Ek rui jaisi kahaani jiske liye thode kapas humne bhi ugaaye. These earnest words appear on lyricist Raj Shekhar’s Instagram timeline, describing the dewy poster of Nimmo, the film starring Anjali Patil and Dhanush, slated for release this year.
This is his third project with filmmaker Anand L Rai. “I love the kind of freedom he gives,” Shekhar says. For a young man from Madherpura in Bihar, Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu was life-altering. “It was a chain of fortunate serendipity,” he says. While assisting Rai, he was asked to pen dummy lyrics. Rest, as they say, is history. Songs from the film such as Rangrez and Manu Bhaiya, and Mat Ja Re and Ho Gaya Hai Pyaar from its sequel were big hits.
Shekhar says some songs acquire a life of their own after a point. “They are like a beloved but rebel daughter who brings you fame,” he says. His songs have a personality of their own, fluidly transgressing from one situation to another, much like the lyricist, who penned a song in a language he is not familiar with. “I reconnected with my Jat friends for Ghani Bawri,” the Kirori Mal College alumnus says. In India, films that connect well with the masses and do well on single screens become major hits. Shekhar’s rural background gives him a deeper understanding of the audience and a better grasp of what they expect of his songs.
No wonder Bihar Mey Bahaar Ho, Phir Sey Nitish Kumar Ho became the catchphrase for the Bihar Assembly election campaign that poll strategist Prashant Kishor rolled out. Shekhar’s journey from Bihar to Mumbai and every pit stop in between—be it writing anchor lines at NDTV or his acting stint—have added to his range.
Is it difficult to deliver when every window for improvisation is closed? “The brackets, I agree, are closed at both ends, but that’s the challenge. Writing lyrics for films is like walking a tightrope that I have started to enjoy. For every poem that misses the film wagon, I have Majnu Ka Teela.”
Shekhar uses poetry and music to tell stories. “It feels like unearthing the last few pages of an old diary, where one scribbles their deepest emotions, confessions of an unrequited love and heartbreaks,” he says. “The response was overwhelming wherever we went—Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurgaon, Bhopal.”
Indian youths surprise him with their enthusiasm for poetry. Shekhar also understands that he is writing for a generation that won’t relate to Tumhi Mere Mandir and would rather croon Move On.
The man who admits not having his songs on his playlist is brutally honest about his contemporaries too.
“I might sound childish, but I am in love with the world that Amitabh Bhattacharya weaves with his words. I am in awe of Swanand Kirkire and Irshad Kamil. I admire the way Varun Grover writes,” he says. It is this child-like side that helps him write stories for children. “With books and major films in the pipeline, I am expecting a lot from 2017,” he says.