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What has been the role of words in your life?
I have mostly been a loner and have been writing since I can remember. There is a word in Sanskrit called swantah sukhaya – something that gives happiness to oneself. Words give me happiness. If nothing else, I know I have that and nobody can take that away. But there is also a desire for your work to reach people. I don’t know what the genesis of that desire is but it exists.
What, according to you, differentiates you from other poets, lyricists?
Even when I was searching for my voice, I knew it is important to be authentic. My influences have been different from other people’s, especially those who were born in the cities and brought up on film music. I saw cinema later and life first. Both my parents are classical musicians. I also encountered folk music at a young age. My vocabulary, as a result of my exposure, is different. Growing up, I had access to Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu literature. When I started writing for films, that reflected in my choice of words. I wrote a lot about “dhup” – dhup ke makaan, umeedon wali dhoop — and I can probably attribute that to my growing up years in Uttarakhand. The sun is a very important part of pahari life.
Do you think active vocabularies today are shrinking?
I write for today’s generation with songs like ‘Masti ki pathshaala’ and ‘Hawan karenge’. There is no defined way of expressing a particular feeling. It’s not fair on the younger generation to dish out a narrow perspective of life. I think it incorrect to feel that till words like “chill” and “cool” are not used, we won’t connect with them.
Seemingly innocuous films glorify misogyny in their lyrics. As a CBFC chief, how do you deal with that?
I think it’s very important to identify and get rid of misogyny in our songs. It cannot be changed overnight. But whenever I meet new directors or writers — I am not saying I have anything to teach them — I do keep sharing my sensibilities. For example, songs show police-women doing pelvic thrusts. Does this mean that no matter how successful a woman, even if she becomes a police officer, the only way we know how to portray her in cinema is by objectifying her? This needs to change and can happen through a dialogue that is consistent. Certain things have been embedded in our sub-conscience like yeh kya ladki ki tarah ro rahe ho. I don’t think people even realise it is misogyny. For this to change, we have to encourage a reasonable dialogue and not a debate. It is only our collective decisions as a society that will help us bring about change and the desired results.
There have been controversies around Sexy Durga, Mersal and others films. How are you dealing with your role as the CBFC chief?
The CBFC is a huge organisation. It certified over 20,000 films last year. The committees that view films that apply for a certificate comprise regular people who watch them keeping the sentiments of women, children, religious groups in mind. I feel that a body like this is needed in society for it provides a means to balance opinions. I also feel that, fundamentally, creative people are constructive and want to make a difference in the world through their art – and I say this as a creative person. But sometimes they might not be able to see their own work from a different vantage point because one is consumed with that, that one seeks to create. It is the committee’s job, then, to identify points in the film that when corrected can result in a more considered product.