Article Hindi

10 memorable songs by Javed Akhtar: 75th birthday special

Javed Akhtar began writing lyrics for film songs only very reluctantly and on much prodding by filmmaker Yash Chopra. And that is how millennials know the multi-faceted artiste best today.

Suyog Zore

Screenwriter, dialogue writer, lyricist, poet, activist... Javed Akhtar is a man of many talents and facets. The five-time National award-winner has been working in Hindi cinema for half a century now.

Born on 16 January 1945, Javed Akhtar, son of songwriter and Urdu poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, always had a knack for writing and began his celebrated partnership with screenwriter Salim Khan with Ramesh Sippy's Andaz (1971). The duo went on to craft some of the biggest blockbusters of Hindi cinema like Zanjeer (1973), Deewaar (1975) and Sholay (1975).

In the early 1980s Javed Akhtar began to independently write lyrics for films and till now has written lyrics for over 125 films, many of which have gone on to be hits. Naturally, it is a tough task to compile a list of 10 of his best numbers. So, instead, we pick what we believe are 10 of his most memorable songs, in chronological order. Feel free to compile your own 'memorable' lists and share with us and our readers in the Comments section below.

1. 'Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum' — Silsila (1981)

Silsila was Javed Akhtar's first film as lyricist. In an interview, the writer admitted he had never wanted to become a lyricist but was persuaded by producer-director Yash Chopra to write the songs for Silsila. And thus began Javed Akhtar's songwriting career.

We should, indeed, be thankful to Yash Chopra for giving us arguably the best lyricist in Hindi cinema of the past 50 years. All the songs from Silsila were superhits, but 'Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum' remains the most popular.

The music for Silsila was composed by renowned classical musicians Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, who were also members of music director Rahul Dev Burman's team and began composing independently with this Yash Chopra production. They were credited as Shiv-Hari.

Though this was Akhtar's first attempt at writing film songs, his mastery over words was evident, especially in the lines uttered by Amitabh Bachchan in the song, which are still quoted by many at various occasions.


2. 'Ek Do Teen' — Tezaab (1988)

A dance number for the ages and the song that made Madhuri Dixit a star overnight, 'Ek Do Teen' from Tezaab remains one of the most significant songs in Hindi cinema. Everybody heaped praise on the singer, the music director, even the choreographer and, of course, Dixit, but the most overlooked aspect of this song is the simple-to-remember yet innovative lyrics by Javed Akhtar.

Strangely, the song is about the longing of a lover who is eagerly waiting for her partner, but the music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal is very upbeat and has an 'item' song vibe to it, At the same time, Javed Akhtar's lyrics narrate the pain of longing. It is rare indeed to find a popular song where, if the music and the lyrics were heard separately, they would evoke completely opposite emotions.


3. 'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga' — 1942: A Love Story (1994)

Remembered as the great RD Burman's swansong, 1942: A Love Story had some iconic numbers, but 'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga' remains an eternal favourite among listeners. The very simple composition (by RD Burman standards at any rate) is, of course, an earworm, but what makes the song iconic are the lyrics by Javed Akhtar.

This is a song about a young man who is smitten by a beautiful woman. Considering the situation, other lyricists might have ventured to wax eloquent about the woman's beauty, but Javed Akhtar took a different route and wrote about how the young man felt when he fell in love for the first time.

Unlike traditional songs, where one line leads to the next and you understand the meaning only after listening to an entire stanza, if not the entire song, this one was essentially a string of similes. Yet, it evokes the same emotion as a classical love song.


4. 'Sandese Aate Hain' — Border (1997)

'Sandese Aate Hai' from JP Dutta's war epic Border (1997) is an iconic song and the perfect example of exposition done right. Javed Akhtar narrates the back story of each character and what they are going through and also what is at stake if the soldiers don't make it out alive in this ten-minute-long number.

