Cinema

Sound check

Irshad Kamil.

Irshad Kamil.  

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In the noise that Bollywood makes every week, let’s listen to a few reasonable voices that are making an impact on our minds

For long if you would ask a Bollywood lyricist why the standard of writing is coming down the standard reply is situations no longer demand poetry, they ask for rhyming words. But amidst these naysayers emerged Irshad Kamil, who is quietly working his magic on us. He is not shying away from using phrases like “Katiya Karoon”, thoughts like “Kun Faya Kun” and last week he gave male-female friendship a new meaning with “Tum Hi Ho Bandhu Sakha Tumhi”. “Those who complain about lack of situations are like those cricketers who complain about hostile pitches when playing abroad. The popularity of my songs have proved that a quality song makes even an ordinary situation special and that audience is ready to take pains to open dictionary if you give them quality.” He is right for there are plenty of websites which offer meaning of words like ‘katiya’.

Recognition hasn’t come easy to Kamil. When the album of “Rockstar” was first released, it didn’t have Kamil’s name on the cover. Today, Kamil plays it down as a clerical mistake but at that time he was furious. “What’s the point? The songs were such that people would have dug out the name of the lyricist.” He is right for the songs became bigger than the film and Kamil went on to grab all possible awards for “Naadan Parindey”. “I agree. The film has gone out of the system but the songs are still playing on people’s mind. Such is the beauty of Rahman’s compositions. It’s like slow poison.”

Hailing from Malerkotla in Punjab, Kamil has a doctorate in Urdu poetry. He first tasted popularity with “Sajna ve Sajna” in “Chameli” and went on to redefine the use of Punjabi in Bollywood songs. “I have steered clear of words like Heeriye, Soniye and shava shava. I wanted to prove that Punjabi has more to offer and that using words like Rabba or Maula doesn’t make a song sufi. Thankfully, my efforts are being noticed by the young generation,” says Kamil, pointing out “Aaj Din Chhadhya” (‘Love Aaj Kal’) as the number that sealed his deal with the audience ‘Jab We Met’ proved that he is here to stay. Kamil maintains he doesn’t write item songs and even if he has to pander to popular demand his antara has something to say. He cites “Zor Ka Jhatka” and “Kaisa Yeh Ishq Hai” as examples. Lyricists often complain about the pressure of composers and producers to go massy but Kamil has worked out a solution. “I like to work with composers like Pritam and A.R. Rahman who don’t have deep understanding of Hindi and Urdu. They trust me and it gives me flexibility. But it also put a lot of responsibility on me to justify the faith they show in me.” He says it is not that he doesn’t experiment with English words. In “Sadda Haq”, he talks about nature and the bucolic “Kaisa Yeh Ishq hai” rhymes with “Ajab Sa Risk Hai”. “The topicality has to be on the top of the mind but it doesn’t mean crude language or easy way outs,” he insists. “There are innumerable ways to express I love you, you just have to keeping pushing the boundaries.”

However, to give the cynics their due, sometimes his songs jar with the language or image of the characters in the film. For instance “Katiya karoon” plays in the background when we are desperately trying to read Nargis Fakhri’s lips, “Dhunki” was lip synced by Katrina Kaif and in “Cocktail” Diana Penty was heard singing ‘Dil ki Takhti par Likhti hoon Ishqa Ishqa’ in Cape Town and when Deepika Padukone’s edgy character Veronica gets pensive we have a hard core Punjabi number “Jugni” playing in the background. Doesn’t he think takhti (slate) is a bit too much? Kamil disagrees. “The characters are based in London, which has a strong Punjabi influence. And I have seen youngsters who have grown up abroad either speak accented English or their mother tongue the way it was spoken 20 years back, when their parents migrated.” After a pause, he adds, “And even if it jars I feel songs portray our true feelings and they should be expressed in pure language.”

Back room boy

Many of us might know him as Sunidhi Chauhan’s husband but for industry insiders Hitesh Sonik and many like him are unsung heroes who love music more than fame. Sonik is the trusted music producer of Vishal Bhardwaj and has given background music in films like “Gulal” and “Ishqiya.” “I am used to lack of media interest. The awareness is increasing but many composers still resist sharing the credit. In India we have this tendency to give all the credit to the head of the family.” Explaining the music producer’s job, Sonik says his role is to realise the composer’s vision, to make the music more than the sum of its parts. In layman’s terms if the composer is the architect, the producer is the engineer.” Nephew of Omi and grand nephew of Sonik of the popular Sonik Omi duo of yesteryears, Hitesh says earlier composers used the word arranger or even music assistant for producer. “My uncles arranged for Madan Mohan and Roshan before starting out on their own. In R.D Burman’s team Manohari Singh and Basu da played this crucial role. In Shanker-Jaikishen’s orchestra there was Sebastian. I am told that Pyarelalji was the producer in the Laxmikant Pyarelal duo.” Hitesh feels it is not the inability to start from scratch that prevents producers to seek a career as a composer.

“After years of practice, you start understanding film music inside out. Most of the times it is the inability to get along with film producer and director – people who are not always aware of the aesthetics of music – that prevents producers from taking a leap. With composers they feel at home. So in a way it is opting music over fame,” says Hitesh who has also started composing with ‘Pyaar Ka Punchnama’, ‘My Friend Pinto’ and ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’.

Talking about background music, Hitesh says this is another area that has been ignored over the years. “Background sound can make or break a film. I remember the current generation noticed its importance with ‘Parinda’ but in an attempt to cut corners usually producers don’t give its due. If you take background music out of ‘Satya’, the film will fall flat.” He is right. Recently, when ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ didn’t find distributors, Tigmanshu Dhulia brought in Sandeep ‘Satya’ Chowta to change the background sound from melodramatic to absorbing. The result we all know. “I feel the film’s poster should prominently feature the name of background music composer. Music director’s name should be only on the film’s songs’ album.” But he doesn’t see it happening in near future.

“Till the audience are busy swooning to item numbers and songs remain the only way to pull audience to theatres, background sound will remain in shadows.”

The rebel

Listening to “Ek Bagal Mein Chaand Hoga, Ek Bagal Mein Rotiyan”, you feel how it will fit in today’s cinema. But Anurag Kashyap deftly managed it in “Gangs of Wasseypur”. Piyush Mishra, who has written the song, debunks the situation vs quality theory. “They are not directly proportional. It is just an excuse. I wrote the song way back in 1996 when I was in Delhi for my play “Ek Thi Sipi, Ek Thi Sili”. It was about an underprivileged family where the mother used to sing it to her daughters, a dream that everything will be fine. Anurag liked it and asked me to compose it after little tweaking.” Mishra, who once composed, a mujra (‘Ranaji’ with Hitesh Sonik in ‘Gulal’ which commented on America’s hegemonic designs, says a song writer can’t close his eyes to the society.

“It is not about trying to be a rebel. What we are seeing today is degeneration of our core values and it should reflect in our songs. Sahir is still listened to. So you can’t say people don’t like to be pinched out of dreamland. To me ‘Goli Mari Bheje Mein’ works because it tells the philosophy of the character,” says Mishra who has also made a mark as a supporting actor.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 12:39:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/sound-check/article3657607.ece

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