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Yogesh (1943–2020): Underrated lyricist who will be remembered for his timeless songs


The songwriter from Lucknow arrived in Mumbai as a young man and through his perseverance contributed some eternal numbers to the annals of Hindi film music.

Photo: Courtesy Film History Pics on Twitter

Sonal Pandya

When news of lyricist Yogesh Gaur's death was announced, many media outlets wrote about how the talented writer-poet of the 1970s was neglected in the latter half of his career. In the 1990s, Yogesh turned to write for television serials when his film work thinned out.

It is quite criminal how lyricists are treated in the music industry. The singer and composer are most often noticed, but few people stop to think of the artiste who has actually penned the lines that hit the airwaves. Most often, the lyricist is the last one credited, and is many times omitted online.

Sadly, Yogesh’s songs were never nominated nor even honoured. In fact, the singer Mukesh won his only National award for ‘Kai Baar Yoon Bhi Dekha Hai’ from Rajnigandha (1974), a song written by Yogesh. However, his lyrics have stood the test of time, if one begins singing the first line from, say, 'Badi Sooni Sooni Hai' from Mili (1975) or ‘Na Jaane Kyon Hota Hai Yeh Zindagi Ke Saath’ from Chhoti Si Baat (1976).

The only son of a public works department engineer in the erstwhile United Provinces, Yogesh was born on 19 March 1943 and raised in Lucknow. His father died soon after the young man joined university, and he suddenly became the man of the house and had to look after his mother and two sisters.

When he couldn’t find a job in Lucknow, Yogesh decided to try his luck in Bombay instead. His cousin, Vrajendra Gaur, had already begun working in the film industry as a dialogue writer on films like Parineeta (1953) and, later, Saraswatichandra (1968). However, despite the family connection, Yogesh did not get any work recommendation through Vrajendra Gaur.

In a video interview, Yogesh detailed his early struggles in the 1960s, trying to find a job that would earn him money. It was then that he decided to write his inner emotions as poems. Living in a chawl in the neighbourhood of Oshiwara, then a distant suburb of the city, he struck up a friendship with the lyricist Gulshan Bawra, who was also to become popular in the 1970s. Inspired by Gulshan, who was starting out writing songs for Kalyanji-Anandji, Yogesh decided to try to write songs himself.

He partnered with composer Robin Banerjee who taught him how to write lyrics to musical tunes. After a year working with Banerjee, he got his first break with Sakhi Robin (1962) when six songs he wrote were used. He received Rs25 per song.

The song ‘Tum Jo Aao Toh Pyaar Aa Jaye’ from Sakhi Robin (1962), sung by Suman Kalyanpur and Manna Dey, was played regularly on Radio Ceylon then. Both Yogesh and Banerjee were signed on for nine new films, like Rocket Tarzan (1963) and Marvel Man (1964).

Later, he moved on to working with other composers like Usha Khanna in Ek Raat (1968), graduating to earning Rs100 per song. After the untimely death of lyricist Shailendra, he connected with composer Salil Chowdhury, who got him bigger opportunities and projects.

Interestingly, the hit song from Anand (1971), ‘Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye’, was originally written for a Basu Bhattacharya film that never materialized. Instead, it was absorbed beautifully into the Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic starring Rajesh Khanna. Yogesh recalled that he felt enormous satisfaction that his song was used in a film like Anand.

“If a film’s story meets up with the story of our life, what I would call common appeal, the heart’s pain comes automatically,” the songwriter said in the same video interview. Yogesh was a simple man who didn’t seek out accolades. He quietly did his work. His lyrics reflected his own life’s experiences, his pain that he had to overcome. He believed writing songs was a natural gift, which he worked hard at, and somehow it became his destiny.

Unfortunately, with the way of the music industry, some of his other great works remained unreleased. There were songs that were recorded but never used, or written but never recorded. As the decades changed, so the sound of the music. He worked with the top music composer of the time, from Madan Mohan to SD Burman and his son RD Burman, but the younger music composers had little idea of his contributions.

He was remembered yesterday by both veteran singer Lata Mangeshkar, whom he had been keen to work with at the start of his career, and writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar, who always admired his songs.

Yogesh last wrote lyrics for the film Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain (2018). “It has been years since someone came to me to ask for songs," he said in an interview with The Indian Express newspaper two years ago. "I wrote for some films in the late 1990s, but those films were never released. I think the industry and the people have forgotten me.”

His death, perhaps, will resuscitate his legacy.