Lyric writer Yogesh Gaur was a man in great demand among the slice-of-life filmmakers like Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The story goes that Mukherjee heard the lyrics of two songs Yogesh had written for producer LB Lachman's film, and wanted them for Anand.
"Lachmanji was adamant about keeping the songs, but Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Mukherjee pleaded with him. Bachchan, who was a young man then, would say to me, 'Kavi Raaj, yeh do gaane humein dila di jiye (Please get us these two songs somehow).' Finally, Lachmanji relented and gave them one of the songs," says Yogesh.
The song, Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye, shot the lyricist to overnight popularity. Mukherjee was so happy he got Yogesh to pen another song for him, Zindagi kaisi yeh paheli for Anand too. Soon, the fan mail was pouring in.
"Funnily, people also sent me flowers for Maine tere liye, which was written by Gulzar," says the man, popularly known as 'shaayar' by actresses of that time. The nickname happened because the heroines, when they reported on the sets, would insist he recite some of his shaayari. "Producers thought the heroines were getting distracted by my poetry, especially when I waxed eloquent about their beauty," he laughs.
Known as the 'sensible film lyricist', Yogesh worked primarily with Chatterjee and Mukherjee, rather than 'masala' filmmakers. "My problem was similar to that faced by the filmmakers themselves. My work was appreciated, but was restricted to 'art' films. But they were more real than arty," he says.
Working with Basu Chatterjee was not the easiest, says Yogesh. "Basuda was a master of his craft, but brainstorming sessions with him weren't all that fun. While discussing a song for Rajnigandha, he would say, in true Bengali style: 'Uske baad, Vidya wahan se aata hai.' I had to stop him and ask if he meant heroine Vidya Sinha's character or hero Amol Palekar's. He got angry and said he was referring to Vidya. I didn't bother explaining to him that he had actually mixed up the gender while speaking in Hindi," Yogesh says. But the collaboration was a fruitful one. Yogesh wrote some of his best songs for Chatterjee, like Kai baar yunhi dekha hai from Rajnigandha and Na bole tum na maine kuch kaha from Baaton Baaton Mein.
Incidentally, Yogesh began by writing for C-grade potboilers like Flying Circus, Marvel Men, Rustom Kaun and Husn Ka Ghulam. After arriving in Bombay from his 'nawabi kothi' in Lucknow, he was looked after by his cousin, screenplay writer Vijendra Gaur, for a while. He often hung around the sets, not knowing what to do. Depressed about leaving his home at a young age - he was 16 - Yogesh spent hours at Marine Drive and the Hanging Gardens brooding about his situation, and penning his thoughts. It was while sharing his diary with music composer Robin Banerjee, that he was coaxed into writing lyrics for a tune Banerjee had created. Yogesh took the job and the song got selected for a film, which never got made.
Several jam sessions with Banerjee followed, leading to six songs that were selected for Sakhi-Robin, the film that marked Yogesh's entry into the stunt-film genre — and the industry itself. "I got Rs25 per song, and a total of Rs150. Two of the songs were played on primetime slots on Radio Ceylon. That helped," he says.
But the big league had to wait. With just enough money to shift from a jhuggi in Andheri to a chawl in Oshiwara, Yogesh couldn't buy discs of his own compositions. He would spend hours at the home of Savita Chowdhury, wife of music composer Salil Chowdhury. "She had a jukebox, and struggling musicians would get together to listen to music on it. It was during one such session that I requested a meeting with Salilda."
The first time Yogesh saw Chowdhury, he was too intimidated to open his mouth.
"He lived in a room full of encyclopedias and stuff, and appeared oblivious to the world. I had to make repeated visits to make my presence felt." The break, however, came a few months later. After the death of his regular collaborator, lyricist Shailendra, Chowdhury was looking for another writer. He gave Yogesh half an hour to write a song. Yogesh got cold feet and couldn't think of anything.
"Salilda's assistant laughed and said a novice like me could never do justice to Salilda's tunes. That shook my confidence." A dejected Yogesh walked out, but while waiting for the bus, was struck by some lines. He went back to Chowdhury, and recited them. "He started screaming out to Savitadi. I thought he would tell her how incompetent I was, and then kick me out. Instead, he told her that I had written some beautiful lyrics.
That was a moment I will never forget," says the lyricist. It's right up there with the time that Lata Mangeshkar complimented him on a song for the first time. Yogesh has worked in more than 100 films, and written for albums as well. His most recent work are Kuch Khatta Kuch Meetha and two films, which are lying in the cans "The style of working has changed. Earlier, we were given a situation and asked to write accordingly. Today, the brief is 'superhit duet likhna hai'," he says.