Flipping channels on the telly last week, I stopped at Drew Barrymore twist-lipping these lines from the 2007 rom-com, Music and Lyrics, "A melody is like seeing someone for the first time. The physical attraction… But then, as you get to know the person, that's the lyrics. Their story..." If you were to believe that, then lyricist Mayur Puri's story would be fairly unidimensional. Or that's what you'd imagine after hearing the latest soundtrack that mutilates a kindergarten favourite from It's Entertainment.
Sample: Johnny Johnny? Haanji, Do dikhte hai? Naaji, Aankhein kholo - Haanji, Jhooth boleya? Naaji. He's the same person who introduced the golden phrase Touch karke eight times in the opening stanza of Sari ka fall from R... Rajkumar last year. And he's not the only one intent on murdering the dulcet quality we have come to associate with Hindi film lyrics over the years. But all of Bollywood is cheering him along.
2013 was a peculiar year when it came to song writing. There were songs describing body parts (Tooh from Gori Tere Pyaar Mein), kicking body parts (Bum pe laat from Himmatwala), even teaching you Maths (One two three four from Chennai Express); frankly, ever since Hum Saath Saath Hain taught us the alphabet (called the ABCD song, it had the entire alphabet in it!) this was a long time coming. A bhajan was desecrated into a part rap/part song ending with Ola amigos sabko salam, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram (Krrish 3) and a beloved was addressed as Coca Cola, wine and a pistol's thaayn - Tu pyali, main chaai, main pistol tu thaayn (in a song titled Pe Pe Pe from Shortcut Romeo).
Face savers like Zinda (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag), Tum tak (Raanjhanaa) and Manmarziyan (Lootera) were few and far between. Says Irshad Kamil, lyricist for movies like Rockstar, Aashiqui 2, Raanjhanaa and Highway, "Most lyricists are handed a pre-conceived refrain from their directors, which they need to turn into a superhit." He adds that since many of these songs did end up becoming hits, terrible song-writing got a stamp of commercial approval.
The exclusive film club whose entry point was once Rs. 100 crore aims to cross a Rs. 1000 crore in the near future. And music is a chunky slice of that pie.
Filmmakers are unwilling to let mindless lyrics upset this precarious economic equation. Little wonder then that in 2014, any movie vying for the mega crore club features at least one number on the lines of a Char botal vodka or Aaj blue hai paani... aur din bhi sunny sunny. "Bollywood works on formulas," says song-writer Swanand Kirkire, known for his unique, thoughtful lyrics. "If something works, there'll be at least ten variations of the same. After a Sheila, you'll have Munni, Babli or Pinky, each raunchier than the last. Vulgarity can work if it propels the story ahead, like Gulzar sa'ab did with Beedi jalaile in Omkara (2006). A song should come organically in a film and not be forced," he says.
The Urdu phase
Gulzar's songs are an oasis in the middle of the desert that is today's Bollywood music. His songs in Dedh Ishqiya, in chaste Hindustani and Urdu, were a throwback to the '50s, when heroes dropped heavy Urdu dialogues. Those poetically rooted lyrics were a reflection of their times, starkly contrasting with the situation today when even casual Hindi is often laborious for the Hinglish-speaking audience. Says Akshay Manwani, author of Sahir Ludhianvi - The People's Poet, (HarperCollins), "In the '50s, Urdu was the main language for song writing, regardless of the langauge the lead character spoke. So to make it more democratic, lyricists like Anand Bakshi introduced a simpler, conversational style to lyrics, such as Mere sapno ki rani kab aayegi tu.
The lyrics roster: Barring a few songs, Zehnaseeb (above) and from Highway (top) - 2014 has not been good for lyrics so far
Then, in the '70s, when the protagonist became an angry young man, expecting him to sing shayari would've been a bit odd." He says that it's this 'democratisation' which went vulgar and ridiculous in the '80s, '90s and 2000s. "It's important to note that most lyricists then - Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra - were basically poets. But now except for Irshad Kamil, who has a PhD in poetry, none of the big names are poets per se. Prasoon Joshi is a former ad man, while Swanand (Kirkire) does theatre along with songs. Therefore, the lyrics today are also an expression of these writers, who come from diverse backgrounds."
With releases like Highway and Dedh Ishqiya, 2014 had a promising start. But Baby doll and Char botal vodka from Ragini MMS 2, Ice cream khaungi from The Xposé and now Johnny Johnny from It's Entertainment quickly dashed these hopes to the ground. Even though songs like Zehnaseeb (Hasee Toh Phasee) and Mast Magan (2 States) do turn up, they're exceptions to the rule. Hoping for deep lyrics rooted in poetry seems an impossible dream at this point. So bring on the chaar botal vodka - to drown one's sorrows in naturally.
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From HT Brunch, July 13
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