In this song, the poet manages to narrate the pain and the regrets of the men in this song without ever being preachy. Sonu Nigam and Roop Kumar Rathod elevated the song to the next level with their singing. Javed Akhtar won the Filmfare award for Best Lyricist for this number.


5. 'Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe' — Dil Chahta hai (2001)

Dil Chahta Hai (2001) was the first instance of collaboration between Javed Akhtar and son Farhan which was to give us many memorable songs over the years. Each song in this film was a hit and also achieved iconic status, but the song that personified the film is 'Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe'.

The music for the film was composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. For the casual listener this might seem like just another party song, but it had deeper meaning.

The song talked about a new unbridled, unihibited India. At the cusp of the 21st century, India was looking to be a new superpower in the world by 2020. The whole world was looking at India with great expectations, or at least so India loved to believe. Javed Akhtar aptly put into words what many Indians felt at the time.

It's 2020 now and India is nowhere close to becoming a superpower, but the song is still the life of a party.


6. 'Radha Kaise Na Jale' — Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India (2001)

The collaboration of Javed Akhtar, composer AR Rahman and director Ashutosh Gowariker always brings something extraordinary to audiences. The first time the trio worked together, it created something magical. The soundtrack of Lagaan is still considered one of the best in Hindi cinema.

'Radha Kaise Na Jale' from the film ranks among Javed Akhtar’s best songs and rightly so. The poet re-imagines through his lyrics what Radha and Krishna’s banter must have been like. He also tries to make the song more relatable to the common audience while at the same time ensuring that it gels with the period of the film and the language used in it.


7. Title song — Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)

Composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, 'Kal Ho Naa Ho' is another soulful addition to Javed Akhtar's repertoire. If one seriously wishes to understand the meaning of life, one can't do much better than listening to this beautiful song on loop. It's way more intelligent and insightful than some of the self-styled godmen floating around these days.

If 'Sapnon Se Bhare Naina' from Luck By Chance (2009), a song that completes this list incidentally, was about the futility of success, this song talks about the uncertainty of life and living it to the fullest.

Instead of using heavy lyrics, Javed Akhtar, as is his wont, wrote this number in very simple words so that even the layman could understand it. Sonu Nigam's soulful singing simply elevated the song further.


8. 'Yunhi Chala Chal' — Swades (2004)

Another Javed Akhtar-AR Rahman-Ashutosh Gowariker collaboration that gave us some memorable songs was Swades (2004). The film, starring Shah Rukh Khan, did not do well at the box office, but its songs achieved cult status, especially the 'Yunhi Chala Chal' number.

In 'Yunhi Chala Chal', Javed Akhtar tells us about moving forward and exploring the world. With simple lyrics, the poet explains how beautiful the world is and why we should explore it and learn from it. His lyrics have such an impact that you just feel like throwing everything aside and setting off on a road trip.


9. 'In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein' — Jodhaa Akbar (2008)

If there is such a thing as pure and divine love, then this song from Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar has to be its lyrical personification.

Composed by AR Rahman, the Mozart of Madras, 'In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein' is a love song, but the way Javed Akhtar has written it, it almost attains meditative status.

Keeping in mind the period the film is set in, the poet uses a sprinkling of easy-to-understand Urdu throughout the number, making it even more memorable.


10. 'Sapnon Se Bhare Naina' — Luck By Chance (2009)

Directed by Javed Akhtar’s daughter Zoya and starring his son Farhan, Luck By Chance was a film about the struggles of artistes aspiring to make it big in the film industry.

The movie had a memorable soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, but 'Sapnon Se Bhare Naina' was the standout. Yet again, Javed Akthar gives a profound message as he talks about the futility of success and how, once you taste it, your thirst only grows. When one is caught in this vicious, neverending cycle, it is virtually impossible to get out.

Unlike in some of the other songs on this list, the lyricist here made profound yet clever use of metaphors, making this a treat for keen listeners. Incidentally, he also co-wrote the screenplay with Zoya.