The years 1997-98 was a time in my life when a large part of my support system came crashing down. My father passed away, my mentor Gulshan Kumar was killed, the owners of Tips music were jailed, Nadeem-Shravan broke up and Nadeem had left India forever. This era was a very difficult phase in my life. I was engulfed in darkness.

When I came back from my ancestral village in Varanasi to Mumbai after performing the last rites of my father, there was no one to hold me with affection. I often felt that my journey in Bollywood had ended because I was considered the lyricist of Nadeem-Shravan, which was perhaps why all the music directors were annoyed with me and no one was ready to give me work.

One day, my mother reminded me that when a door closes, another opens. ‘In your case, God Almighty has shut many doors. Have faith in Him, for He is going to open as many doors of opportunity very soon,’ she added. To me, it could only have been God who had comforted me in the form of my mother. My mother’s words were proven right in the time to come.

A few days later, the first call I received was from the great filmmaker Yash Chopra. He called me to his bungalow for some work. I took my mother’s blessings by touching her feet and went to meet Yash Chopra at his house.

‘Meet Karan Johar. He is making a film. I want you to write songs for him.’ Yash Chopra introduced me to Karan.

I congratulated him for his first movie as a director and asked him the title of the film.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,’ Karan replied.

Only later did I come to know that Javed Akhtar had been called in to write the lyrics for the film before me, but Javed Sahab had refused the offer, saying, ‘I do not like the title of the film.’ Yash Chopra had then placed two options in front of Karan Johar – Anand Bakshi or Sameer.

‘I want to work with the young lyricist with fresh thoughts, so I would like to meet Sameer ji,’ Karan Johar had said to Yash ji.

Karan Johar gave me two hours of detailed narration of his film. A narration in which all the department heads of his unit – from the cameraman to costume designer to art director – everyone was present there. This was the most unique experience of my life.

I came back home and started thinking about the songs. I thought that if Karan had called Javed Akhtar first, then he would definitely want good poetry. So for the first time in my career, I moved away from my regular style and wrote some very deep poetry, by using difficult Urdu words. After writing the mukhda full of Urdu poetry, I went to present it to Karan with confidence.

Zulfon ke saaye, rukh pe giraaye,

Shaidaai mere dil ko banaaye,

Shabanam ke moti pal pal pirota hai,

Kya karun haye kuch kuch hota hai

Karan went silent for two minutes after listening to these lines. ‘Sameer ji, I asked you to write my songs considering you are a young man, but you are sounding older than Majrooh Sahab and Anand Bakshi Sahab.’ Karan looked disappointed while talking to me.

‘Then?’ I was clueless while replying to him.

‘Sir, don’t take any pressure. Just write very simple poetry.’ Karan was very clear about what he wanted from me.

I came home with a heavy heart and thought that this film was going to be taken away from me. I was absolutely blank and could not understand what to write for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and wrote a few lines while trying to put a reign on my poetic instincts.

Tum paas aaye, yun muskuraye

Tum ne na jane kya, sapne dikhaye

Ab to mera dil, jaage na sota hai

Kya karoon haye, kuch kuch hota hai

I was very confused whether these were good lines – ‘simple poetry’, as Karan had wanted – or if they were too simple. I didn’t know whether Karan was going to like it or not. I will admit – if I were to be asked – I did not like what I had written. I had written something else too, which I had decided to present as a last resort.

However, it never came to that. As soon as I read these lines to Karan, I still remember he had jumped from one sofa to another in happiness. He loved my poetry!

‘Sir, this is what I wanted from you!’ he said to me with a wide smile on his face.

‘I can write better than this if you say,’ I spluttered out.

‘Sir, please don’t confuse me. I’ve got what I wanted.’ He seemed sure.

I could see from Karan’s response how sharp this man was and how clear in his thoughts. I remember thinking to myself that this young man was going to last a long time in Bollywood.

Excerpted with permission from Lyrics by Sameer – Stories Behind the Iconic Songs, Sameer Anjaan and Shuja Ali, Rupa Publications.