Jugni has an element of mystery to it – Shellee
“Kis taur sey, tareekey se samjhaun main tumhein, Hain voh kaun se saleekey, ke dikha paun main tumhein
Khudd ke jazbaaton ki numaish nahi main kar saktaa, Ho gayaa ishq toh kya khwaish nahi main kar sakta
Labb se terey nikli har baat ho moti jaisey, Mainey har moti mann ke dhaage mein piro rakhaa hai
Harr ekk lamha yaad ka ho saawan jaisey, Mainey is saawan mein beshaq khud ko bhigo rakha hai.”
When you hear these lines, describing the man behind them merely as a lyricist won’t do justice for there is much more to him. We have known Shellee aka Shailender Singh Sodhi through the songs that he has penned for various Hindi films. And it is these beautiful songs that have also introduced us to the poet that resides in him. If you have heard the songs of his recent film Jugni, you would understand the magic that Shellee creates with words. Here is a conversation that unfolds various facets of a wanderer like Shellee.
How did you get associated with Jugni?
Shefali (Jugni’s director) and I used to meet at musical gatherings. I was more of an appreciator and a listener but at times even I would recite my poems. Shefali was perhaps the only one there with whom I had not interacted much. Once a mutual friend called me and told me that Shefali wanted to meet me as she is planning to make a film called Jugni. When I questioned as to why had Shefali not called me directly, my friend said that she was scared of me (laughs). Shefali had really liked the songs that I’d written for Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. And that’s how I associated with them.
Was there a specific brief that director Shefali Bhushan gave you?
Shefali likes things that have some kind of a folk element in them. And my songs often have folk elements whether I deliberately want them or not. Some of my songs are labelled as folk songs and people don’t really think that I have written them. For instance if you search a track called ‘Chaudhary’, it appears as the Rajasthani folk song whereas I’d written it for Coke Studio Season 2. Coming to Jugni, I knew that I had to keep a folk element in it. Shefali gave me the script of the film and after reading it I told her, “Aapke dialogues me wohh baat nahi hai!” She asked me if I could write two scenes and when I did, she loved them. That’s when she asked me to write the dialogues for the entire film.
Tell us about the writing process. After the brief was given, did the lyrics come naturally?
I had a lot of fun doing the film. Writing Dugg Duggi Dugg was challenging because I wanted to write something that first impresses me; something that I could be proud of. When Clinton (Cerejo, Music Director) composed a few lines of Dugg Duggi Dugg and mailed them to me, I heard it repeatedly for three hours. I told him that it was mind-blowing and beautiful and that he’d done complete justice to the track.
Alike Jugni’s theme which is that of a woman in search of soulful music; you also travel a lot. Being an explorer yourself, did you somewhere relate to the film’s protagonist?
I’m actually an avid traveler and look for inspiration in landscapes, while exploring new places and meeting new people. Landscapes provoke me to write. Being a very outgoing person, I travel in order to meet new people, including musicians.
Around 5-6 years ago I went to Rajasthan and heard a person singing in the sand dunes in Jaisalmer. He was from the ‘mangniyar’ clan, which is a community that has been singing from the past 500 years by not really learning from anywhere but simply observing their elders. They don’t take any formal training. Deene Khan was one of the mangniyar whom I met in Jaisalmer. He had taken my number and later came to Mumbai trying to find me just with my contact details. When he came, I kept a musical gathering with some music lovers that was loved by everyone. Since then I keep one of his shows in Mumbai every year. Though I write urban songs for films but I’m actually more inclined towards the music and singing of people who have been involved in their folk music for many years now. Their delivery is very organic.
There is another famous singer called Bhanwari Devi who came to meet me. And it was very encouraging for me since she is a huge name internationally. In Jugni the composer goes to Punjab in search of the singer. If I ever get a chance, I would want to collect funds and come up with songs of various folk singers.
What was special about writing for Jugni?
I never knew that Vishal Bhardwaj sahab would sing my song since he has mostly sung qalaams by Gulzar sahab. When Clinton (Cerejo) sent Dugg Duggi Dugg to him, I was a bit scared that he might like Clinton’s tune but may not like the lyrics. But he really loved the lyrics and spoke to me about the song too. Things that I’d not even imagined in my dreams have happened to me in this project. For instance Rahat Fateh Ali Khan sahab has sung one qawalli while Rekha Bhardwaj has sung another beautiful track called Bolladiyan.
Tell us about your association with Clinton Cerejo who is the Music Director of the film?
Clinton told me to write first post which he would compose the music. Clinton’s learning of music has been very western. His foray is more towards jazz. Explaining the lyrics to him in English was a task for me (laughs). I had to explain each and every line to him in whatever way I could. Often it would take a lot of time. I didn’t really know how to explain something like Jagmag Jugni or Dugg duggi dugg to him. It has been a really funny, interesting and exciting experience to work with him.
‘Jugni’ is one metaphor that has already been explored a lot. How challenging was it to write on it?
