Jab chale jayenge hum laut ke sawan ki tarah
Yaad ayenge pratham pyaar ke chumban ki tarah”
This is how Gopaldas Neeraj remembers his friend Dev Anand. “He was truly in romance with life.” The eminent Hindi poet says that with Dev Anand’s demise he has lost his last friend in the film industry. “He was my last link with the film world. I remember when he called me to write a song for ‘Chargesheet’. He said you are my soul Neeraj. You understand me the best.” Neeraj came up with a number inspired by Sufi thought: “Mera Ishq Bhi Tu, Mera Imaan Bhi Tu”. It proved to be the highlight of the film. “Our relationship was not work or money based. We connected at a spiritual level. He was one of the rare well educated men in the film industry. A true karm yogi, any time I would mention about age-related problems he would exhort me, how could you give up Neeraj you are younger than me. He kept himself away from the vices that come up with success. He gave up smoking or drinking and was very frugal when it came to food,” says the 87-year-old Padma Bhushan awardee, who is recuperating from illness at his residence in Aligarh.
Calling him punctual and a man of his word, Neeraj recalls his first meeting with the evergreen hero. “We met during a poetic soiree in Mumbai in 1955-56. He liked my poetry and said that if I ever wanted to write songs for films he would like to work with me. Ten years later when I saw an advertisement of ‘Prem Pujari’ in a film magazine I wrote a letter to him showing my inclination to write songs for the film. Within 10 days I got a message from him inviting me to Mumbai. I took six days leave from Dharam Samaj College where I was teaching literature and reached Mumbai. He put me in luxurious hotel in Santa Cruz and paid me Rs.1000 even before signing me. Next day he took me to S.D. Burman, who showed apprehensions about a poet’s ability to write to tunes and a given situation.
Worked through the night
Dev Anand said that he should not worry. He should give the tune and if Neeraj failed he would remain my guest for six days and enjoy Mumbai. Burman da gave me a tune and said the song should start with ‘Rangeela Re’ and it is about a girl who sees her beloved coming to a party with another girl. It should have elements of frustration in love, jealousy and satire. I worked the whole night and came up with “Rangeela Re Tere Rang Se Ranga Hai Mera Man, Chhaliya Re…” I went to Dev Anand’s office and showed what I had written. After reading it, he embraced me and said how could you do it in one night. He immediately took me to Burmanda’s home and proudly presented me to him and said: See, I told you, Neeraj has done it. When Burman da listened to it he said ‘Dev you go, now we will sit together.’ After he left, Burmanda admitted that he gave me this complex situation to make me give up. After that we three began to bond. “Shokhiyon Mein Ghola Jaye” was taken from my poem “Chandni Mein Ghola Jaye”. It was my take on life but Dev Anand wanted it to be changed according to the requirement of the film. I changed the antara completely. “Phoolon Ke Rang Se” was written to the tune… I wrote my best songs for him and the biggest royalty I get is from the songs that I wrote for Dev Anand,” says Neeraj adding he never signed a contract with him. Neeraj compares Dev Anand with a vat vriksh under whom different kinds of talent grew. “After I left Mumbai in 1973, Dev Anand and Goldie were the only film people who remained in touch with me. He would narrate situations to me over phone and then send a person to get the songs collected.” Having worked with both Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, Neeraj is in a great position to compare the two legends. “Dev Anand was a pure romantic while Raj was all about innocent idealism. This also reflected in their choice of music composers. Dev preferred S.D. Burman who could give popular romance a classical touch. He was not a beat composer like Shankar Jaikishan, who were the favourites of Raj Kapoor. Burman da’s mukhda and antara used to have different tunes,” says Neeraj, who has offered to donate his body after death to Aligarh’s J.N. Medical College.