Writer-Lyricist Niranjan Iyengar on his chat show Look Who’s Talking, Gen Now and his passion for poetry.
I remember your telling me that you quit film journalism because you didn’t have anything new to ask the stars. Now you are back to interviewing stars in Look Who’s Talking. Full circle?
I quit film journalism in 2001 because I was saturated. When Manish Malhotra offered me a job as his assistant I took it up. Then Karan Johar asked me to write a book on the making of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G) which kickstarted my journey as a lyricist and screenplay-dialogue writer. But as they say — once a journalist, always a journalist. I didn’t take up a project after writing lyrics for D Day and then this offer for Look Who’s Talking (LWT) came up. I was skeptical about taking it up but I decided to fight my fear.
Why the scepticism?
Because I don’t have the flamboyance associated with a TV personality. I didn’t want to do another ‘Me too’ show like Karan Johar, Simi Garewal or Anupama Chopra. But my producer Gulrayz persisted. We shot a pilot with Shruti Hassan where she was quite candid. The channel said if the show is in this space then they are game to air it. Then fear struck me, what if nobody will come on my show? In this business you can rely maximum on one or two people. But this show has been a revelation because all it took was one phone call to the stars and they were ready to shoot a day later.
Karan Johar was quite honest on your show. How conscious are you of the camera while talking to a friend?
Honestly, in Karan’s episode, it was the wine we were having. This was the sixth episode that I shot so I had loosened up. As a journalist, one is constantly alert to the surroundings but as a chat show host you only have to be alert to your guest. Kajol was my first guest and she was taking care of me. I was quite distracted with the cameras and she told me to just focus on the interview. Every guest has taught me something new.
You’ve interviewed all the major stars of the ‘90s. What’s the difference between them and today’s stars?
The clarity with which they operate is amazing. The Gen Now has a great understanding what part of their life is personal and what is professional. Today’s stars don’t get stumped at any question. Sonam Kapoor stumped me. When I was interviewing her, she pointed to me that I’m being just like the media, trying to trap her. I paused and reflected that she was correct. When you don’t know the person well, you rely on their public perception. Alia Bhatt didn’t lie on my show but she didn’t answer what she didn’t want to. The thing with this generation is that just because they are not lying doesn’t mean they are not telling the truth.
To what do you attribute your equal passion for screenwriting and poetry?
Manish Malhotra once said, ‘If tomorrow I come to know that Niranjan has become a woman, I wouldn’t be surprised because every two weeks he is doing something new!’ I don’t indulge in providence, destiny or luck. I’m fortunate to have my way chalked out even before I stepped on it. I wrote the K3G book and then helped Karan in some dialogues of Kal Ho Naa Ho so he offered me to write lyrics for My Name Is Khan. Then Fashion, Heroine and D Day fell in my lap. My turbulence has been internal, I didn’t have to struggle externally. I don’t think of myself as a lyricist because I’m not prolific, I don’t sit and churn out songs and cannot tailor my words according to the requirements as lyricists do. I would say I indulge in poetry and write when I’m inspired.
Your lyrics in D Day are exceptional but underrated. Do you agree?
D Day was a rare album which allowed me to explore my range. Javed (Akhtar) saab was most surprised to know that I had written Murshid khele holi and he asked me, ‘Tumne kaise likh diya yeh? Hamare bachpan mein aise gaane hote thay?’ A senior female actor jibed that ‘it must have been a fluke’ but before I could reply, Amitji and Jayaji (Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan) came up and said, ‘Kya baat kar rahe ho. Aapne Ek ghadi ke lyrics sune?’ Amitji had called me when he heard the lyrics and complimented me. For me, this is the biggest reward.
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