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The man who almost gave verse to Devdas
Did you know that Mehboob had first penned the songs of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's epic?

Ronjita Kulkarni

A large number of trophies occupy pride of place at lyricist Mehboob's home --- among them the Filmfare Award and Silver Jubilee Award for [Ram Gopal Varma's] Rangeela, the Channel [V] Award for Best Non-Film song (Vande Mataram), the Andhra Pradesh Film Journalism Award for [Sanjay Leela Bhansali's] Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and a Platinum Disc for [Mani Ratnam's] Bombay.

Judging by the trappings of his Bandra (the northwestern Mumbai suburb) chawl, it would be hard to fathom that this man had worked with the likes Ram Gopal Varma (Drohi and Rangeela), Mani Ratnam (Bombay), Govind Nihalani (Thakshak) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam).

Mehboob has always been one to shy from the limelight. "I cannot flaunt myself," he says. "I cannot host parties just to prove myself. People tell me that I should hire a Public Relations Officer. But I know that my work is good and that it will speak for me."

Not many know that Mehboob became a lyricist by chance. His calling, he says, was to be a scriptwriter. He would sit at his pet shop, selling love birds and fish, writing poems, ghazals and scripts. In 1986, he was introduced to composer Ismail Darbar. Darbar, a violinist in film orchestras was, at the time, struggling to make a career in the industry as a music composer.

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Mehboob narrated a detailed script to him, including the mukhdas (verses) for situational songs. "I remember the first thing Ismail told me was not to become a lyricist. He said my poetry was too deep for the common man to comprehend. He advised me to stick to writing scripts."

The duo met again after two years. Darbar confessed his dreams of turning composer were being ruined because he had no lyricist. "He then went on to hum a tune. I liked it so much that I offered to write songs for him," says Mehboob. "He had told me not to become a lyricist. But he was desperate for a songwriter. I wrote a song (yet to be released). Ismail loved it and we have been a team since."

The duo spent many days together, sitting together till 3 am at Mehboob's shop, writing songs. Together, they came up with over 200 songs. Then, Ismail introduced Mehboob to Ram Gopal Varma, who gave Mehboob his first break with Drohi. R D Burman was the music director for the film. "Ramuji loved my work," smiles Mehboob. "So he gave me Rangeela. That was when I was introduced to A R Rahman. We clicked really well. In fact, after only three songs, Rahman was so confident about me that he recommended me to Mani Ratnam for Bombay.

Mehboob "After Bombay and Rangeela, I met Majroohsaab [lyricist] at a party. He hugged me because he was so impressed with my work. He told me to never stop learning and to treat all my songs like there were my first. He and [Anand] Bakshi are my gurus," he adds.

Mehboob also translated Tamil songs to Hindi, for Drohi and Bombay. "I have stopped that," he states. "The people in the South do not understand Hindi and feel that I have not done justice to their South songs. I translated Drohi from the Telugu version only because Ramuji asked me to and I hold him in great regard. I also translated Bombay. That again was because I had great regard for Mani Ratnam."

Mehboob never let competition, from stalwart lyricists Javed Akhtar and Gulzar, bog him down. "I became a lyricist to help Ismail because he could not get a songwriter. So I was not afraid of competition. Besides, I had no tension in my life then. I had a prosperous business. Writing songs became a passion. I even met composer Anu Maliik who asked to write some songs. But I was very loyal to Ismail and refused the offer."

While Mehboob made his mark in the industry, Ismail was still to find a foothold. That is when the duo met Sanjay Leela Bhansali for his film, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, starring Ajay Devgan, Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai.

"We took some of our songs to Sanjay to get a feel of our music," says Mehboob. "In fact, three of the songs in the film were from our stock of 200 songs --- Chand chupa badal mein, Tadap tadap and the title track Hum dil de chuke sanam. Sanjay loved our songs. In fact, he could actually visualise the climax of the film in this title track. He signed us immediately. This was Ismail's break."

After the stupendous success of the music of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Ismail and Mehboob split up. "I think success went to Ismail's head," says Mehboob, thinking aloud. "Misunderstandings crept between us."

"Just before we split, Sanjay had asked me to write lyrics for his new venture Devdas. I wrote the lyrics for five songs," he says.

But then Mehboob withdrew from the film and Nusrat Badr was roped in to write the lyrics. "I have no regrets of quitting Devdas," Mehboob states. "In fact, I would say that Devdas has been deprived of good lyrics. A film magazine recently said the lyrics of HDDCS were more weighty and fresh than in Devdas. I take that as a compliment."

For the moment, Darbar and Mehboob are back together --- old wounds have been patched. They are back to doing films together --- Boney Kapoor's Shakti and Deepak Shivdasani's Julie. Mehboob also has two films with the music scored by A R Rahman --- one directed by Atul Agnihotri and the other by Ahmed Khan, and Ujjal Chatterjee's Escape From Taliban.


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