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There is nothing folk about Munni Badnaam
He describes song-writing as an “accidental foray”. But Prasoon Joshi has nevertheless penned some of the biggest chartbusters in recent time — ‘Delhi 6’, ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’, among others. In a chat with TOI-Crest, Joshi, who has put together a book titled ‘Sunshine Lanes’ on the creative process behind each of his hit songs, says that you don’t need to dumb down lyrics to land a hit
What are your views on the decline in Bollywood lyrics?
In what sense? You mean item numbers? Or overall?
Let's start with item numbers.
I don't consider item number songs. They are amusement numbers. I have heard some people call 'Munni Badnaam Hui' (Dabangg) a folk song. What is folk music? Please do not abuse folk. Folk is the music of the people, by the people and for the people. It's a collective art form. It has no copyright and therefore, it can move from me to you and you can add something to it. It reflects the sentiments, problems, joys and sorrows of peasants. For example, a farmer leaves home to earn a living and his woman is left alone. A folk song would articulate her pain of separation. There are many folk songs from Jharkhand and Bihar where women beware their West Bengalbound husbands of the dangers of black magic. They fear that their men would be enticed by the Bengali evil spirits. Where does 'Munni Badnaam Hui' reflect that?
The reality is people love such songs. And if there is demand, there is bound to be supply.
It's easy to say that. Gulzar saab has written a few such light numbers - 'Kajra re' (Bunty Aur Babli) and 'Beedi' (Omkara). But they were tastefully done. I wrote 'Masti ki paathshala' in Rang De Basanti and it became a youth anthem. I didn't use a single vulgar term in that. In fact, it is full of school-ish jargon - multiplication, equation, H2SO4.
The 'Fevicol' song from 'Dabangg 2' equates a woman to tandoori chicken, meant to be washed down with alcohol. That is both disgusting and derogatory to women, isn't it?
You have to understand that the aim of such songs is instant gratification. But your subconscious does not retain it. Such songs come and go and have no lasting value. History does not remember them. However, that is still no excuse to write anything that degrades women.
Why are women always the target - why not men?
Because it happens in society and cinema merely mirrors what happens in society. The item number is not an invention of Bollywood. I don't think it is right to blame cinema all the time. Where has mujra come from? A woman dancing and 50 men sitting around and enjoying her dance - isn't that objectification? What about the devadasi tradition or the Sati practice? Long before cinema and songs objectified women, society and religion had already objectified them. It happens even in the so-called good families. At parties, you see parents telling their 10-year-old daughters, "Beta, naacho". Why not drag boys on the dance floor for a change and let the girls enjoy?
Are you saying female objectification begins at home?
Yes, at home and in society. It's everywhere. We have never given the woman her individuality and freedom. She is always somebody's mother, sister and wife. We have not celebrated her as an individual who has her own dreams and aspirations. We have confined her identity in various 'roles'. Look at the mother figure. Motherhood has been made into a 'be all and end all' of a woman's life. But it's a woman's choice whether she wants to become a mother and at what age. Also, why should the job of parenting fall on the woman alone? Why can't the man pitch in? We may not like hearing it but we have failed to honour women. Look at Indian gaalis (swear words). In English-speaking countries, they say, 'Fuck you'. In India, we say, 'Teri maa ki' and 'Teri behen ki'. Even if the problem is personal, we immediately target the women of the household.
When you wrote 'Maa' for 'Taare
Zameen Par', what was going on in your mind?
I wrote it purely as a personal experience. When I was a child, around 12, my mother left me home alone to attend a training program. What happened to me? My fears became more pronounced. Those fears somehow found their way into that song.
Was it written especially for the film?
You never write specifically for a film. It's always 50-50. You use the situation to express yourself.
In what ways has your mother inspired you?
In a big way. A mother is a nurturer. She is your first influence and shapes your consciousness. My mother worked while she was raising me. She was a teacher in Almora and at other places in Tehri Garhwal (Uttarakhand). Her values are still with me.
Do you think you had a richer childhood in the hills? Has it added to your poetic ideas?
Hundred per cent. Growing up in the mountains makes you more sensitive and less manipulative. Human beings make you manipulative, not nature. If you are brought up in Bombay or Delhi, you see people gunning for the same pound of flesh. Your image is of people negotiating their way through crowds in busses and trains, where survival is difficult. When your struggle is against people, you become cynical and manipulative. It's not that people in mountains live without any struggle. For example, you have to climb a rough terrain to reach someplace but nature will not push you off its surface. (Laughs) But, in a Mumbai local you will be pushed out. On the contrary, nature makes you tough. With nature, what you see is what you get.
What is the purpose of this book?
A lot people ask me, 'How did the song 'Maa' (Taare Zameen Par) happen?', 'How did you write 'Roobaroo' (Rang De Basanti) or 'Masakkali' (Delhi 6)", 'Do lyrics come first or the tune?' I realised that people are interested in the songwriting process. Also, people want to sing along but sometimes they get the words wrong. I went to a college function once and somebody was singing 'Roobaroo'. There's a line in that song that goes 'Hui subah main jal gaya', Instead of 'jal gaya', he was singing 'chal gaya'. Such minor mistakes can alter the meaning of a song. Sunshine Lanes gives readers the lyrics of my songs in English and Devanagari along a note describing the creative process behind each song.
Lastly, do you feel more at home writing poetry than lyrics?
In poetry, you are trying to achieve precision because you are struggling to find precise words to express your feelings. It certainly gives you more freedom. In lyrics, your vocabulary shrinks. Sometimes, you are expected to replace words so that they become easy on the ear and lyrical. But whether it is poetry or lyrics, writing honestly is always more difficult than writing something provocative, something designed for the market. Cheap gimmicks don't last while honest work will always find its destiny.
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