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Poetic Traditions from the Subcontinent: Bollywood Cinema

  • Centre for Stories 100 Aberdeen Street Northbridge, WA, 6003 Australia (map)
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This series explores the rich tradition of poetry from Pakistan and India examining how poets became historians, journalists, entertainers, and even revolutionaries, forming the fabric of society. It is aimed at a greater understanding of cultures rich in thought and expression, and often unfamiliar to western audiences.


This month takes a look at Mid-20th century Urdu/Hindi poetry through the lens of songs of Bollywood Cinema

With the arrival of sound many Urdu and Hindi poets came to Bombay (Mumbai) to write songs for the burgeoning Hindi film industry. Among these poets were Shakeel Badayuni (1916–1970), Majrooh Sultanpuri (1919–2000), Kaifi Azmi (1919–2002), Sahir Ludhianvi (1921–1980), Hazrat Jaipuri (1922–1999) and Shailendra (1923–1966). A number of these poets also belonged to the Marxist Indian Progressive Writers’ Movement  and were highly conscious of the huge disparities in Indian social life. They were skilled craftsmen whose poetry began to gain prominence once technological advances made playback singing a feature of films, which in turn allowed extremely sophisticated singers to lend their voice to complex lyrics, something not available to many actor-singers (with their limited range) in the early talkies period.

In this presentation, Professor Mishra will look at film songs on their own terms as complex Urdu/Hindi poetry, examine their themes and demonstrate, on the Indian harmonium, the dominant ragas in which they were sung. Professor Mishra will examine, in particular, songs from the Golden Age of Hindi (Bollywood) Cinema (c. 1950 –1964) since this is the high point of the lyricists whose works he  discusses.

Fragments of songs discussed will be given in the original (using the roman script albeit with diacritics) together with an English translation.


Vijay Mishra, PhD (ANU), DPhil (Oxford), a Fellow of the Australian Humanities Academy, is the Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Murdoch University. Between 2010–2015 he was an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow. His current project is a monograph on V S Naipaul funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (2017–2019).


Poetic Traditions from the Subcontinent: Bollywood Cinema
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