Lyricist Irshad Kamil speaks about his work

It was just eight years ago that Irshad Kamil started out with Chameli moving on to Socha Na Tha, Ahista Ahista, Karam, Shabd and more. The good times did not take long to start rolling, beginning with Jab We Met, and rapidly progressing to Love Aaj Kal, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Action Replayy, Mausam, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Desi Boyz and Rockstar.

The lyricist, however, is in no hurry of any kind. "I want to work hard and with complete honesty," he says candidly. "I am not in the game of trying to show that I am a big-name lyricist – I would like to be content even being a Raja Mehndi Ali Khansaab, a small name with an impeccable reputation. I have never been impatient in the matter of fame or money. I turn down films whose stories I do not like. Some people feel that mera dimaag kharab hua hai but I think that a lyricist has as much right to refuse a project as an actor, cameraman or choreographer."

Luck and talent, he points out, are certainly not the prime factors in one's success. "They rank pretty low actually in a lyricist's career. There are so many aspects – your personality, life's experiences and other aspects that can never be taught. Two people can read something but only one will incorporate what is good within it into his life. There are hugely-talented lyricists who fail to make the grade and end up as ghost-writers for well-known names. I never believed this till a few such people actually called up and offered to write for me!"

Irshad has one grouse – that lyrics and lyricists are taken very casually by producers. "When ownership supercedes creativity, if I may put it that way, there's trouble ahead. Oddly enough, good content is the only precondition for good business!" he smiles ruefully. "When I am asked to change words for the sake of it, or just for following a trend, I feel like telling them, 'I will give you substitutes, but can doing this guarantee your film even three extra tickets?'"

Because of this, Irshad is happy working with composers who do not know Hindi well! "It's when people like Pritam or Rahman-sir tell me to completely look after the meaning that I feel doubly responsible for my work and also feel unshackled. I know that people in today's times are going to learn Hindi by listening to film songs, so I cannot propagate wrong grammar or language. I enjoyed working with Shantanu Moitra in Prakash Jha's Chakravyuh."

And then there is M. M. Kreem. Irshad hasn't quite got over the sheer joy of working for this Southern genius in Neeraj Pandey's Special Chhabbis. "I have never seen anyone so brilliant yet quick!" he raves. "Kreemsaab is incredible. If the director or I do not understand a tune that he's made, he comes up with another brilliant tune in five minutes!"

How does Irshad look at present-day trends where a lyricist has to think too much about the sound of what he writes? "I have always given the thought the utmost importance. I can sacrifice sound for thought but never the converse!" he declares. "I am also very particular about one more point: that every song should have an ascending graph from the mukhda (opening lines) to the final antara. The second antara has to be better and more powerful than the first, which is what most writers today do not realise," he says. "Poetry and lyrics are more than about just being good in the language. I may know English but I cannot write English poetry!"

Irshad is however very fluent with Punjabi. "I am as familiar with it as I am with Hindi or Urdu, so I will never write incorrect or bad Punjabi. When I use Punjabi in my songs, like when the makers of Mausam wanted, you will never find the standard maahiya/maahive, heeriye, soniye kind of lexicon in them."

Yet another distinguishing feature of his romantic songs is that he never alludes to the standard aankhen, zulfein, baahen, kamar kind of descriptions. "I never go on that route," the lyricist tells you. "True love is formless and subliminal. Tumse hi (Jab We Met) and Tum jo aaye (Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai) are examples of what I mean." The lyricist is highly influenced by Sufi tenets. "For me, Sufism is about devotion and a specific feel. It is the concept of mohabbat where you think of the feeling and not of a boy or a girl. Unfortunately again, people have no clue about what is Sufism. Someone wanted to award me for writing the 'Best Sufi song of the year' for Rabba main to mar gaya from Mausam just because of the word rabba being present in it!"

Irshad admits that he cannot thrust his personal views and tenets into his work at the expense of the script and character. "I am very clear that even in my most situational songs I must present some truisms of life – there has to be an ascent or uththaan in the song, like in Zor ka jhatka haaye dheere se lagaa in Action Replayy. It is the truth element that connects. I am proud to say that 80 out of 100 songs of mine have worked irrespective of how the film fared."

Irshad believes that good directors automatically ensure good music. "Abbas Ali Zafar, my director in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, is working on his next script and intermittently keeps having interactions with music director Sohail Sen and me for potential song situations," he says. "Prakash Jha knows exactly what he wants and likes to work with people who know precisely what to do in their respective departments. I barely realised how quickly and easily we completed three songs for Chakravyuh. With director Ashwani Dhir, Sajid-Wajid and I created a wonderful song in Son Of Sardaar before technical issues resulted in our quitting the film. The song will be retained."

Coming up also are Pritam's Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai 2, Cocktail and T-Series' next directed by Bhushan Kumar's wife Divya and two films with A. R. Rahman, Raanjhana and the Hindi version of Kochadaiyyaan.

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