Forget the lyricist; Anand Bakshi was the best journalist we never had. He was empathetic, had a way with the masses and classes alike and boasted masterful word economy. To top it all, he followed the cardinal rule of journalism: keep it simple, silly!
The all-accessible, unstoppable poet recorded a nearly 3000 song discography, spanning almost five decades – from the late 1950s to the 1990s and early 2000s – and churned out one blockbuster after another.
It has been twenty years since Anand Bakshi passed away, leaving behind a treasure trove of popular, hummable songs across genres, tinted generously with philosophy. His poetry came and went along with him, and all that's left now are naghme, kisse, baatein and yaadein, meethi meethi yaadein. Spanning inputs from his biography (Naghme Kisse Baatein Yaadein by Rakesh Anand Bakshi) containing his diary memoirs, here's a look back at some of the ever-effective works of Bakshi, each belonging to a unique category of its own.
Anand Bakshi's mother, Sumitra, passed away when he was about six or seven. His mother's absence served as the first pathos of his poetry. "Tu kitni achchi hai, tu kitni bholi hai, pyari-pyari hai, oh maa," he'd write in memoriam in a song from Raja Aur Runk (1968), musing the mother to be a flowerbed to the prickly world. The same pen would later heartily ink the fragile, tender mother-son subtext in the song "Maa ne kaha" from Zakhm (1998).
Bakshi hailed from a disciplinarian family (his Bauji served in the Police) and he served the army for a major part of his youth. While he always harboured Bombay dreams, he also used to pen many patriotic verses in the bunker, much to the applause of senior cadets. No wonder then that two of India's Independence Day staples, "Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge ae watan tere liye" and "I love my India," are Anand Bakshi songs.
According to his biography, the lyricist had once received a golden advice from senior composer S. D. Burman: "Story mein hi gaana hai (The song is in the story itself)." Bakshi would closely listen to the film's story and marinate his poetry in its context. Most of his songs would truncate the film's script in a stanza or two. An interesting example of such storytelling in songs got featured in Bakshi's big breakthrough, Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965). "Ek tha gul aur ek thi bulbul, dono chaman mein rehte the." The poetry operated on two levels. First, like a medieval English romantic poem, the song narrated the love story of a flower and a bird. Second, it metaphorically charted the love story of Raja and Rita (Shashi Kapoor and Nanda) in the film.
One thing that remained constant for Bakshi was his folksy roots. As per his biography, while the partition made him traumatically leave Pindi, its environs, soil, and memories never left him. These childhood takeaways got reflected in his geets – replete with motifs of Hindu epics, local theater, folk songs and the lore. These geets, meticulously metered, found a scintillating connection with the keherwa (8-beat cycle), played on a matka. One example can be, "Mere mitwa mere meet re, aaja tujhko pukare mere geet re," [Geet (1970)] with its Radha-Kishan reference. Or the popular purabia helmsman song: "Sawan ka mahina, pawan kare 'sor'" [Milan (1967)].
But peak, desi Bakshi was unapologetically Punjabi. He would occasionally slip in some Punjabi verses here and there and continued this practice from "Bindiya chamkegi" [Do Raaste (1969)] to "Khali dil nahin jaan bhi" [Kachche Dhaage (1999)], and "Main nikla gaddi leke" and "Udja kale kawa" [Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001)].
Anand Bakshi was no Sahir, Gulzar or Majrooh. They were his idols. But in the words of lyricist and radio presenter Vijay Akela, "Bakshi ki baat aur hai, Bakshi ki baat aur thi." Not everyone, though, bought into his poetic expression. Using simple, conversational language in his songs instead of flowery verses, earned him the critique of committing tukbandi (being a rhythmster). His biography revealed that Bakshi subconsciously responded to these critiques through songs like, "Main shayar to nahi" [Bobby (1973)] and "Main shayar badnaam, main chala, mehfil se naakaam…" (Namak Haraam (1973)). On other days, he would play it cool, motivating himself and countless others by writing, "Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna; Chhodo bekaar ki baaton mein kahin beet na jaaye raina."
Bakshi was the lyricist of songs like "Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo makaam, vo fir nahi aate." Naghme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein (by Rakesh Anand Bakshi) describes the song's inception in detail. The song came up as Bakshi heard Aap Ki Kasam (1974)'s story about romance, suspected adultery and an irreparably broken bond between protagonists Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz. Repentance, loneliness, and an air of caution against this loneliness and repentance form the crux of this song: "Doston shaq dosti ka dushman hai, apne dil mein ise ghar banane na do."
With a career spanning the 1960s to the early 2000s, it would not be wrong to assume that Bakshi scripted the Bollywood romance imaginations of three generations. His memoirs tell that he loved writing for pairs and wrote love songs for Bollywood jodis as old as Shashi Kapoor-Nanda and Rajesh Khanna-Mumtaz to as new as Sanjay Dutt-Tina Munim, Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol, and Hrithik Roshan-Kareena Kapoor. In short, Bakshi wrote everything from "Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu" to "Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam" to "Humko humise chura lo".
As aforementioned, Anand Bakshi's lyrics had a conversational ring to them. Back and forths, questions and answers formed an integral part of his songs like, "Achha to hum chalte hain" that birthed out of a music-room sitting spontaneity along with Laxmikanat Pyarelal, or Aap Ki Kasam's (1974) "Suno, kaho. Kaha, suna. Kuch hua kya?"
These were all happy, peppy numbers. However, at times, Bakshi would slide into a darker, existential shell, posing poetic yet unanswered questions in his songs. "Chingari koi bhadke, to saawan use bujhaye; sawan jo agan lagaye, use kaun bujhaye?" he pondered in Amar Prem (1972)'s song. What happens when people themselves sink the boat they have the power to save? What happens when your beloved, who can mend your heart, breaks it? One has no straight answers. An inconclusive drudgery meanders on. "Na jaane kya ho jaata, jaane hum kya kar jaate, peete hain to zinda hain, na peete to mar jaate."
Sholay is a classic for more than one reason, but do you know one song in the film that Anand Bakshi has sung? He wrote and sang a qawwali with Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar and Bhupinder: "Chaand sa koi chehra na ho to, chandni ka maza nahi aata." Though it featured on the vinyl record of the soundtrack, it did not make a comeback on-screen, on CD or streaming. Bakshi felt quite disheartened at this. "Perhaps, if they had kept it, I might have had a career as a singer!" (as quoted in Sholay: The Making of a Classic by Anupama Chopra).
They say the easiest way to learn a language is to watch and hear its cinema and music. Combining these two, Tamilian Vasu (Kamal Hassan) plans to learn Hindi in Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981) to impress his ladylove Sapna (Rati Agnihotri). His Hindi eventually comes to test in a stalled elevator. And then Vasu, with SPB's boisterous vocals, churns out the names of some hundred Hindi films into a merry jig: "Mere Jeevan Saathi, Pyaar Kiye Jaa. Jawaani Diwani, Khoobsurat, Ziddi, Padosan, Satyam Shivam Sundaram."
Bakshi's experiment proved to be a hit and has spawned similar songs over the decades, from Patthar Ke Phool (1991)'s "Kabhi Tu Chhalia Lagta Hai" to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008)'s "Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Phir Milenge, Chalte Chalte."
As narrated in his biography, in 1972, R. D. Burman and Anand Bakshi collaborated on Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna. One day, Burman noticed Bakshi's unique way of smoking a cigarette and remarked, "Looks more like you are smoking pot (aisa lag raha hai aap "dum" maar rahe hain)". Lo and behold, a song came ready and ushered in the hippie, psychedelic '70s in Bollywood.