We do know that Indian Railways made their debut in 1853. Exactly a hundred years later, an actor named Sajjan got rich enough to buy a railway coach and gift it to his just-married friends, Shammi Kapoor and Madhubala. Scandalized about that pairing? Please don’t be. This happened in a film only, called Rail Ka Dibba (1953), so the story is fictional, but buying a railway coach is not part of fiction. Many have bought such coaches, to convert them into their private library or living room. There have even been many restaurants that are exactly like train compartments. With such appointments, the ambience can turn magical.
But we get back to Sajjan today, and to this man’s remarkable talents. Remarkable because singing-actors there have been. Saigal, Noor Jahan, Suraiya, Talat, there have been more. We have had a singing poet too: Kavi Pradeep was one. But it’s a rarity to find a good poet who can also act well. Sajjan was that rarity.
Born in 1921 in the then princely state of Jodhpur, Sajjan Lal Purohit wanted to become an actor and writer in films, so he did the best thing one could do in 1941: he boarded a train to Calcutta, where all the main movie action was. Talat Mahmood was doing the same thing in the same year, moving to Calcutta, except he wanted to become a singing-actor.
In Calcutta the two fresh arrivals became friends, with Talat doing a bit of singing and facing the camera, even as Sajjan was doing a bit of writing and facing the camera. In time—but for a few years only—both these gents would rise to become lead actors opposite the likes of Nutan, Shyama, Nargis, Suraiya, and Nalini Jaywant. And their orbits would intersect to find Talat singing some of the finest geets that were written by Sajjan, off-cinema. Of that, in just a bit.
Meantime, Sajjan did small roles in Calcutta, beginning with Masoom (1941), a film that starred Ramola, Mehtab and Mazhar Khan. But he soon realized the action was shifting to Bombay, as indicated by the departure from Calcutta of Kidar Sharma, KL Saigal, Prithviraj Kapoor, and many others.
So in the early 1940s, he too headed for Bombay, where he got to write many songs for Phani Mazumdar’s Door Chalen (1946). He also continued to get small parts, working for the likes of director Kidar Sharma and Gajanan Jagirdar. The latter too was aware that the young man from Jodhpur had a way with words, and so Sajjan was given the assignment to write four songs in Jagirdar’s Jail Yatra (1947), with music by Ninu Mazumdar. Next year, Jagirdar gave Sajjan a bonanza: the brief to write the lyrics of all six songs in Dhanyawad (1948), as well as to become a lead actor in the film. He was cast opposite Hansa Wadkar, and the film’s music was by AR Quereshi, who later became known as tabla-nawaz Ustad Allah Rakha.
Soon he got people’s attention, but more as an actor than a poet. So much so that in 1950, even as he was playing Nalini Jaywant’s father in Sangram (she was paired with Ashok Kumar), he was the same Nalini Jaywant’s lover in Muqaddar! This is a kind of endorsement of his depth as an actor. This also reminds you of the extraordinary actress Nargis, who would go shoot simultaneously for Mother India (1957) as the face of Mother India, and would enact, in the same year, a diametrically opposite role in Miss India, as the face of a young Indian girl. Sajjan’s acting abilities were further endorsed by his performance in Do Dulhe (1955), where he executed a double role, one paired with Shyama and the other with southern belle Vanaja.
Earlier, in 1951, Sajjan had been cast opposite Nutan in Zia Sarhadi’s Hum Log, as also opposite Madhubala in M Sadiq’s Saiyaan. In the former, Balraj Sahni was paired with Shyama. In the latter film, Ajit was given top billing, but that credit should have gone to Sajjan, not only because he had a better role and more footage, but also because finally Sajjan and Madhubala died hand in hand, as lovers, in the denouement of the film.
We spoke of Nargis a bit earlier, and we know Sajjan was teamed up with her too. The film was Sheesha (1952). Sadly, the film flopped. Then arrived Ghar Ghar Mein Deewali (1955) with Shashikala; that failed at the box office too. Sajjan was disheartened, but he bounced back with character roles, which he got in the dozens.
In the ensuing years, we did see this versatile actor as Mangal, the wise domestic in Talaaq (1958). In Kabuliwala (1961) as a shawl-wearing, dhoti-clad writer, the husband of Usha Kiran and father of Mini, the little girl in whom Kabuliwala Balraj Sahni sees his own daughter. As detective Mohan Tripathi in Bees Saal Baad (1962). As the evil Monto in April Fool (1964), as a mafia don in Farz (1967), as a 100-year old man in Sau Saal Beet Gaye (1970), and several more features. Sajjan was also very popular on the stage, executing roles with finesse in plays such as Deewar, Pagli, Ghadaar, and Satyawaan.
And he was also seen singing the following songs in cinema. We ignore his co-actors for now:
- Dil ki pareshaaniyaan, ishq ki veeraaniyaan (Hum Log, 1951)
- Apni nazar se unki nazar tak, ek zamaana ek fasaana (Hum Log, 1951)
- Us paar is deewaar ke jo rehte hain (Saiyaan, 1951)
- Duniya jawaan hai, dil meherbaan hai (Rail Ka Dibba, 1953)
- Main bhi jawaan hoon tum bhi jawaan ho (Do Dulhe, 1955)
- Mera dulha sheher se aaya re (Do Dulhe, 1955)
- Haseenon ke chakkar mein hargiz na aana (Do Dulhe, 1955)
- Chanda chamakti raat (Do Dulhe, 1955)
- Duniya banaane waale ne jab chaand banaaya (Tasweer, 1966)
These are apart from the songs that were sung with him only in the frame. But what about the songs that he neither lip-synced, nor featured him in the frame? These are songs that he wrote, for others to sing out of films. That’s a Sajjan area so little known about. His many songs in Door Chalen, Jail Yatra and Dhanyawaad apart, he wrote some amazing poems.
Sajjan ji was an extremely patriotic person too. In the wake of the 1965 war, he had penned a book of poetry called Jawaan, and would easily empty his pockets out every single day to donate towards the war effort.
I was very close to Talat Mahmood and eventually wrote a book on the singing-actor. Several times I had heard people ask him which his favourite song was. He always said, “There are so many”. But I do know that when he named a few, “Mera pyaar mujhe lauta do” was always at the top of the list. Sajjan did write that geet too.
He also wrote many other wonderful songs for Talat. Do recall, “Phir pyaar kiya phir roya, kya tadbeereen kaam karen jab apna naseeba soya”, “Has raha hai chaand taare kar rahe atthkheliyaan”, and “Chup-chaap akele chhup-chhupke main geet kisi ke gaata hoon, dil ke zakhmon ko chheen chheen main apna jee behlaata hoon”.
It is said that adversity brings people together. Perhaps it also brings greatness out of people. That is why Sajjan’s poems rendered by Talat are at the apex of the art of both these fine talents.
Featured image on top: Sajjan and Shyama in Do Dulhe (1955)
Originally published in DNA Jaipur page 11, on 11 March 2018 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-03-11