It’s been 12 years since lyricist Yogesh last had his name in the opening credits of a Hindi film. The name, by itself, might not jog your memory. But his works — rather words — must have held your attention at some point. Songs like Kahin duur jab din dhal jaye, Zindagi kaisi hai paheli that defined the superhit film Anand (1971) were written by Yogesh Gaur — credited as Yogesh. A staple in the 1970s, the songwriter has worked with prominent names likes Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. Now, he has made a comeback with the recent release Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain, directed by Harish Vyas. Yogesh has written three songs for the film.
“I had first met Yogeshji in 1997 as a fan. I had grown up on his songs, like most people of my generation, and I kept thinking that whenever I could, I would use him in my films. Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain is an everyday story featuring everyday people — a genre and demography that was the core of Yogeshji’s writing. Woh baat ko ghuma phira ke, lehze mein nahin kehte thhey. Seedhi baat, seedhe shabdon mein (he doesn’t mince words, talks straight) — that is his forte, which deeply attracted me to his writing,” says Vyas.
“Jo dekhta tha, jo jeeta tha, wohi likha hai (I wrote what I saw and lived),” says Yogesh, 78, who lives in Goregaon, Mumbai. Kahin duur jab din dhal jaye has the melancholic Rajesh Khanna staring into the vista, at the setting sun. The idea for the lyrics came from the many evenings he spent watching the sun go down from his balcony. While many in his fraternity sought the solace of nature for creativity to blossom, Yogesh thrived on the urban cacaphony. “I have always written about the people around me, unke beech mein hi rehkar, duur jaaunga toh kaise likhunga,” says Yogesh, who moved to Mumbai after the death of his father, an engineer with the public works department in Lucknow. At the time, the 17-year-old had just completed his intermediate studies. “There was only Rs 500 in the bank. We had a huge family — my siblings, sisters of my father and mother also stayed with us. I had a cousin Vrajendra Gaur, a dialogue writer in Mumbai, and thought of seeking his help in getting a job in the film industry. I reasoned with myself that film-making had many sections — technical, creative, etc.,” says Yogesh.
That was 1960. A friend, Satyaprakash, who was worried about Yogesh’s survival in the big bad city of Mumbai, accompanied him. The first week was spent at an Arya Samaj dharamshala on Charni Road. His cousin visited him but offered no help. Yogesh figured out that he was on his own. “We found a jhopdi in a basti about 45 minutes from the Andheri station, for Rs 12 a month. There was no electricity or water, only a well. A deep doubt about being unworthy for the film line was nagging me. I did odd jobs in the far-off Kalyan and Crawford markets. I even played extras in films like Chakradhari. The intense physical stress made me sick. I still hadn’t thought about writing,” he says.
Satyaprakash pushed him to start writing. It helped that Yogesh’s mother had inculcated a love for poetry in him at an early age. Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, in particular, was a favourite. “We then moved to a chawl in Oshiwara, owned by a sardarji. That chawl had many people from the film fraternity. That is where I met Gulshan Bawra — who wrote the song, Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle from Upkar (1967). He heard some of my writing and encouraged me to go meet people and pushed my work,” he says.
Yogesh got his first break as a lyricist with the film Sakhi Robin (1962), in which he wrote six songs and was paid Rs 25 — a higher amount compared to the Rs 15, which was paid to popular lyricists, including Indeevar. Yogesh’s lyrics Tum jo aa jao sung by Manna De became a huge hit, he even got the coveted 8-9 pm slot on Radio Ceylon. “That set the tone for me. I got simple, slice-of-life films. I always wrote the words to the set tune. I don’t think writers do that anymore,” he says.
The turning point in Yogesh’s life was a meeting with music director Salil Chowdhury, with whom he ended up collaborating on many projects. “Dada (Chowdhury) used Shailendra for his music. After Shailendra died, a producer came to me from Calcutta and I was called to Dada’s house. He gave me a tune and told me to write a song. He then went for a walk. I forgot the tune I was supposed to write the words for. In panic, I ran off. I was about to board the bus when it came back to me. I came back and finished the song. Dada liked it. That song was never used though,” he says, laughing. They worked on many films, including Anand, Sabse Bada Sukh (1972), Rajnigandha (1974), Chhoti Si Baat (1976).
Yogesh’s last big release was Bewafa Sanam (1995), though he did write the songs for the blink-and-miss Prateeksha (2006). “It’s been years that someone came to me to ask for songs. 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,” he says.