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The boys' club opens up
Young women lyricists are slowly making their mark on Bollywood. But it is still a struggle to break through a field dominated by men
Saroj Mohini Nayyar was the first woman to ever write a song for a Bollywood film. 'Preetam Aan Milo' sung by Geeta Dutt (Mr & Mrs 55, 1955) broke the stranglehold of male lyricists in Hindi cinema. The song was actually adapted by Gulzar for a song in Angoor.
Decades later, Rani Malik burst into the scene and wrote the lyrics for some of the biggest hits of early 90s - Phool aur Kaante, Main Khiladi Tu Anari and Aashiqui. 'Chura Ke Dil Mera' (Main Khiladi...) and 'Mai Duniya Bhula Doonga' (Aashiqui) were some of her biggest hits of those years. Maya Govind too wrote some hummable numbers. But sadly, these writers did not survive Bollywood too long.
Today, young filmmakers are giving women lyricists a fair opportunity to showcase their talent. Kausar Munir made a mark with 'Mashallah' and 'Saiyaara' (Ek Tha Tiger) and also wrote lyrics for Ishaqzaade. Anvita Dutt Guptan scored two big hits with 'Khuda Jaane' (Bachna Ae Haseeno), and 'Laung Da Lashkara' (Patiala House). Lyricist Prasoon Joshi says that it is hard to believe that an industry that encourages women directors, script writers and editors would spurn women lyricists. "I would not blame the industry for it. It is not as though good women writers came by and were refused. I think women are not here by choice. I believe that they gravitate towards singing. Certain art forms attract women more while others appeal to men, " he says. Munir who made her mark in the industry with 'Falak Tak' (Tashan) says lyric writing is a tough domain for women.
"It is a competitive field and the slots are few unlike singing or acting. Also, I feel that the industry can be intimidating for most women. You are asked to come for a sitting to places which might seem off putting. I was lucky to have friends around and I had been writing for television (Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin) for the last 10-12 years, " she says. Priya Panchal, who worked on some songs with Sameer in Faltu and also did the lyrics for Shor in the City, says the struggle is intense. "And though there are very fine women poetry writers in India, Bollywood writing is very different. In fact, I came in as a singer (she has done more than 2, 000 shows with Kalyanji-Anandji ), then took to writing lyrics because I wanted to do something creative, " she recounts.
Amitabh Bhattacharya, who won the National Award for best lyrics for 'Emotional Attayachar' (DevD) says that women writers might be intimidated by the number of men who dominate the field. "Other than that I really can't think of a reason why women
have not been forthcoming in this particular field. And this is a very comfortable time for men and women to work together, " he says.
Munir disagrees on this. "I think it is more a boys' club where they bond together over discussions and so women have practically little or no room. Technically, maybe men are more adept at song writing despite the fact that women are more romantic and any song with their perspective has greater depth, " she says.
Joshi says that song writing is an assignment that offers a lot of flexibility and that perhaps women need more motivation from the industry to come forward and write. Panchal agrees. "I have lot of women friends who are keen to write rap and experiment with different genres. But there is a lot of insecurity in the industry. So motivation definitely is a big factor. Women writers require a bit of boost, " she says.
Music director Sneha Khanwalkar (women composers are another rarity in the film industry ), who created some stunning music for Gangs of Wasseypur, says that gender does not matter in the creative process. "Working with a woman would be different only in that their attire differs, " she quips.
But Joshi cautions women against taking a leap into Bollywood without the talent to sustain the effort. "The most painful thing for an urban woman is having to struggle with societal pressure as well as her own expectations as an individual. One seldom sees mediocre talent coming from women. Mahadevi Verma came out into open with her poetry because she was confident that she was a tornado of exceptional talent. "
Khanwalkar says she sees change coming. "It's totally a matter of time, " she says.
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