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4 June 2020

The Masters: Yogesh

19.05.1943 - 29.05. 2020
If 2020 didn’t already suck, well, it has just added to its sins. Blog reader and watchalong comrade Shalini emailed me a couple of days ago to let me know that lyricist Yogesh is no more. He was 77. I know his death may not resonate with people as much as say, Rishi Kapoor’s demise or Irrfan’s passing did – lyricists, like writers and musicians work behind the curtains. But for someone like me, for whom a song is more its melody and its lyrics than the music behind it, the loss cuts deep. I meant to post a quick tribute, but I guess I was all ‘tributed’ out. It seems like that’s all I’m doing these days. But better late than never...


Yogesh Gaur, or ‘Yogesh’ as he was more famously known, came to Bombay to try his luck when he was seventeen. A chance meeting with writer-lyricist Gulshan Bawra gave him his first break – six songs in a now-forgotten movie called Sakhi Robin. But one song, Tum jo aao became a great hit, and gave Yogesh a chance to write his simple, eloquent lyrics, set to tunes the music directors gave him. 

Working with Salil Choudhury was another stroke of luck. In an old interview, Yogesh talked about going to the Choudhurys’ residence to listen to the records of his own songs. While there, he met Salilda, but the youngster was too tongue-tied to speak to him. It took frequent visits before he summoned up his courage to speak to the composer.

According to Yogesh, Salilda, who was looking for another lyricist after the demise of Shailendra, offered him a tune and asked him to write the lyrics for it. That was the beginning of a very fruitful musical association between the two.

Yogesh, like Shailendra, was adept at writing lyrics in simple Hindustani. And like Sahir before him, who said: 
Duniya ne tajrubaat o hawaadis ki shakl mein
Jo kuch mujhe diya hai, wo lauta raha hoon main 
Yogesh too spoke about how he wrote about things that he had seen and experienced. “Jo dekhta tha, jo jeeta tha, wohi likha hai.” (“What I saw, my lived experience was what I wrote about.”) 

Unlike contemporaries like Gulzar and writer-lyricists like Javed Akhtar who came after him, Yogesh was relatively low-key. The man who wrote unforgettable melodies was himself forgotten, relegated to dusty memories for the past couple of decades. This is the dark side of an industry which awards fame and glory one day only to snatch it away the next. Yogesh, though, was more fortunate than many others who climbed the heights of fame only to plunge into obscurity when fickle fame waltzed away to the next contender. He lived – and died – with dignity. Leaving behind a legacy of verses crafted with great simplicity. 

Rhim jhim gire saawan 
Manzil (1979)
Singers: Kishore Kumar / Lata Mangeshkar 
Music: RD Burman 
I know most tributes mentioned “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli” in connection with Yogesh, and I agree with them that it’s a great song. In fact, it does show up on this list. But, hands down, my favourite Yogesh song has to be ‘Rhim jhim gire sawan’, both versions. Though I must confess to liking the Kishore version better for its lyrics (and the singing!) and the Lata version for the picturization of the song through Bombay, in the Bombay monsoons.
 
After all, think about the delicious irony in (and the simplicity of) the male solo: 
Mehfil mein kaise kehde kisi se 
Dil bandh raha hai kisi ajnabi se 
The singer (Amitabh Bachchan) is totally unaware of the fact that the words of the song resonate with a woman (Moushumi Chatterjee) who had initially suspected him of following her but is now mesmerised by his singing. 

Raaton ke saaye ghane 
Annadata (1972)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar 
Music: Salil Choudhury
This is one of my favourite Lata Mangeshkar numbers for Salilda (of which there are many). A song filled with despondency yet showing the protagonist’s attempt to bolster her own courage to deal with the cards that life gives her. Yogesh’s lyrics captured the competing moods of the song. 
Jab na chaman khile mera bahaaron mein 
Jab doobne main lagoon raaton ke majhdaaron mein 
Mayoos man dole par ye gagan bole 
Phir bhi na dar agar bujhe diye 
Sahar toh hai tere liye… 

Jaaneman jaaneman 
Choti Si Baat (1976) 
Singers: Asha Bhosle, KJ Yesudas 
Music: Salil Choudhury 
My favourite song from this movie has to be Na jaane kyun, for its complete affinity to a young woman’s feelings when the man she didn’t even know she loved has left the city – Achanak ye man, kisi ke jaane ke baad, kar phir uski yaad choti si baat, na jaane kyun… It’s one of Salilda’s best songs, and Lata has sung it beautifully.
This one, on the other hand, may seem like a routine romantic number, but for Asha’s and Yesuda’s incredible vocal calisthenics, as well as the supreme humour of the picturization, where Amol Palekar is shocked to see Vidya Sinha on screen (in place of Hema Malini) but soon settles in his seat with a satisfied smile because he imagines himself on screen with her (in place of Dharmendra). As is usual with Salilda, no song is ‘routine’ when he composes it, and so, the song goes all over the place – just try singing it, and you will know what I mean. Yogesh got into the spirit of the song as well, and we got a wonderful nok-jhonk between the man and woman – in verse. 

So, when the man, trying to woo the woman, sings: 
Tod de dilon ki doori, aisi kya hai majboori, 
Dil dil se milne de… 
She retorts: 
Abhi toh huyi hai yaari, abhi se ye beqaraari 
Din toh zara dhalne de… 
They have only just met and been friends, there’s yet time to love.

And the resigned man quips: 
Yahi sunte, samajhte guzar gaye jaane 
Kitne hii saawan 
Each antara has this repartee, so eloquently poetic. 

