‘Ab toh mazhab aisa bhi chalaya jaaye, jis mein insaan ko insaan banaya jaaye...’ implores Gopal Das Neeraj, while emphasising on the need for everyone to adopt a religion of love and brotherhood. One of the country’s remaining few poet-lyricists who has contributed to some of the most popular Hindi film songs, the 88-year-old Padma Bhushan awardee recounted his seven-decade-long journey in the Hindi film industry at a cultural evening organised by Haryana Institute of Fine Arts (HIFA) at Punjab Kala Bhawan, Sector 16, Chandigarh, on Thursday.
The man behind numerous evergreen songs from films such as Mera Naam Joker, Sharmili, Tere Mere Sapne, Gambler and Cha Cha Cha — Uttar Pradesh-born Neeraj (also his pen name that he took on as a writer) — contributed richly to poetry as well with his writings in chaste Hindi and Urdu.
On Thursday, as the audience remembered a popular number from the 1970 film Mera Naam Joker and requested Neeraj to sing it, he let in on how Aye Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo was created. “Raj Kapoor ji [the film’s director] called me and asked me to write a song that would be sung by the character of a joker.
It was a challenge for me, since I also had to make sure that my song suited the character and didn’t look like a professional singer was singing it. For three nights, Raj ji drank and I wrote. Finally, I came up with this track and he said, ‘What kind of a song is this?’ But, it became hugely popular.”
Apart from the Padma Bhushan conferred upon him in 2007, Neeraj was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991, the Sahitya Vachaspati — a top literary honour by the Prayag Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Yash Bharti by the government of UP, the degree of Doctor of Letters by Agra University and a Filmfare Award for best lyricist.
As successful as Neeraj’s journey was in Bollywood, his exit was even more dramatic. “The songs that I wrote were sung by legends including Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar. We all had a cordial rapport, but I have special regard for Late actor-filmmaker Dev Anand, music directors SD Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Roshan and Iqbal Qureshi. However, it is all history now, it’s been years since I left Bollywood,” he says sadly. Neeraj was at the peak of his career when he bid the film industry adieu, purportedly because he started considering himself unlucky after the demise of some of his closest people such as Jaikishan (of Shankar-Jaikishan duo)
and SD Burman.
Thereafter, Neeraj took to penning books in Hindi, having written 30 till date, some of which are Pran-Geet, Neeraj Ki Pati and Neeraj Ki Geetikayen. “I am currently writing four books,” he tells us. About contemporary lyrics and poems, Neeraj says, “Times have changed. Youngsters today don’t like to listen to my kind of poetry, they like ‘Hud Hud Dabangg’. These days, poetry is written by those who aren’t impoverished, so the need to excel is missing. Then there are others who are struck by the commercial glory of cinema.” A man who admires works by Gulzar, Prasoon Joshi and Javed Akhtar, Neeraj defines poetry as entertainment for the ‘finest brains’.
“Good poetry must also represent the sentiments and realities of the common man,” he says and signs off in his inimitable style: “Sirf bichadne ke liye hai yeh mel-milaap, ek musafir hum hain, ek musafir aap…” (Meetings happen so that there is separation... I am a traveller and so are you…).