When Amitabh Bachchan and Parveen Babi danced to
yeh khoobsoorat sama,
warning the villain to watch out in the film
, we danced with them. And we still do – at every pub and party, whenever the retro number is played.
Naturally, when we dance, we don’t stop to think about the words. So for years and years it’s never occurred to any of us to ask: What on earth does Yamma yamma mean anyway?
Just as we haven’t the faintest idea what Tha karke means, even though the song from Golmaal Returns is a hot favourite on the radio and at parties.
These two aren’t the only songs with lyrics featuring words that are completely meaningless. Songs like these have always existed. Such as Eena meena deeka by Anand Bakshi and Rajinder Krishan – a song that always gets our feet tapping. And the fairly new Tainu dulha kinne banaya bhootnike written by Mayur Puri for Singh is Kinng.
But here’s the interesting thing about these songs. They are always, always chart toppers. Even though, as the lyricists themselves admit, the words mean nothing at all.
Hit me, baby
“Bakwas lyrics are just a fun element to make the songs peppy and popular,” says lyricist Ashish Pandit who wrote Tha karke and Love mera hit hit for the film Billoo. “And popularity is what all song makers (lyricists and composers) want most.”
Pandit laughs when you inquire if gibberish really is the path to success, but does admit that writing ‘bakwaas’ got him noticed. “The point is that there has to be an effort to remain out of the clutter,” he explains. “Lyrics like these may not be intellectually stimulating but they are definitely out of the box.”
And ‘out of the box’ is exactly what is required in these testing times when trends have to be followed or you’re a loser, and most listeners have short attention spans.
“We always had random lyrics, but those songs were few,” says playback singer Akriti Kakkar. “Now, almost every film has at least one song with random lyrics because there is now a great trend of ‘quotable songs’. Every filmmaker now wants at least one song that will be different in some way or the other – a ‘different’ voice, ‘different’ lyrics or ‘different’ rhythm. Something has to catch the listener’s attention.”
And having caught the listener’s attention, it’s difficult to keep it, says Pandit. “With so much music all around us, a song will stay in public memory for no longer than six months,” he says. “So if a song can be a chart topper for four out of those six months, why crib?”
Often, these bakwaas lyrics are not the creation of the lyricists themselves. The perpetrators of meaningless words and phrases are frequently music composers, directors or producers who come up with a hook line and want a song to be written around that.
This may or may not go down well with the lyric writer, but the options are limited. For instance, it was Shah Rukh Khan, producer of Billoo, who insisted that a song be written around the line Love mera hit hit. Lyricist Gulzar refused to write such a song, so Ashish Pandit was brought in and the song became what it is. “It happens all the time,” says Pandit. “Film and music makers think of a hook they feel may work with the audience and give it to the lyricist. Also, often, a meter is set and a tune is given. We just have to fill up the meter.”
A change in the way songs are perceived in movies has also contributed to the way lyrics are written. For instance, Mayur Puri wrote Bhootnike for Singh is Kingg keeping the situation in mind – the local language was important, the character had, well, a certain character, and the film itself had a certain flavour.
“In general, songs are no longer inserted into films just to add masala,” says Puri. “More often than not, they are now an extension of the conversation that a character will perhaps be having. They are like dialogues. The character of Happy Singh in Singh is Kinng is a regular, rustic village guy who goes for his friend’s wedding. He is teasing his friend and that’s exactly what the song is about. The lyrics of any song need to suit the mood and the characterisation. It isn’t about good or bad lyrics.”
Music composer Shekhar Rajivani agrees. “Songs now really are dialogues,” he says. “And they are demanded by the script. So as long as the lyrics are not cheesy, I am very open to random lyrics. Songs like Tujhe Aksa beach ghumaoon and Maa da ladla bigad gaya are very conversational. They add fun to the situation, but also carry the story forward.”
Poetry in motion
But what happened to great lyrics like those of the past? Lyrics that were actually poetry? Isn’t what’s happening now a major intellectual comedown?
Pandit has no compunction in accepting that what he writes is far from poetry. But Puri feels it’s unfair to castigate these songs as no-brainers.
“I am not a poet though I would love to be one,” says Pandit. “But the fact remains that I have to make my mark. And if the demand is for meaningless songs, then so be it. The industry is full of great poets and I know they may not think much of what I write, but if I start writing just the way they do, where do I stand? I can use great vocabulary and talk about ‘hawa’, ‘badal’, ‘zulfein’, ‘aankhen’ and so on, but how am I different then? I’d rather connect with the masses and tell my girlfriend Tu ladki hai fit fit, to kyun yeh khit pit!”
Puri is much more passionate about the great lyrics-poetry divide. For him songs of this sort are an expression of a mindset, and that is how he defines poetry. “It’s nice to be a pseudo intellectual and use big words but honestly, if I want to tell someone ‘let’s go to Aksa beach’, how else can I say it? What poetry can I make with that?” he asks.
Puri defines poetry as something that fits a situation and has a perspective. “So even a great song with great lyrics that happen to be out of context is bad poetry,” he explains. “No offence, but a great song like Genda phool was completely misplaced in Delhi 6. If a girl is doing an item number in a bar with drunk men all around her and sings Kehte hai badi hot hoon main – Tequila ka ek shot hoon main, it is far more poetic. At least it suits the mood and the situation.”
Debates can go on forever, but music makers have one thing to say: when music is becoming so experimental, isn’t it fair to have fun with it?
“There is a lot of scope now to do whatever you want with music, so why worry?” asks Rajivani. “As long as it doesn’t offend anybody, go ahead and jive to it.”