Shailendra was one of the most versatile and gifted lyricists in the history of Hindi cinema. He first shot to fame with Utha hai toofan zamana badal raha (set to music by Salil Chowdhury) for IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association), the cultural arm of the Communist Party of India. Raj Kapoor met him at an IPTA gathering and decided to work with him. Songs like Mera joota hai Japani, Mud-mud ke na dekh, Ramaiyya vasta vaiyya from Shree 420 (1954), Awara hoon (1951), Choti si yeh zindagani from Aah (1953) and Nanhe munne bachche teri mutthi mein kya hai from Boot Polish (1953), all set to Shankar-Jaikishen’s music, became classics.
Shailendra also worked exceptionally well with composers S.D. Burman and Salil Chowdhury, both Bengalis with a limited knowledge of Hindi and Urdu. He was often ensconced on the terrace of Burman’s home with a bottle of whisky, a packet of cigarettes, pen and paper. The results were unforgettable: Khoya khoya chand, Rimjhim ke tarane leke ayee barsaat (Kala Bazaar, 1960); Poocho na kaise maine rain bitayee, Nache man mora (Meri Soorat Teri Aankhen, 1961); Wahan kaun hai tera, Kaanton se kheench ke ye aanchal (Guide, 1965).