2016 yearender

Bollywood in 2016: Five lyricists who pushed for poetry in their film songs

This is the year in which Gulzar and Javed Akhtar are missing from the countdown.

Before the introduction of computer-generated music, Hindi film tunes were composed after the lyrics were written. This is how some of the acclaimed poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi was turned into film music.

These days, a music composer emails or shares a music file with the lyricist over chat on WhatsApp. The lyricist usually tries to sync his words with the length of the tune. The lyricist cannot eulogise – he has to be succinct and stick to the brief. Poet can write lyrically, but can lyricists infuse their words with poetry? Here are five songs from 2016 that reassured us that there is still hope.

Kaari Kaari from Pink

The despondent lyrics of Kaari Kaari, by Tanveer Ghazi, weigh down a butterfly’s wings with stones. The words “Titliyon ke pankhon par rakh diye gaye patthar” are followed by the theological jab, “Ae Khuda tu ghum hai kahan?” (God, where have you gone?)

Ghazi writes luminously, “Roshni ke paaon mein yeh bediya si kyon aayi” (Why have the feet of light been fettered in chains). He speaks of flower petals strewn over rocks, where they are lashed by acid rain and lie motionless like the dead bodies of dreams.

The powerful imagery echoes the thoughts of the three female characters in Pink. Their voices have been muted by the harassment they face in search of justice in a godless world. The theological line is an inversion of the classic, “Bhagwan ke liye mujhe chhod do” (Spare me for God’s sake) line that was once de rigueur for damsels in distress. The women of Pink fight back, and their courage is exemplified in the lyrics of Kaari Kaari. They draw strength from hopelessness.

Composer Shantanu Moitra’s tune is mournful and Pakistani singer Quratulain Baloch’s voice singes with her angst. The poetry of Ghazi’s words matched to the music uplifts the soul.

Play
‘Kaari Kaari’.

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan from Baar Baar Dekho

Dreams inhabit the world of Baar Baar Dekho, the film title being cue and clue. So when Jasleen Royal and Prateek Kuhad sing Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, you can guess that they are in a dreamland where lyrics can take any shape, such as “Jaadui imaartein hain” (Where buildings are magical).

The two characters Diya and Jai live in a bubble of their romance. Kuhad writes “Rooh se behti hui dhun ye ishaare de” (A tune floats from my soul to alert me). Isn’t this how lovers speak, in a language of improbable images? They sing of sitting on the shoulders of stars and curtains made of paper. The line that summarises their romance is “Paani mein doobe huye khwab alfazon ke” (The words of our dreams are dissolving in water). What could be more oneiric?

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‘Kho Gaye Hum Kahan’.

Ikk Kudi from Udta Punjab

A woman is missing in Udta Punjab and the lyrics of Ikk Kudi, sampled from Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Punjabi poem Ik Kudi Jida Naam Mohabbat (A girl whose name is love), describes her in poetic metre: she is tall as a cypress tree but not quite as old as fire, looks like a fairy and has the demeanour of Mary, drops petals from her mouth when she laughs and has the gait of a ghazal.

It is difficult to find someone with these attributes. In the refrain “Ghum hai, ghum hai, ghum hai,” which is the second line of the first and last stanza, Amit Trivedi’s tune and the vocals of Shahid Mallya and Diljit Dosanjh intensify the search for the elusive creature who is being evoked as a mythical waif from a dream and who, for lack of a name, is simply identified as love.

Play
‘Ikk Kudi’.

Nashe Si Chadh Gayi from Befikre

Nashe Si Chadh Gayi does the unthinkable. The lyrics for the song from Aditya Chopra’s Befikre are marinated in French, Hindi and Punjabi. The song by Vishal-Shekhar begins with the chorus introduction, “Ton sourire m’ensorcelle, Je suis fou de toi, Le désir coule dans mes veines, Guidé par ta voix” (Your smile captivates me, I am crazy about you, the desire flows in my veins, guided by your voice), all très bien. Then lyricist Jaideep Sahni takes over, adding Hindi and Punjabi words.

Although in sync with the film’s theme of millennial romance, it is Sahni’s choice of words that makes this track unusual. His similes are quirky in such lines as, “Humko turant aise lagti current jaise, nikla ho warrant jaise, abhi abhi utra ho net se torrent jaise” (I am instantly electrified by a current, like a warrant issued in my name, like a torrent file has been downloaded on the internet). “Net se torrent” is now a thing of the past, but it shows that Sahni is keeping up with the ever-growing demand for insta-lyrics.

The closest comparison to Sahni’s lyrics is the love ballad, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha (1942, A Love Story, 1994), written by Javed Akhtar. His similes compare a fair-skinned woman to wondrous sights: “Ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga jaise khilta gulab, jaise shayar ka khwab, jaise ujali kiran, jaise ban mein hiran” (When I saw a girl, I felt like I saw a blooming rose, like a poet’s dream, like a ray of light, like a deer in the forest).

In Sahni’s lyrics, when the man sees the woman, he sings, “Nashe si chadh gayi oye, kudi nashe si chadh gayi, khulti basant jaise, dhulti kalank jaise, dil ki daraar mein ho pyaar ka cement jaise, jung ki front jaise, mil jaaye sadiyon se atka refund jaise” (She makes me swoon, she is like an open spring, she rinses my sins, fills up my broken heart with her love cement, is a foot soldier in a battle, is a long-awaited refund).

How the times have changed, giving way from verse in songs to contemporised sms-poetry.

Play
‘Nashe Si Chadh Gayi’.

Channa Mereya from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

A sad song that makes the heart sing is what Channa Mereya achieves. It has an altruistic quality, Sufi in both sounds and words. Lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya writes about the lover as a friend who is taking up the path of the ascetic: “Mann ki maya rakh ke tere takiye taley, bairaagi, bairaagi ka suttee chola odh ke chala” (I have kept the illusion of my mind beside your pillow as I now wear the clothes of the pious and roam).

Bhattacharya ably tackles the difference between verse and lyrics. In the line, “Dil ke sandookon mein, mere acche kaam rakhna” (Keep a record of my good deeds in the treasure chests of your heart), it is implied that the heart has space for several “sandooks.” In verse, the poet would write “sandook” in the singular because it has a more direct impact on the sentence, with plural being vague, perhaps even leading to the risible, “In which numbered sandook is your good deeds stored?”

In lyrical form, the word “sandook” falls one syllable short of fitting in the metre of the tune, therefore “sandookon” is applied, giving the lyricist his raison d’etre.

The lyrics reflect the character Ayan’s true emotions. Bhattacharya expands on the theme of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: “Sachi mohabbat shayad wahi hai, jisme junoon hai, par do dilon ki yaari mein bhi toh kitna sukoon hai” (True love is that which is fuelled by madness, but no less is the friendship of two hearts in which resides peace). Composer Pritam’s melancholic tune and singer Arijit Singh’s heart-wrenching vocals elevate Bhattacharya’s words, neatly oscillating between poetic metre and lyrical rhyme. Channa Mereya is an ode to the brokenhearted.

Play
‘Channa Mereya’.
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