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The lucid lyricist
Women lyricists are as rare as item girls in saris. But Anvita Dutt Guptan, who wrote the pretty love ballad 'Khuda jane' and the robust 'Laung da laskhara', says there is nothing feminine about her verse.
Childhood memories are misty for Anvita Dutt Guptan. Especially when it comes to remembering the songs she loved listening to on the family turntable. But one number clearly finds its way past the jumble of half-remembrances - a song from Sholay, that ironically few would have heard.
The preferred track is neither the racy ode to male bonding, Yeh dosti hum nahi todenge, nor R D Burman's Mehbooba, mehbooba. And it isn't the frisky Koi haseena jab rooth jaati hai either. The number that continues to hum and purr in her memory is Chand sa koi chehra, na koi pehloo mein ho, a qawwali sung by Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Bhupendra and Anand Bakshi (also the lyricist). The song was recorded but never filmed. But it was in the film's long-playing records. "For some strange reason I remember that song very clearly, " says Anvita, now making a name for herself both as a lyricist and a dialogue writer.
Song writing is primarily a male occupation in Hindi films. Eight decades after Bollywood got talking, just a handful of female lyricists come to mind - Maya Govind, Indu Jain, Prabha Thakur and Rani Malik. At the most you can add litterateurs Padma Sachdev and Amrita Pritam to that list. But women lyricists are as rare as item girls in saris. In recent years, there's no major break in the trend. Except that Anvita is slowly but surely carving out a place for herself in this unlikely territory for women.
But the lyricist refuses to look at her own craft through the prism of gender. "The fact that I write has nothing to do with my gender. I get work as a lyricist maybe because a director or a producer identifies with my expression of emotions and not because it's a 'feminine take'. It's just my take. I am able to write not because I'm a woman but because I am me, " she says.
Top producers such as Aditya Chopra (Bachna Ae Haseeno) and Karan Johar (Dostana) seem to like what she writes. But in her case, commercial success - she wrote the peppy Patiala House chartbuster, Laung da lashkara - has generally blended with critical acclaim. Anybody who's seen Bachna Ae Haseeno can see how aptly the words of Khuda jaane bend to the mood of its characters. You can sense their ecstasy and wonderment, the intensity of their love.
"I'm still known for it and people still appreciate it. It just pushed me to another league altogether. Vishal and Shekhar created such a beautiful melody and the lyrics were totally inspired by that, " she says.
That's not the only song for lovers in her ouvre. Anvita has also penned evocative tracks such as Jaane kyun (Dostana) and Kyun main jagoon (Patiala House). The lyrics are simple, shorn of gimmickry and pretty much straight from the heart. "My writing is an extension of my soul, my experiences, my emotion and my life, " she says.
It's a life that has soaked up India in every flavour. Anvita's dad worked in the IAF and she spent her childhood in cantonments across the country: Hindon, Guwahati, Jodhpur, Saharanpur. "The Air Force station library was my regular haunt. It used to be my personal mission to read all the books there before my father got posted out of the station, " says the songwriter, who loves science fiction.
Like another well-known lyricist Prasoon Joshi, Anvita came to the movies through advertising where she worked for 14 years and dreamt of writing for movies. "The dream came true purely by chance as I was introduced to Aditya Chopra by Rekha Nigam (dialogue writer of Parineeta and Laaga Chunri Mein Daag). I had no idea I could write but Aditya convinced me otherwise. He showed faith in me and gave me my break. I can't sing to save my life, have no knowledge or training in music but he believed that I was a lyricist and I believed him, " she says.
The songwriter doesn't have the angst of some fellow lyricists of her generation who talk about their words being chopped and mutilated by composers and directors. "I have been lucky enough to work with people like Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, people with refined music sensibility. In any case, I never write without the script before me, " she says. Which probably explains why her words often appear so integral to the narrative.
Gulzar is her favourite lyricist. "I think he has a direct connection to the divine force. All his songs talk about the familiar in such new and unusual ways. How can someone get it right all the time? His work is stunning. I worship his work. A close second is Vishal Dadlani who writes with such ease and simplicity that I'm quite jealous of him, " she says.
With her rapid strides in Bollywood, that's an emotion she herself might be arousing in a cutthroat industry.
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