With over 3000 songs in more than 600 films, Anand Bakshi is arguably the most prolific songwriter in the history of Hindi films. Cinemaazi editor Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri pays a tribute to the finest of what he calls the ‘philosophical’ songs of this iconic lyricist.
Achha toh hum chalte hain … Bye-bye miss good night kal phir milenge … Ilu ilu … the list goes on … Arguably, no other lyricist in Hindi cinema can boast of as many songs that have become everyday catchphrases, lending them to titles of TV serials and web series and new films. But then Anand Bakshi was no ordinary songwriter. He was a master of the anthem, the connoisseur of the quotidian. If ‘Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge’ (Sholay, 1975) became the quintessential song celebrating friendship, ‘Dum maro dum’ (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1970) caught the zeitgeist of an impatient generation with its nihilist undertones, while few songs probably capture the yearning for the motherland as evocatively as ‘Chitthi aayi hai’ (Naam, 1986) does.
Then there is his mastery of the love song – the heartbreak in ‘Wo tere pyar ka gham’ (My Love, 1970), the wistfulness that informs ‘Pyar diwana hota hai’ (Kati Patang, 1971) or the sheer agony/ecstasy of ‘Yeh dil, diwana’ (Pardes, 1997). Anand Bakshi was the go-to lyricist for all teenage/youthful love stories, in particular those heralding a new star pair: from Bobby (1971) to Ek Duje ke Liye and Love Story (both 1981) to Hero (1983), his songs played the biggest role in the colossal hits these films became. No one probably articulates the longing of first love as well as he does with ‘Solah baras ki baali umar ko salaam’ in Ek Duje ke Liye. And if he was the voice of the times in the 1970s, with Jawani Diwani (1972), he was no less so as we approached the new millennium with ‘Tujhe dekha toh ye jaana sanam’ in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995).
No one could hold a torch to him when it came to the chartbusting item number either – ‘Dum maro dum’, ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves’ (Amar Akbar Anthony, 1977), ‘Om shanti om’ (Karz, 1980), ‘Jumma chumma de de’ (Hum, 1991), ‘Choli ke pichhe kya hai’ (Khalnayak, 1993) and ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ (Mohra, 1994) to name just a few. Though the last three songs copped some criticism for lapse in taste, it has to be borne in mind that, one, here is someone with over 3300 songs in 600+ films in a career spanning close to five decades, and, two, someone who is purely a songwriter (one who does not have the luxury of directing the film or writing it, like some of his eminent contemporaries have) asked to deliver a song as per the situation conceived by the director and/or writer.
In all the hosannas heaped on him for his ability to churn out chartbusters and all the barbs directed at him for his ‘simple’ verse, there’s a whole segment of Anand Bakshi songs that advocate a certain philosophical take on life that are not recognized as such. Many a Hindi film lyricist’s songs have been quoted in the context of the ‘metaphysical’ statement they make – and it is true that the Hindi film song at its best does speak of the highest philosophical thoughts of the poet and the character in the film.
However, though these Anand Bakshi songs figure among the finest in Hindi cinema, not much has been said about how beautifully each one conveys an attitude, an approach to life. Maybe it’s because these words speak of life’s truth in the simplest of language, one that is accessible to everyone. Above all, though all of these are set to certain specific situations in a film, take them out of their cinematic contexts and they still ring true.
In the lines ‘main jo hoon bas wahi hoon’ you have the last word in being comfortable in your own skin.
This is the film that launched Anand Bakshi into the big league, with each song a chartbuster. I remember watching it at a theatre in the mid-1980s when a number of old hits were rereleased in the absence of new films. One moment still stands out in memory: the whole hall bursting out in applause as Shashi Kapoor lip-synced to the lines, in Mohammad Rafi’s tremulous timbre: ‘Main kaise bhool jaun / main hoon Hindustani’. In the line ‘main jo hoon bas wahi hoon’ you have the last word in being comfortable in your own skin. I am reminded of the universality of the line in the context of Popeye’s well-known statement: ‘I am what I am.’ The poet’s son, Rakesh Anand Bakshi, says: ‘The song was not written for the film, but the situation fit the film, so he added verses to suit the story. He wrote it from the humiliating experiences he had in Bombay during his first visit in 1950. He had felt like an alien and unwanted soul. He went back to the army and returned in 1956 to make it as a songwriter.’
In a wonderful imagery, Anand Bakshi likens life to the flowing river, the body the boat, the mind the rudder that runs it. Like many boatman’s songs, this one too calls for hope and fighting despair. Like the river, life will flow on.
The boatman has always been a philosopher in our music, particularly in the east, in Bengal, with the boat, the river and its currents standing for life, the body and soul, and our own motivations. Rakesh remembers, ‘He would say, the mind is the oarsman, the body is the boat; the mind leads the body like the oars lead the boat … the oarsman, the boat and the changing currents together make life what it is.’ In a wonderful imagery, Anand Bakshi likens life to the flowing river, the body the boat, the mind the rudder that runs it. Like many boatman’s songs, this one too calls for hope and fighting despair. Like the river, life will flow on. And in a masterstroke, he exhorts us to leave even today behind – this day is gone too … what lies ahead is tomorrow: aaj toh peeche rah gaya hai, samne hai kal.
Even taken out of the drug-induced haze of the film’s protagonists, the lines speak of an attitude to life that everyone who has ever been young will vouch for.
Just four lines, and yet what impactful ones they are. ‘Duniya ne humko diya kya / duniya se hamne liya kya / ham sabki parwah karein kyon / sabne hamara kiya kya.’ Even taken out of the drug-induced haze of the film’s protagonists, the lines speak of an attitude to life that everyone who has ever been young will vouch for. In what stands testimony to the astounding versatility of the poet, the very next year, Anand Bakshi would have another song espousing a similar thought but in words infused with lyricism of a different kind: ‘Kuch toh log kahenge / logon ka kaam hai kehna / kyun bekaar ki baton mein…’.
Rakesh adds, ‘We have seen our dad cry sometimes when he would sing this at home during family get-togethers. There was perhaps a splinter in his heart that he lived with, trying to get rid of it all his life.’
The existential agonies of Anand Babu found the most appropriate expression in the immortal words of Anand Bakshi, in two songs that I consider not only the finest in his extraordinary repertoire but among the best in Hindi films ever. As his son says, it was ‘Anand Bakshi’s favourite song. Interestingly enough, it was not written for the film. Shakti-da heard it, wanted it for the film and created the situation to fit it in.’ Much has been written about it but even 50 years later ‘Humse mat poochho kaise mandir toota sapnon ka’ evokes the despair of unrealized dreams like few other lines in Hindi films. The helplessness articulated in being undone by the entity one hoped would lead to one’s salvation, is conveyed in similes and metaphors, each better than the other: the garden laid to waste in spring, a wound inflicted by a loved one, a thirst accentuated by the very drink that’s supposed to quench it. And of course ‘Saawan jo agan lagaye…’ has become proverbial. Rakesh adds, ‘We have seen our dad cry sometimes when he would sing this at home during family get-togethers. There was perhaps a splinter in his heart that he lived with, trying to get rid of it all his life.’
How many of us have actually used the words in our daily lives, exasperated with the thought of what people might say.
Another of Bakshi saab’s songs whose mukhda has become idiomatic. How many of us have actually used the words in our daily lives, exasperated with the thought of what people might say. In the words of Rakesh, ‘This was inspired from the Ram Leela plays he acted in as a teenager. He wrote his own verses for the play and would compose them to his own tunes and sing them on stage.’ He also recollects a legendary writer and lyricist drawing inspiration from this song at a difficult crossroad in his life when he was in a dilemma about ending his marriage and beginning a new relationship. It was this song that helped him take the decision without worrying about the consequences. With what simplicity he puts across ideas that are eternal: ‘har ek subah ki shaam hui’ and ‘Sita bhi yahan badnam hui’. Rakesh adds, ‘Dad would say. “Think about what Sita must have been through, endured, hearing the taanas, when you appreciate the song.”’
A musical lesson in dealing with the vicissitudes of life, it gently cajoles you into accepting what the world has to offer us with grace.
Even before concepts like yin and yang became fashionable for faith healers, this song speaks of the philosophy. The song has worked like a medicine for me in the toughest of times. A musical lesson in dealing with the vicissitudes of life, it gently cajoles you into accepting what the world has to offer us with grace. ‘Yeh ye na socho is mein apni haar hai ki jeet hai / Usey apna lo jo bhi jeevan ki reet hai’ is a philosophy to die for … or maybe to live with. His son offers Bakshi saab’s insights: ‘He would say, life main aisa koi kaam nahi jis men har saal Diwali bonus mile. Some years you will not receive a bonus, some years you will. That’s life, just like there is sweet there is bitter, dawn and dusk, opposites are a part of life … happiness and sorrow are two sides of a coin.’ And what better lines than ‘Dhan se na duniya se, ghar se na dwar se’ to convey what in the end really matters in life.
In this song, Anand Bakshi uses the journey of a train to convey a whole spectrum of philosophies. Unfettered by the necessity of having the song lip-synced, the poet gives free rein to his imagination in the many stanzas that play at relevant passages in the narrative.
The boatman and the itinerant singer have often voiced a poet’s take on life in our films. In this song, Anand Bakshi uses the journey of a train to convey a whole spectrum of philosophies. Unfettered by the necessity of having the song lip-synced, the poet gives free rein to his imagination in the many stanzas that play at relevant passages in the narrative. There’s an appeal against taking one’s life that seems ever so relevant:
Gadi ka naam
na kar badnam,
patri pe rakh ke sar ko
himmat na haar
aa laut jaae ghar ko
ye raat jaa rahi hai
wo subah aa rahi hai
Rakesh adds that his father would often say, ‘I never really valued film industry awards after I received the biggest award ever that will travel with my soul after this journey on Earth. A man had written to me that the verse “Gadi ka naam na kar badnam” had prevented him from taking his own life under the wheels of a train that ran nearby his village in UP.’
There’s also an exhortation that echoes Swami Vivekananda’s ‘Arise awake and stop not till the goal is reached’, overcoming all obstacles with hope and determination:
Sun ye paigam
ye hai sangram
jeevan nahi hai sapna
dariyaa ko faand
parvat ko chir
kaam hai ye uskaa apna
ninde udaa rahi hai
jaago jaga rahi hai
‘Aadmi musafir hai aata hai jata hai’, Apnapan (1977)
Despite the general upbeat tenor of the song, there’s an underlying pathos to it, like a moment that’s just out of reach, that’s gone, leaving behind something ephemeral.
The itinerant fakir with the humble peti or ektara has been the fount of many a philosophical musing. In this song that won him the Filmfare Award, Anand Bakshi speaks of Man as the eternal traveller, creating memories on the way … dil bhool jaata hai jab kisi ko, wo bhool kar bhi yaad aata hai, how the heart tends to remember even when we think we have forgotten. Despite the general upbeat tenor of the song, there’s an underlying pathos to it, like a moment that’s just out of reach, that’s gone, leaving behind something ephemeral. The words are also laced with a rare understanding of the essential loneliness of man: melay mein rah jaaye jo akela, phir wo akela hi rah jata hai.
‘Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo makaam’, Aap Ki Kasam (1974)
There are probably few songs in Hindi films that convey with such eloquence and poignancy the finality of times that are gone.
There are probably few songs in Hindi films that convey with such eloquence and poignancy the finality of times that are gone. Take it out of the context of the film and its characters and the lines hold true even then, giving the song a timeless, universal feel, reminding me of Charles Lamb’s poem ‘The Old Familiar Faces’ (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44519/the-old-familiar-faces): ‘So might we talk of the old familiar faces /How some they have died, and some they have left me / And some are taken from me; all are departed; All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.’ Friends who have left us never to return howsoever much we pine for one last glimpse, seasons we have left behind … and in six most telling lines the relentless journey of a whole lifetime: subah aati hai / shaam jati hai / waqt chalta hi rahta hai rukta nahin / ik pal mein yeh aage nikal jaata hai / aadmi theek se dekh pata nahin / aur parde pe manzar badal jaata hain / ek baar chale jaate hai jo din-raat subah-shaam… Rakesh says, ‘He wrote this from the experience of a friend whose marriage suffered due to the husband being suspicious. The friend committed suicide eventually. When the director narrated the story, Dad remembered his friend’s experience. Javed saab [Javed Akhtar] asked Dad for the pen he wrote this song with. He gifted him another pen the next day. Javed saab once said that if the world were to leave him on an island, he would like to have this song to spend the rest of his days with.’
‘Seesha ho ya dil ho aakhir toot jata hai’, Aasha (1980)
In an exquisite turn to the English phrase ‘many a slip between the cup and the lip’, he says: Lab tak aate aate haathon se, saagar chhoot jaata hai.
Bakshi saab’s songs that have acquired idiomatic status are legion, and this is another one in the long list. And in the words of his son, this too emerged from mundane everyday experiences. ‘When a glass vessel or expensive cutlery at home broke and my mom would stress or worry, he would say calmly, sheesha ho ya…’. In an exquisite turn to the English phrase ‘many a slip between the cup and the lip’, he says: Lab tak aate aate haathon se, saagar chhoot jaata hai. The song, structured quite intricately and differently from the standard mukhda-antra Hindi film song format in vogue at the time, abounds in such aphorisms. In six lines of great depth and utter simplicity, he lays out the way our desires and longings play out: Kaafi bas armaan nahin / Kuch milna aasaan nahin / Duniya ki majboori hai / Phir taqdeer zaroori hai / Yeh jo dushman hai aise / Donon raazi ho kaise / Ek ko manao to duja rooth jaata hai.
No wonder in the forthcoming biography of Anand Bakshi, Nagme Kisse Baatein Yaadein, penned by Rakesh, Javed Akhtar says, ‘One day, people will realize Anand Bakshi’s contribution to Hindi cinema and to our literature. Upon this realization, universities will offer PhDs on his lyrics.’
Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books).