On a warm day 20 years ago, I stepped out of a Goregaon flat, thinking of the beach, balloons, and sunset. I had just interviewed lyricist Yogesh, and various scenes came to mind. It’s something that happens regularly with songs from movies you’ve grown up on. The tunes and words not only stay back as earworms, but return as mini-films in your mind’s eye.
With Yogesh, who passed away on May 29, it happened with many tunes. With ‘Kahin Door Jab Din’ in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, I would not only remember Mukesh’s voice, every musical phrase by Salil Chowdhury and every word by Yogesh, but each expression of Rajesh Khanna as he looked at the vast sea, the sunset caressing the horizon.
Likewise, I would recall Amitabh Bachchan gaping into dark emptiness while I thought of ‘Badi Sooni Sooni’ in Mili. Vidya Sinha would admire a bouquet of white flowers in the Rajnigandha title song, sit with Dinesh Thakur in a taxi in ‘Kai Baar Yoon Hi Dekha Hai’ from the same film, or appear at a Mumbai bus-stop in ‘Na Jaane Kyon’ from Chhoti Si Baat. The images are pasted in my mind.
This interview was conducted especially to discuss his work in Anand, where he had written ‘Kahin Door’ and ‘Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli’. As the other songs were penned by Gulzar, Yogesh joked, “The audience was confused. Since he was already famous, they congratulated him for my songs. Later, some congratulated me for his song ‘Maine Tere Liye’.”
Yogesh did a lot of work with Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee, who passed away on June 4. “Salil-Da (Chowdhury) was fond of my work, and after his favourite lyricist Shailendra passed away, he found a replacement in me. His wife Sabita actually recommended me. After the music of Anand succeeded, he gave me the entire work in Annadaata, which had the song ‘Raaton Ke Saaye Ghane’,” he said, as I remembered Jaya Bhaduri next to a tree.
Yogesh pointed out that Chowdhury would be very patient with him, and would allow him to experiment with the use of phrases. “He got the best out of me. For the title song of Rajnigandha, I wanted to play around the word ‘mehke’, and though my opening line sounded a bit convoluted initially, he got the perfect tune,” he recalled.
Like the warm characters in a Mukherjee or Chatterjee film, Yogesh was like your friendly, next-door ‘uncle’. He had a ready smile, preferred to serve the tea himself, and maintained a good balance of seriousness and humour. He would laugh over an incident when the security person at Raj Kapoor’s studio once refused to let him in as he didn’t look like a typical lyricist.
Originally from Lucknow, Yogesh came to Mumbai in search of a career in writing. He avoided taking his surname as his cousin Vrajendra Gaur was a scriptwriter and he didnt want to show off that connection. Though he got a break as a lyricist in Robin Banerjee’s 1962 film Sakhi Robin, real success eluded him for a few years.
Yogesh’s association with Mukherjee naturally gave his career a boost, and after Anand in 1971, they worked together on Mili and Rang Birangi, among other films. His projects with Chatterjee included Us Paar, Rajnigandha, Chhoti Si Baat, Manzil, Priyatma, Baton Baton Mein, Apne Paraye and Shaukeen.
Yet, many felt he was under-rated. In many cases, people knew the songs without knowing the writer, even though Vividh Bharti and Doordarshan mentioned the ‘sangeetkar’ and ‘geetkaar’. Yogesh would say,
“Many lyricists faced this but they had their loyal fans too. I don’t consider myself a great writer or poet but the script should appeal to me and I see what the music director and director want. I have always been selective as quality and passion come first.”
In the 1970s, when Yogesh was at his peak, the most prolific lyricists were Anand Bakshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Gulzar. Many others did some fantastic work, and the list included Neeraj, Indeevar, Naqsh Lyallpuri, Ravindra Jain, Gulshan Bawra, Santosh Anand and Anjaan. Javed Akhtar began work as a lyricist later. “I was happy with what I got, and since my work involved slice-of-life films, I would enjoy the subjects and situations,” he said.
I interviewed Yogesh again two years ago, just before his comeback in Harish Vyas’s film Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain. I was keen to meet him and enjoy his hospitality and humour, but because of schedules, had to settle for a phone conversation. He said, “I was initially reluctant to do any more Hindi films, but in this case I liked the subject. It was a simple story with a nice romantic element and some interesting twists and turns. I also got a chance to write a fresh thumri, and rework ‘Aaj Rang Hai’ by Amir Khusro.”
The lyricist admitted that he had cut down work in the1980s as the subjects of films changed, and violence became prominent in cinema. He did a few TV serials like Chandrakanta, Hasratein, Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai and Gudgudee. “Initially, there was a lot of promise in that field but there too, the situation changed, and I cut down,” he said.
Yogesh expressed displeasure at the state of recent film music. He said,
“I don’t even know the names of many singers, composers and lyricists today. Call me old-fashioned but today’s songs just come and go. On the other hand, people still remember and hum along the old songs.”
In Yogesh’s case, it isn’t only the songs, but the entire package. His death has come as a shock to most fans, who are nostalgically recalling the golden tunes and words. To my mind, a recurring image is of a graceful sea, a solitary boat, rhythmic waves, a stretch of golden sand and a bunch of balloons heading towards a serene sky. Rajesh Khanna, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Salil Chowdhury, Manna Dey and Yogesh. Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye, kabhi to hasaaye, kabhi yeh rulaaye.