Every Hindi film song has a story, and who better than the songwriter to share its journey? Sunshine Lanes contains the lyrics of a selection of film and non-film tracks by songwriter, poet and advertising executive Prasoon Joshi. In these edited excerpts, Joshi reveals the making of five of his best-known tunes.
‘Roobaroo’ from ‘Rang De Basanti’
‘Roobaroo’ is akin to my inner voice. It is a song of self-discovery and realization. Perhaps it expresses the feelings of every person who believes in his or her talent but faces moments of doubt nonetheless; and regains confidence through introspection and self-suggestion.
It somehow also expresses what Rakeysh (the director) believed in. Not just because it is from our film but because, in a way, it is his truth as well. It is the truth of Aamir too, who stood up against all odds to stand by what he believed in. It is also the truth of Rahman who redefined popular music.
I wrote two versions of this song… We realized it later that the line ‘Kyun sahte rahein’ was a mix-up. This phrase is from the first version of the song and doesn’t quite fit into the second version, if you observe minutely. We could have deleted it from the recording as I had noticed that there was a slight discordance. But I believe in a song having its own identity, a life of its own. The song chose this line and I did not want to interfere with the larger scheme of things.
‘Dafatan’ from ‘Delhi-6
This song almost wrote itself. I simply soaked myself into it and immensely enjoyed the process. It conjured up various images in my head and I tried to express the ‘chemical reaction’ of love through poetic expressions. Being in love gives one a surreal sense of being on a trip where images, reality and objects merge into each other.
‘Samundar lehron ki chaadar odh ke so raha hai’ (Wrapped by waves, the ocean sleeps away) was the first expression that I wrote for this song. Another one that I am fond of is ‘ghazalon ki sohbat mein geet bhi behek rahe hain’ (In the company of odes, songs go astray.)
There was much more written than what was finally recorded or rather released. We had a difficult time choosing between the antaras. I fought till the very end to retain all the antaras but we could not accommodate all of them due to lack of space.
An interesting incident related to this song was the experience of teaching the song to the singer—Ash King. He wasn’t familiar with the Hindi language. It took him nearly two days to get the pronounciation right for he had a very peculiar British accent at that point.
We went back and forth but the song sounded mellifluous when he sang it as he meandered gracefully through the notes like a deer.
‘Dekho Inhein’ from ‘Taare Zameen Par’
The metre that I was given for this song was much shorter than what it is now. I remember trying to fit in the thought in the old metre, and as a result, the song sounded complicated. Aamir (Khan) freed me of this constraint. He volunteered to speak with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and said that I should write without restriction.
I was delighted with this because I really wanted to explore the route I had taken. I wrote for a few days and met Aamir with my draft. He proposed that we go off to Panchgani where he has a house and soon we were there.
I already had two antaras, and therefore a full song, ready by then (the normal length of a song these days is two stanzas) but Aamir being Aamir, insisted—and thankfully so—that I keep exploring similes about children.
In the midst of writing this song, I remember telling him, ‘When I finish writing, you will not want to delete anything, but practicality will take over and I will be compelled to sacrifice thoughts and words I am writing so tenderly.’
He promised he would not delete anything. Thus, I wrote for the entire day and we had the title song ‘Dekho inhein yeh hain oas ki boondein’. As promised, nothing was deleted and we went straight to recording a seven-minute title song.
Shankar- Ehsan-Loy and I go back a long way and know each other’s working styles very well. Shankar has an amazing ability to be flexible with his compositions; he is extremely blessed and his magic is evident in this song.
Aamir gave us the idea of similes about children being endless. And thus, we worked it out in such a way that while listening to the song, it feels that the metaphors about children can go on and on. The song fades out—leaving a feeling of being lulled into love and innocence.
‘Ab Ke Sawan’ from the non-film album ‘Ab Ke Sawan’
When I was approached to write for the album Ab ke Sawan, I remember asking Shubhaji (Shubha Mudgal) whether she was sure that she wanted to do a popular music album. Her answer was, ‘Why not?’
I had known Shubhaji for some time and admired her voice and musical genius. An irreverent musician, who does not believe in straitjacketing music and its forms, she’s a free-minded artist. And along with Shantanu Moitra (the music composer) and Atul Churamani of Virgin records, we made an eclectic team. A team made for each other. The sense of freedom I experienced in this project was remarkable.
A small detail that has stayed with me is the memory of installing Hindi fonts in my computer. Those days, it was rare to get hold of Hindi fonts and the red Hindi letter stickers on my keyboard stay vivid in my imagination.
‘Ab ke Sawan’ was one of those songs which completely took me by surprise at the time of the recording. I knew the tune and the words were very good but didn’t know that it would turn out to be this high voltage song. Only and only Shubha Mudgal could do this.
Shantanu too made sure that he gave enough space for poetry in his melody. As a result, each word in ‘Ab Ke Sawan’ is audible despite it being such a high-energy song.
‘Dekho Na’ from ‘Fanaa’
‘Dekho na’ was a love song that went on to become quite popular. But here I simply must share my frustration with the phenomenon called ‘dummy words’. Sometimes, random words are used to give the song a structure so that the tune can be developed further. They are not written or specified by the poet/lyricist but the music director or his assistants. These random words need not be grammatically correct or even poetic. Just a semblance of a thought or a word, even a meaningless phrase is used to move the work forward.
If these words are used for this purpose alone, it is fine or rather tolerable. But quite often the team can’t see beyond the dummy words. The power of repetition makes even mediocre things run in a loop in the head and dummy words assume a life of their own.
The only person who fights the use of dummy words in the final song is the poet/lyricist. He really has to argue his way through to get dummy words replaced by refined lyrics. In this song, ‘Dekho na’ was the dummy phrase. I had to retain it. Thankfully, I managed to remove the rest of the dummy lines, but had to work harder to instill meaning so that ‘dekho na’ didn’t stand out as a sore thumb.
Excerpted with permission from Sunshine Lanes, Prasoon Joshi, Rupa Publications.