In fact, the bulk of Swanand’s films, including Lage Raho Munna Bhai that clinched him the first National honour (for Bande mein tha dum) have also been with Shantanu. Come Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Pradeep Sarkar, Sudhir Mishra or Shyam Benegal, Swanand has had a definite cocoon, a comfort zone, of regular associates.
But a few months before this last honour, Swanand, also an accomplished and trained singer and writer with a dream of directing a film one day, has taken the bold step of crashing out of his comfort zone. After 3 Idiots, Swanand was offered a song by Aamir Khan for his own production Peepli [Live]. “Indian Ocean’s song Des mera rangreziya babu was chosen from their 2004 album,” explains Swanand.
He adds, “But the lyrics had to be modified to fit the script, and I had to rewrite most of the song. The song was recorded in two versions, and the main one is entirely mine, while the second part is partly mine. This time, there were only visuals and so there were no restrictions. We needed a Hindi flavour and we were celebrating the India’s diversity. The word rangrez in Hindi stands for the dyer who colours a fabric.”
The second major outing was Pradeep Sarkar’s film Lafangey Parindey. After Parineeta and Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, why was Shantanu not repeated? “The fact that R Anandh was going to compose the music was very clear from the beginning,” says Swanand, dismissing rumours that the music director was changed midway. “And I must say that this film was a unique experience because Anandh composed all songs after the lyrics had been written.”
For Swanand, the task writing dialogues and lyrics for the Hindi version of Endhiran (Robot) was challenging. Though the music has been widely criticised, Swanand says
that he did make an attempt to make things a shade better than the
cut-paste approach of lyricists that is seen in normally when it comes to dubbed films.
“Despite not being able to tamper with either the metre or the lip-synch, my words had to fit perfectly in terms of the thought-process and mood. The fact that one song had not been shot and two more had no lip-synch made things easier. I had worked with Shankar on Sivaji-The Boss, but at that time, I had only done the dialogues. I love Shankar’s style of filmmaking and enjoyed working with AR Rahman too.”
What about home-ground? “I am doing an album with Shantanu,” says the choosy lyricist, who feels that quality work can only be churned out when you have less work on your plate. So what makes for a great song? Replies Swanand, “A great song comes from a great brief given to the writer. With an album, there is usually a brief on the theme too, or the brief can come from within you. Lyricists need a film for a film song. A song cannot be made just because I have a pen in my hand and a music director has a guitar.”
What does he feel about being the first Marathi lyricist to succeed in Hindi cinema? “It feels great,” says the lyricist. “I was born and brought up in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and my medium of education was Marathi. But I joined the National School Of Drama in New Delhi to learn design and direction. I also learnt about other production aspects like costumes and lighting, although I always knew that I was going to write. I was also interested in poetry, so lyrics were almost like a corollary. I also began to translate plays and once I wrote a song that everyone liked. All these factors helped me to develop my Hindi, including the environment at NSD.”
He adds further, “I have also read works of many great Hindi poets. My father was also a great follower of film music and he would draw my attention to the poetic richness of so many songs. He had a sense of ‘metering’ that he would point out to me. His favourites, and therefore mine as well, were Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. Slowly, I began to unconsciously analyse these songs and I began to understand that film lyrics had to be about poetry as well as about the lingo needed for the character and the craft element. I realised that when there has to be philosophy, it should be in the common man’s language.”
And how did this complete artiste (Swanand even acted in Eklavya) pick up his singing prowess? He has even sung for the Hazaaron… track and a few others. “My father and mother have both been disciples of Kumar Gandharva and so I unconsciously developed the hang of words and music. I gradually imbibed the relationship between words and music in both Hindi and Marathi and this is what got me interested in the performing arts.
I sang the Bhojpuri folk song O sajni re on location and Sudhir (Mishra) ji heard it and asked Shantanu to listen to me. It was then that they made me sing Bawra man in Hazaaron... Life has always been about challenges for me.”