Words have always rushed to comfort Shellee. They come to his rescue when he stares at a blank sheet, they pull him out of a crushing abyss of nothingness, they click open up the parachutes of his mind, and catapult into a realm of endless possibilities. Words have always been his constant companion, his startroopers, marching on. “I’ve been surrounded by them for as long as I can remember…writings of Paash, Ustad Daaman, Rasul Hamzatov, Munir, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Niyazi, Professor Mohan Singh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz,…our house buzzing with comrades and authors, their addabaazi, literary baithaks, creatively charged discussions,” celebrated writer-lyricist-poet Shellee aka Shailendra Singh Sodhi touched base with us in Chandigarh recently and struck a conversation on his words and latest work. “Which is Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab. I have done four songs for him, including a very dark rap for Shahid Kapoor in the film. Then there are two films with music director Amit Trivedi, two with Clinton Cerejo of Jugani which is releasing on January 22.
For Jugani, I’ve also done the dialogues along with the songs, and it’s directed by Shefali Bhushan, who is related to Shanti Bhushan. It’s about a girl’s journey who comes to Punjab to record a folk music. Then there is a lot of work with independent music bands like Agnee, Floating Boots, Terra Rose, Ananthaal,” Shellee ran a quick update.
Born in Ambala into a literary family, Shelle is the son of Himmat Singh Sodhi, who was a renowned poet-writer. Shellee was organically drawn to stories, poetry, literary works from an early age. A keen collector of world cinema and voracious reader who still jots down every word on paper and gets a high from storytelling, he pursued theatre from Ambala Cantt and Panjab University, and moved to Mumbai in 1995 to assist Gulzar. “For some reason he wanted me to act, but I am a mediocre actor and I insisted on assisting him in direction,” Shellee rewinds to says of initial struggle, still skeptical of Bollywood’s acceptance.
For years, he moved back and forth to Mumbai, doing ghost writing, translations for channels like Discovery, writing for shows like Surbhi, even being a Censor Board member for four years! The turning point came in 2008 when he got to pen some of the most explosive songs for Anurag Kashyap’s take on Dev D. Shellee gave the world quirky words like Bhantadaar, never-heard-before phrases like ‘ankhiyaan dunaali, feem daa nashaa tere nainaa vich jee, khushiyon ki khatiyaa’, etc.
Earthy and folksy, his words reconnected the masses with their roots, and brought in more exciting work. Soon, he found himself carving a niche for himself through his songs in films like Shahid, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, 3G, Quick Gun Murugan, Acid Factory, Phas Gaye Re Obama, Michael Winterbottom’s cross-over film Trishna which is based on Tess by Thomas Hardy and is unreleased in India. Parallely, he found himself exercising his ‘freedom of speech’ via poetry, which turned into songs for indie bands. “The thing with bands is that they have no restrictions. I choose my own subjects, whatever influences me or connects me emotionally,” said Shellee, whose songs like Ittra for Neel Sarkar Project, Bari Bari, Dhol Yaara Dhol, Chaudhary, Khari Khari for Amit Trivedi/Coke Studio, Ranjhan Yaar Di, Sadnaa for Agnee have been a hit with music lovers.
“Not many know that songwriting is just a part of my work. I am into photography, love travelling for it opens up one’s world, and am also penning two scripts and wrapping up a documentary on Hakka Chinese community in Kolkata,” added Shellee.
Although he has collaborated a lot with Amit Trivedi, Shellee doesn’t believe in camps, falters at marketing and fails at networking. But when needed, he does show solidarity, and at present is supporting writers and lyricists in their fight for royalties and better pays. “Writers are underpaid and get exploited a lot. Even people have stopped reading works in the vernacular language. We need to encourage our literature, be proud of and respect our writers. Royalties is our birthright,” he asserted.