Lyricists on song: Bollywood’s unsung wordsmiths (First of a series by IANS on Bollywood’s …

Mumbai, March 23 (Calcutta Tube) ‘Mera gora ang lai le’, ‘Aap ki aankhon mein’, ‘Dil toh bachcha hai ji’…these songs penned by Gulzar are remembered as much for their beautiful words as for their melody. Unlike him, most lyricists are still vying for their share of the spotlight.

Bollywood has over 50 song writers, with films these days using different lyricists for different songs.

Lyricist Sameer, who has been working in the industry for more than 25 years, told IANS, ‘It does bother me when I don’t get enough credit for a song I have written. Directors, actresses, singers are at the forefront and we are forgotten.’

It’s surely disheartening for a lyricist who has written more than 4,000 songs in 500 films. Some of Sameer’s well known songs are ‘Nazar ke saamne’, ‘Teri umeed tera intezaar’, ‘Ghunghat ki aad’ and ‘Kuch kuch hota hai’.

‘Once at a function, a few kids were singing my songs. But when asked who wrote it and who composed it, no one knew. But they knew the actor, who danced on it, and the singer. This is not a good thing. I am very angry with singers who perform our songs at shows and never give us credit,’ said Sameer whose work extends to regional cinema as well. He has written more than a hundred songs in 23 regional films.

Even younger lyricists echo his views.

‘Sometimes it pinches, but life is like that – a place is known by its buildings, not by its foundation, trees are known by their fruits, not roots. So I have accepted things,’ said Irshad Kamil who penned hits like ‘Bhaage re man’, ‘Yeh ishq haaye’ and ‘Aaj din chadheya’.

The Hindi film industry, expected to be a $2.03 billion industry according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, is inseparable from music that contributes as much as 15 percent of an individual film’s earnings.

Shailendra, Rajendra Krishna, Shakil Badayuni, Hasrat Jaypuri, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Anand Baxi and Majrooh Sultanpuri are some of the yesteryear lyricists who made a mark. However not many today can name the songs they wrote.

Lyricists, who are part of the core music-making team, struggle when it comes to remuneration. According to sources, sometimes beginners don’t even get about Rs.5,000 for a song. But there are lucky ones who are able to earn about Rs.100,000 per song.

‘A lyricist makes okay money, it’s not great though. If someone is only a lyricist, I don’t think it’s easy for him to survive because you can’t do many films unless you are successful…and even if you are successful, you can’t write for 20 films a year, so you have to do other things,’ Swanand Kirkire, who won national awards for ‘Bande me tha dum’ and ‘Behti hawaa sa tha woh’, told IANS.

Sameer, 52, says, ‘We deserve more. If we compare ourselves with others like stars, directors and even cameramen, I think we are in the worst case scenario. Singers have shows to fall back on, but lyricists don’t even have that option.’

To be a lyricist one doesn’t need formal training, but there are certain things one needs to keep in mind.

‘In every film, you have different characters singing different songs. All characters can’t have the same style or language, so songs are written according to their characters and the language they speak in the film,’ said multiple award-winning lyricist Gulzar, 74, who uses Punjabi, Bhojpuri and even English words in his songs.

‘Like films have variety, lyrics too have variety and you should know how to write them in that manner. If you can’t do that then you should keep your horizons limited and just concentrate on one genre.’

Kamil says good knowledge of at least one language is necessary.

‘To be a lyricist one should learn at least one language thoroughly. They should read good literature, acquire knowledge of history and origin of words, cultivate the habit to express emotions in the minimum words and always compare the intensity and accuracy of thought with written expressions. All that I have said is futile if one doesn’t have the wings of imagination,’ he said.

Lyricists say no institute can teach you the art.

‘I’m totally pro-training but lyric writing is an expression. I don’t think it can be taught. You can have a self-learning method. I used to read and write a lot and constantly be in touch with what is happening around. But an institute or a course I don’t think will help,’ said Kirkire.

(Ruchika Kher can be contacted at

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