In a lyrical rhapsody

She has probably gone ahead of the other female songwriters in Hindi cinema. Kausar Munir is running what can be described as a “one-female horse race” at which some of her contemporaries could not sustain, and is now part of the top five names — along with Amitabh Bhattacharya, Kumaar, Manoj Muntashir and Irshad Kamil. Like Maya Govind in the 1990s, she has made a distinct mark, the difference being that it has taken her less than a decade to do so, whereas the senior poetess had a gestation period of almost 20 years before she made it big.

Only good work matters

Has Kausar faced professional challenges most female lyricists did in some way or the other, like gender discrimination, being unable to conform to the industry’s work ethic, or anything else? Kausar stoutly denies any form of antagonistic attitude and says that “quality of work alone” counts here.

She only rues that when films flop, in most cases, good songs and the effort do not make the grade so far as audiences noting them are concerned — a classic recent case being of Begum Jaan. She does admit that the usual constraints of satisfying the director, producer, actor and music label all at the same time can become pretty annoying.

What is her view on recreations of songs today? “I am not averse to them,” she replies. “The younger generation gets to know good work and even goes to the originals, like my young daughter at home does.”

Kausar began as a television writer and continues to be one. She is into writing documentaries, film scripts and research. She also does stage and writes in magazines. “I am a writer at large,” she says. “I would be bored and saturated if I was doing any one of these things all the time! Lyrics are just one of my activities, and I did not start my career with them.”

Good friend Vijay Krishna Acharya (director-writer of Dhoom:3) knew her from the Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin days and when making his directorial debut with Tashan (2008) asked her if she would like to write a song for it. Kausar’s debut song ‘Falak Tak Chal Saath Mere’ remains popular even today, though the film was a disaster.

But Kausar says she did not take to regular songwriting until Ishaqzaade in 2012, when Habib Faisal, who she says is one of the rare film-makers who is “very picky” and likes to choose from many antaras, offered her the film. After these two movies that were both produced by Yash Raj Films, she has done six more for the banner, including Ek Tha Tiger, Daawat-E-Ishq and Dhoom:3.

Chashme Baddoor, Heropanti, Main Tera Hero, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Secret Superstar and PadMan are some of her other notable films. She has also penned the dialogues for Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Phantom, and is currently scripting Mukesh Bhatt’s next, Jalebi.

Kausar hails from a family with a literary background — her grandmother was Salma Siddiqui, who later married the legendary Krishan Chander. “She was a member of the Progressive Writers’ Association,” says Kausar. “As a kid, I would see some of the legendary poets and writers come frequently to my house.”

Kausar herself graduated in English Literature and writes mainly in Hindi and Urdu. “Knowledge of any language and culture, and your reading, enhances your views and experiences,” she notes. She thus disagrees with the idea that only writers who came from small towns or villages and are steeped in Hindi and Urdu have a depth or can do good work.

Something different 

About her approach to work, Kausar says that the director is the final boss and the language and thought will reflect the spirit of the film. “For me, versatility is important. When I wrote the song ‘Nachda’ in Phantom, someone I know said that he was pretty sure I had not written it! I wrote ‘Bhar Do Jholi Meri’ in Bajrangi Bhaijaan by changing every line except for the mukhda from the traditional version. I should be able to write ‘Tera Dhyaan Kidhar Hai’ (Main Tera Hero) and ‘Main Hoon Superman’ (Tevar) as easily as ‘Maana Ki Hum Yaar Nahin’ (Meri Pyaari Bindu) or ‘Aaj Se Teri’ (PadMan).

She admits that she does occasionally get crazy briefs from people who have half-baked knowledge of lyrics, carry some baggage and have limitations of language, like today’s SMS-Twitter-WhatsApp generation. “I believe that what I write must be sonically fitting the tune, which is considered sacrosanct, given more importance and created first in 9 of 10 cases,” she says. “They can tell you to change the words a million times and often want to focus on a catchphrase. However, hooks can be both good and bad, So, the meaning finally becomes another layer. The filming adds a third layer.”

In rare cases, she is told to write the lyrics first, and three examples she remembers off the cuff are ‘Pareshaan’ (Ishaqzaade), ‘Maana Ki Hum Yaar Nahin’ (Meri Pyaari Bindu) and ‘Prem Mein Tohre’ (Begum Jaan).

Asked about a recurrent malaise — singers with poor diction — she says, “The composer is the head of that department and must see to it that singers pronounce words correctly. If they want me, I do go for dubbings, but someone like Amit Trivedi is very particular about pronunciation.”

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