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Gulshan Bawra – The mad lyricist


A poet who wove his words into some of the most popular hits of the 1970s, Gulshan Kumar Mehta was anointed with the pen name 'Bawra' (madman) for his antics. On his 80th birth anniversary, we look at the origins of the strange name that marked a meteoric career.

Shriram Iyengar

Gulshan seems to have been a popular name in Hindi cinema. Whether it was producer Gulshan Rai, who launched scriptwriters Salim-Javed, or Gulshan Kumar, the man who reshaped the Indian music industry, the name signified power and prestige. Yet, Gulshan Kumar Mehta does not immediately ring a bell for Hindi film fans. Gulshan Bawra, however, is a different matter.

Born Gulshan Kumar Mehta in a town close to Lahore in 1937, Gulshan Bawra rose to become one of the most prolific and popular songwriters of the 1970s and 1980s. Though he was never classified along with lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri or Hasrat Jaipuri, his work remains far more ingrained in popular memory.

In this, Mehta evokes comparison with another underrated poet, Shailendra. Like Shailendra, Gulshan Bawra, too, worked with the railways before he met Kalyanji Virji Shah, of the Kalyanji-Anandji music director duo. With Kalyanji's help, Bawra got a job as a lyricist for the film Chandrasena (1959). His colloquial language, understanding of people, and instinctive grasp of popular music marked him out from his peers. Apart from music, he caught the eye of directors with his wacky sense of humour. It was this humour which earned him the title 'Bawra', or madman.

In a 40-year career, Gulshan Bawra worked with the best music directors of the age from Kalyanji-Anandji to Shankar-Jaikishan and RD Burman. He composed iconic tracks that continue to be remembered by fans till date.

1. 'Mere Desh Ki Dharti' – Upkar (1967)

The story goes that Gulshan Bawra composed the poem within minutes, having heard actor-director Manoj Kumar hum the tune composed by Kalyanji-Anandji. The song went on to be the most iconic one in Manoj Kumar's career. It won Gulshan Bawra his first Filmfare award for Best Lyricist. 

2. 'Yaari Hai Imaan Mera' – Zanjeer (1973)

For Amitabh Bachchan's big breakthrough, Gulshan Bawra was the chosen lyricist. Of all the songs in the film, this ode to friendship between the burly Pathan played by Pran and Bachchan's earnest cop was a superhit. The song earned Bawra his second Filmfare award for Best Lyricist, and the film earned Bachchan the title of 'Angry Young Man'.

3. 'Ek Main Aur Ek Tu' – Khel Khel Mein (1975) 

Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, and a wonderful little film were backed by a spectacular soundtrack composed by RD Burman. This was one of Gulshan Bawra's early partnerships with the phenomenon that was Burman. Peppy, fun and utterly impossible not to sing along with, this song is also one of Rishi and Neetu Kapoor's favourite songs.

4. 'Aati Rahengi Bahaarein' – Kasme Vaade (1978)

With another brilliant score by RD Burman, Kasme Vaade was a touching tale of brotherhood, love and redemption. This beautiful number, sung by Kishore Kumar, Amit Kumar and Asha Bhosle, was penned by Gulshan Bawra in his simple, effective and beautiful style. 

5. 'Pyaar Hamein Kis Mod Pe Le Aaya' – Satte Pe Satta (1982)

The film had RD Burman at his wackiest best, Amitabh Bachchan at his bearded finest, and the ultimate song that continues to make an appearance at parties all over the country. 'Pyaar Humein...' had Gulshan Bawra written all over it. The yodelling and yelling might have been Kishore Kumar and RD Burman signatures, but only a 'Bawra' could have provided the madcap lyrics to match up to that craziness.