Actors lip-syncing the words of lyricists is one thing and the poetry of non-film poets turning up as songs in films is something else. Poetry is difficult to put to tune because modern poets do not always follow the traditional form of rhyme and meter in their verse. A lyric thrives on euphony.
As for the reading of non-film poetry, it is mostly a matter of personal interest. Actors with a passion for poetry give viewers an insight into their intellect but the question remains: is every actor suited to the task?
In the nazm “Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat”, written by Pakistan’s foremost poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, actor Zohra Sehgal not only articulates Faiz’s romantic notions about love but also his progressive ideas about valour and compassion for humanity. She reaches a dramatic arc towards the end of her reading when she voices the lamentable irony of having to forgo the love for one for the embrace of many. The rendition is extraordinary.
Faiz is a favourite of many artists. In the song “Raat Yoon Dil Mein Teri” (Janwar, 1965), playback singers Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle recite his quatrain in a breathless a cappella style for music composers Shankar-Jaikishan. The poem included seems out of context in the movie, but lends itself beautifully to the romantic situation in which it has been filmed on actors Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree.
In a video tribute to Faiz, actors Dilip Kumar and Shabana Azmi beautifully recite his poems.
Music composers have found ways to tune Faiz’s verse into melody. Arijit Singh and Rekha Bhardwaj sing “Gulon Mein Rang Bhare” and “Aaj Ke Naam” respectively for the move Haider (2014), directed and composed by Vishal Bhardwaj. In Buddha In A Traffic Jam (2016), actor Pallavi Joshi recites “Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan”.
Faiz’s celebrity status nearly dwarfs the recitation of other modern poets. Madhushala, by renowned writer and poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, consisted of quatrains written in the style of Rubaii (Persian verse) and inspired by Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. Manna Dey sang these poems in an album with the same title in 1973. The poet’s son, Amitabh Bachchan, has often sung his father’s poems on stage. In this video, the Bachchan family (including Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) gather to recite Madhushala, but why do they sound like they are in a hurry?
Other poets also find their due on the YouTube channel Hindi Kavita, on which several actors, including Swara Bhaskar, Manav Kaul, Zeeshan Ayub and Manoj Bajpayee, read out the poems of such luminaries as Jaishankar Prasad, Ram Dhari Singh Dinkar, Nirala, Maithalisharan Gupt, Dushyant Kumar, Nida Fazli, and others.
In this video, Bhaskar recites the poetry of Paash, the Punjabi left-wing poet who was killed by Khalistani extremists in 1988. Bhaskar lists “Main Ab Vidha Leta Hoon” as one of her favourites.
Fawad Khan reads the poem “Suna Hai Log Usse” by Pakistani poet Ahmed Faraz in this video clip from his television show Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam (2015). It is likely that few will be paying attention to the verse, distracted as they are by Khan’s good looks.