Majrooh Sultanpuri was born Asrar ul Hassan Khan in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. His birth date is uncertain but it is believed he was born between 1919 and 1922. He studied in an Islamic religious school and went to become a Hakim practising Unani medicine. However, his heart lay in poetry and he began frequenting a mushaira in Sultanpur to recite his ghazals.
When appreciation for his poetry began pouring in, he left his practice and dedicated himself to writing poetry.
His career took a turn in 1945, when film maker A.R. Kardar asked him to pen the lyrics for the movie “Shahjehan” after hearing him in a mushaira in Mumbai.
Among Majrooh’s first words for Hindi movies were also K.L. Saigal’s last popular song “Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya”. The rest of the 40s were sedate for him - he was a new name, and the Partition slowed things down in the film industry. His only other significant contribution in that decade was “Andaz” (1949).
Just as Majrooh was establishing himself as a lyricist, his communist views and writings got him into trouble. Morarji Desai’s Bombay government put him in jail in 1950. On getting released, he found himself in dire straits financially. To make matters worse, Naushad, with whom he had found great success in “Shahjehan” and “Andaz”, refused to work with him because he equated leftists with non-believers. What must have been a crisis for Majrooh, turned out to be a blessing in disguise for music lovers, for it forced Majrooh to separate his political beliefs from his writing, and embrace a career in films to earn a livelihood. From mid-1950s, working with O.P. Nayyar and S.D. Burman, he produced a slew of hit songs like “Babuji Dheere Chalna” (“Aar Paar”, 1954), “Aye Dil Hai Mushkil” (“CID”, 1956) and “Chod Do Anchal Zamana Kya Kahega” (“Paying Guest”, 1957).
In 1960s, Majrooh began mixing the light, frothy lyrics, that he became know for in the 50s, with more serious lyrics. He balanced an “Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera” (“Teesri Manzil”, 1966) with a “Rahen Na Rahen Hum” (“Mamta”, 1966). “Teesri Manzil” was significant in that it helped R.D. Burman reinvigorate a sagging career and made Majrooh his most prolific lyricist over the years.
The movie “Dosti” (1965) was a significant milestone - his lyrics helped launch Laxikant-Pyarelal’s career as music directors and the song “Chahoonga Main Tujhe” won him is first and only Filmfare Aware for Best Lyricist.
The 1970s saw R.D. Burman dominating film music and ensured a busy decade for Majrooh with two Nasir Hussain movies turning out to be the decades highlights - “Yaadon Ki Baaraat” (1973) and “Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin” (1977).
After a largely lacklustre 1980s, Majrooh’s career saw a brief resurgence with another Nasir Hussain production, “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” (1988). The tender love song “Pehla Nasha” (“Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar”, 1992) was an exemplar of Majrooh’s ability to write refreshing, youthful lyrics despite his advancing age.
Although he continued to write till his last days, the 1990s saw other lyricists finding favour over him. In 1993, the film industry acknowledged the veteran’s contributions by awarding him the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Majrooh became the first lyricist to win the prestigious award.
Majrooh Sultanpuri had a severe attack of pneumonia and died in Bombay on May 24, 2000.