Mala and Vijay watch a small troupe of street performers from the window. The man in the troupe is playing the harmonium and singing, the woman is cavorting, and the boy is playing the dholak.

“Deewane hain deewanon ko na ghar chahiye, na ghar chahiye, mohabbat bhari ek nazar chahiye.”

As the song progresses, Mala and Vijay are acutely aware of their growing attraction to each other. They also realise that the man on the street is voicing their unspoken thoughts. Unwittingly, he is singing about them and for them.

This song is one of the few slivers of melody in the 1973 film Zanjeer, about a police inspector’s angst against societal evil and his thirst for revenge.

The song was recorded at Famous Studios in Tardeo, Mumbai, during the month of Ramzan in 1972. Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar had given a few takes, of which one had been approved by the music composers, Kalyanji-Anandji. But Mangeshkar wasn’t happy with her singing and wanted another take. The composers agreed and requested Rafi to acquiesce.

Rafi was observing roza, and had been singing all along on an empty stomach and a dry throat. He was keen to get back home for some rest, and was in no mood to sing again. Briefly – and uncharacteristically – he flared up at Kalyanji-Anandji.

Just then, one of the two lyricists for Zanjeer walked in. He asked Rafi if he knew whom the song was going to be filmed on. In a huff, Rafi said he didn’t. The lyricist humbly told him, “Rafi saab, aapke khadam par” – on me.

Rafi was astonished, and his anger dissolved immediately. He walked back into the recording room and, along with Mangeshkar, gave another hearty take of the song. This time, he modulated his voice to suit the screen persona of the lyricist. Years later, the lyricist recounted this incident during an interview with a radio channel.

Even the deafening success of Zanjeer and the roar of Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man in the film could not drown out the melody of this timeless classic. Another song our lyricist wrote for the film is held up – like Yeh Dosti from Sholay that was released two years later – as one of the finest cinematic odes to the spirit of friendship. Yaari Hai Imaan won him the Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist.

Nearly 15 years earlier, the young man had written songs for the Meena Kumari-Balraj Sahni starrer Satta Bazaar (1959). The story goes that when this film was being made, its distributor was introduced to the lyricist. Looking at his flashy clothes and mop of unruly hair, the distributor was amazed that someone like him could write songs for films. “Arrey, yeh to bawra lagta hai, bawra,” he is said to have exclaimed – he looks like a madman.

The label stuck. And Gulshan Kumar Mehta came to be known forever as Gulshan Bawra – an apt name for his irreverent and freewheeling personality.

Deewane hain deewanon ko na ghar chahiye, Zanjeer (1973).

Gulshan Bawra was born on April 12, 1937, in Sheikhupura near Lahore. Eager to join films, he found a job as a railway clerk in Mumbai. Doing the rounds of the studios while holding down his job was tough, but the gleam in his eye kept him going. In those struggling early days, he shared digs for a while with other cinema hopefuls, including Gulzar.

Kalyanji Virji Shah, the older half of the composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji, gave Bawra his break in the film Chandrasena in 1959, and followed it up with a chance to write for Satta Bazaar, released later in the year.

Satta Bazaar proved to be a good break. Tumhein Yaad Hoga Kabhi Hum Miley The, sung hauntingly by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, remains one of the finest songs either of them has sung. It instantly struck a chord with the public and announced the arrival of a new talent in the industry.

Tumhein yaad hoga kabhi hum miley the, Satta Baazar (1959).

Over the next two decades, Bawra’s association with Kalyanji-Anandji grew, as did his line-up of soulful songs. It was clear that he enjoyed a wonderful “tuning” (film industry parlance for rapport) with the composers. They turned out song after delectable song, including those in Dulha Dulhan, Haath Ki Safai, Vishwas, Rafoo Chakkar and Upkar.

Le Chal Mere Jeevan Saathi, Vishwas (1969).

Though not prolific (he wrote only about 300 songs, totally; the exact number is difficult to find), Bawra did write a few landmark tracks including what’s considered to be Hindi cinema’s finest paean to India. Mere Desh Ki Dharti from Upkar (1967) voiced the collective sentiment of a nation that had won independence just two decades earlier. Even today, the words, the rustic music, Mahendra Kapoor’s soaring voice and the lilting chorus give listeners goosebumps.

The song helped establish Manoj Kumar’s on-screen “Mr Bharat” persona. One wonders if Bawra’s fervour in writing this song was born out of the loss and trauma he suffered during Partition. (His parents were killed in the riots that accompanied Partition. He hid in a field along with his brother and later, fled to India in a military truck.)

L-R: RD Burman, Rekha and Gulshan Bawra. Courtesy Ultra.

Bawra’s work through the 1960s and for the better part of the 1970s was a fine blend of lyrical depth and the language of common people. Like Indeevar, Shailendra and Anand Bakshi, Bawra could convey any mood and thought in simple language.

In 1975, Bawra started working closely with RD Burman. They became regulars in Ramesh Behl’s productions, which were produced under the banner Rose Movies.

Burman and Bawra created several wonderful songs for Khel Khel Mein, Yeh Vaada Raha, Kasme Vaade, Agar Tum Na Hote, Satte Pe Satta, Gunahgaar and Sanam Teri Kasam and other films. Perhaps their most popular song is the anthemic Pyaar Humey Kis Mod Pe Le Aaya from Satte Pe Satta (1982). This song is so popular that even today, it is sung in college hostels as an ode to brotherhood and a sardonic take on love. Not many know this, but one of the playback voices in this song is the lyricist’s.

Ek Main Aur Ek Tu, Khel Khel Mein (1975).

The 1980s, with its weak storylines, disco beats and dipping quality of lyrics, were a struggle for Bawra. Like many of his contemporaries, he was used to a gentler, more nuanced kind of cinema. He tried to keep up with the changing expectations of the industry, but understandably, his interest in writing for films waned. In the late 1980s, he all but stopped writing songs.

Bawra was mild-mannered and loved a good laugh and a peg of whiskey. With his penchant for narrating anecdotes, he was known to regale his friends for hours. No wonder Burman and Bawra became thick friends. They would spend hours jamming and drinking in Burman’s music room. The songwriter would affectionately indulge Burman’s impish musical meanderings even when deadlines loomed large, Bawra said in the album Untold Stories (A Tribute to Pancham from Gulshan Bawra).

Gulshan Bawra passed away on Aug 9, 2009, leaving behind a fine legacy. He must be chirpily making music with his chums Kalyanji and Burman, wherever they all are. Every time I hear Deewane Hain Deewanon Ko Na Ghar Chahiye, I imagine Bawra winking and sharing an insider’s secret with me, “I’m right here, in this frame.”

Gulshan Bawra. Courtesy Ultra.