Decoding Indian Lyricists

By Roshni Mulchandani

If you're a Hindi movie junkie, you get used to hearing odd words pop up in modern day music and in the past. Singers croon about mobile numbers and sexy clothing. They then switch gears to sing about love and their India. For years now, Bollywood (on a side note, that word makes me cringe!) lyricists have been penning fabulous verses to the some the countries best musicians. You know the current popular ones: Prashoon Joshi, Sameer and Majrooh Sultanpuri. While musically the songs have great rhythm and beat, audiences must hand it over to the lyricists who add soul and depth to the music. Unfortunately, they seem to get little or no credit for their hardwork, most music directors will tell you that they clearly should be considered "unsung heroes," in the music industry. To their advantage, these very lyricists have moved on with time writing cheesy, romantic, irrelevant and thought provoking words for songs which go on to become chartbusters.

The veterans, Javed Akhtar and Gulzar, who are still going strong, are not only lyricists but poets, scriptwriters and in the case of Akhtar Sabib, reality show judge too. However, decoding their lyrics, Akhtar is known for his popular use of Urdu words and clear nuances. Clearly sometimes, the audiences fail to understand the meaning behind his profound use of the language, in recent times, he has managed to understand the Gen-X psyche and while he continues to use his Urdu nuances, makes it more relatable to modern day Indians. While writing for India's first rock movie, Rock On!, he ultimately realized that his otherwise normal manner of lyric writing had to be thrown out the window. Rock music in India not only misunderstood but completely superficial. Indie-Rock is stereotyped with American rock which is only considered to be associated with tattoos and head banging. Akhtar who is used to using words such as "baliye", "chaliya" and "mahiya," had to take a complete U-turn for this album and rule out his more traditional words. While his knowledge was limited in this new genre, he knew that he would need to take a avant-garde approach creating new idioms for a millennium generation. Out with the old, in with the new, Akhtar's lyrics in the album features a whole new semantic system. His new thought process produced phrases such as "laundry bill" and "One day match ke passes." His most recent achievement has been the more traditional but beautifully versed "Sapno se bhare naina" from Luck By Chance. Only Javed Sahib could write a line which makes sense and causes you to stop and think, "Chain to apna sukh hai paraye." (Peace maybe our own, but happiness is elses.) In pure filmy fashion, Javed Akhtar is "Rocking On!"

Gulzar is in a simliar but perhaps more unique league. "Abstract," is a word that has been used to describe him and his work. On occasion, his listeners find themselves confused while attempting to decode his surreal lines. In his own style, he prefers to use objects as a way of helping listeners relate to a feeling or situation. If Javed Sahib uses feelings in a very natural manner, Gulzar will take those feelings and adapt them to an odd situation causing the heeder to pause a moment, rewind and relisten to decode. A simple and exceptional example is his work in Omkara. In the popular dance number "Namak Issak," Gulzar Sahib uses the image of eating a cool moon and the burning sensation it creates afterward to help his listeners understand the pleasure a woman feels after sex. Unconventional even for Gulzar who normally is more poetic with his phrases. The chorus of the song itself, "Jawab pe laga... namak ishq ka," continues to tell the story of the womans night with her lover and the remainders he has left on her lips. While this was a more controverial folk song, Gulzar has penned love songs in the most prettiest of ways and while you may not fall in love with anyone, you certainly can't help but feel fondness for the song. Only a lyricist such as "The Great Gulzar" could use colloquial words such as "bistar," "bartan," and "sofe" to excentuate a song and produce an award winning song. Gulzar is clearly, "zara hatke."

Those are the veterans, the newbies too are not far behind but do need a push and tug. They are avoiding the cliches, taking their words to the extreme and also shedding the traditional khadi while doing so. While they make take some time to pen fabulous verses which win awards, they are writing lyrics which too are colorful and rare. In recent times, some of the most popular songs have been written by young upcoming songs but the lyricists are still unknown. "Woh Lamhe," "In Dino" and "Awaarapan" have been written by Sayeed Quadri, Sandeep Srivastava and Chirantan Bhatt respectively. While these names probably sound alien to you, the songs probably don't. The talent is there however, these lyricists do not seem to get accolades that they clearly deserve. Music albums sell for many reasons including the starcast, the music directors and the singers. However, missing from this list is the names of the song writers. This is where the media must come in and help these unsung heroes. If they can popularize them and give them credit for which they have worked hard, it may help audiences apprieciate them more and increase credibility for lyrics in the Hindi music world. So next time you hear a ghana you particularly like, take a look at the CD cover and applaud the lyricist!

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