Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Gulzar and Javed Akhtar

My 100th post on Cinema. * Applause (forced) *

Over the last few years, some very good books on Hindi film music have come out of which two brilliant ones are on Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. Apart from some warm reminisces about the creative processes of their most famous songs, both these books have a large number (100 and 60, respectively) of lyrics along with their English translations.
Gulzar quotes Sting in the preface, music and lyrics are dependent on each other like a mannequin and a pile of clothes. They shouldn't make sense separately but when you do separate the two, you often manage to decipher an additional layer or two.
Reading the lyrics - I realised - was fantastic because not only did I appreciate some of the vaguely understood lines (patthar ki haveli ko sheeshe ke gharondo mein / tinko ke nasheman tak is mod se jaate hain), it also made me imagine the scenes on-screen quite vividly.

Egged on by those books and this post from what is my favourite blog right now, I thought of sticking my neck out and listing down my favourite 5 albums of my two favourite lyricists. That is, like, 3 favourites in one sentence!
I know a tidal wave of resentment is already getting built up since I have eliminated Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi and Anand Bakshi (not to mention Indivaar ;-) but gentlemen and gentler ladies should do well to remember that is only my 'favourite' (mentioned thrice in the earlier paragraph) and not the 'best'. Therefore, feel free to add on.

Javed Akhtar
Javed Akhtar started writing lyrics with Silsila but hit prominence and consistency from the mid-90s onwards, specifically with 1942: A Love Story. RD's swan-song hit a new level altogether with lyrics that were an ode to a fleeting glimpse of a woman (Ek ladki ko dekha), a haunting ballad (Kuch na kaho), an inspiring anthem (Yeh safar bahut hain kathin magar), a dulcet rain-song (Rimjhim rimjhim rumjhum rumjhum) and a romantic song that has a nursery rhyme-like simplicity (Rooth na jana tumse kahoon to).

Swades has several beautiful numbers though the one I find most intriguing is the Ramlila number. Written and composed by two Muslims, this is yet another of those Bollywood signposts that are raised to signify the great national integration brought about by tinseltown.
Actually, I read about the way this song was composed and was quite stumped. Javed Akhtar was out of Bombay when Ashutosh Gowariker called and asked him for this number immediately. AR Rehman was required to leave India for a long trip rather urgently and he needed to finish the recording before he left. With no texts or references to fall back on, he wrote the intricate (and very lengthy!) lyrics of this entire episode literally overnight, locked up in a hotel room.
Of course, the other songs - especially Yeh jo des hain tera - were mind-blowing too.

Dil Chahta Hain was cool. DCH was hip. DCH was super-smart. Even for people who did not go to Goa in Mercedes convertibles. And again, it had a fantastic range but cocked a snook at the Hindi film cliche.
The flagship song - Jaane kyun log pyaar karte hain? - is actually a banter between a romantic and a cynic. The so-called 'sad song' Tanhayee (the only word Javed saab uses a little too often!) uses some lovely imagery - Toote huye sapnon ke sheeshe chubhte hain ab aankhon mein. As does the title song, about which director Farhan Akhtar said that it reminded him of a detergent ad (Kabhi na beete chamkile din). The best ode to the film cliche is the Saif-Sonali song Woh ladki hain kahaan, both visually and verbally.
And then there is the line which is still being used in advertising campaigns to attract young people - Hum hain naye, andaaz kyon ho purana?

Lagaan had a marching song. Lagaan had a hoping-for-rain song. A romantic ballad. An aarti. And it even had English lyrics strewn within Awadhi words.
After Gulzar and RD Burman, Javed Akhtar and AR Rehman is the only other lyricist-composer combination whose usually high standards get surpassed many times over when they work together. Jodha Akbar, Sapnay, Zubeidaa - and their best is yet to come.

Javed Akhtar's best work (IMHO) is his latest - Rock On! After a lot of tanhai, mohabbat and reshmi zulfein (though he is one of least cliched lyricists), he experimented with a completely new idiom - rock music. Pichhle saat dinon mein is a very cool example of the genre and captures the fleeting attention of today's youngster quite vividly with its apparently scattered words. The other number, Zehreelay - in terms of both lyrics and music - is probably as close to heavy metal a Hindi film song can go. The film's opening number - Socha hain - leaves a simple message with its words touching war and borders as does the closing act - Sindbad the Sailor.
And after all these comes Zindagi mein koi aarzoo kijiye - which really makes one want to close the Excel sheet on the laptop and open a Word document instead.
Brilliant range, amazing thoughts, fantastic craft!

Actually, when you start listing down the films with Gulzar's best lyrics do you realise how good he really is. Its a bloody tough call to whittle down the list to 5 - and after that, the only way to escape mass-lynching is to beg for forgiveness on folded knees!