Doing a version of Jugni was very challenging because it has already been talked about a lot. I heard all the songs written on Jugni and then even read a lot about them. In fact a girl from Tata Institute of Social Sciences is doing her thesis on ‘Jugni’ and I had discussions with her about it. There is a mystery element about Jugni and the fact that Jugni is represented as a girl who is bold and progressive is something that attracts me a lot. Just like Jugni, even Challa is quite talked about and I have recently written a version of Challa, which is sung by Shilpa Rao for an upcoming album. I consider myself lucky that Shilpa will sing a Challa written by me and my Jugni has been sung by a famous singer like Javed Bashir. Ab me chain ke saath mar sakta hun!!! (laughs)
Since you belong to Punjab, how did you perceive the making of the film’s music that is rooted in Punjab.
I had a very literary atmosphere at home. My growing years were more of reading books and discussing poetry. The kind of language I use in my songs resembles the one that was spoken in the 17th century. This is something that I have got from my father Himmat Singh Sodhi who was a poet, a scholar and an intellectual. Early on in my life I was introduced to poets such as Ghalib and Faiz. My father’s liberal way of thinking gave me the free rein to carve my own path in life. As a result, I was brought up in a literary environment, amidst comrades and authors who used to visit dad and spend hours discussing a range of subjects. Poetry got ingrained in my DNA. These early influences are what mark my work and give them their essential character. I think your upbringing has a huge role to play in whatever you write or think. Somewhere I have grown up around artists, painters, poets, writers and journalists. Therefore things like Jugni are close to my heart. For Jugni is one such girl, metaphor, folk tale or myth that talks about progressiveness and liberty.
Tell me a bit about your foray into the music industry. Have you ever received formal training in writing or music?
After getting a Master’s degree in theatre from Punjab University, Chandigarh, I went to Mumbai. There, I met Gulzar sahab and showed him a reference letter requesting him to let me assist him. However, he advised me to become an actor instead. So I started doing translation work and ghost writing to gain experience. For the initial two years, I undertook various projects that helped me practice. Before Dev D – that brought me into the limelight – happened, I had written lyrics for seven films that never made it to the audience. But it was a practice period for me. Projects like Shahid, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Phas Gaye Re Obama, Knock Out, Quick Gun Murugun, the British film Trishna and Marathi film Shala and Coke Studio, in addition to writing songs for various independent artists and bands followed.
You’ve also written for the upcoming films Udta Punjab & Manmarziyan. Tell us more about the songs for these films.
I wrote four songs for Udta Punjab and writing for this film has been very different. There is a dark rap in the film that I had never thought I would do. This song took a lot of time. Like the film’s concept which is about drug abuse, the rap and other songs also revolve around this topic. There is a famous word in Punjab called Chitta used for cocaine. I’ve written the entire rap around the word Chitta. Then there is a montage song picturised on Alia Bhatt.
For Sameer Sharma’s Manmarziyan featuring Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar and Vicky Kaushal which is a love triangle, which will have soulful romantic tracks. This film will also have a Punjabi feel in the tracks.
Do you deliberately try to incorporate Punjabi words in your songs owing to your Punjabi origin?
It is quite ironic that I usually get films that have storylines based in Punjab. But I’m often told that when I write any song, though it needs to have Punjabi words, I need to keep listeners from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc. in mind. Whereas I think that if people don’t understand any word, it will make them open dictionaries or converse with someone to understand the meaning. It will engage them. If people don’t ask each other about new words, how will freshness come into their lives?
You also have a very different style of writing.
I could be writing a very serious song, about a very serious issue and yet I won’t think twice before adding humor to it. I don’t see why serious cannot be funny or why something like silence must always be equated with melancholy. I believe that a writer has to live life fully to get stories and ideas. To do this, I loaf and travel, both with equal intensity, read voraciously, spend hour-after-hour for months together watching world cinema, soaking in real life experiences born of my own life and that of others and stay completely alive to the various stimuli in my surroundings – be it the visual appeal and vibrancy of colour, sounds and melodies of different schools of music or tactile delights of handling and feeling different types of textures and fabric.
Besides films, what are the other things that you are working on?
Guitarist Bernie Marsden and singer Vineet Sharma used to jam together in India and UK. Vineet is the driving force behind an upcoming band called ‘Terra Rossa Gypsies’ that we’ll launch by March. The band includes Vineet, Bernie, Ishaan Sharma, Guna Sekhar and me. I’m also coming up with a poetry book that will release this year.
As a parting note, please do share of one your favorite qallams with us.
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein tyohaar si,
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein aitbaar si,
Khush Khushbuyein, mann ki, tann ki
Kuch tum baavri, kuch main bhi sanki,
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein qaraar si,
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein tyohaar si…
Tevar, nakhre… jachte…phabtey
Rang hain tumsey batein kartey,
Gunchaa tum raunak madhuban ki.
Sau sau siftein iss hunar aur fun ki,
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein asardaar si,
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, vohh shamein tyohar si…
Daras yeh ja isyey duaa qubul, seerat jaisey mehkey phool,
Pakijaa tum asal aur mool, Zikrr-e-eittr jyun baat manan ki
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein fur asrar si,
Tumsey jabb milta hoon, voh shamein tyohar si…