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Anand Bakshi, the storyteller: In new book, son Rakesh reflects on the poet's 'life and lyrics'

·11-min read

For anyone familiar with Hindi film music, it is highly unlikely they would not have heard a song penned by Anand Bakshi. The late lyricist's career lasted over five decades, and his author son Rakesh Anand Bakshi attempts to encapsulate those decades, along with his father's growing-up years, through first-hand accounts in a new book, Nagme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein: The Life and Lyrics of Anand Bakshi.

The 'life and lyrics' of Anand Bakshi were often correlated. It seemed as if the songs themselves narrated his life story, along with that of thousands of his listeners. In an exclusive interview, Rakesh Anand Bakshi throws light on the illustrious career and storied life of his father, as mentioned in the book and beyond.

You mention in the book that Anand Bakshi never referred to himself as a poet, but only as a songwriter. He even attests that in the song from Bobby (1973), 'Main Shayar Toh Nahi.' In retrospect, what do you think is his most poetic work till date?

There was a perception that Anand Bakshi was just a rhymester. There's a word for it in Hindi, tukbandi. But if you hear some of his songs from the late 1950s and even the early 1960s, much before the breakthrough with Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) and Milan (1967), it is such great poetry! I myself discovered it very recently. From the '60s, he started getting criticised for the tukbandi. All his so-called critics were worshipping Sahir (Ludhianvi). Little did they know that Sahir had been promoting Anand Bakshi as a lyricist from the '60s. Is that not irony?

There was a lot of ache in my father for he wasn't recognised as a poet, except by the 250 filmmakers he worked with. It also reflected in two of his songs €" 'Main Shayar Badnam' from Namak Haraam and 'Kuchh Toh Log Kahenge' from Amar Prem (1972). When he arrived in Bombay, shayars like Majrooh Sultanpuri and Kaifi Azmi were ruling. They were the elite who were invited to all the mushairas. But my dad only wanted to be an artist. He even wrote that as the aim of his life on the barrack walls of the army cantonment in 1950, that he wanted to be an artist irrespective of the kind. He always wrote nazms, composed music, and sang it to his fellow army men. It's only when he met his guru Bismil Saeedi that he got into Urdu poetry.

In the Tributes chapter of your book, Gulzar writes of Anand Bakshi's appearance, "Hamare yahan Urdu shayar ki image aisi thi ki daadi badi aur pyjama sambhalte hue bechara shayar keechad se guzar raha hai." But contrary to that perception, Anand Bakshi was an impeccably dressed army man. How do you think his background of the defence forces also reflected in his work?

In the army, whatever your commanding officer tells you to do, you do it. That's how the equation is. Whatever he says, it's your gospel truth, it's your Bible; you give up your life for it. Otherwise you face court martial. Why would anyone give up his life for his country? You don't know your country. But you know a man who represents the country for you. My dad used to say he used to treat his producers and directors as his commanding officer.

I remember, after I lost my father, I was talking to filmmaker Subhash Ghai, who I'd assisted in Taal (1999) and Yaadein (2001). He said the defining quality of Anand Bakshi was discipline. He said, "My films have gotten delayed because of several reasons, but they were never delayed because of Anand Bakshi, across 16 films and 25 years of our association. He used to take two days for a song and deliver the chorus within two hours!" Even Yash Chopra used to say that whenever he called my dad to change a line or two because it wasn't sitting well, he used to do it on the spot on the phone. He always wanted to please his collaborators. He never said, "Itne paise mein itna hi milega."

In the same chapter, AR Rahman said of Anand Bakshi that he wrote lyrics that were "simple, but never simplistic". He reasoned that is why his lyrics stand out since there is so much clutter and noise out there. Anand Bakshi used to argue that this was because he was not that well educated enough to write proper shayari. Do you think that was only a modest admission or was there some truth to it?

It's true. When Tanuja Chandra approached him for Dushman (1998), he said it's a very difficult story to write songs for so he asked her to give him a day. She told me later that she thought "how could a veteran like Anand Bakshi find any story difficult!" She thought he was trying to stall her diplomatically. But a day later, he called her and narrated the song 'Chithi Na Koi Sandesh' for when Kajol's sister dies. He had the confidence but he did not want to commit to it unless he came up with that chorus.

In the privacy of our home, my dad told me he felt unsure of himself for years, despite the volume of work he'd achieved. He just felt he turned out to be lucky. He made me realise that a lack of confidence is natural, and that it keeps one going.

And Rahman reminds me, sample the song from Taal: "Nahi saamne ye alag baat hai, mere pas hai tu mere pas hai." How minimalist and profound it is. He's written it for romance but isn't it true for a dead parent, brother or friend? Also for heartbreak and unrequited love.

The simplicity in his lyrics helped songs like 'Baar Baar Din Ye Aaye' (Farz, 1967) enter national consciousness. It is still the go-to birthday song across India today. How do you think he achieved that?

Just look for #BaarBaarDinYeAaye on Instagram, and you'll find 20-year-olds and 18-year-olds cutting a cake and singing the song. A lot of people don't know Anand Bakshi has written the song so they don't hashtag him. He wrote more than 2,000 hits. If all of them hashtag him in all his songs, there will be a million songs under #AnandBakshi on Instagram. However, they only talk about the singer or the actor in the media. Even private radio stations don't mention the lyricist because it probably reduces their ad time by a few seconds.

