There was a time when Sameer Anjaan, who was writing songs for more than half of the industry at a time, only had time to pen most of his tracks– even his most popular ones– while travelling from one studio to another in the city. “I was writing for more than 100 films at a given time. There was no time to breathe. Wherever I went, I would only listen to my songs,” says the lyricist, responsible for giving Bollywood music an identity of its own in the 90’s with lyrics that were universally accessible, proudly corny and sometimes silly.
Indianexpress.com sat down with the lyricist, who as per estimates is credited with more than 3500 songs, to talk about the stories behind some of his popular songs and why he believes his contribution to film music remains undermined.
Of Aashiqui and hit sappy love songs
After seven years in the industry and one hit album, “Dil” (’90), Sameer had entered the picture, but not enough to have spotlight on him. He couldn’t anticipate that almost two months later, he wouldn’t have time to count the number of albums he would write.
Sameer recounts how one of the biggest musicals in Hindi cinema’s history– Aashiqui– was, at best, accidental. Sameer and composer duo Nadeem-Shravan were busy creating an independent album for music label, T-Series, and had already recorded four songs, which filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt happened to hear.
At that time, there was no Aashiqui and no Mahesh Bhatt. We had recorded four songs and the album was called ‘Chaahat’. One day, Mahesh ji asked us if we had some songs in our bank. We offered him four-five songs and he liked ‘Main Duniya Bhula Doonga’ and ‘Ab Tere Bin’. He asked us if he could use these songs because he felt so inspired by the music that he wanted to create a story around it.”
The first song to be recorded under “Aashiqui” film album was “Bas Ek Sanam Chahiye”. But as he excitedly create these chartbusters, T-series then honcho, late Gulshan Kumar, wasn’t convinced they could create an impact in a film.
“He didn’t believe they sounded like film songs. He was more interested in releasing them as an album. That’s when Mahesh ji told him that he was undermining the prospective impact of the film’s album.” As it turned out, Aashiqui’s music captured the country’s imagination, becoming the anthem of everyone, who loved, longed and lost.
Sameer recalls how the song that earned him first Filmfare Award, “Nazar ke Saamne” was written in flat 20 minutes. “I was sitting with Nadeem near Maratha Mandir (Central Bombay). We were going to Juhu, in Suburbs. The moment we sat in the car, I told him that a particular line was not leaving my thought and that was ‘Nazar ke saamne, jigar ke paas, koi rehta hai woh ho tum’.
He felt it sounded fresh and asked me to develop it while we travel. He began composing the song simultaneously and came up with its signature tune within 10-15 seconds. So from Maratha Mandir to Worli, we completed the whole song.” Aashiqui was followed by Saajan in 1991 and Sameer earned himself another successful romantic album. The simplicity and the sentimental quality of Sameer’s romantic tracks made them earworms, as they continue to be even today.
Of “Dhak Dhak” and desire
The sensuous number from Madhuri Dixit-Anil Kapoor 1992 drama Beta refuses to get old. It’s not just about the lead pair’s scorching chemistry and Madhuri’s stunning moves, but also about the fascinating thought that the sound of a heartbeat could be used to denote physical desire.
“So, the hook tune was inspired by some Ilaiyaraaja’s tune. I got worried because the original Tamil song was a massive hit. Another factor was that a few years before that the song ‘Kaate Nahi Kat Te Din Yeh Raat’ had released and become a huge hit. “Indra Kumar told me that Saroj ji was doing the choreography and Madhuri would be giving competition to Sridevi in that song. As Madhuri is a fantastic dancer, I had to come up with lyrics that would justify the sensuality in the scene.
“I started listening to the song and the opening beat itself sounded like our heartbeat. The moment that thought occurred to me, I thought of ‘Dhak Dhak’, which is the sound of the heartbeat. Then I wrote the rest of the song. The beginning word in the song, ‘Ouch’, was Anuradha Paudwal’s expression though. The song went on to become so popular that Madhuri is till today knows as the ‘Dhak Dhak’ girl.”
Of “Tujhko Mirchi Lage” and item songs
While every second romantic song in the ’90s Bollywood was credited to Sameer, the lyricist was now feeling trapped in the repetitiveness of the genre and the stories that he was writing for. Entered David Dhawan, who Sameer shares, wanted every song to sound like an item number. “I was excited to work with him because it gave me a break from the monotony of love songs I was making. This needed me to be eccentric and frivolous and I enjoyed that.”
The conversation obviously steers towards “Main To Raste Se Jaa Raha Tha” from 1995 comedy Coolie No 1. The Govinda-Karisma Kapoor track represented a music universe in Bollywood that sounded both juvenile and captivating. How did Sameer come up with lines like “Tujhko Mirchi Lage Toh Mai Kya Karun?”
“Here was a coolie trying to romance his wife and he would of course not go all poetic with her, unlike what I did in Saajan where the hero was a poet. A coolie’s language will be of the streets, his desires will be all the simple luxuries that he could afford with great difficulty. There’s little time for being profound.”
Sameer shares that the film’s producer was not in favour of the song as he felt people wouldn’t like the use of words like “Mirchi or bhelpuri” but David Dhawan was adamant that he wouldn’t do the film without the song.
The success of Coolie No 1 paved way for several similarly sounding albums like Hero No 1, Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan and Aunty No 1, all directed by David Dhawan. So impressed was the director with Sameer that even before he began making Hero No 1, he asked the lyricist to give him “a superhit song for the film.”
