Man for all seasons

Man for all seasons

You can call him to write any kind of song, from the flippant to the weighty, and Kumaar can "lock" (fine-tune and finalise) one for you in less than half an hour. He is not interested in anything other than writing, this simple man named Rakesh Kumar who came in from Punjab about 15 years ago.

You can't slot the man either: he has written, with great success, songs as assorted as 'Mere Nishaan' (OMG-Oh My God!), 'Tu Bhoola Jisse' (Airlift), 'Baby Doll' (Ragini MMS 2), 'Sooraj Dooba Hain' (Roy) and the hardcore Punjabi 'Mubarakan' (Mubarakan) alongside varied recreations like 'Kala Chashma' (Baar Baar Dekho) and 'Saara Zamana' (Kaabil).

Inspired beginnings

Prolific and passionate about his work, and now also the go-to man for recreations of old songs in new films, Kumaar was first inspired to make songwriting a career when he heard Sahir's classic 'Aurat Ne Janam Diya Mardon Ko' from Sadhna (1958). He asked his father, a film distributor, to introduce him to films. Composer Raju Singh (who his father knew well) was like his mentor, making him sit and observe his work, and finally giving him a break with the title-track of the hit television serial, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin in 2003, besides many more.

In the very next year, Vishal-Shekhar introduced him in films with a song in Sanjay Dutt's co-production Plan. Most of Kumaar's earlier works were with Pritam. He learnt all the important lessons from these two composers as well as Raju Singh. "This was the time when the industry was shifting from the dholak to the loop, where hooks had become important and challenging, and the mukhda (main line) of the song moved from a sweet two- or four-lines to 10 or more with a hook. For lyricists, it was a huge challenge and a learning process as writing like this was much more difficult while maintaining thought and a link between the hookline, mukhda and antara!"

That Kumaar has made writing such songs a habit is phenomenal for someone who barely reads. "I observe life and study things. Most of my songs, if dissected, show a reflection of society. However, I insist to myself that I must have a new thought in most songs, and it should be about truisms in life that no one has noticed or accepted."

We ask for examples. "Yeh duniya hai pital di / Baby doll main sone di" is a case in point, he says. The words clearly describe a genuine girl in a world adorned by fake lustre. One of Kumaar's greatest hits, 'Sooraj Dooba Hain' has the very meaningful lines, "Matlabi ho ja zara matlabi / Duniya ki sunta hai kyoon / Khud ki bhi sun le kabhi" (Turn a little selfish, and listen to yourself at least sometimes rather than to the world).

Kumaar says that writing is more of a passion than a profession for him. "Can you believe that when I first wanted to write songs, I did not even know that songwriters are paid?" he says with a laugh. But he has some terms and conditions that he has scrupulously followed as he moved up the ladder, attributing his consistent turnover and longevity to them.

"Luck was with me, but I have decided that I don't want to be called an intellectual writer!" he declares. "I dread being called a shaayar (poet) because I am not one. I do not write for myself, but for the requirements of a script and a film. I believe in the maxim that I must go with the flow but my energy should not be low."

However, Kumaar is okay with shaayari percolating into his songs organically, while he is writing them, like in 'Dua' from Shanghai. "And if someone asks me to write that kind of song, I will be okay with it. My song 'Tum Mile' (Tum Mile) is another such case. My all-time idol is Anand Bakshi, who wrote the deepest thoughts in the simplest verse, and referred to himself as a lyricist, not a poet. I just want to write, not be known as a great poet."

Happy & content

Kumaar has graduated to the stage when he works solo in most films even when there are multiple composers (Airlift, Golmaal Again, and more). "But I am open to writing one or two songs too. If not, I would not have got the chance to write a 'Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan Ve' (Roy) or a 'Dilliwali Girlfriend' (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani).

"Mere geet bade hone chahiye, lambe nahin (My songs should be big, not long)!" he says quietly. "I am working mostly with newcomers today, whether it is Amaal Mallik, Gourov-Roshin or Meet Bros. I would like my songs to be the stars in my films and take the youngsters along with me on my journey when they sparkle. If they benefit from my lyrics, I am the happiest."

Humility incarnate, Kumaar even says that he often does not know how he writes songs so quickly, and with new thoughts each time. "When you pay attention to the lyrics of 'Dilliwali Girlfriend', you will realise that each line has an English word. And I am not good in English at all!" he says. "At such and many other occasions, I feel that I am not writing the song, it is actually the power above who is guiding my pen."

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