Weaving magic with his pen

Music & lyrics

He has no competition today in the strict sense of the term. Hindi film music is a field where — usually — the busiest composer, lyricist and singer has also been the best, and Irshad Kamil is certainly not the exception that proves this rule.

It’s been a decade since his debut in Chameli, for which he wrote all songs except one, including the critically-acclaimed chartbuster “Bhaage Re Mann.” But then, his songs always manage to merge the hosannas and the ‘hit’ factor.

After musicals like Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Love Aaj Kal, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Action Replayy, Mausam, Rockstar, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Cocktail ensured Irshad’s place in the top echelons as a writer in whom substance and salability formed a harmonious union, the lyricist improved upon his position in 2013 with Aashiqui 2, Raanjhanaa and Phata Poster Nikhla Hero.

The last-mentioned film showed that Irshad was not just about serious lyrics, slotting him instantly into the versatile zone with “Tu mere agal bagal hai”, a fun song that conclusively proved — in the best tradition of Majrooh-Sahir-Shailendra-Anand Bakshi — that lightweight songs could be written without cheap or trite lexicon.

The momentum in Irshad’s pen has gathered steam further in 2014. Having written three songs for Yaariyan, he is all set to unleash Happy New Year, Highway, Kochadaiyan, Karan Johar’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniyan and more in the weeks to come. The audio of Gunday has just released and the songs are rising up the charts, especially the fun number “Tune maari entriyaan” and the meaningful “Saaiyaan” and “Mann kunto maula”. 

But is the strong Sufiana colour in some lyrics when Gunday is set in the Bengal of the 1980s a commercial concession to trends? Irshad refutes the last: “Actually, both heroes are shown as migrants from Bangladesh who find refuge in a Sufi shrine,” he explains.As for his fun songs, Irshad thanks us for our appreciation, and points out, “A lyricist’s prime duty is to give variety. Contrary to my image, I really love fun or even naughty songs, but I cannot break certain parameters. Even if one is writing something naughty or erotic, there are always ways of phrasing them poetically, which is what our legends would do.

An example is one of my songs in Subhash Ghai’s Kaanchi, “Kambal ke neeche” (under the blanket). When you hear the song, you realise that it is open to interpretation, but it is neither blatant nor cheaply worded.”

The ace up Irshad’s sleeve is Sooraj Barjatya’s next film, starring Salman Khan and Deepika Padukone, with music by Himesh Reshammiya. “I am really proud of this film,” smiles Irshad. “We are making music after a long while in the real way in which a score should be designed for a subject.”

He elaborates eloquently, “We have finalised about four songs in multiple sittings. Sooraj-ji and Himesh-ji are clear that good rather than ‘hit’ or trendy work has to be done. There is no pressure that every sitting must result in a song being finalised. There is frank interaction, and nothing is discussed other than the music. I can imagine that this is the way our great lyricists and composers must have worked.” He smilingly adds, almost like an aside, “Salman bhai has told Sooraj-ji that he has a lot of expectations from the music.”

Irshad says wryly, “So there is an all-round aspiration for excellence rather than commerce. In most cases nowadays, the lyricist is asked to dash off some words at the 11th hour to an approved tune so that the song can be recorded fast. Even then, there is a lot of interference and I have actually found my lines changed in the final song without my consent.”

Irshad says that luckily for him, his experience with Imtiaz Ali in all his five films from Socha Na Tha to the forthcoming Highway and with Subhash Ghai now in the forthcoming Kaanchi has been similarly painstaking and dedicated. “Subhash-ji and Imtiaz are creative rather than mechanical,” he says. “The debates and explanations have a lot of thought and conviction behind them.”

What about any particularly bad experiences? “Oh, there are so many!” he laughs. “I cannot reveal them. In many cases, I have backed out of films after recording a song for which I have not even taken credit, like one of the hits last year, because a second song was not acceptable to me. I like to do a film as solo lyricist, because then I feel a sense of oneness with the entire project. Luckily, however, my issues are all based on principle, so my relationships remain unaffected.”

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