Insights Into Lyric Writing
Asad ur Rahman Kidwai
JIYA JALE: THE STORIES OF SONGS by Gulzar in Conversation Speaking Tiger, 2018, 200 pp., 499
March 2019, volume 43, No 3

Nasreen Munni Kabir’s book Jiya Jale is a fascinating account of trying to understand Gulzar’s poetry in order to translate it. The conversation tries to unravel the meaning of the poet’s lyrics and in the process we get a ringside view of not only the complicated art of translating songs but also insights into the craft of lyric writing. Gulzar lays a lot of stress on the craft of writing; according to him ‘one should master the profession one practices.’ There can be no doubt that he preaches what he practices.

Writing lyrics for movies is a completely different genre where not only does a poet have to write according to the situation in the film, but also fit his words to the tunes of the music director. To be a successful lyricist, the poet has to be accommodating to the music director’s demands and yet excel. Here Gulzar has proved his mettle beyond all doubt. From accepting the suggestions of the composers to include words like ‘kajraare kajraare’ to ‘namak ishq ka’ to weaving a word he considers non-musical—‘filhaal’ (in the title song of Filhal) all the while stamping the songs with his unique style. Occasionally he does put his foot down. When AR Rahman suggests he use ‘sanam’  for one of his tunes, the vehemence of Gulzar’s response makes him wonder if ‘sanam’ is a bad word.

‘Gulzar: “It’s a cliché of a cliché!”

AR Rahman: “So what? It sounds nice, Gulzar saab.”

Gulzar: “No, I will not use it. I have never used it anywhere. It’s such a cliché—stale as rotting vegetables.”’

For a poet who is always trying to extend the boundaries, a poet who is always challenging the discerning listener with new analogies, a cliché would be worse than abuse.

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