When words flow

When words flow

Anisuthide yaako indhu...'  blew in like a pre-monsoon breeze over a decade ago in Mungaru Male, bringing with it a freshness to Kannada film songs. The film's musical success swept in an era of lyrics that had the public humming with  pleasure. Mungaru Male (MM) also heralded the arrival of Jayant Kaikini as one of Kannada's most popular lyricists.  

"It was the new generation's casualness and no pretensions that created the change... that was the turning point," he says. More than a decade has passed since then, and he has written over 300 songs.

He occupies a separate place in Kannada literature as a poet and a writer, having won four Karnataka Sahitya Academy Awards, the first one as a 19-year-old for his collection of poems. Today, he has a new generation of admirers. His lyrics and the phenomenal success of his songs have attracted more readers to his Kannada stories and poems as well. While his songs in MM made people sit up and listen,  his actual debut as a songwriter was in Chigurida Kanasu (2003), based on Shivaram Karanth's novel of the same name. He wrote the screenplay for the film along with the film's director, Nagabharana. "I accepted Nagabharana's invitation purely because it was an opportunity to work in close proximity of Dr Rajkumar  - I didn't want to miss it!" he exclaims.  

A matter of chemistry

Dr Rajkumar and Varadappa, who were part of Vajreshwari Combines that produced the film,  insisted that he wrote a couple of songs for the film that starred Shivarajkumar. He wrote two: 'Bandhuve' and 'O Aaja Re'. "'O Aaja Re' had lines of Hindi alternating with Kannada lyrics throughout the song. Dr Rajkumar was fascinated by the boatman theme in Hindi songs. 'Bandhuve' was one such song. It was also  the last song that he sang," he says.

Kaikini had earlier worked as a biochemist in a Mumbai pharmaceutical company that manufactured Vicks VapoRub. His wife Smita had also worked there, and romance had blossomed. Did he use his romantic poetry to woo her? "No, she did not know Kannada! But both of us loved Talat Mahmood songs, and that brought us closer," he said. "I always say that it was not 'Rab ne bana jodi', but 'VapoRub ne bana jodi!" he said.

He shifted to Bengaluru when the factory closed down, and worked as an editor of a Kannada literary magazine, was an adviser to ETV Kannada, and anchored an interview series for TV. "I don't mind exploring. I kept going wherever life took me," he says.

Was it unreal for the litterateur in him to see his phenomenal success as a film lyricist?  "I don't feel that mainstream literature and cinema literature are different, because we have grown up with cinema, and it is a part of our lives. Film music in our country is a part of our culture. You cannot imagine Indian films without songs. Our sense of aspiration, fulfilment - they have all come from cinema. I continue to write my own stories - a book of essays is ready for release. It is a simultaneous activity and I enjoy it."

Lyricists have to work within a fixed creative boundary, often writing a song for a tune that is already set. "It is a big challenge. I have always felt that it requires a different set of creative abilities. Many ask me what creativity there was in writing film songs. It is actually very difficult. And it is not my worldview that I am writing about - it is the hero or heroine's predicament in the film that I have to give words to. And it has to be very simple - everybody should hum it. It is not an exhibition of my scholarship. It also has its own role in the film - many directors have used it as a narrative tool. It is not a smoker's break or a samosa break," he quips. Many Kannada directors are experimenting with songs, with specific non-traditional themes. "In Tagaru, rather than the usual separation of lovers etc, we have songs on fear, hatred, the night, police - all used at the right juncture."

He ensures that he does not work on songs that have too many situational details, and instead, works on abstract images that are up in the air. "I only write songs that have the maximum scope for emotional imagination," he states.

He hopes that his Kannada song lyrics would help people get closer to the language. "There was a time when people were living with the language - they used to read a lot of Kannada literature, newspapers, magazines, attend cultural programmes - it was a part of their experience. Today, Kannada is not part of their living state. It is being confined to talking about mundane things like asking if you had your meal, and so on. This is why our song lyrics make the public think we have done something great since they are not reading anything else. At least through the songs, I hope people can connect with the language," he says.

Fans everywhere

Thanks to the publicity that follows box-office hits, he is a popular figure in public, with a huge fan following. "It is very humbling when autorickshaw and cab drivers refuse to accept money when I ride in their vehicles. Some of them tell me my songs have helped them in their romance! I use my popularity to tell them my views on many things, like the strength of India in her unity, communal harmony, or even the way WhatsApp is being used for political gain by spreading divisive information. They listen carefully to what I say. Many of them are not even aware that they are innocent pawns in social media party politics," he remarks ruefully. "I attend as many college and school functions as literary sammelanas - there are hundreds of students who meet me there. I try to tell them some of the things I believe in," he declares.

He already has four Filmfare awards for his lyrics, and various other film awards and nominations. In one of his acceptance speeches, he said he was dedicating his award "to the darkness in the theatre that unites us all." He is worried that the collective pleasure of watching a film in a theatre is getting fractured into tiny islands of people watching films alone on their tablets and smartphones, in their own worlds with headphones plugged in.

Those images give you a sense of his creativity with words. And a clear signal that he is not finished his journey as a litterateur or a lyricist. He is still very much on song.

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