A way with verse

in conversation

One of Bollywood’s popular lyricists, Amitabh Bhattacharya is on top of the world at the moment with back-to-back chartbusters to his name. RAJIV VIJAYAKAR talks to the songwriter about his rise in the industry...

Amitabh Bhattacharya is the busiest lyricist in Bollywood at the moment. And that’s saying a lot for a man who came here from Lucknow to become a singer, and has now even got a National Award 2011 for Best Lyricist for the song “Agar Zindagi Hai” from the film I Am. 

Amitabh laughs when I tell him that music director Pritam was shocked when his assistant of so many years who would sing his ‘scratch’ recordings, suddenly became known as the lyricist of the song “Emotional Atyachar” from Dev. D. 

Singer-turned-songwriter

“Yes, Pritam-da was the first to encourage me and take me on when he was still doing jingles and serials. He might not have noticed that I would also write small scratches and dummy words for him. But once he came to know that I had become a songwriter, I began writing a lot for him, with the first song being “Babubhai Mast Hai” from Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010). Our biggest hit together is Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.”

Amitabh has trained in classical vocals and has also earned a diploma from the Bhatkande University. He had played in orchestras and bands and at the All India Radio. But he had no training as a lyricist. “I was born in Mumbai since my mother is from here, but my father is from Delhi and I have spent years in Lucknow, which explains how a Bengali like me can speak good Hindi as well as Hindi dialects and Urdu.”

Songwriting happened when Amitabh met music director Amit Trivedi through musician Amartya Rahut, as they were part of the same band. “Amit took me along once to make an ad film presentation for a client, and since his jingle had no lyrics, he suggested I write some dummy words. But the client liked what I wrote and actually finalised it.”

More jingles, non-film songs and a non-film album followed, before Amit made him work on some of the lyrics of Dev. D, and while that was being made, Anurag Kashyap offered him the film Aamir, which became Amitabh’s first release in 2008.

 Udaan, Band Baaja Baaraat, Delhi Belly, Chillar Party, Agneepath, Ishaqzaade, Cocktail, Agent Vinod, Go Goa Gone, Chennai Express, Lootera, Dhoom:3 and now 2 States are among his other better-known films — a vast variety indeed. So is not Amitabh the most versatile of the present lot? “Well, I consciously try to do every kind of film. I generally work best when writing for a situation and to the tune,” he says. What about singing — has it been consciously put on the back-burner? “Well, there are people who make me sing. But I cannot force anyone. I am in a good and happy space today and my parents are ecstatic about my success, so I am enjoying my work.”

Amitabh says that his songs are a mix of his emotions and his journey so far. “My life has always been in phases somehow, like I may be on Cloud Nine or in a low phase.” And has love happened? “Two years ago, it had, and yes, she is from the industry. But we have moved on.”

Like many great lyricists of the past, Amitabh always wonders whether he will crack the right song or not every time. “And to do that, the right association is a must, whether it is composers or filmmakers. Today, I am extremely comfortable with a wide range of people like Anurag Kashyap, Ayan Mukerji, Karan Malhotra, Rajkumar Gupta, Vikramaditya Motwane and composers from Pritam to Amit Trivedi, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy — of whom I was a fan for long — and Vishal-Shekhar.”

Writing zone

Lyricists in Hindi cinema are often told to write in a gathering of director, star, financier and so on. How does he prefer to work? “If there is time, I work by myself. Yes, but there are cases where songs have to be delivered then and there because of some contingency,” he admits.

The situation, he tells you, is what challenges him. “But since I am a singer, when a composer hums out a tune, I catch it faster than a non-singer writer would, and then it’s easy. I react better to a tune than writing a song by myself. For example, if the tune as well as the drum rolls had not been there, maybe the lines Emotional Atyachar would not have been come to me.”

He agrees that after the Anurag Kashyap group of filmmakers, he has found a lot of acceptance from Karan Johar. “Today, I also find myself at home in Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s studio,” he adds. Having done home productions of Aamir Khan (Delhi Belly), Shah Rukh Khan (Chennai Express), Salman Khan (the song “Character Dheela Hai” from Ready) and Saif Ali Khan (Cocktail, Agent Vinod, Go Goa Gone and the forthcoming Happy Ending), he considers himself fortunate to have already worked with Yash Raj Films also in multiple films. “That was a dream that was realised pretty fast after I first went into YRF Studios,” he says.

An avid Gulzar fan, Amitabh was thrilled to meet his idol, when Shankar Mahadevan recently introduced them. “Gulzar-saab has always been my inspiration, which does not mean that I copy his work. But I do love his tangential view of situations. That inspires me big-time.”

Described otherwise by some of his associates, Amitabh emerges as a serious person. So which is the truth? He laughs and replies, “Pritam calls me a shaitan (devil). Whenever I write a serious song, he tells me, ‘How can you get so serious?’ But I am a normal guy who loves his fun too.”

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