Gulshan Kumar Mehta, popularly known as Gulshan Bawra, was born at Sheikhupura, a place 30 kms from Lahore. His father had a construction business. His family was a victim to the paritition riots where young Gulshan had witnessed his parents being killed. His elder sister at Jaipur brought him and his elder brother up. After his brother got a job, they shifted to Delhi. There he graduated from the Delhi University and began writing poetry. He wanted to work in films. Gulshan applied for a job with the Railways. He was posted at Kota which was then in Madhya Pradesh but when he arrived there, the vacancy was filled. He was then luckily called for the post of a clerk at Bombay and he arrived in the city in 1955.
Gulshan struggled to get a film break, initially keeping his job on. Kalyanji, the musician, gave him his first break in Chandrasena (1959) in the song ‘Main kya jaanu kahan laage yeh saawan matwala re…’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
The Meena Kumari-Balraj Sahni starrer Satta Bazar (1959) marked his first success with hits like ‘Tumhein yaad hoga kabhi hum mile the…’, ‘Aakde ka dhanda…’ and ‘Chandi ke chand tukdon ke liye…’. It was during the making of this film that the film’s distributor Shantibhai Patel christened him “Bawra”. Gulshan then went onto compose lyrics for Dark Street (1961) and Neeli Aankhen (1962) but didn’t find the success he wanted. Finally, with his song ‘Mere desh ki dharti…’ from Upkar (1967), Gulshan got his due appreciation and won an award too.
Gulshan then composed the lyrics for a few songs which didn’t become too popular. These included ‘Muskurake humko loota aapne….’ from Vishwas (1969), ‘Gumsum kyon hain sanam…’ from Bhala Manus (1976) and ‘Jab aati hogi yaad meri…’ from Phaansi (1978). ‘Wada karle saajna…’ from Haath Ki Safai (1974) and the title track of Kasme Vaade (1978) were huge hits. Khel Khel Mein (1975) comprising the songs ‘Ek main aur ek tu…’, ‘Humne tumko dekha…’ and ‘Khullam khulla pyar karenge…’ besides others, was a great album as well. ‘O tumse door rekhe…’ from Adalat (1976) was a fabulous track composed by Gulshan. Satta Pe Satta (1982) had some great tracks like ‘Dilbar mere…’, ‘Dukki pe dukki ho…’ and ‘Mausam mastana rasta anjaana…’, all having lyrics penned by Gulshan. The title tracks of Sanam Teri Kasam (1982), Yeh Vaada Raha (1982) and Agar Tum Na Hote (1983) were hugely successful. ‘Tu rootha toh main ro dungi sanam…’ from Jawaani (1984) and ‘Ek baat dil mein aayi hai…’ from Rahi Badal Gaye (1985) were quite popular too. ‘Le pappiyan jhappiyan…’ from Ajay Devgan-starrer Haqeeqat (1995) ‘Teri badmaashiyan aur meri kamzoriyan…’from Akshay Kumar-starrer Zulmi (1999), were among his last compositions. Gulshan has also played small roles in some big hits like Upkar (1967) and Zanjeer (1973). He has also featured in Vishwas (1969), Pyar Ki Kahani (1971), Be-Imaan (1972), Jangal Mein Mangal (1972), Rishi Kapoor – Rakesh Roshan starrer Aap Ke Deewane (1980), Rajesh Khanna – Rekha starrer Agar Tum Na Hote (1983), Biwi Ho To Aisi (1988), English Babu Desi Mem (1996) and Zulmi (1999).
In 1968, Gulshan won the Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist for the song ‘Mere desh ki dharti…’ from Upkar (1967). In 1974, he won the Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist for the song ‘Yaari hai imaan mera yaar…’ from Zanjeer (1973).
Gulshan Bawra has written only 240 songs in a 42-year career, which is less than the number of films so many top names have done! But he claims to have the highest average among lyricists. Almost half of his songs have been with R.D.Burman.