Life in Lyrics

Writing love letters on behalf of his friends during his college days fuelled Irshad Kamil’s interest in poetry.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: May 31, 2013 3:37 am

Lyricist Irshad Kamil talks about his roots in poetry,producing hits with Imtiaz Ali and his creative space

Writing love letters on behalf of his friends during his college days fuelled Irshad Kamil’s interest in poetry. Popular among his classmates for his neat handwriting,he would copy ghazals and works of shayars. “But unhappy with repeating the poetry in every letter,I decided to pen my own,” he recounts. 

Much has changed since. He went on to get a doctorate in Hindi literature while studying Urdu and Punjabi literature informally,worked as a journalist and moved to Mumbai from Malerkotla,Punjab,with his eyes set on Bollywood. Yet,much has remained the same. A noted lyricist today,Kamil writes love ballads picturised on Bollywood stars. Among his most popular works are songs for Jab We Met, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai,Rockstar and Cocktail. 

Currently working on songs for Anand L Rai’s Raanjhnaa and his old friend Imtiaz Ali’s Highway,he is also readying for other upcoming projects that include Yash Raj Films’ Gunday,Subhash Ghai’s Kaanchi and Rajkumar Santoshi’s Phata Poster Nikla Hero.

Kamil’s lyrics are most known for their nuances and poetic expressions. Yet,he also delivers variety,contemporising thoughts in order to speak the language of the characters in the movie. Chor Bazari of Love Aaj Kal and Sheher Mein Hoon Mein Tere in Rockstar are few examples. Kamil attributes these aspects to a command over the language,which in turn stems from his roots. “Malerkotla is the only town in Punjab with a strong Muslim population. While Punjabi was the spoken language,Urdu was my mother tongue. Besides,there was an inherent culture of poetry, shayari and ghazals in my hometown. That,combined with my PhD in Hindi literature,gave me a strong base,” he explains.

Much of what he writes also depends on the language and origin of the characters as well as the story setting. “For example,the songs in Raanjhnaa have a touch of classical music,and the lyrics are written keeping in mind the culture and language of Varanasi,” he says. To achieve this,Kamil spends time with the director in an attempt to understand the characters ,sometimes visiting the sets to watch the actors at work.

His relationship with Ali is special. “Our friendship dates back to days when we were both struggling to survive in the film industry. Today,we share a comfort level where we don’t necessarily need to utter praises for each other’s work. Also,since I am part of Imtiaz’s films as a friend from the ideation stage,it helps in taking my work to another level,” says Kamil,who believes that Ali’s Jab We Met earned him recognition and Rockstar won him accomplishment. But working for his director friend is challenging. “Highway’s music is folk-driven and the movie travels from Delhi to Punjab,Himachal,Kashmir and Rajasthan. I had to grasp the nuances of the local language before working on the lyrics,” says Kamil.

Like his colleagues,Pritam and AR Rahman,Kamil works at night and confesses he can write anywhere. “Earlier,I would write at a bus stop. Watching people go on with their lives,I would enter my own world.”

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