Atul’s Song A Day- A choice collection of Hindi Film & Non-Film Songs

Ek akela is sheher mein

Posted on: August 18, 2012

This article is written by Raja, a fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a regular contributor to this blog.

Today, the 18th of August, is the 76th birthday of Gulzar saab.

And, as I type 76th, I can’t help feeling that 1936 must have been a very special year. If I were selling wine and comparing Hindi film personalities with wine, I think I’d say 1936 could be right up there for best year for vintage wine of the 20th century. 🙂

For, (according to the internet), this year produced Waheeda Rehman, Nutan and Vyjanthimala. And these are just three names that come top of mind to me. I’m pretty sure there are many more that I’m not able to come up with right now. Now, THAT’s some vintage for you.

And Gulzar saab.

For most of us from the 70s generation, Gulzar saab strikes a poignant note today. Well, let me not speak for others – I’ll speak just for myself.

For me, Gulzar saab today is one of the last poets of a generation, sort of Last Man Standing. A sort of Last of the Mohicans, if you will. There’s Javed Akhtar saab also of course – who I have huge amount of respect for. But that’s probably it.

For, as times have changed, as a lot of things in Hindi cinema have changed, the lyrics that are the basis for Hindi songs have also changed a lot in recent times. And it looks like the Gulzars and Javed Akhtars must be feeling increasingly lonely in today’s landscape.

As we all know, films are a reflection of the times, as is their music and the lyrics of their songs. If today’s public (to a large extent) is not likely to understand or appreciate poetry of the Gulzar types, they will get lyrics that they understand. After all, film-makers first look for commercial success of their films.

Javed Akhtar saab made exactly this observation in his impassioned speech in Parliament recently (while delightfully digressing from the topic of a copyrights bill that he was campaigning for). He said that today when he writes lyrics, he is asked to remove words/lines because it may not “sell” with the public. Javed saab refuses to do so, the producer then finds another lyricist.

This is not to suggest that today’s lyrics are bad or anything of the sort. They are just different from lyrics of yesteryear.

In the past, poetry was an integral part of song lyrics. Many (in fact most) of the song writers were actually poets. Writing songs for films helped them make that bit of money which just writing poetry could not give them.

That is why when you listen to songs written by the likes of Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, Jaan Nisar Akhtar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Neeraj and so many other yesteryear lyricists, you get drawn into the words of the songs. Those lines – the beauty of the words and the mastery of their construction into an emotion – conjure images in your head. Whether a romantic song like “chaudhvin ka chand ho ya aftaab ho” or a sad song like “chand phir nikla, magar tum na aaye”, it goes to your heart. And there are thousands of songs like this, with depth of emotion.

And for lyrics to be powerful, they certainly don’t need to be complicated. I remember being hardly thirteen when I was completely bowled over by the lines “tumhe apna kehne ki chaah mein, kabhi ho sakey na kisi ke hum…yehi dard mere jigar mein hai, mujhe maar daalega bas ye ghum” (from “mujhe tumse kuchh bhi na chaahiye”(Kanhaiya-1959)).

I realize I’m digressing here – this is supposed to be about Gulzar saab. But a discussion about Gulzar saab that does NOT discuss poetry would be only farcical. And somehow when I discuss poetry, I tend to get lost in that world. It is a world very close to my heart – hence my strong feelings on this subject.

While on this – and I promise I will get on to Gulzar right after this – is one of my pet peeves that the lyricist of a song is rarely known or recognized for his part in the song. A song is no doubt teamwork – the singer, the lyricist and the composer in the main. The picturisation can enhance it but there are plenty of songs where the audio is enough, the video is a nice-to-have. In this, the lyricist often gets the raw deal. So then why not have the singer just hum “hmmmmmm” to a composition. Why have words at all?

Ok, rant over. Now onto Gulzar saab.

As is my wont, I will try to stay away from repeating information that is already easily available out there. I will just talk about things that I find special about Gulzar saab.

I was very much a 1970s person – and that, for my generation, meant Gulzar was THE lyricist we knew very well. Most of the legends of an earlier generation had earned their stripes in that earlier generation, even if they were active in the 70s. Gulzar was for us the one, who though he’d written some memorable lines in the 60s, really grew to an imposing stature in the 70s. Hence our association with him.

