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Anand Bakshi: The songwriter who transcended generations

The prolific lyricist who was born 86 years ago on 21 July was also a talented singer.

Sonal Pandya

The many artistes and filmmakers who were lucky enough to have worked with lyricist Anand Bakshi have reiterated about the simplistic power of his songs. His straightforward lyrics fit any situation, be an ode to friend (‘Diye Jalte Hain’), a dance number (‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast’) or a love song (‘Mitwa - Tere Mere Honton Pe’) and quickly appealed to listeners across the board.

Born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on 21 July 1930, Anand Bakshi migrated with his family to India after the Partition. He served in both the Indian Navy and the Army before coming to Mumbai in 1950. After much struggle in the initial days, he enlisted for a second stint with the Army and came back in 1956 to try his luck once again.

As he relayed to radio host Ameen Sayani in an interview, he got his first break to write lyrics in Hindi films thanks to Bhagwan Dada for the film Bhala Admi (1958). But it wasn’t until Mehndi Lagi Mere Haath (1962), with music composed by Kalyanji-Anandji, that he began to get noticed. From there on, Anand Bakshi slowly and steadily made his way to the top.

His son, Rakesh Anand Bakshi, an author and filmmaker himself, shared with us a memorable anecdote of how he finally knew he had arrived. “He was travelling by train in the 1970s, it was a Frontier Mail and the train stopped at an obscure station in the interiors of the country. He was on his way to Delhi. It was pitch dark and the station was lit by kerosene lamps. He got off the train [along with] a few people in the dead of the night, at two or three in the morning. He was standing near the platform, near the train door and there was a fakir over there and his radio was playing a song from Milan (1967). He said that is the day I realized that Anand Bakshi toh hit ho gaya.”

And he continued with the hits all the way from the 1960s to the new millennium. The secret to his success? Rakesh Anand Bakshi attributes that to his daily reading habit even though he was only a seventh standard pass. Bakshi states, “He was able to change with the times because he was a voracious reader of contemporary novels like Danielle Steele, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer and Reader’s Digest.” The progressive magazine with informative articles on all kinds of subject influenced him greatly.

Anand Bakshi worked all the top composers in every decade of his career as well as all the top filmmakers. He was willing and eager to work with the younger generation as long as the story appealed to him. Director Subhash Ghai always admitted that Anand Bakshi’s words contributed to the progression of the story. The film’s story was of utmost importance to him.

He was also popular amongst singers like Kavita Krishnamurthy who knew that Anand Bakshi’s lyrics were easy to learn. Rakesh says, “Immediately, in one or two readings they were ready to sing because they were able to memorise it easily.” He also accounts it to his aborted singing career, “Of course, he loved to sing and obviously, he didn’t become a singer because the songs he sung, the movies didn’t do well. The industry is very very superstitious so they stopped giving him work as a singer.” When his father sat down to write, he whistled the song and filtered out the words he was writing to music.

Interestingly, Anand Bakshi also kept a diary of sorts when he randomly noted down some of his songs. Rakesh believes he must have kept them as a record, “something to leave behind,” not merely as list of his favourite songs. Those songs and more remain embedded in Hindi film music fans the world over. People from all walks of life have complimented Rakesh on his father’s work. He concludes our talk stating, “I would like to say, in all genuine humility and sincere pride in context of the versatility and range of Bakshiji's lyrics, they were so simple and yet deep, intellectually and emotionally appealing across generations and status, that I know for a fact that three of the Hinduja brothers SP, AP and GP, and the flute seller in his 30s on the street today and a corporate lawyer in his 20s equally love Bakshiji's songs even today. Such remains the simplicity, depth, expanse and reach of his writing."