The first name on the list is a controversial choice - Aks. Manoj Bajpai's maniacal laughter in a more-than-convoluted plot did nothing for the film but Gulzar conjured trick after trick in this under-rated (for once!) Anu Malik score. The piece de resistance is a 'cabaret' which talks about a slimy, slithering night (written about here). There is a Ramlila number with Amitabh and Nandita Das doing the singing. A faux-operatic number - Aaja gufaon mein aa, aaja gunaah kar le. A wonderfully peppy dance number - Banda yeh bindaas hain.
And in the only instance of Amitabh Bachchan reciting a Gulzar lyric is Bhala Bura - a deliciously wicked take on good, bad and (as the Youtube video says) ugly!

Rehman's compositions, Malaika's midriff and Shahrukh's dance did nothing to take Gulzar's lyrics for Dil Se. Written almost entirely in a Sufi style, Gulzar (in his own words) 'got an opportunity to cross a threshold' with Rehman. The energy of Chhaiyya chhaiyya, the passion of Satrangi re and Jiya jale, the pathos of Ae ajnabi were all vintage Gulzar. The title song - a trademark Rehman composition of elaborate orchestration and high-quality vocals - actually had rather tragic lyrics about two souls trying to get together.

Is Ijaazat Gulzar's best album? Certainly, his most experimental but probably not his best. But then, what do I know? The songs pushed the boundaries of poetry sometimes with open verse, sometimes with unusual words and sometimes with a different kind of romanticism than what we usually see in Hindi cinema.
I (and others) have gone on and on about the 116 moonlit nights but the other songs are terrific too. I remember hearing Katra katra for the first time with Anirban and can vividly recollect our open-mouthed reaction to pyaasi hoon main, pyaasi rehne do...

Golmaal is one of those rare films whose music (despite being exceptional) tends to get overlooked in the overall package. In between Utpal Dutt's maniacal moustache mania and Amol Palekar's double identity, we almost ignore what has been called the 'best Hindi film song ever'. For that one song only, Golmaal could get into the list. But to make it worth our while, it had a cool mix of quirky (Golmaal hain bhai, sab golmaal hain) and romantic songs as well.

This is the best. Aandhi. The HMV double-film cassette which I had contained Aandhi and Mausam. And had to glue together the tape in several places where it tore due to the million hearings. All it had was three songs (not counting the title music and a satirical song on truant politicians). And those three songs - with RD, Kishore, Lata AND Gulzar at their peaks - just took your breath away. Interspersed in the songs were conversations between Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen. At one point of time, I knew all of it by heart.
If this soundtrack did not exist, would it have been a big deal? I mean, there are so many other beautiful soundtracks as well. But as Gulzar puts it beautifully - Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa toh nahin. Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi toh nahin.

PS: Will you see the number of times I have used fantastic, brilliant and mind blowing? Shameful. I must buy a Roget's Thesarus. Or do Shift F7 oftener!


Unwinding Hours said...

This is a wonderful piece! If you happen to get hold of Kaifi Azmi's book titled 'Selected Poems', read it, I am sure you will enjoy it. And if you can lay your hands on his audio book Kaifiyat, hearing it would be bliss. The genius, narrating his poems in his own voice!

Anonymous said...

and not once did I feel you overused "fantastic, brilliant and mind blowing".. such is the joy of just recalling these gems. :D thnks

Never Mind!! said...

"Will you see the number of times I have used fantastic, brilliant and mind blowing? Shameful. I must buy a Roget's Thesarus. "

Or you could have a reader counting contest. Ayega ayega mein kitni baar ayega? (the answer is 22, btw).

Andy said...

These lyrics are such that any no. of fantastic/brilliant and other phrases would not suffice to describe them.I have finally figured out that my love for a song is much more coz of the lyrics than the music.Lovely post, thank you for it!!

Aneela Z said...

my 9 month old son's fav song is Aaney wala pal from Golmaal. He already knows its the BEST song ever to hum with his dad! happy to know he is in good company.

abhrajit said...

Very nice post.

But no mention of Masoom? Do Naina, Huzur Is Kadr, Tujhse Naraz, Lakdi ki kaathi - all in just one album!!!

Of course, your choice! :)


Shrabonti said...

And Gulzar's recent songs. I love the way he's made a smooth transition from writing lyrics for very different, gentler films such as Ghar, Masoom etc to the edgy lyrics of a Bunty or Babli or Kaminey. I love Dhadak Dhadak from B&B, just captures that 'small town India itching to get out' spirit so well! Or 'aankhen yeh kamal karti hain, personal se sawaal karti hain'. Mind blowing AND fantastic.