Badi sooni hai 
Mili (1975) 
Singer: Kishore Kumar 
Music: SD Burman 
Mili had but three songs. I’m on record as hating Maine kaha phoolon se with a vengeance. But the two Kishore solos are fabulous. I love Aaye tum yaad mujhe, which has undercurrents of the sad remembrances of a past love. But it is this one, with its echoes of loneliness that resonates most with me. Especially this verse: 
Kabhi main na soya, kahin mujhse khoya 
sukh mere aise 
Pata naam likhkar kahin yun hi rakhkar 
bhoole koi jaise 
Ajab dukh bhari hai ye bebasi

When you lose your happiness, like a letter, addressed but forgotten in some dusty drawer… 

Aisa lage kahin door se 
Trishagni (1988) 
Singer: Asha Bhosle 
Music: Salil Choudhury 
Trishagni is a film which I wish were better known. Set in the Central Asian deserts, the story narrates the tale of four survivors of a sandstorm that devastates the town – two monks and two children, who take refuge in a monastery. It had stunning performances by Nana Patekar and Pallavi Joshi, excellent cinematography, and beautiful music by Salil Choudhury. Aisa laage kahin door se is the only song in the film, but what a song! This would easily rank among one of Asha’s best.
Yogesh’s lyrics capture the mood of a young maiden in the throes of her first love – 
Marubhoomi ke is ret se 
Dekho meri hui kya dasha 
Kabhi tan mera jalne laga 
Kabhi man mera sheetal hua 
Aisa lage kahi door se 
Har pal koi mujhko bulaaye 

Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai 
Rajnigandha (1974) 
Singer: Mukesh 
Music: Salil Choudhury 
Rajnigandha may have dealt with a unique theme – of a woman who is attracted to two men simultaneously and is undecided about whom to choose, but unfortunately, I couldn’t invest in any of the characters enough to care. However, the songs – as is usual, when it’s Salilda who’s the composer, were absolutely fabulous.
 
Yogesh stepped up to describe her confusion as best he could – simply, eloquently – in a song about choices, about the grass seeming greener, about an ex-lover and a present one, about loving two people at the same time…. 
Janoon na, janoon na
Uljhan ye janoon na 
Suljhaaon kaise 
Kuch samajh na paaoon 
Kis ko meet banaaoon 
Kis ki preet bhulaaoon 

Mukesh won the National Award for this song. 

Na bole tum na maine kuch kaha 
Baton Baton Mein (1979) 
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Amit Kumar 
Music: Rajesh Roshan 
A daughter who’s acutely aware of her mother’s machinations, an only son who falls in love but is too scared of his mother to live up to love’s responsibilities, two overbearing mothers playing spoilsport (in different ways), and the stage is set for a romantic comedy with its share of  tears and laughter. And the path of true love never being smooth rings true in this sweet film as well.  

Inspired by When Johnny Came Marching Home, or the Irish Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, Roshan came up with a wonderful ditty on those nascent feelings. Yogesh’s lyrics mirrored the sweet confusion of first love. 
Na bole tum na maine kuch kaha, kaha 
Magar na jaane aisa kyun laga, laga 
Ke dhoop mein khila hai chaand
Din mein raat ho gayi 
Ke pyar ki bina kahe 
Sune hii baat ho gayi 

Main kaun sa geet sunaaoon 
Dillagi (1978)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar 
Music: Rajesh Roshan 
One of the lesser known Dharmendra-Hema Malini films, Dillagi was nevertheless a charming love story. Rajesh Roshan stepped in as music director for this song in which the singer (Kajri) unknowingly expresses the feelings of someone else (Hema Malini).

As usual, the lyrics are simple and on-point. 
Yeh kaise achaanak 
Bina koyi aahat 
Chale aaye ho tum 
Meri zindagi mein
Tumhen aaj paa kar 
Main sab kuchh bhulaakar 
Magan ho ke doobi  
Huyi hoon khushi mein  

Gao mere mann 
Apne Paraye (1980) 
Singers: Yesudas, Asha Bhosle 
Music: Bappi Lahiri 
Apne Paraye  was Basu Chatterjee’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Nishkriti. Bappi Lahiri stepped in to give the music. It must have seemed like an unusual choice for the times but the ‘Disco King’ could, when he put his mind to it, compose some melodious numbers.
Yogesh’s lyrics gave us a song of hope amidst the doom and gloom. 
Mile jo gham toh kya hua 
Bahaaron ke deep saja le 
Bujhe koi aasha ka diya 
Toh phir se jala le 
Dukhon se tu haar na raahi 
Kiye jaa jatan… 

Zindagi kaisi hai paheli 
Anand (1971) 
Singer: Manna Dey
Music: Salil Choudhury 
If Yogesh will be remembered for one song, it is this one. A song about life by a man who knows he’s going to die. The single Manna Dey solo in the film, it depicted the philosophy of a man who was making the most of the time he had left. This song was originally meant to be used as a background song during the credits. According to Hrishikesh Mukherjee, it was Rajesh Khanna who persuaded him to use it as a song in the film.
 
Yogesh’s lyrics are as philosophical as Anand's (Rajesh Khanna in the titular role) attitude, which is as light as the balloons he lets soar into the sky. 
Kabhi dekho man nahin jaage 
Peeche peeche sapnon ke bhaage 
Ek din sapnon ka raahi 
Chala jaaye sapnon kea aage kahaan 

Life is certainly a riddle. 
And if this list seems heavily tilted to Salilda’s compositions, it’s because most of my favourite Yogesh songs were scored by him. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments below. 

p.s. Just as I was putting the finishing touches to this post comes the news that Basu Chatterjee passed away this morning. It seems a strange coincidence that many of the songs on this list were  from Basu Chatterjee’s films.

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