, K. A. Abbas and Qamar were tireless in their efforts. These untiring souls would meet at Anil Biswas’s place, another prolific music composer of that era. The group had no office. People close to Qamar fondly remember how he literally carried the whole office in his bag, equipped with membership forms and necessary stationary, going door to door and asking writers to become a member of the association. His untiring efforts bear such great significance that his presence is still etched in our hearts as our guiding light.

He was also one of the founder members of the prestigious organization IPRS. He was joined by Naqsh Lyallpuri, who was like his kith and kin, in this endeavor. The Indian Performing Right Society, which was founded in 1969, still functions today and issues license to users of music and collect royalties from them.

It’s hard to comprehend that this man could keep the pureness of his heart intact till his last day and never in his life let fame, success or money corrupt him. If success did not bother him, neither did his old age or bad times change him. He remained simple, dignified, honest and a caring friend. On 9th January 2003, due to prolonged illness, Qamar saab finally bid a farewell to the world and its people and with his departure; dried an ocean of love.

The Film Writers Association will always remember him as the man who not only penned innumerous soulful songs but also shaped up the future of this organization. He may not be with us in body but his songs and his memories will continue to stir our hearts and move our souls.

Three cheers to Qamar Jalalabadi!
Qamar Jalalabadi’s filmography, along with his profile, is available at:


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