In popular Indian cinema, lyrics are to music what the heart is to the body; they help in creating a distinctive narrative, some conventions of which have been carried over from the early talkies era. Over the decades, songs have acquired a musical grammar of their own that helps build an emotional chord with listeners, both on and off screen. From populist numbers to flashy entertainers, songs have outlived films in people’s memory. Each song has a distinct aura that helps to take the cinematic narrative forward. This gave lyricists an opportunity to weave magic with words to articulate emotions in simple, accessible verses. Yet, their immense contribution to Hindi cinema has not got its due with music composers and singers being more recognised.
Main Shayar Toh Nahin is an attempt to rectify this. It revisits the lives and works of those whose lyrics have become a part of the cultural fabric. From the art and craft of song writing to structuring poetry into the film narrative, and from capturing the depth and range of human emotions to pacing simple verses as musical interludes, this book delves into all that went into loading simple words on complex situations to create lasting impact. The contributions of leading lyricists from Pradeep to Kaifi and from Majrooh to Gulzar have been so great that Hindi film songs have attained a personal and social relevance that goes beyond just pleasing the ear.
Without Sahir’s heart-rending Babul ki duaen leti jaa marriage ceremonies are rarely considered complete; Anand Bakshi’s reflections in Kuch toh log kahenge help listeners overcome life’s tribulations; and Shailendra’s classic Sajan re jhoot mat bolo holds moral lessons. By wielding the power of words and converting life’s experiences into simple but relatable verses, lyricists could evoke multiple emotions to suit myriad situations on screen. The effect is uplifting, inspirational, and soothing.
Lyricists, unlike poets, face the challenge of reading the situation, the emotion, and the character on the screen in selecting verses that not only conform to the musical tune but also appeal to the masses. ‘The power play of words saw entire philosophies written using fluid, everyday language,’ says the author Rajiv Vijayakar. Indeevar’s Kasme vaade pyaar wafa and Gulzar’s Aane wala pal jaane wala hai continue to resonate till this day. While creating a rich and variegated collection of happy, sad, and romantic songs, these lyricists had to strike a perfect balance between their creative instincts and the demands of the Hindi film industry’s ecosystem.
As the book traverses the musical journey of lyricists, it also seeks to explore why words and melody have a fleeting presence today. With commerce taking precedence over creativity, grammar, aesthetics, and language have taken a beating. How else would any lyricist use the word haalaatein when haalat (circumstances) itself is a plural term? Sadly, the consequent sense of loss that music lovers feel isn’t being taken seriously. Known for his impeccable reputation as a lyricist, the late Raja Mehdi Ali Khan had pronounced that a lack of language proficiency and the decline in the reading habit would result in the inevitable decline in the quality of lyrics. This is true. Most of the lyrics written today seem to be a mere assemblage of words, bereft of real thought.
Far from being judgmental, Vijayakar, who is an entertainment journalist, draws the contours of change sweeping the world of film music, and the challenges that lie ahead. It is evident that in the predominant market culture, songs have become products with a short shelf life. “Songs are dying faster today because the importance of words has decreased,” he writes.
Much of the onus rests on how the music industry recognises and responds to the importance of words, and gives lyricists their due in reviving the culture of songs. For lovers of Hindi film music, however, songs promise more than mere entertainment. They push thoughts, impart lessons, discuss morality, and provide a psychotherapeutic balm.
Main Shayar Toh Nahin is a tribute to the genius of past lyricists, whose words connected with audiences at a deeply personal level. Such has been the impact of lyrics that a vast majority can effortlessly recall several powerful songs. Few contemporary lyricists can uphold that rich tradition.