For poet and lyricist Manoj Muntashir, writing is a great responsibility, for its legends such as Ghalib, Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi who inspire him. “So how can I dare to write poetry which is without soul or meaning; I owe it to my listeners and readers, especially the younger generation, who have forgotten what good poetry is, and the constant effort is to bring poetry back to films,” says Muntashir, a poet, lyricist, and TV script and screenwriter.
Muntashir was in Chandigarh upon the invitation of Kalam, the brainchild of social activist Sundeep Bhutoria, who is also the trustee of Prabha Khaitan Foundation, which started Kalam in India to promote Hindi and regional literature in the country. Launched across the country, the idea of Kalam is to connect with literature lovers in different cities and invite them to interact with a guest author, with no book releases or sales activities at these events.
Muntashir also read out poems from his first anthology of poetry, Meri Phitrat Hai Mastana — which, he says, is a celebration of those who read poetry. He is known for writing the lyrics of Bollywood songs such as Galliyan from Ek Villain, Tere sang yaara from Rustom, Kaun tujhe from MS Dhoni: The Untold Story and Teri mitti from Kesari.
Muntashir says the only reason to write is to express one’s innermost feelings and emotions and reach out to wider audiences with sensitivity. “Broken words come together, as I establish a relationship with the story and character and true poetry comes out,” says Muntashir, who goes down memory lane to remember how he first discovered the magic of verses at the age of seven in a vintage book in one of his father’s old trunks. The book was Deewane Ghalib, and Muntashir says, he was stupefied soon after he had turned the first page.
“My father was a farmer and purohit and he had never read the book, and as Ghalib was a Persian poet, it was very tough for me as a child to understand. We lived in Amethi, next to a mosque, and I needed to understand his poetry, decode each word and it all began with Ghalib sahib,” adds the poet, recalling how back in the early ’80s, all he had were books and reading led to writing. Brought up in a middle-class family, with his mother investing everything in his education, Muntashir says he grew up understanding diverse cultures, traditions, life of the common people, which influenced his poetry. “You have to stay with a thought and spend time with it. My songs take a long time to process and the appreciation I receive is the acceptance of my belief in my practice. In films, you are given the minutest of details and work so that the sentiments will go with the character,” he says.
Films and Mumbai, says Muntashir, happened because of Sahir Ludhianvi. “I was going back to college and the train stopped at a station, where in the book shop, I saw the book Sahir. It was priced at Rs 18 and I thought I would have had to sacrifice my breakfast of more than three days to buy it. In the end, I bought it and after reading it, I decided I want to write for films, like Sahir, and then there was no looking back. Despite the odds and the challenges, I did not make any compromises. Many people told me that the kind of poetry I write won’t work in films, but I refused to change or compromise. And what I believed in worked, for my poetry is simple and I like to say things which surround us. I think and dream in Hindi and Urdu, and believe it is important not to put yourself on a pedestal, for we all will be stories in the end, so why take success so seriously?”
From Shukla to Muntashir (his pen name), he says it has been been a fulfilling journey, “both the worlds are mine and I still have to write my best poetry”.