It’s important for songs to resonate with the language of the characters
Lyricist and Singer Amitabh Bhattacharya talks about his recent release Brothers, his writing process and how at the end it’s the audience that matters.
Please talk about writing for ‘Brothers’. What was the brief given to you by the director Karan Malhotra?
There wasn’t any single brief given for the film as such, instead the situations were outlined. We had a love song, one dance number- which was going to be the commercial song. There was one song that I found the most interesting to work on. It was a mother’s song and the brief was “lullaby meets an inspirational song” which was given to me specifically by Karan. He wanted an Anand bakshi, Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi type school lyrics- simplistic yet having profound thought behind them. Anthem also was meant to be upbeat and inspirational.
How difficult is it writing for ‘motivating’ songs like the ‘Brothers Anthem’, which become the driving force of the characters onscreen?
I won’t say it’s difficult. Two things come into play while writing motivational lyrics, first of all- You are given an outline by the director, of what is required. So it’s a job, or say made to order kind of a work. Secondly, when it comes to writing any type of song it depends on as a human how charged you are. If you have lived the situations in your life to the fullest its always easy to put the words on paper. How much you have shopped for life in reality, is the question.
What draws you to write lyrics for a film- the composer or the script?
Primarily the melodies, the composer. I came down to Mumbai to become a singer. And at heart I am still a singer. So melodies get my thought flowing. I can’t just sit with a paper and pen to draft something. I react to melodies, write my thoughts and that’s how I have become a lyricist. Melody acts as the catalyst and gets me to think and write.
How do you go about writing a song? What inspires you to write?
Mainly the story and the script, the situations and then the characters inspire me. I think it’s important for the songs to resonate with the language and the lingo the characters speak. For e.g. ‘Aivvanyi, Aivvanyi’ from the film Band Baja Baraat, has a middle class central Delhi boy singing it, so the song goes as per his lingo- ‘chai me dubaa biscut hogaya, main aivvanyi aivvanyi lut gaya’. So the character helps me to create the world of the lyrics. It’s the situation, the melody, the character and their language. For the same reason I always insist on reading the final dialogue draft before I start working on the songs. This way things fall in place and help you create something.
Have you ever written anything other than songs?
No. Not at all. No diaries, shayaris, poetry, stories nothing. I might have written love letters sometimes but nothing more than that. I don’t write as a hobby or to pass my time. Since I started my career as a lyricist I have always written on tunes or specifically on situations.
What do you think attracts the audience- the tune of the song or the lyrics?
Basically both. In films, mostly, since the earlier times first the melodies were made and then the words were fit in as per requirement. And specifically today, at the time of High Definition sound, the quality of the sound matters a lot. So first you lock the melodies, decide how the tune will be, whether it’s a club song, indian folk, jazz rock, fusion then you decide the style, and eventually write the words. As a listener also the melody and tune attracts you the most. If it’s catchy enough to attract your attention then you slowly start paying attention to the lyrics, what is the character saying, etc. Also sometimes even when you don’t understand or know the lyrics or you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, the lyrics stays with you at a subconscious level. So I believe melody and track have a more upfront impact on a listener whereas the lyrics has a sublime effect. After years as a listener you realize that ‘ohh! I love singing this song because of these particular words or the thought behind the song’.
On one hand you have written ‘ik tara’ or ‘shikayatein’ and on the other ‘dk bose’ and now ‘mera naam mary’ with ease. You think you have learned the mainstream language of cinema?
I would never say that I have learnt the language of mainstream writing. Now, what do we call mainstream writing? The songs from the film which become popular. How do we write such songs? So there is a mixture of catalogue of songs we listened to while growing up which have sub consciously stayed with us plus the songs of today’s times. The way I look at it is, the language of Indian sub continent has very less Hindi, lesser Urdu and a lot of topping of English. It’s a mixture. We speak Hinglish rather than a pure language. I have always tried to keep this alive with my song. So be it dk bose, badtameez dil, shikayatein, aivvanyi aivvanyi etc, I have tried to keep the words, diction of the song as per the character and spaces he/she is dwelling in. As a professional like an actor comes into playing a certain role, the same way musicians, lyricists also play roles. We deal with it as a professional, churning words as per requirement. So the language we have known while growing up and the language we speak today has come in handy, becomes an instrument to deliver the songs we do.
Your collaboration with Amit Trivedi has given us some mind blowing music. Can you talk about your association?
Amit is first a friend, then a composer to me. We have been friends since last 10-12 years now. And we collaborated on professional front only in 2008-09. In music, Amit is the guy whose film I did and became a lyricist before which I was struggling as a singer. He insisted that I write for Dev D and Aamir. But then when it was received well my journey as a lyricist started. As a composer I find Amit doing some path breaking and interesting work. One of it’s kind. So while working with him I also get to explore the untapped side of me.
What other films are you doing now?
I have a good mixture of projects to look forward to. There is Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale with Pritam, Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos, Karan Johar’s next, Vikas Bahl’s Shandaar will release soon which is with Amit, then I am doing a film with Shankar Ehsaan Loy for Yashraj. So the work is on.
Please share tips on writing film songs for the upcoming lyricists.
(laughs) I don’t know. I really don’t know. Everybody has their own process. Be it me or my contemporaries Swanand Kirkire or Irshad Kamil. Everybody has their own process. These artists write shayaris, poetry even scripts. I can’t suggest any tips as I firmly believe everyone has their own ways of working. As long as your work connects with the audiences, people understand your words, they feel like humming it, your words stay with them your job is done. So whatever routes, processes people have, the destination always is to reach the audience, and one should keep that in mind and keep exploring.