It's not a mere coincidence that his name is Irshad for he was meant to be doing what he does best — write poetry. Call him up and his caller tune sings aloud: Jo bhi main kehna chahun, barbaad karein alfaaz mere. We caught up with the poet and lyricist Irshad Kamil, known for penning chartbusters for Jab We Met, Rockstar, Tamasha, Sultan and more.
Is there freedom of speech when you write for films?
Freedom of speech is there, but there are some technicalities such as the music, the character, the situation, the language. But, yes, you can say that you get as much freedom of speech as the character you are writing for has. If I am writing for Jordan then I am Jordan, I am not Irshad Kamil. I am Aditya, I am Heer, I am Sultan, I am Tiger.
What thoughts went behind your landmark song Nadaan Parinde from Rockstar?
It was the last song we attempted in that album. Jordan kept moving and we — AR Rahman, Imtiaz Ali, Mohit Chauhan — kept moving along with his creative pursuits, too. So when we reached Nadaan Parinde, I had personally, entirely become Jordan, and I wrote that song in the same mental state as Jordan was in.
How do you come up with realistic lyrics such as Agar Tum Saath ho? Have you ever experienced heartbreak?
Of course I have! I have fallen in love, I have experienced heartbreak. When you write, you relate to certain things — some experiences definitely belong to you which you revisit, and then when you become that character for whom you are writing, then also you pass through that experience.
How do you swing your writing between lyrics such as Jo Bhi Main Kehna Chahun, Kun Faya on one side and Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai and Swag Se Swagat on the other?
Be it demon or god, everything is inside human beings. I might appear to be suave and reserved, but at the same time I am a shararti (naughty) kid at heart, too. Sharafat (manners) and shararat, both are inside me. I have written 440 Volts (Sultan), and also Katiya Karoon (Rockstar). I have written, Tune Maari Entriyaan (Gunday), and Tere Doggy Ko Mujhpe Bhounkne ka nayi (Phata Poster Nikla Hero), too (laughs).
What's your take on item numbers?
Good item numbers can also be written. Songs such as Madhubala's Aaiye Meherban, or Helen's songs were item numbers, so effort should be on making a good song, it should not be below the belt.
How did you use the lockdown as a creative phase?
I wrote a lot. Khoobsurat Khayal, the latest from my Ink Band was conceived during the lockdown. The general environment was depressing, all of us had become a tad low. So I thought I should write something that fades away the fog of despair and brings out ummeed ki dhoop (rays of hope). I wrote, "Kuch aur mujhko de na de, mujhe khoobsurat khayal de, Kisike aansoon ponch de, meri baat mein woh kamaal de." Ink band is the country's first poetry band that we started six years ago. There are a lot of youngsters, who are interested in good poetry and we want to give them something good to consume. Through this band we want to put poetry in the driving seat.
There has always been a complain that lyricists often don't get due credit.
Yes, and it stands true even today, but then things are changing. Lyricists are gradually becoming more aware, and just like singers or music directors, lyricists are also holding individual performances. Say for instance, I do, Swanand Kirkire does.
What is your relationship with other lyricists, is there a sense of kinship that takes over the competitiveness?
Of course. We are all very friendly. There is no competition as such. Also, every lyricist has his own style so accordingly the film goes to him. If a film is meant for Javed (Akhtar) Saab then it will go to him only, and if it's meant for my capabilities, it'll come to me.
Also sometimes one film has multiple lyricists.
Yes, but I am not one of them. I believe you either take full responsibility of making a film hit or flop, or you leave it completely. Those who don't have competency to do a full movie are only taking pies from a cake.
With OTTs hardly using songs, are the days of the lyricist numbered?
Not at all. As long as films will be made, there will always be demand for lyricists. And filmmaking will never stop. Audience will always go to theatres to watch films. Before OTTs there was television. These web series are like TV serial episodes only. So, was television a threat to lyricists? No. Similarly OTTs will have no impact on lyricists.