HT Brunch Cover Exclusive: Five of Bollywood’s top lyricists come together!
It’s a lazy morning at Taj Mahal Tea House where I am to meet five of Bollywood’s top lyricists: Kausar Munir, Anvita Dutt, Swanand Kirkire, Varun Grover and Amitabh Bhattacharya. They claim to be great friends but then fiction is their forte, and the film industry is anyway famous for peddling hallmark-card versions of every relationship, of course replete with lachrymose background music. Competitors can’t really be friends, I think. They can be acquaintances. Drinking buddies perhaps. But friends? Can’t be.
Before the morning ends, these five will convert the cynic in me.
We have a photoshoot planned. Kausar, who is the first one to arrive is anxiously checking her phone till the last person of the group is safely in. She is followed by Anvita and Swanand. Anvita is the shy one and being severely sleep deprived didn’t help her cause much. But seeing their friend’s struggle the other two spring into action, while Kausar tries to play the director, silently instructing her how to pose, in a manner that is reminiscent of amateur dumb charade, so as to not disturb the photographer, Swanand goes a step ahead and starts making funny gestures standing in front of her. This two-pronged strategy works and Anvita slowly lets her guards down. But the next SOS comes from Varun to Swanand in the form of a WhatsApp ping asking for a lavish loan of ~50 to pay the auto wallah! “We, lyricists don’t make much money you see,” Swanand laughs as he dashes out waving a 50-rupee note to Varun whose auto has just screeched to a halt in front of the café.
As Swanand is harassed for a treat in view of his recent National Award, we wait for Amitabh Bhattacharya. He has been incommunicado since morning, but I am assured he will ‘most probably’ turn up as he had confirmed his presence in the Shirt-kurta Group, a WhatsApp group created by the three boys to decide today’s dress code. In fact, their friendship began with a WhatsApp group to share pictures after Amitabh’s birthday a few years ago. It was called Dimpu Ka Birthday but has now been renamed Nagma Nigar, although Anvita had suggested The Hookers given their daily struggles for hooklines.
Dimpu aka Amitabh finally arrives and Swanand calls the mehfil that ensues Jashn-e-fekta. The conversation topics seamlessly shift from the lunch platters in Bandra to Amitabh’s new car to the relationship or the lack of it between a pomelo and Othello and making a watertight and stink-free case for Bombills, their banter is only broken by our photographer’s exasperated pleas for keeping the direction of their laughter towards the camera. And they are not only friends for fun times. While talking about one another, there are moments when their voices waiver and choke with emotions, their eyes well up, and each of these ephemeral moments are turned into heartwarming memories by a caring arm of a truly protective friend around the shoulder or a tight hug or a random forced joke.
Band of brothers
These are competitors, often considered for the same projects. They are also friends. “In fact when I was asked to complete a song Swanand had written the mukhra of, I called him to ask if he was okay with me writing the antara of it. So, we have a song that we have written half and half!” laughs Anvita.
Kausar also recalls an instance when she and Amitabh wrote versions of the same song for Tubelight (2017) and the two were merged. For Padman (2018), Kausar did the songs and Swanand wrote the film. There are songs where they have collaborated as writers and even as singers. Swanand has sung Varun’s Tu Kisi Rail Si(Masaan 2015), and Amitabh’s favourite, Monta Re. Anvita and Amitabh wrote versions of the same song, Nazdeekiyaan (Shaandaar, 2015). There are so many instances.
“When one person writes something really good, we all genuinely appreciate it. Instead of jealousy, there is a feeling of intense pride. We all are very confident in our own work also,” explains Kausar.
Dissecting their unique bond, Varun says: “We connect on an intellectual level for sure, but more than that we connect on an emotional level. And that removes the insecurity, jealousy and competition from the equation. We like each other’s work but also genuinely like one another as people.”
Anvita adds: “It is like finding a mirror image. Ulta hai, vipreet hai, par essentially we are the same. We have the same struggle, the same pain, the same loneliness. So how can we not be drawn to one another? We are a tribe.”
Notes on a scale
Indeed. Swanand is an old soul and admits that he and Kausar have the bada bhai syndrome. “Kausar and I are the older children in big families and have been brought up to keep others’ interest first.”
Varun is the rebel. His zeal is admired by the rest even if his outspokenness and political irreverence often become a cause of worry. “If there is one person I would want as a role model for my daughter, that is definitely Varun,” admits Kausar. Anvita seems to be the most emotional of the group. She wants to wrap her friends in protective cotton wool, shielding them from hurt, but she cries the most. Swanand calls her tears ‘vegan,’ because they are so pure. And Amitabh is the archetype of the child, honest with his words and free with his tantrums. “He has a pure soul. His energy is that of a Divine Child,” says Anvita.
Amitabh cuts in. “Haan, mein uparwale ka first draft hoon!” To which Swanand says: “Nahin, tum uparwale ki hookline ho! Aur hum antare hain!” and everyone falls about laughing.
“Now we have to see who is the second antara amongst us,” chuckles Kausar. She explains the inside joke: “Second antare mein aap dead body bhi chhupa sakte ho. People are just about hooklines these days. Nobody cares about the antaras, let alone the second antara!”
A chorus line
Probably the most beautiful thing about this bunch of friends is that apart from being part of a group, they all are close to one another individually. “We all met each other separately before we became a group, so we all share individual equations with one another,” says Kausar.
Recently, for Anvita’s birthday, Kausar and Amitabh went to Kolkata, where the birthday girl was shooting her debut directorial, just to wish her in person. “I didn’t know Amitabh was also coming. So when I called Kausar and she said, ‘Hum nikal rahein hain,’ I thought maybe the whole vibe of a Kolkata rajbari (zamindari bungalow) where we were shooting had got to her and she was feeling all royal and addressing herself as ‘hum!’” laughs Anvita.
According to Swanand, their unique bond has got a lot to do with the fact that they are in the same profession. “The wisdom with which we write also reflects in our personalities. You will hardly see two poets fighting it out like actors. Our art come from such a visceral level that we need to be true to ourselves,” he says.
So instead of being competitors, they are one another’s bouncing boards. “When one leaves a project and another is approached for the same, we make the other person aware of the pitfalls and yes, we also discuss money!” reveals Amitabh.
They often put their queries and confusions on their WhatsApp group, says Kausar. “Whether we are stuck with a rhyme or having trouble finding a better word for something or just bouncing off ideas and lines, and asking one another’s opinions, all of us end up thinking about same thing,” Kausar laughs. “All our songs have words or thoughts from someone else in the group,” adds Anvita.
“I remember Amitabh asking if ‘Hawa mein bhaang milaya’ (Balam Pichkari from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani ) is correct or whether it should be ‘milayi’ instead,” laughs Swanand.
Not only do they exchange notes and admire one another’s work, they also rant and crib and bitch like regular friends. “There are times when one song becomes a hit and people start demanding similar songs. So when Badtameez Dil became so popular, we gave Amitabh a hard time for writing such a hit,” reveals Varun, laughing when he is quickly reminded that the rest faced the same issue after he dropped Moh Moh Ke Dhaage (Dum Laga Ke Haisha).
“All of us are actually very good at our craft, so we support one another,” says Swanand as Amitabh adds: “Why I say that we are all equals is that we all have equal numbers of rejected drafts!”
Another roar of laughter destroys the peace of the café.
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From HT Brunch, January 12, 2020
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