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It was ingenious to rhyme 'shaayari' with diary in Jaan-E-Mann.
Here was a film where the characters were very urban and well-educated in English. Their dialogues were studded with English, so once again, why should the songs be different?
Shirish Kunder's approach was unique - he was narrating a love story like animation, like a comic book, with images that stayed on. He used music in a very fresh way. For example, when each of the family members of the girl feel that she should marry one of the heroes he could have had various sequences about how they told the girl what they felt. But audio-visually he condensed it all into the song 'Kubool kar le...', which was like saying dialogues in songs.
Shirish had made a storyboard, and the lyrics flowed from there, with phrases like 'Shaadi ke liye agree nahin kiya...' and 'Taaron pe chalna-valna easy nahin...' In 'Humko maloom hai...' we had to condense a 10-minute scene into a few lines, to show that the girl's parents did not accept her man. I brought in intimacy with the words, 'Mom maani nahin, Dad naaraaz the...'. One of my fans told me that he realized that I had used English words weeks after listening to the song, because this is how we speak in real life! And tell me, can you think of a Hindi or Urdu word for a pullover, a diary or a note-book? With pullover the buck stops at sweater - which is also an English word!
Would you use English in your non-film shaayari?
I have used it. It is part of our natural way of expression. I do not see any compromise in aesthetics there. The borders between English and all our languages has been blurred anyway. Cup, glass, ticket, film, mummy, daddy - they are all English words. Should we translate coffee as 'maya' (liquor) or lawn as 'ghaas ka maidan' and call tennis as 'gend-balla'? I think that poetry must touch today's life and must reflect the era in which it is written.
That would mean that what was being done all these years was not very natural.
I agree - that was artificial language. A living language is always imbibing words from other languages, like English itself. Only a dead language can be a classic!
Your last four films show a synergy with young filmmakers and composers.
Yes, but I would prefer to point out that all four are completely different films where my language and styles are completely different from each other. There are lyricists who are known to be very good but write all kinds of subjects in the same language. I think that being different and variegated is even more important than just being a good poet!
You have always had an extraordinary result with A.R.Rahman, who unlike you barely knows Hindi and Urdu. How do you explain foolproof joint collaborations like Dil Se..., Saathiya and now Guru?
I think that music directors, like lyricists and singers, have a very keen sense of the most delicate tonal variations in sound. When we work together, I like to travel with my words as usual and he likes to travel with what he can do in music that is innovative. But the results come because both of us are travelling with the film.
Also, a quality that Rahman has is that he has totally changed the format of our songs - with him it is not necessary to have the conventional mukhda-antara-mukhda structure. His songs often run like a free verse poem, and free verse eminently suits me!
Guru is yet another example of how I mentally go and park myself into the character's psyche in a situation. Aishwarya Rai's song 'Barso re...' has all the images associated with a village. Abhishek Bachchan's songs have liberal Urdu and Persian as he has worked in Turkey, and I have maintained this even in their duets! In fact in one song the heroine even asks him in a line, 'Kyoon Urdu-Pharasi bolte ho?'
All these small nuances are not noticed most of the time and rob you of well-deserved appreciation.
How can I be in-your-face about it? It's all about being honest to your work.
From old-timers to R.D.Burman and then Anu Malik, Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj you move one more generation ahead to Pritam in Just Married. How was the rapport there?
Pritam has a very strong sense of melody apart from his inclination for Western music. His music in this film is completely different from his normal scores. I have again gone with the story and even referred to snoring in one of the songs, because snoring as a daily quirk achieves importance when a boy and a girl in an arranged marriage go for a honeymoon!
What made me happy about Just Married is that my daughter Meghna is so much aware of small-town middle-class sensibilities after narrating an urban, upper-class story in Filhaal. She even made Pritam stick to the right instruments. Many years ago, when Jagjit Singh scored my Ghalib, I had asked him to ensure that no instruments that were not around in Ghalib's time should be employed.
How has the music of The Blue Umbrella shaped up?
I think that after Pancham, the only composer I know who is great at children's songs is Vishal Bhardwaj - they both share this childish streak. I have done a lot of work with him from dubbed animation films to Makdee and a Tom&Jerry series.
What is coming up next?
I am doing Shaad Ali's Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and an album for children.