“He didn’t even share the situation with me for the song. All he told me was, ‘Give me a great song. I will create a situation later.’ I knew the story so I wrote the song ‘Main Tujhko Bhaga Laya Hun Tere Ghar Se, Tere Baap Ke Darr Se’.”
The catch, however, was that the writer himself wasn’t convinced that the song would find a “logical” place in the film. “I told David that it made no sense because the girl in the film (played by Karisma) had no father. She had a grandfather. But he loved the song so much he told me, ‘Sameer, I assure you, 10 years later no one will even ask you about this logic. They will be busy loving the song.’ And that’s what happened.”
But as fans found one foot-tapping number after the other in “Sona Kitna Sona”, “Chalo Ishq Ladaye” and “Ankhiyon se Goli Maare”, criticism about Sameer’s apparent obsession with “item songs” took shape. “It reached a point where I decided to change gears once again and shifted to romantic tracks, starting with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.” The 1998 Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol starrer had some of the most quintessential love songs of Hindi cinema, but they caused the lyricist David Dhawan’s wrath.
“I was doing his film Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan at the same time. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai album released first. When the title song dropped, David called me to say, ‘You have written such an awful song. What are these lyrics? Please don’t ever write such songs for me.”
Of “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and filling big shoes
Sameer got a call from Yash Chopra one day, asking him to work with a debutante director as the original lyricist walked out of the film. It was Karan Johar and Sameer was asked to replace the much-senior and revered Javed Akhtar.
“Karan narrated me the story of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and told me, he needed my type of songs. Javed saab hadn’t liked the film’s title and they had a fallout. So, I kept thinking that this director has asked for me to fill in for Javed Akhtar so I have to deliver accordingly,” Sameer says.
When the songwriter made Karan listen to the title track that he wrote, the director was far from impressed. “He told me, ‘Sir, this sounds older than Javed saab’s! I don’t want all this. I want simple, young lyrics. So, I asked him for some time.” Besides the pressure of filling such big shoes, it was also Karan’s specific brief that made the task of writing the title track difficult.
“He was clear that the song will be about love but without any confession of love, it would be about one-sided love. I could not use any direct expression of ‘I love you’ in the song. That confused me because that meant not thinking straight. But when I took the final song to him, he jumped with joy. He absolutely loved it. I was still unsure as I felt I could do better but Karan told me to not confuse him with my uncertainty. He said, ‘I will picturise the song so beautifully to justify your lyrics.’”
Of Dhoom and new sound
The 2000s saw Sameer collaborate with the new voices in Hindi film music. It wasn’t easy being the older one in the studio but Sameer realised that he needed to match the pace of the younger generation if he were to stay relevant.
One of his attempts to gain the youth’s attention was by experimenting with English lyrics. “Say Shava Shava”, “You are my Soniya”, “Crazy Kiya Re” and “Zara Zara Touch Me” are just some of the songs that became popular not only for their spectacular tunes but also instantly catchy lyrics.
“I remember people started saying with a certain disdain, ‘Now Sameer only writes English lyrics.’ I told them that the youth speaks in Hindi mixed with English and that’s exactly what I am trying with my songs. I make songs for my listeners. If they don’t find it accessible, how will I survive? I had to adapt to changing times.”
On that note, Sameer recounts how the pulsating title track of Dhoom, “Dhoom Machale”, was a departure from anything that he had written before but his words became the reason why the song finally got a place in the album.
“Pritam, director Sanjay Gadhvi and I were standing outside the lift of Yash Raj Studio. Pritam was very nervous as Adi (Aditya Chopra) had rejected Dhoom title track. He made me listen to it and I loved it. But Adi was just not convinced with the hook tune, especially when Pritam sang him some dummy lyrics which went like ‘Main Teri Hun, Main Teri… Laila’. He didn’t want ‘Laila’ to be used. I requested him to give us some time so that I could come up with some lyrics and then we decide on the song.”
Again in a car ride, which by now had become Sameer’s brainstorming room, the lyricist thought of fitting the film’s title in the tune that Pritam created to get some base for the final lyrics. “I thought if I could somehow get the word ‘Dhoom’ in the song then it will be a good start. The moment I sang it to myself, it automatically went like, ‘Dhoom machale, dhoom machale, dhoom.’ I felt I cracked the song and then wrote rest of the part by the time I reached my destination.” Aditya Chopra loved the song and was left surprised that the tune that he rejected earlier could come alive in such a manner.
While Sameer successfully travelled across genres, musical styles and contrasting tastes of directors, it’s his idiosyncratic writing that dominates the public consciousness than the emotive lyrics that are a part of one’s personal playlists but don’t find public acknowledgement.
In fact, every word of praise for Sameer’s work is often quickly followed by an apology to signal that soppiness is uncool. The lyricist is quite aware of how his writing is largely perceived and that people, who criticise his apparent inane style, are the ones that merrily dance to his words in celebration.
“Even before I began my career, my father told me to remember the difference between a poet and a songwriter. A poet writes what he or she wants to, but a lyricist writes to what the song demands, how the character is, how the music composer thinks and what the director wants.”
“People today call Anand Bakshi a legendary writer but in the beginning, he was criticised so much. People would say, ‘What kind of a writer is this? How is ‘Acha Toh Hum Chalte Hain’ a song?’ These were the kind of things that were said about him. So, I don’t bother. I am sure one day I will be remembered for all the songs that don’t get talked about today. How long can you deny me the credit I deserve?” the lyricist signs off