Coming back to the language of his lyrics, his limitation of being less educated became his USP. Bhari bharkam, heavy, poetry can be appreciated, but you can't sing it. To sing to your sister, you need a song like 'Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka' (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971). If you sang a nazm to your sister, she'd be like "WTF!" To sing to your mother, you won't sing a nazm. You would sing 'Tu Kitni Achhi Hai' (Raja Aur Runk, 1968). It is like a song being put into words, rather than words being put into a song.

And this wasn't a conscious effort. He didn't know better. His vocabulary was limited. He was from the army, where there are people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and all other regions of India in the unit. You can't converse in heavy Urdu or even Hindi there. He just did what came to him naturally.

You also mention in the book that Anand Bakshi used to say while writing songs, "Jab kahani sunta hu, tabhi dimag chalta hai." His lyrics used to often be a guide to how filmmakers shot their song sequences. How did he make those songs so personal while sticking to the brief provided?

Subhash Ghai used to say he comprehended the subtext of Anand Bakshi's lyrics only while shooting the song when he used to hear the song repeatedly. Then he used to figure out where to place the camera etc. On the other hand, my father used to say Subhash Ghai would uplift his lyrics with the way he picturised the songs. For example, in the Taal title track line, "Dil ye bechain hai, raste pe nain hain," he would frame the shot in such a way that you could see both 'raste' and 'nain' on screen.

As far as merging the story of the film with his personal experiences is concerned, what are life experiences? The books you read, the movies you watch, the heartbreaks you deal with, the parents you lose. When you come across a story, something will trigger as you've lived it. If the story is powerful, it inspires you even if you've not experienced it. As he used to say,

"Main toh sheesha hu. If I don't find a good story, how will I write?"

His lyrics still appeal to all ages, and his career lasted from the late 1950s to the early 2000s. Did you see your father's approach to his craft change as per the generation he was writing for?

He didn't change his approach. When he started out, SD Burman told him, "Bakshi, kahani suno, kahani mei gaana hai." Every decade, stories changed. What was his point of inspiration? The story. So when the story changed, the context changed, and so did his lyrics. Just like Arjuna in the Mahabharata, he looked at only his target in the eye, that is the story. The focal lens changes from wide angle to deep focus. One of the secrets of his success I realise was that he was a good listener.

So many of his songs are full of motifs from nature, like 'Bade Ache Lagte Hain' from Balika Badhu (1975). Can you describe his relationship with nature?

He wrote hundreds of songs from the start of his career till the very end. The influence came from 17 years of life in Punjab. There were no mobile phones, television, radio, and other distractions other than nature. He used to sleep on the chhat during the summer, play in the galis, and bathe in the kuan. He was a child of the 1930s.

And what was his fascination for the moon? He has written such wonderful songs on it, from 'Chaand Si Mehbooba Ho Meri' (Himalay Ki God Mein, 1965) to 'Gali Mein Aaj Chaand Nikla' (Zakhm, 1998).

In those days, when there was much less electricity, moonlight was a very important source of inspiration and admiration. Now, we don't even notice the moon because of street lights. It has dwarfed in our vision and our minds as well.

Moonlight was also comforting then because people wouldn't step out of their house on a moonless night as they wouldn't be able to see where they were going. And there was mystery attached to the moon because man had not conquered it then. Once he did, there was no mystery left either. Those were the days when people looked up at the stars more often.

He also had such a deep understanding of human relations and offered philosophical, sociological insights through songs like 'Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai' (Dost, 1974) and 'Yeh Kya Hua' (Amar Prem, 1972). Where do you think he drew those from?

Again, from life experiences. He enriched himself through people. When you live for 10 years with your army mates, you develop deep bonds with those limited people. There's no one else to depend on. When you have hundreds of friends, then those friendships are frivolous. Now, it's easy to add or delete a friend thanks to social media.

In the book, he also lamented the decline of the 'sad song' from Hindi cinema. He used to celebrate sadness through songs like 'Ye Jeevan Hai' (Piya Ka Ghar, 1972) and 'Chingari Koi Bhadke' (Amar Prem, 1972). Why has the sad song disappeared?

He used to love singing sad songs at our parties. Obviously, even today people get sad. But in those days, they used to let sadness run its course. It was like the flu where it would take at least five days to stop a running nose, with or without medication. Now, we want instant gratification. In so many songs, Anand Bakshi stated that happiness and sadness are your friends, but the trick is, you can't befriend both at the same time.

He confessed in the book that he could not articulate romance in real life, which is why he could do it so well in songs like 'Kya Yahi Pyar Hai' (Rocky, 1981), 'Jab Hum Jawan Honge' (Betaab), 'Tere Mere Hothon Pe' (Chandni, 1989), 'Tu Mere Saamne' (Darr, 1993), 'Tujhe Dekha' (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, 1995), and 'Dholna' (Dil Toh Pagal Hai, 1997). What was his association with romance like?

Someone had said to him, "Bakshi saab, aapki toh kya romantic life hogi." He said, "Meri life itni romantic hoti toh mai likh nahi pata aise gaane." He believed we aspire for what we don't have. And romance runs out of every marriage after one point in time. Then duty, dharma, responsibilities take over. But your love for that person exists irrespective of romance; you don't seek romance to make the relationship work. Since you don't have much of it in life, when you write about romance, it flows. That's what he believed.

Nagme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein: The Life and Lyrics of Anand Bakshi is published by Penguin Random House India.

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