I first heard of Gulzar when I first heard of the film Koshish. I hadn’t seen it then but one of my sisters had. And she raved on and on about it, what a sensitive movie it was. And she mentioned Gulzar as the director of the movie. Around the same time I heard about Guddi and Mere Apne – and again Gulzar’s name was prominent in connection with both these movies.

Initially I thought Gulzar was just a director. But then when I listened to songs of these movies on Vividh Bharti, I realized he was also a lyricist.

In the early-mid 70s, Gulzar was very much the person who gave Indian audiences a different type of Hindi cinema. Later on, in the 90s, it became fashionable to say “this film is a somewhat hatke film”. But in the 70s Gulzar’s movies were pretty much like that, all the way.

In the era of Rajesh Khanna romance and a world of heroes chasing heroines in the rain, he made Mere Apne and Koshish. Both extremely powerful films with a harsh take on the reality of society. With Parichay, even if the story was inspired by Sound of Music, he took a punt on then-Jumping Jack Jeetendra and gave him a sensitive role that went a long way in changing his image.

The mood of the 70s shifted from romantic masalas to angry-young-man masalas but Gulzar stayed true to his calling. Here I should mention that Gulzar was not just a director and a poet but also a story-writer. And a dialogue writer. That also explains why his films were almost never dhishum-dhishum masalas, they had a story to tell.

Often his stories were about relationships, the upheavals, the misunderstandings, the regrets, the egos, the demons in the mind. Aandhi, Mausam, Kinara, Khushboo are all about this.

In Kitaab, he explores the world of a young child who’s been made to go to school against his will but wants to explore the larger world. In Ghar, he tries to show us the mind of a woman who has been raped and how this affects her relationship with her husband.

Gulzar always experimented with his stories – as if to make the public reflect on scenarios. He would leave a story with a certain ending, but as if also asking the question “what would you do if you were in this situation?” Even in Ijaazat (1987), this comes through strongly.

Gulzar saab did not confine himself to just such films. He did try different genres too, especially comedy. And excelled in that as well. One of my favourite comedy films, Angoor (based on a Shakespeare play), is a Gulzar saab masterpiece.

He was just a very , very good director in dealing with emotional subjects.

And maybe that’s because he was a poet first and foremost. And poetry is about emotions, isn’t it?

Gulzar saab’s poetry had his unique stamp on it. When I listen to a Gulzar saab written song, I just marvel at it. Just marvel. The way he has personified nature, personified common objects, made them talk to you…I don’t think anybody has done that before or since.

His songs are invariably in a class of their own. Just listen to “is mod se jaate hain” or “dil dhoondhta hai” or “tum aa gaye ho” or “mera kuchh saamaan”. They are just SO mesmerizing. And not just for the music or the voices (which are brilliant in themselves ) but just the lyrics. Gulzar and RD Burman were made for each other – the soft poetry of Gulzar just had to be composed by the soft tunes of RD.

Story writer, dialogue writer, poet, director….I think the saying “jack of all trades, master of none” just fails with Gulzar saab, for he proves that he was master of all trades. Whatever he touches, he takes to a sublime level.

I can go on and on but I need to now rein myself in. I will therefore come straight to the song of today.

This is from Gharaonda (1977).

This film was not made by Gulzar saab but the songs were written by him. And very much have his stamp. I love all the songs of this film – and since I happened to see it only recently (having wanted to see it for the last 35 years), the story is also fresh in my mind.

It is a story about life in Bombay for those who have to struggle to make both ends meet on a daily basis. Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab play the lead roles, while Dr. Shreeram Lagoo plays a very important role too in this film.

The song for today “ek akela is sheher mein”, sung by Bhupinder and picturised on Amol Palekar, is a song signifying loneliness and desolation for a person in Bombay who feels he has lost his all. Earlier in the film, Amol and Zarina sing a happy song, when they have dreams to get married and live happily together. That song is “do deewane sheher mein”. Now, when their dreams are shattered and Amol is left alone, all he can do is reflect on what his life has become.
Note again here how Gulzar personifies inanimate objects. “In umr se lambi sadkon ko, manzil pe pahunchte dekha nahin”. As if to say the roads keep going on and on..but actually go nowhere. Desolation, when described like this, takes on a different poignancy altogether. And as usual, this song is full of metaphors…dil khaali bartan hai, raat jaise andhaa kuaan. You need a really vivid imagination for this sort of poetry – and Gulzar saab is an absolute master at this.

So enjoy this beautiful song from Gharaonda. The lovely music is by Jaidev.

Happy birthday, Gulzar saab! Many happy returns of the day!



