One of the main reasons the songs of Rockstar (2011) were more successful than the movie is because of its songs’ lyrics. In the contemporary times, dominated as it is by the likes of the ‘popular’ – Chetan Bhagat, Ravinder Singh, Honey Singh, the 100 crore movies etc. – the outgrowth of lyrics which are poetic, multilingual and transcendental, and commonly considered esoteric and literary, was unexpected. Or was it?
There has emerged in the ‘elite’ cultural gate-keepers of literary and musical traditions in India (of the vernacular and English), a rising fear. It is that the youth of this generation are being fed with what they see as coarse quality of art in the form of cinema, books, music and art. For example, the deterioration of the Bollywood industry films has been noted by many (spawning many parodies, the most well-known being the YouTube handle named Pretentious Movie Reviews); likewise, in the literary field, the vernacular novels and poetry have all but been overshadowed by either the famous prize-winning authors, or the run- off-the-mill ones like Ravinder Singh and Chetan Bhagat.
With the reading comes the listening of music. This, too, is bedevilled by the ‘popular’. All the songs on the FM radio, with the exception of a few, are unoriginal. These tracks are formulaic, follow the same pattern, and are eminently forgettable. With Honey Singh leading the way, these item number inspired songs, or the shoddy romantic ones imitating those of Aashiqui 2 (2013), the music industry too has been swayed by the allure of easy money. Fortunately, the situation is not drastic, as there remain composers like A.R. Rahman, Amit Trivedi, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, etc., who continue to inspire and move us with their music. And a song’s soul belongs equally, if not more, to its lyrics. And apart from the likes of Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi and Gulzar, Irshad Kamil is the new emerging talent to look out for to provide us with the poetry that most believe was lacking and much needed.
Irshad Kamil is the talent behind the soulful, poetic and spiritual lyrics of the songs of Rockstar (2011), the innocent and yet touchingly fragile ones of that of Highway (2014), the peppy and frothy ones of Jab We Met (2007), and the deeply romantic ones of Aashiqui 2 (2013); and he rose to prominence due to his Filmfare awards for the yearning lyrics of ‘Aaj Din Chadiya’(Love Aaj Kal, 2009), and ‘Naadan Parinday’ (Rockstar, 2011).
Kamil is originally from Malerkotla, Punjab, and started with writing for newspapers after graduating with a degree in Hindi literature from Punjab University. One day he gave it up, and joined the entertainment industry. He began by writing for scripts serials like Na Jaiyo Pardes, Kahan Se Kahan Tak and Kartavya, and later went on to pen some music lyrics. But his real break only came with ‘Aaj Din Chadiya’ and Rockstar. With Imtiaz Ali’s support and vision, Kamil developed his own voice and style. The release of his second book Ek Maheena Nazmon Ka in February 2015 was a success.
Irshad Kamil calls himself a ‘closed-door’ rebel. Like many in the industry, Irshad, too, is aware of the deteriorating quality of music and lyrics that predominate the industry. Adding to his woes is the common practice of the music producers and the directors of overlooking the inputs of the composers and lyricists. Giving credit to the lyricists is also not common, unless it is Gulzar or Javed Akhtar. Most of the producers do not want to risk with lyrics that might side-step even a millimetre from the set formula.
But after the success of ‘Aaj Din Chadeya’ and the songs of Rockstar, Kamil has proven that the youth of today does not, indeed, shy away from listening to poetry. The key, according to Kamil, is to make the poetic voice transcendental or universal, using themes of love, God, or sorrow, without losing the lyrical colloquialism or simplicity of the language. Apart from using Urdu words, he writes whole verses in Punjabi too. This is evident in ‘Katiya Karun’(Rockstar) and ‘Hawaa Hawaa’ (Rockstar), both which read like Punjabi folk/fairy tales. Moreover, he is not reluctant to use some English words if the song demands a light touch (for example in ‘Aisa Yeh Isqh Hai’, the line rhymes with ‘Ajab Sa Risk He’). Kamil is realistic – he is aware that the public needs, and demands good lyrics, but they also want it in a form that is understandable and yet poetic. The Punjabi and Urdu lyrics of many of his songs like ‘Katiya Karun’, ‘PatakhaGuddi’ (Highway), Aaj Din Chadiya, etc., do not distance the listener due to its language, but interestingly (and luckily) has only intrigued them more. This has led to the people delving into the meanings of the lyrics through translations.
The reason such a multi-lingual voice is pivotal in the artistic scene today is because the ears of the public are being blasted by rap-imitators (imbibing an alien tradition of the black people’s rebellion against the over-arching ‘white’ forms of music and art), or by sleazy item numbers, or by honey-dripping and unoriginal love songs of the Aashique 2 genre. With lyricists like Irshad Kamil entering the space already occupied by Javed Akhtar, Gulzar and Prasoon Joshi, the poetic, often considered too esoteric or difficult to understand, is being rendered popular. Many people have expressed their desire to know more of Urdu poetry or Punjabi songs after listening to the lyrics of any one of these poets. Furthermore, the lyrics of Kamil are distinctive as they reflect the Hindi language as it is – a mix of various languages of Urdu (and nowadays Punjabi), adding to its contemporary touch.
Irshad Kamil’s second book on poetry Ek Maheena Nazmon Ka follows his trademark style of transcendental poetry, and, with the market for poetry being as resistant as it always is, it will hopefully lead people – who listen (due to lack of choice) to Honey Singh or read Chetan Bhagat – to embrace new forms of art that stem from a classical tradition and are very Indian. They might even want to read more of the vernacular Indian poets, which are largely unknown to the common youth. Of course, this is an ‘elitist’ position to take, as all said and done, these popular figures are so because they are loved for representing lives of people as it really is; yet, for that audience that is also feeling a little disconcerted and concerned about the current situation, this is a good place to start inculcating those habits which they probably aspire towards. Besides, it is a book of poetry that is easy to get, is based on the eternal theme of love, and is aimed for the ever-busy youth. It is not often that the literary becomes the popular, and the public must seize this opportunity; it will encourage more people to develop their latent potential for literature, music, or any other form that inspires them or it may simply lead them to be a more rooted people.
By Ananya Tiwari