The poet, writer and lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan was born in Karmabad in undivided India. This township got its name from his zamindar grandfather.
Raja Mehdi’s early tutoring was under his mother Hebay Saheba soon after he had lost his father. Dr. Allana Iqbal has acknowledged Hebay Saheba as a leading Urdu poet.
In the early forties while serving at all India Radio, Delhi, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan got a call from his friend Sadat Hasan Manto the noted Urdu writer who had joined Hindi films. Raja started as a dialogue writer and did a role in Ashok Kumar‘s 8 Day’s but writing dialogues and acting was not for him.
S. Mukherji the partner in Filmistan Studios gave Raja Mehdi the poet a chance to write lyrics in his film ‘Do Bhai’ (1946). Songs like ‘Mera Sunder Sapna’ and ‘Yaad Karoge’ from this film became instant hits. In 1947, in spite of communal riots, Raja Mehdi and his wife Tahira took the decision of staying in India rather than migrating to the newly formed Pakistan. In 1948 his patriotism manifested in his songs ‘Watan ki raah mein’ and ‘Todi todi bachay’ from the Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal starrer ‘Shaheed’. Raja Mehdi never discriminated when it came to working with established or new music composers ‘Madhosh’ (1950) was the music composer, Madam Mohan‘s debut film with Raja Mehdi. He had been associated with music composers like Iqbal Qureshi, Babul, S. Mohinder, Chic Chocolate and Rono Mukerjhi to name some. He has given some wonderful songs with C. Ramchandra (Mere piya gaye Rangoon) and O.P. Nayyar (Main Pyar Ka Rahi Hoon). However, he formed an immortal team with Madan Mohan.
‘Anpadh’, ‘Mera Saaya’, ‘Who Kaun Thi’, ‘Neela Akash’, ‘Dulhan Ek Raat Ki’ and ‘Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah’ were some outstanding films where this duo worked together. Raja Mehdi Ali Khan was the first lyricist to introduce ‘Aap’ in film songs ‘Aap ki nazron….’ (Anpadh), ‘Aap kyon roye’ (Woh Kaun Thi), ‘Aap ne apna banaya’ (Dulhan Ek Raat Ki) are some examples. Incidentally, his song ‘Lag ja gale’ from the film ‘Woh Kaun Thi’ was one amongst the top ten all time favorites in film history to be ‘retired’ from Antakshri on Zee TV.
In the mid-sixties, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan paired with the next generation sensation Laxmikant Pyarelal in films like ‘Anita’ and ‘Jaal’. This was as far as Raja Mehdi’s career was destined. He breathed his last on July 29, 1996, leaving behind a treasure of songs that are still cherished by all lovers of poetry in film songs.
His surviving peers remember him for his great poetry, his criticism and love for food. In a TV interview, the late actor Mehmood recalled how he worked as Raja Mehdi’s chauffeur during his youth. Raja Mehdi’s poems and short stories regularly appear in Urdu magazines like ‘Biswin Sadi’, ‘Shama Bano’ and ‘Khilona’. He is survived by a wealth of songs and Urdu ‘Diwans’ like ‘Andaaz-E-Bayaan Aur’ and ‘Mizraab’
He lived like the Raja of good poetry till the end. He brought good poetry to Hindi songs when they were facing times when they were just considered as a pastime. He refused to compromise when it came to poetry. He could have been known as one of the greatest lyricists of Hindi films but preferred to live as a Raja of his own world, his own kingdom which no ‘enemy’ could even try to plunder or take away from him. A Raja like this Raja rules once in many decades and his rule is remembered for all time.