Lyricist Shankardas Kesarilal, who went by the pen name Shailendra, was born in Rawalpindi, modern day Pakistan. His family moved to Mathura when he was child, a trip that cost his mother her life. Her death came as a big blow to Shailendra, who eventually lost faith in God. At the peak of Indian Freedom struggle, he landed a job with Indian Railways, which required him to move to Mumbai.
This job, did not last too long, as he spent most of his time on duty writing songs or poems, often running into trouble with his incharge and superiors. He participated in many kavi sammelans and it was in one such sammelan that Raj Kapoor first heard him. Raj Kapoor offered to buy his poems, but the young Shailendra refused initially. Being a part of the left wing Indian People’s Theatre Association, he was dismissive of mainstream Hindi cinema and its performers. Later, owing to financial problems, he agreed to Raj Kapoor’s terms, and wrote the songs “Patli Kamar Hai” and “Barsat Mein Tum Se Mile Hum” for the film “Barsaat” (1949). The songs of Barsaat, composed by Shankar - Jaikishan, were big hits. That was the begininng of Shailendra's long association with Raj Kapoor and Shankar - Jaikishan.
“Awara Hoon” (“Awaara”, 1951) was another such hit, proving that Shailendra was here to stay. Four years later, with “Shri 420” (1955), Shailendra gave the Hindi film music industry as well as Raj Kapoor, his most remembered song “Mera Joota Hai Japani”. “Jaagte Raho” (1956), “Musafir” (1957), “Yahudi” (1958), “Madumati” (1958) and “Anari” (1959) followed in quick succession. The songs “Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai” (“Yahudi”, 1958) and “Sab Kuch Seekha Humne” (“Anari”, 1959) won him two consecutive Filmfare Awards for Best Lyricist.
While Shailendra mostly worked with Shankar - Jaikishan, he also wrote classics for S.D. Burman ("Bandini", "Guide") and Salil Chowdhury ("Do Bigha Zameen", "Madhumati").
Shailendra turned producer for the film “Teesri Kasam” (1966). The film proved to be a disaster in the box office and left him heart-broken and financially broke. It could be said that Teesri Kasam's failure led to his death on December 14, 1966, his good friend Raj Kapoor’s birthday.
Shailendra left behind a substantial body of work and his lyrics continued to be used for many years after his death. The song “Main Gaaoon Tum So Jao” (“Brahmachari”, 1968) won him his third Filmfare Award, this time posthumously. Shailendra's son Shaily Shailendra picked up from where Shailendra left and himself became a lyricist for Hindi films.