Song-Ek akela is sheher mein (Gharonda)(1977) Singer-Bhupinder Singh, Lyrics-Gulzar, MD-Jaidev


Hmm hmm hmm
aa ha ha ha ha

ek akela is sheher mein
raat mein aur dopahar mein
aabodaana dhoondhta hai
aashiyaana dhoondhta hai

ek akela is sheher mein
raat mein aur dopahar mein
aabodaana dhoondhta hai
aashiyaana dhoondhta hai
ek akela is sheher mein

din khaali khaali bartan hai
din khaali khaali bartan hai
aur raat hai jaise andhaa kuaan
in sooni andheri aankhon mein
aansoo ki jagah aata hai dhuaan
jeene ki wajah to koi nahin
marne ka bahaana dhoondhta hai
dhoondhta hai
dhoondhta hai

ek akela is sheher mein
raat mein aur dopahar mein
aabodaana dhoondhta hai
aashiyaana dhoondhta hai
ek akela is sheher mein
in umr se lambi sadkon ko
in umr se lambi sadkon ko
manzil pe pahunchte dekha nahin
bas daudti phirti rehti hain
hum ne to theherte dekha nahin
is ajnabee se sheher mein
jaana pehchaana dhoondhta hai
dhoondhta hai
dhoondhta hai

ek akela is sheher mein
raat mein aur dopahar mein
aabodaana dhoondhta hai
aashiyaana dhoondhta hai
ek akela is sheher mein
hmm hmm hmm hmm
hmm hmm hmm hmm
hmm hmm hmm

11 Responses to "Ek akela is sheher mein"

Great post, Raja, as usual. I have been reading the other posts as well on this very versatile Gulzar Saab. This comment of mine is not about the lyricist or the director/writer. I have a personal memory which I wish to share.

I was in a small way (Indirectly) involved with a theatre production, “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar” based on the life of Tulsidas. This was produced by my very passionate friend, Anshu Tandon, who was new to the world of professional theatre but wanted the best for his play. He wanted Gulzar Saab to introduce the play! And this great man, Gulazar Saab did it, gratis, for someone who he had never met!

I wrote a rather long piece on my blog about this play. For those interested here is the link.


What a poet he was. I love his metaphors. I love this song a lot.

You post is the best tribute I have read to Gulzar so far.

Thank you


Well, written Rajaji,
I remember him…with very first song in Bandini (1963)..Mera gora ang laile…by Lata…than Andhi…and slum dog…
Just few very quick comes to my mind right away…
The definition of love is vague and yet, so simple.Gulzarsaab has given to us, the very basic definition of love…Love can be an experience of the body, the soul, or both.
one thing for sure his well-written poems will keep us feeding for many years to come..
Have a blissful happy birthday to Gulzarsaab.


Talking of the definition of love, Gulzar saab has given us the beautiful “humne dekhi hai in aakhon ki mehekti khushboo” from Khamoshi. I love his lyrics not just for the metaphors (which are very creative) but also because they are “soft” lyrics. Nothing rough at all about them.

A cricket analogy would be, it is like a batsman caressing the ball to the boundary. 🙂


Because of tiff with Shailendra, SD gave him the chance to the lyrics in Bandini


No doubt the lyrics of Mora Gora Ang lai le are beautiful. Like Meera, the heroine wants to be able to merge herself into her beloved. Beautiful. I suppose, out of all the lyricists, Gulzar is the most sufiana!


Wonderful Post, once again, Raja!
Now it has become a habit for me to say this but it is true. I always find myself nodding my head to all that you have to say and agree with you.
Moreover I agree with what you said about the contribution of the lyricist. That reminds me of what Javed Akhtar said in Talking Songs.
He gave the example of yeh raat yeh chandani and said a jaa aa jaa aa jaa saajanaa, sun jaa mere balama would have fitted the meter as well, but would the song have become a hit.
Gulzar’s metaphors although made of common things they are not common place. He doesn’t use them for sensation but because they fit the situation and they are precise. That is why I am looking forward to the score of this Yash Chopra film, where he pairs with A. R. Rehman again.You just can’t have more Sufiana than this!
Thanks for this lovely post, Raja!
And thanks to Atul for hosting it!


Wonderfully written…about a wonderful person!


Wonderful post and a lovely song.




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This blog discusses Bollywood songs of yesteryears. Every song has a brief description, followed by a video link, and complete lyrics of the song.

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