Poet-lyricist Rafeeq Ahamed talks about adapting to Mollywood without compromising on his writing

It is surprising to see the usually solemn-looking Rafeeq Ahamed breaking into a giggle when we ask him about some scratches on his left elbow. “There are many more all over my body. Actually, I tried to save a squirrel from a cat,” he says, trying to stop laughing. The numero uno lyricist in Mollywood, Rafeeq, a native of Akkikkavu in Thrissur district, wants to remain rooted. He reserves his flights of fancy for verses that have helped him soar high in the music firmament. But Rafeeq remains unfazed by acclaim or criticism.

“I never planned to be a poet or a lyricist. Actually, I haven’t struggled much in my life, not even to get a government job. That doesn’t sound good, right?,” he says, again with that rare smile of his.

Rafeeq, however, has one regret. “I took voluntary retirement last November since it became difficult for me to juggle my job, films and writing. I thought I would be able to devote more time to writing and reading once I retire. But that hasn’t happened till now. Films are not letting me take a break. Let me see how far it goes…,” he says. In fact, ever since he made a mark in 1999 with the song ‘Parayaan maranna paribhavangal…’ in Garshom, Rafeeq’s pen has given shape to several memorable compositions that have inscribed his name among the top lyricists in Malayalam cinema. Now every other film which releases has at least one song penned by him. “It all happened because people like V.K. Sreeraman and P.T. Kunjumohammed dragged me into writing lyrics for Garshom,” he says.

And he stood out from the crowd. “I have always. It might sound pompous, but I am proud that I could make a difference with my work. When I came on to the scene, lyricists were not in the picture, only tunes mattered. When people started noticing the lyricist, slowly the industry also joined the bandwagon,” he says. Being a music lover really helped, he adds. A huge fan of K.J. Yesudas and P. Susheela, Rafeeq says that music is part of his soul. “I can’t sing to save my life, but music influences me a lot. I love to listen to Hindi songs and ghazals as well, especially those of Talat Mahmood. Then there are Malayalam songs such as ‘Ekanthathayude aparaatheeram…’, ‘Parijatham thirumizhi thurannu…’ and ‘Innale mayangumbol…’ which are very close to my heart.”

Looking back, Rafeeq attributes his love for writing to his life as an introvert during his childhood. “The reading habit was already there since my father was a teacher. But I was a very weak child, so I rarely went out to play or mingle with others. I went into a world of my own to overcome that loneliness. My imagination took wing and I started writing. Romancing words continued even during college days, even as I was involved in politics as well,” he says, adding with a chuckle: “You know, I used to be a radical, though I don’t look so.”

Having worked with almost all the leading composers in the industry, Rafeeq says that being a lyricist is challenging. “The common practice is to write lyrics that flow with the tune. It has got its own beauty and charm. But the problem comes when people who have absolutely no knowledge or respect for Malayalam language come up with tunes. It becomes extremely difficult to fit in words within a particular meter,” he says. He has had to withdraw from certain projects on account of creative differences. “I never write sleazy words or those that tarnish our culture. On the other hand, I have no issues in writing foot-tapping numbers,” he says.

Rafeeq had to face flak for the song ‘Appangal embadum…’ from Ustad Hotel. “It was said that the song was a remake of a popular song from Malabar which says how a mother-in-law spreads out a lavish feast for her son-in-law. But the context of my song was entirely different. Nevertheless, I didn’t respond to any criticism. In fact, I could have easily listed out bad songs written by those who criticised me. If people have liked the song, then the credit should go to Anwar Rasheed and Gopi Sundar [director and composer of the movie, respectively]. If they find it bad, let me take the blame!”

Now that Malayalam cinema is going through a drastic change, lyricists also have to rise up to the occasion. The lyrics have to be in sync with the theme and situation, at the same time they should connect with the listeners as well, he says. “In addition, when a song is aired, no matter how melodious it might sound, unless the visuals are attractive and catchy, the song will not be promoted by television channels. Also, there are many songs of mine that I like a lot, but they weren’t noticed because the movies didn’t do well. A lyricist has to keep all that in mind. I think I’ve adapted to the situation and that is why people give me work,” he says.

His favourites

Parayaan Maranna… (Garshom)

Raakilithan… (Perumazhakkalam)

Ee Kalppadavil… (Out of Syllabus)

Mazha njaan … (Dr Patient)

Thekkini… (Sufi Paranja Katha)

Maymaasame… (Laptop)

Kizhakkupookkum… (Anwar)

Thattam pidichu… (Paradesi)

Kinavinte… (Adaminte Makan Abu)

Mazha kondu mathram…(Spirit)

Snippets

A poet with seven poetry collections to his credit, Rafeeq Ahamed has won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for his collection, Aalmara (2006)

He has won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Lyrics four times – for Pranayakalam, Sufi Paranja Katha, Sadgamaya and Spirit.

He is very excited about working with V. Dakshinamoorthy for the film Shyamaragam. “I wrote the lyrics and sent it to him. He made no changes. On another occasion, he visited my home and that was an honour for me. Working with Ilayaraja has been an equally rewarding experience.”

Rafeeq is married to Laila and they’ve two children, Maneesh and Lasya.

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