Manoj Shukla from Amethi landed in Mumbai in 1999,and was without a roof over his head for a while. I was obsessed with a dream to write songs for films,and I left for Mumbai with a railway ticket given by my father and Rs 700,which he said was all he could afford then. I never took any more help from him I was the only child and yet he graciously allowed me to come down here despite initial fears for my future. Sometime back,I bought my own house,and my father happily said,Woh saat sau rupaye bahut rang laaye!
But Manoj admits that he has not really succeeded yet at what he set out to do. For almost six years,I had no time to look back or consider lyrics writing on a regular basis because of a lucky break called Kaun Banega Crorepati, he says. It so happened that model-turned-actress Deepti Bhatnagar gave me a break on her pilgrimage show Yatra on Star Plus because she liked what I wrote. Sameer Nair,then CEO of that channel,recommended me to Mr. Amitabh Bachchan.
Manoj graphically remembers his meeting at Mumbais J.W.Marriott. I was scared,but composed outwardly. Sameerji told Bachchansaab that I wrote well,and like him I belonged to Allahabad district too. I only had a vague outline of the show and had written some general lines about a journey being more exciting than the destination,at which point you stop moving ahead. At one point,Bachchansaab stopped me and said,Aap ki bhasha bahut sundar hai. And I simply replied,It is in my blood.
In those days,adds Manoj,using pagers was the norm,and before he reached home from that meeting,Siddharth Basu,the brain behind the show,had already paged him with the message,Welcome aboard. From here,Manoj went on to write all seasons of KBC except the last one for Sony (because he was busy with MasterChef India). His many other triumphs included Jhalak Dikkhla Jaa,Chak Dhoom Dhoom,Sach Ka Saamna,Chhote Ustaad,Voice Of India and many more,including some award shows and the recent Pantaloons Femina Miss India 2011.
Says Manoj,I could have never imagined then that KBC would become so big and where it would take me. All I knew was that I wanted to earn and that a poet could easily write prose because he understood how to arrange words,though the reverse need not be true. And with KBC,I discarded my pager and bought myself a mobile-phone that has never stopped ringing by the grace of God!
The layman would love to know what exactly a scriptwriter does on a reality show,and Manoj explains,We write what the anchors speak the jokes,the philosophy and all the nice and mass-friendly things they speak. But we always listen in on the shoots and are connected with the hosts directly through earphones. We have to think on our feet and tell them what to say in any situation that arises.
During this phase,he was satisfied with doing the title-songs of television shows and serials,the latter including Banoo Main Teri Dulhann,Na Aana Iss Des Mein Laado,Bhabhi and others. I did over 40 songs, he says.
Manoj is very proud of his roots. Unless they are very strong,the branches wont flower, he says poetically. I am very happy that I came from a small-town. You are either born with an art or do not have it. Without a natural flair,no training can make anything out of you. On my way to Allahabad University to do my Bachelors in Science,I stumbled upon Sahir Ludhianvis Talkhiyaan at a railway book-stall on the way. I was so floored by the verse that by the time the train reached Allahabad my desire to make poetry my profession had been consolidated.
And so Manoj Shukla became Manoj Muntashir. Explaining his pen-name,he says,Usually your guru or ustad gives you the pen-name,but I had no one. I thought of Muntashir (which means bikhra hua or a scattered soul) because it was unique.
Manojs first professional recording outside television was an album called Tum Yaad Na Aaya Karo with Ram Shankar in 2005. He did a few more albums before making his debut with a song in a small film called U Bomsi & Me with music by Deepak Pandit. Then came Rahul Rawails Buddha Mar Gaya,a film that had only one song,and one song in Woodstock Villa.
But his major break was Ketan Mehtas still-to-be-released Rang Rasiya. It was Sandesh (Shandilya)ji who took me to him. Ketanji usually works with established names,so he gave me one situation,of a passionate love-making sequence and stressed that he would not tolerate filthy or conventional language. He told me that his hero was one of Indias most famous artists and it had to suit his calibre. When I gave him four lines,he was extremely happy. But it took some time before he decided to give me the entire film.
Habib Faisal,an old friend,suddenly called Manoj in 2009 to write songs for his directorial debut Do Dooni Chaar,and then happened the recent Yeh Faasley and Rajshri Productions Isi Life Mein and Love U Mr Kalakaar!. Right now,Manoj is busy,apart from a reality show,with the lyrics of Deepa Sahis Tere Mere Phere.
Manoj is happy that his financial stability has changed the situation. I am not writing lyrics for my bread or butter. I wont say I am choosy because I have not reached the top,but yes,I can afford to turn down films that do not have substance.
His fundamentals are very clear: The characters language is what I am after I dont get involved in whether I am using too much of a particular language. Hindi and Urdu are very strong within me,but if Punjabi or English are needed for the character,so be it. To me,a song should exhibit poetry,not its poet. I am not here to show off what I can do as a writer but to do justice to the characters.
Describing songwriting as atma ki pyaas,he is not averse to working with any composer. But its kind of difficult to break into the tight groups, he admits. But do the superstars he worked with Amitabh Bachchan,Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar,know that he writes poetry? They do not,and I am not at all proud of the fact that I never informed them! But I was too shy! he says.