Modern lyricism

Bollywood Poetry

Modern lyricism

Master of words (From left) Subhrat Sinha; Neelesh Misra; Irshad Kamil

They are the newest song-peddlers on the block, have achieved varying degrees of success, but have yet to reach the A-list levels. But more importantly, they represent the new generation. Their lexicon is far removed from – at two extremes – the prolific word-spinner Sameer and the esoteric Gulzar. But can they match up to the masters like Anand Bakshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Rajendra Krishan, Indeewar or Sahir?

Says Irshad Kamil, the busiest lyricist today, “We cannot be evaluated yet as we have just made a small place in the sun. A great writer is one who lasts at least for a decade. At the same time, I am very puzzled by the fact that the general levels of education and literacy have improved, but people both within and outside the industry have less knowledge of Hindi and Urdu and far less depth!”

Meaningful words

Attributing a lot of his current skills to Pritam, with whom his collaborations include Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, De Dana Dan, Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?, Raajneeti and Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai with Action Replayy and Mausam to follow, Kamil points out how Pritam helped him improve the key ‘phonetics’ aspect of his lyrics with his guiding line, ‘You look after the thought and the language. Let me look after the sound.’

But while Kamil considers songs to be prime campaigners for the “candidate called a film, trying to win the box-office election”, Ajay Jhingran puts it a little differently. “It is always the lyrics that decide the enduring power of a song. Only one’s craft can come from his role-models or gurus. The thoughts and the language should be one’s own. Today, lyricists who have no knowledge of literature have come in, whereas the minimum a songwriter should do is read and absorb lots of Hindi and Urdu. I also feel that lyrics should never be vacuous, even if we have an ‘item-like’ song. A thought or a philosophy must be incorporated along with certain aesthetics. Then it does not matter whether you are writing a Dhanya naari jeevan from Sonu Niigaam’s Classically Mild, or O what a babe from Rakht.

However, the fact remains that the complete package works, and no single factor decides whether a song or a score is a hit. Subrat Sinha (Socha Na Tha, Ankahee and the full score of Radio) is a classic case in point. Elegantly-written and rich-in-thought songs from these films like O yaara rab, Tumse yoon milenge and Teri meri dosti ka aasmaan failed to get their dues when the films turned turtle at the box-office.

Jalees Sherwani, (three of the five songs of Dabangg, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Partner, Hello, Wanted et al) laments that it is very easy to call today’s writers superficial. “But it is those in positions of power who decide what people must hear! Today a writer is a mere tool. No one wants good Hindi or Urdu and we have to find a middle path!”
Agrees Panchhi Jalonvi, whose hit-list includes Dus and Cash, “I put in a lot of rich thoughts and language in the antaras. Good filmmakers love this. We need to serve better lyrics — people will always welcome them. In Jism, Sayeed Quadri wrote the lines Awarapan banjarapan ek khalaa hai seene mein and people loved it and asked around for the meaning of khalaa.”

Quadri had come to Mumbai in the ‘80s, done a B-grade film, and refusing to compromise on aesthetics, went back to his hometown and returned only when Mahesh Bhatt commissioned Jism. Followed aces like Saaya, Murder, Zeher, Kalyug, Gangster, Woh Lamhe…, Jannat, Tum Mile, Anwar and Life In A…Metro. “I try not to use my poetry in songs and prefer to write according to the story, situation and character. I write mostly to tunes and find it easy,” he says. Prasoon Joshi straddles the past and the present with skillful and literary poetry in films like Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par and Delhi 6.

Simple and soulful

Disagreeing that exposure to literature is a must, Quadri says, “I have been inspired by life and this world, and probably refined by my experiences. I try to see that my thoughts and concepts are fresh, that the language is simple even if the thought is quite deep, new and also substantial. From the man who dines at a five-star to the labourer, all should understand the meaning and the sub-layer. The right word at the right juncture can enrich your language. But the words should not be so complicated that one has to rush to a dictionary or a language specialist to understand what I have written!”
Despite this, Quadri’s career has been curtailed by a lack of range as he admits that he is best at ‘dark or sad songs’. The reverse seems to be the case with Anvita Dutt Guptan (Badmaash Company, Housefull, Kambakkht Ishq, Dostana) who cashes in on the prevalent craze for fluffy, youthful pop-corn lyrics, liberally laced with Punjabi and English. She prefers to be relaxed about her work and concentrate only on “connecting with both — the characters and the audience.”

Neelesh Misra (Jism, Johnny Gaddaar, Sikandar), till recently, a well-placed team-member of Hindustan Times, feels that his experience at doing in-depth human interest stories across India’s nooks and crannies helps him write a good mix of light and weighty verse.
And Jaideep Sahni (Company, Salaam Namaste, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Chak De! India, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) usually writes for films that he also scripts for. Brought up on a regimen that never included Hindi cinema, he thinks a shade out-of-the-box and yet is traditional. “I write scripts only for Yash Raj Films, but I jump at writing lyrics outside as our cinema’s USP — the lip-synched song — must be preserved. And yes, I think that we must connect with every kind of consumer and not just with the niche audiences or the critics.”

So where are lyrics heading? For worse or for verse? Sums up a contemporary singer, “The talent is there. Now let’s see whether it is allowed to bloom or to wither. After all, the legendary lyricists of yesteryear became what they were also because the filmmakers and composers brought out their best!”

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