Recalling a Fine Actor and Poet

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


28 thoughts on “Recalling a Fine Actor and Poet

  1. Manek- thanks for revealing to us a totally novel facet of Sajjan’s personality as a singing star – we only know of him as a villain most memorable in Chalti Ka naam gaadi. However , it boggles the mind why you omitted to mention his role as leading man in Bahaana 1960 opposite Meena Kumari and the possibility of him lip-synching the most famous Talat nazm ever- Beraham aasmaan meri manzil kahaan hai bata. All in the realm of conjecture as no visuals of the film available for confirmation.

  2. Sajjan as a poet is a revelation for me Manek and I am grateful to you for bringing this aspect to my attention.
    While on his multiple character actor roles in various disguises , I cannot forget Prakash as the suitor of Madhubala in Chalti ka naam Gaadi, where he had the quirky nervous habit of wiping his nape with an handkerchief and also the unnecessarily maligned RaiSaab Bhupendra Singh confined by Premnath aka Ranjit.
    In his later years I have also noticed his presence at many Hasya Kavi Sammelans [ gatherings ] broadcast by Doordarshan around Holi time

    1. Dilip, as a writer on film music, I need to take notes for recall later. It’s you who needs a salute though, because all this you say is straight from memory, right? I’m wowed 🙂

  3. What a revelation.. Sajjan, the villain, was a lead artist at one time! And then a wonderful lyricist.. His songs with Talat ride the wave of popularity on the strength of Sajjan’s words, Talat’s voice and soulful music by the MDs. What a thoroughly researched article, with the attendant surprise.. Thanks Manek for yet another beauty of a post.

  4. Fortunate to have seen him on stage at Rang Bhavan. Remember Dilip Kumar was also in the audience. He was closely associated and proactive in IPTA. Remember hearing about IPTA from him. Close family friend along with his cousin S R Purohit. The Rajasthan faction were regularly staging their own group plays . But impressed with your informative article…as usual

    1. Thanks Shikha _()_ 🙂 As Anilda’s daughter, you must have seen and heard so much from close quarters! And yesterday, another great composer’s daughter, Sangeeta Madan Mohan, was telling me about Sajjan uncle and how close he was to her parents. Sangeeta recalls Sajjan jee’s daughter, who btw lives in the same town as Sangeeta, Jaipur 🙂 Small world na?

  5. Omg! I didn’t know that Sajjan had so many facets to his talent!! Thank you Manek for researching on this handsome actor poet. It’s so nice to know so much more about those once upon a time famous artists who have given such brilliant performances in front of the camera and have given so much more which people seem to have forgotten. I always liked him in the movies as an actor , but didn’t know anything more than that about him. I’m impressed with you to have written about Sajjan and enlightened us readers. Congratulations

    1. Thanks Meenu 🙂 I had seen him, and loved his performances as a character actor, after I started thinking about him as a lead actor did I see Hum Log and Do Dulhe and Saiyaan. And then the lyrics part? Amazing na? We have lived with those songs forever, but we didn’t know they were penned by this talented man!

  6. Did not know that Sajjan who largely delivered in villainous roles is no different from the one who wrote mera pyaar mujhe lauta do…. He has gone very high in my esteem. Suddenly he is looking very handsome, the hero stuff, that he in any case was initially. There is another poem by him, sung by Hemant. Despite effort I have not been able to recall the words.

    I wonder if there is a recognized centre to document the biographies of artistes below the top rung, including those working behind the screen. Manek , this essay of yours not only educates us, it should be one for the posterity too.

    1. Vijay, aabhaar! Don’t know about posterity, bus thode saal hi log padhen to theek hai 🙂 Sadly I am unable to think of a central place for film info such as this, though a few people are doing stellar work on this tapestry. Yes, Mera pyaar mujhe lauta do…mera apnapan lauta do, mere geet mujhe lauta poem, set to music by another great man, V Balsara!

  7. Excellent Manek! Your article is an eye opener to me. My only recall about Sajjan is his act in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi where he wipes his face/neck with a Hand Kerchief which act connects him to Kishore Kumar in the movie. And in bit roles in a few other movies.

    I did not know about any of his songs nor recall hearing his name being credited as a Lyricist in any of the Radio programmes.

    Do keep up the good work in increasing our knowledge and widening our horizons.

    1. Thanks Balbir! In Chalti Ka Naam gaadi, all I heard is the music, and all I saw was Madhubala 🙂 The Ganguly brothers were a distraction 🙂 But I must revisit the film to see what you noted, thanks mate!

  8. An eye-opener of an essay. Didn’t know him as anything other than a character actor until last year when I researched Nutan and realized he was her hero in Hum Log. ‘Apni nazar se unn ki nazar tak’ became a favorite in no time at all.
    Now to look up his songs as lyricist!
    Another Sunday, another hitherto unknown facet of Hindi cinema unearthed.
    Thank you so much.

    1. Monica, grateful! As you found him thru Nutan, I found some of his strengths while researching him. But the turn on was his poems…8 of them, all super!

  9. My utter ignorance about his writing skills. I never got a chance to see him in a lead role. I loved his character roles which he played with aplomb. One character he lived up to hilt was Vikram Vetal. I just loved him in that. Kudos to his. Thanks for this eye opener Manek ji …

  10. sajjan also wrote birhan baiti aas lagake–music by balsara.on 78 rpm record birhan baiti is on the reverse of mera pyar mujhe lauta do.i do have the record.

    1. Shankarji, you still have the record? All I can say is, you must be a strong music lover…a strong one _()_ 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *