A craft of words

A craft of words

He was just 10 when Manoj Kumar Shukla, prone to notice lyrics more in the songs he would hear, decided that he wanted to write poetry. In his teens, Manoj was busy participating in several mushairas (gathering of poets ) in cities across Uttar Pradesh, stealing the show from renowned veterans when he touched 20 at a prestigious gathering in Unnao.

“And that’s where I learnt that while writing good poetry was a strength, its presentation was a bigger ace up a poet’s sleeve,” smiles Manoj ‘Muntashir’, a pen name that he acquired a year later. Muntashir means “scattered” and the lyricist-writer, now among the busiest yet most highly paid in Mumbai, narrates a small story about the career-defining day of his life.

Love for poetry
“I was doing my Bachelors in Biology in Allahabad, and one day destiny took a hand,” he recalls. “While travelling, my train was stuck at Pratapgarh station for an hour. At the bookshop, I found the book Talkhiyaan by Sahir Ludhianvi and was fascinated not only by his life, but also his quote that his poetry was about life’s experiences that he was ‘giving back’ to the world.”

That very day, Manoj decided on two things: that he would write lyrics for films, and two, that his lyrics would follow the Sahir template of original thought born out of his life. His shocked middle-class parents saw his determination and his father just told him that he would agree to his going to “an unknown land of illusion” provided he finished his academics.

Smiles Manoj, “So, after passing my degree examinations with good marks, I asked my father to keep his promise. My mother said that they would not be able to support me financially. I said that I was okay with that. I left for Mumbai with Rs 700, half of which was my ticket money.”

From here to becoming what he is today has been a rewarding journey of impassioned excellence. “I have everything I need today, and it’s all hard-earned,” says Manoj.

Manoj’s 2016 slate to date includes films as diverse as Wazir, Mastizaade and Sanam Re, and he is one of T-Series’ head honcho Bhushan Kumar’s favourites now, after writing “Zindagi aa rahaa hoon main” featuring Tiger Shroff, in 2015. His biggest hit, after over eight flops in a row, was the 2014 song “Galliyan” from Ek Villain, which marked his true breakthrough.

The year 2015 saw Manoj work on several films including Baby, Hate Story 3 and Ek Paheli-Leela and Mohit Suri’s adaptation of a Coldplay video, titled “Lamhein.” But his biggest triumph last year was writing the Hindi dialogues and all the lyrics of Bahubali: The Beginning.

“It gave me immense satisfaction that this Hindi version crossed Rs 100 crore,” notes Manoj. “My friends tell me that one reason was that my dialogues succeeded in giving audiences the impression that they were watching an original Hindi film rather than a Telugu dubbed movie.”

A bright future
Manoj prides himself on having a forthcoming list of 17 films — unprecedented since the last decade. “Most of them are solo films, that too with filmmakers like Neeraj Pandey (M S Dhoni:The Untold Story, Rustom), Prakash Jha (Jai Gangaajal — treated as a musical with 12 UP folk-based songs), Milan Luthria (Baadshaho), Anubhav Sinha (Tum Bin 2) and Mohit Suri — two films, including the planned Aashiqui 3. Last but not the least is Bahubali: The Conclusion. He also has T-Series singles with Mithoon, Jeet Gannguli and Himesh Reshammiya.

But while a happy state of affairs is there today, Manoj, for at least eight years, considered himself a loser when the world saw him as a winner. And that is simply because after a struggle that involved living on footpaths with beggars and operating a PCO, his first and lasting encounter with fame came as a TV writer.

Actress Deepti Bhatnagar gave him his first break as a writer in two episodes of her popular serial Yatra. “She was like a mother and sister to me, and introduced me to Sameer Nair, then chief of Star Plus,” Manoj says.

From here to being introduced to Amitabh Bachchan, who took him on as a writer on Kaun Banega Crorepati 2, and writing for almost every known reality show across channels was a singular story of professional success for Manoj. “KBC 3, Indian Idol, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, India’s Got Talent — there was barely no reality show of consequence for which I have not written! But I did not want to die a television writer, which I still am, though TV made people notice me!” And “Galliyan”, written when Manoj was taking a casual morning walk in the lanes near his house, proved to be his turning point.

Today, Manoj has a few issues as a self-respecting lyricist. “We make every song with the expectation of it being the best song of the year, and it hurts when it is recorded but not promoted or even used in a film, or when a writer is told to just deliver one song without any involvement in a film.” Nonetheless, he is happy with the musical scene overall.

The ‘Muntashir’ soul has finally pulled itself together.

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