A poet's world

One of Kannada cinema’s popular lyricists, Jayanth Kaikini crafts his words in relevance to the changing times. Shruthi Srinath talks to the down-to-earth artiste about penning poetry and more...

Here is a notion about poets and writers: A pensive face, with a pen and paper in hand, taking in the view of the faraway world from atop a mountain, as if borrowing words from pure air and beautiful sights around. “In such a place, I would be happy to rest and drift into sleep,” guffaws Jayanth Kaikini, a poet and writer, who is now a well-known lyricist in the Kannada film industry.

Contrastingly, it is amid chaos that his literature takes form. “I have lived in Mumbai, where space is almost non-existent, for 23 years. Yet, it created a landscape for me to transcend all barriers. Hence, 90 per cent of my work has the city as its theme.” Rewinding to his formative years in Gokarna, his birthplace, he informs that his father, Gourish Kaikini, a radical humanist and journalist, and his mother, Shanta, a social activist, always had guests at home, where problems were resolved, meetings about literature were afoot. The artiste recalls wondering, “If I have any relatives of my own?”

“Also, the pilgrimages there let me experience the festivities humanity takes part in,” says the four-time recipient of the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award. He received the first award in 1974, aged 19, for his poetry. He has published six anthologies of short stories, three plays, and a collection of essays. 

Creative streak

On his role of being a poet, he borrows the words of writer Yashwant Vithoba Chittal to say, “ ‘I don’t write what I know, I write to know’. To proclaim that I know something and to write about it is quite arrogant, implying that I am more evolved and intelligent. A poet has to experience life intensely. More intense you are in your living, the more variety of material you get while writing. My process of writing is my process of thinking, which is why it’s enjoyable. It’s not a conscious process, but a creative process, where I navigate a thought.”

Kaikini’s poetry is said to address and celebrate the ‘seemingly commonplace’, when most people avoid it. He replies, “Literature lets one find the uncommon in the common, ‘aparachitadalli, parichita’,” and adds that his influences are the works by writers K V Tirumalesh, A K Ramanujan and Gangadhar V Chittal. “In literature and art, thoughts are emotions’ counterparts. My father called it ‘chintanasheela tanmayate’. Tanmayate is involvement. It means thought-driven involvement. There has to be thoughts to drive emotions. So, emotions in literature cannot exist without intellect. People tend to remove thoughts from emotions these days,” he explains.

It is also literature that put him in the path of his latest career as a lyricist. “Yograj Bhat sought me once. Our literary tastes synced. We both enjoy reading Poornachandra Tejaswi and P Lankesh. I was tickled by his sense of humour, and he is someone I hold in great regard for his modern outlook on life, which appeals to today’s youth. That was when I agreed to write lyrics for film songs.”

But, according to the artiste, there is a great divide between a poet and a lyricist. “Writing lyrics for films requires another skill set — empathy — because it’s the character of the film who talks through the songs. Philosophy of a writer is not the requirement. I can pen lyrics for film songs only because I have been a film buff all my life. It’s nothing to do with poetry or awards. And it needs the skill of writing to the already-set music. As challenging it might be, the magic of music lies there. If lyrics come first and then music is set to them, there is an absence of varied metres. Sugama sangeetha or ghazals are examples of those, which is why monotony sets in after a while. But film songs can be heard all day long because of the variety in melody. Music directors are at a loss without variation.”

On love

The success of many romantic notes that Kaikini has penned for films like Mungaru Male, Gaalipata and Milana has had a daunting challenge behind it... and it’s to do with love. “What new can be said about love, really? The concept is the same — two people falling in love. It comes down to new ways of expressing it. Aren’t there a trillion songs already? Like a journalist, I too carry a question set. It reads: Is it first love? It is one-sided love? Is it the first/second/third love song in the film? Because a third song would not accept lyrics like Modalabari nodidaga... And of course, I need to know shooting plans. I cannot write about the moon for a day-time setting. I deemed lyric-writing as the easiest of jobs before. Now, it has become an everyday lesson. My appreciation goes out to all the lyricists of every language.”

Kaikini treads the concepts of today’s culture and language with care when he says, “It is better to have a song which fuses English and Kannada words to convey progressive ideas of culture, like respecting women with equality, than to use archaic language to convey non-progressive thoughts. In other words, it is better to have ‘hogolo, nodkotheeni ninna’ of today than the archaic notions of ‘Patiye daiva, ninna paada charana dasi’. Now, in a purist attitude, we try to inculcate old values. Culture is a risky word to discuss, because it brings in inequality. It has always had a spiritual nature, which is sidetracked now. But remember, the idea of culture is always progressive.”

His latest book, Touring Talkies (2013), which addresses techniques of visual arts used for films, music, including lyric writing, will be followed by short stories and long-form fiction, still playing out in the writer’s mind.

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