Anand Bakshi was once asked if he considered himself the biggest or most popular songwriter from the past three decades, and his reply was,

‘Main hamesha yeh samajhte aaya hoon ki waqt sabse bada fankaar hai. Wahi humein uthata hai, wahi girata. Issi liye, main hamesha waqt ka mureed raha hoon (I have always believed that time is the greatest artist. It’s time that makes us rise and fall. That’s why I have always been a fan of time).’

In this chapter, I share with you some of Anand Bakshi’s beliefs and ideas about songwriting. Some of these statements have been translated from the original Hindi and Urdu, so the reader will have to excuse whatever is lost in translation. What follows is a slice from a collection of thoughts that spans almost all his professional life.

So, let’s begin with these lines that he would write on the first page of every new diary of his: ‘I am a being of divine light and power. I have access to all that the universe has to offer. I can reach out and take or do whatever I want, whenever I want.’ His lyrics have survived the test of time. And how!

There was a time, in the late ’50s, when some poets, who were also successful lyricists, looked down upon Anand Bakshi. Even after he became successful and was at the peak of his career, some lyricists from the previous generations considered his writing inferior to their own. ‘Anand Bakshi tukbandi karta hai. Woh toh shayar hi nahi (He is a rhymester, not a shayar).’ Bakshi’s response to such put-downs always was, ‘I have never claimed to be a poet. Moreover, khayal apna apna, pasand apni apni (Each to this own).’

Chingari Koi Bhadke, Amar Prem (1972).

The Indian film song bridged the gap between devotional, classical, folk and Western music. Therefore, the same song was loved across different demographics, transcending barriers and boundaries between classes, masses and nations. However, the film lyric is still sometimes considered a poor country cousin of poetry.

Exponents of religious songs and shayari once rubbished the film song as profane. A lyrics writer may not be a special kind of man, but a lyricist is a special kind of poet. The film’s story is a necessary component for him or her to work with; it’s the story into which the lyrical expression, with its metaphors, poetry and philosophy, has to be weaved.

Bakshi was often asked about the source or secret of his success and about the inspiration behind his numerous songs. He would say, as a matter of fact, without any qualms about sharing his secret with his competitors, ‘Story sunn ke hi dimaag chalta hai (My mind starts working only after I have listened to the story). And yes, the Reader’s Digest monthly inspired me as a writer and a father.’

Many directors told me that before beginning work on a song, Bakshi would ask them to narrate the entire story to him again and again. And once he had absorbed the film’s plot, even an earthquake could not have distracted him. Though the story was of prime importance to him, the lyricist understood and respected the role of the music composer. He knew that it was the trio of composer, singer and lyricist that brought a song together.

These days, singers are often given more importance than the others. On some platforms, the music composers and lyricists are not even credited. A good song must justify the story, reflect the elements of the script. But that rarely happens now. For Bakshi, it was a challenge to write film lyrics, because the writer has to work within the confines of the script, and willingly accept and respect the limited freedom of thought and expression.

Of course, the lyrics writer can fly, like a poet. But only within the sky of the story. This makes it a difficult discipline compared to poetry. Unlike a poet, the film lyrics writer has to gel with the others without losing his or her own individuality. Pt Narendra Sharma describes the art of the film lyrics with this beautiful statement: ‘The film lyrics writer inspires and entertains the listener, encouraging him to believe he or she could perhaps be its writer, its singer, or its music composer.’

Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995).

Anand Bakshi on lyrics, music and showbiz

‘Security for my family is my ultimate goal. My New Year resolution was always to see my family happy and settled with work that occupies mind, heart and hands.

‘I began writing in childhood as a hobby, subsequently, in adulthood, as a passion and career, and soon after for the financial security of my family, and I continue now because I cannot live without it. Some songs I wrote to run my kitchen, some for my heart. Doing my best for my music composers, film-makers and my family is my param kartavya (prime responsibility). After all, I am a hired hand being paid for a job.

‘One day, the show will end. My end – every kind of end – is only logical. As I overtook the others, one day some others will overtake me, sweep my fans off their feet with their new or better styles, their words. Life is a chakra that keeps turning. If my songs continue to do well, I am happy. If they don’t, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world, is it? Poets may write poems for eternity, but I, a lyricist, wrote in accordance with the stories and situations of a particular film. When the story was not inspiring, I had to work even harder to put some jaan (life) into my lyrics.

‘The rhythms of some of my songs sound like heartbeats. I have written some songs tuned to the metre of my heartbeats. My songs will beat just as our heart beats.

‘My songs have taken a toll on my heart. One day, I may not be able to write, or people will not need me any more. But I will leave the industry before it leaves me. Whenever I leave, I will do so as a winner and not a runner-up. I will die with my boots on; that’s what we were taught in the fauj.

‘I arrived here with lots of disadvantages. I knew no one to begin with, and had no support of my family. However, in hindsight, I now realize that I had one very big advantage: I could sing and suggest Punjabi folk tunes with my lyrics; both came naturally to me. I had been singing and composing my own verses for friends since childhood; I did so for my peers in the army as well. I didn’t know then that it was to work to my advantage. Moreover, it was the singing I had been doing since childhood that made me want to write poetry in my teens.

‘How do I write film songs? I always first hear the complete story, understand the plot and characters deeply, and then hear the individual situation of the song required. I think I am a very good listener. Good songs exist in good stories. It’s a matter of getting them out from the situations itself. I unlock my songs from the situations provided to me by the scriptwriter and director. Then I discuss all I have heard with the music director and director, several times; only after that do we move on, together, to create the tune and lyrics. Story mein hi gaane hote hain (The songs are in the story). I always picturize how the song will play on the screen while writing. I can visualize it even if I don’t know how the director will shoot it. Film-makers like Subhash Ghai lift my lyrics to extraordinary levels by picturizing them very well.’

Excerpted with permission from Nagme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein – The Life & Lyrics of Anand Bakshi, Rakesh Anand Bakshi, Penguin Random House India.