In his youth, Amitabh Bhattacharya dreamed of being a singer. So the Lucknow boy worked towards that ambition and did what anyone with creative dreams does – move to Mumbai, home of Hindi films. Today, Amitabh Bhattacharya is a lyricist.
A very good one at that. He put into words (finally) the excruciating pain of a breakup with the cathartic Emosanal Atyachar in Dev.D. He made the Bengali Bose Babu famous in the peppy Bhaag DK Bose in Delhi Belly. And he wrote the anthem for all men pondering the futility of love in Ainvayi Ainvayi Lut Gaya from Band Baaja Baaraat. But whatever happened to his original ambition?
“Nowadays I do so much writing, I don’t have the time to practice my singing,” says Bhattacharya. “So sometimes I look back and wonder about my original dream.” It was not an impossible dream. Bhattacharya’s family discovered quite early that their son had a talent for singing, and soon he was singing in Lucknow schools and on local radio and television. After graduating from Lucknow University in 1999, he moved to Mumbai and, like all young, ambitious singers, began his music career by doing jingles and remixes.
“I met Amit Trivedi (the composer Bhattacharya works with most often) through a mutual friend, Amartya. The two of them often pitched to do the music for TV series and so on. That meant they had to give presentations and they took me along as the dummy singer,” says Bhattacharya. “But we couldn’t just go ‘da da da’ in the presentations. We needed words, a song. So Amit asked me to write some random lyrics. And I discovered I could put words to a tune.”
This was a huge surprise for Bhattacharya who’d never been poetically inclined ever before. “I was always so reluctant when Amit asked me to write something,” he says. “I’d tell him: ‘tum mujhse singing kyun nahin karwate, bas likhwate rehte ho’.
And this continued for a good five years.” In 2004, however, when Amit Trivedi and their mutual friend Amartya persuaded Bhattacharya to write the lyrics for an independent album they were composing, Bhattacharya realised that as a lyricist, he actually was rather good. But that didn’t stop him from singing – that was what he’d moved to Mumbai for.Then Anurag Kashyap and Dev.D came into his life.
“Anurag loved the music samples Amit gave him when he pitched for the film, and obviously, Amit asked me to write. I agreed, but I was still complaining,” recalls Bhattacharya. “But as we worked on the film (in our spare time since we were involved in other projects), I started to enjoy it. And when Anurag offered us work on his film Aamir, we accepted.” Aamir and Dev.D released almost simultaneously, and the acclaim for Bhattacharya’s songs almost knocked him off his feet. “Great work and offers followed and I was inked as a lyricist in the Bollywood directory.” A brand new career started even before the old career had taken off.
“I had no training in writing, but that may be good because that means I belong to no particular school of writing,” says Bhattacharya. “Sahir Ludhianvi was a world-renowned poet and his poetry was reflected in his songs. Anand Bakshi’s stream of writing was conversational – logon ka kaam hai kehna, kuch to log kahenge – the ’70s and ’80s were his era. I don’t belong to any school of writing and I have no method. My writing is an instant reaction to the music. It just happens.”
Despite a steady string of hits, Bhattacharya is not a familiar name, let alone face, to the great Indian public. Work-obsessed and media shy, he’s never bothered to market himself. “I do give interviews, but they have to be intelligent,” he says. Also, I don’t have such a great body of work.”
That might change soon, because he has lots of films coming up. There’s one with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a few songs in Agent Vinod, some lyrics for Dharma Productions’s untitled film, Rajkumar Gupta’s next, Vikram Motwane’s Lootera, and Marathi filmmaker Sachin Kundekar’s first Hindi film. Despite the lack of time, he also sings for films – sometimes. “I like both singing and writing now,” Bhattacharya grins. “Bollywood has realised that a person can have many talents.”
Favourite Gulzar Songs
Kaminey’s title track: Am a big fan of Gulzar’s work. So it is a little difficult to pick one song but I loved the lyrics of Kaminey’s title song; Kabhi zindagi se maanga, pinjre mein chaand la do, Kabhi laanten deke, kaha aasmaa pe tango. Most songs talk of how life is so bad or good. This one doesn’t blame life but says it is expectations that get people in trouble.
Kajraare: Simple lines like Kajraare, Kajraare, Kajraare….. mere naina, judwa naina leave me baffled. It’s something that is so taken for granted. Everyone has a pair of eyes but it was Gulzar who made this simple fact into a hummable song.
Ek lau iss tarah kyun – Aamir
Bhaag DK Bose, Tere siva, Bedardi raja – All songs of Delhi Belly
Ainvayi Ainvayi Lut Gaya – Band Baaja Baaraat
Emosanal atyachar, Nayan tarse, Saali khushi – All songs of Dev.D
Abhi Mujh Main Kahin – Agneepath (2012)
Ek main Aur Ekk tu, Auntyji, Aahatein – All songs of Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu