The Lyricist’s Magique 

The advent of sound changed cinema the world over, but when it came to India, it did more than that.

Published: 10th March 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th March 2019 05:16 PM   |  A+A-

Madhubala and Dilip Kumar in Mughal-E-Azam

Express News Service

Main Shayar Toh Nahin
By: Rajiv Vijayakar
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 360
Price: Rs 499

Even though songs since forever have attained a sacred space in the world of Hindi films, there haven’t been as many books celebrating the exceptional element that has adorned Hindi cinema with unmatched uniqueness. With this at the back of your mind, Rajiv Vijaykar’s Main Shayar Toh Nahin: The Book of Hindi Film Lyricists attains great significance right at the conceptional level.

The book undertakes the audacious task of chronicling the journey of men and women who have contributed to the singular aspect that makes Hindi cinema stand apart from everything else. Vijaykar packs the book with analysis and trivia about wordsmiths that make for intriguing reading and provides a single volume tracing the journey of lyricists from the early 1930s to the present day. But the book, unfortunately, is a letdown. 

The advent of sound changed cinema the world over, but when it came to India, it did more than that. In 1931, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara had seven songs, including the iconic ‘De de Khuda ke naam pe pyaare’, but for decades no one knew who penned them. By 1940s, the lyricist had arrived and the decade was one where Dina Nath Madhok, P L Santoshi and Kavi Pradeep introduced a lexicon that was much simpler and enabled songs to linger on the minds of the viewer long after the film was over. 

This was also the decade where Majrooh Sultanpuri made his debut with Shahjahan (1946) where the former featured the immortal K L Saigal hit ‘Jab dil hi toot gaya’ and many of his illustrious contemporaries such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Rajendra Krishan, Shakeel Badayuni, Hasrat Jaipuri also emerged around the same period. In a matter of few pages, Vijaykar takes the readers through the decades and points out the standout songs of nearly every lyricist to ever pen more than a couple of songs in Hindi films. 

The trouble with Vijaykar’s book is that it doesn’t have a spine on which the overarching idea could rest easy. There are essay-like chapters that speak about nuances of the Hindi film song in terms of their nature, aim, structure, art and craft, which essentially include many couplets to give you a sense of the emotion behind a song along with interviews with a selected few such as Javed Akhtar and then there are listings of lyricists and their standout songs. 

In the midst there are also some mistakes—the song ‘Khada hai, khada hai’ is credited to a film called Amaanat, while it was from Andaz and had raked up quite a controversy in the 1990s. There is a missing coherence in terms of a structure that makes the book more of the kinds where you would randomly open a page and read for a bit.

Had the book been structured better or even overhauled as a dictionary—after all there are chapters titled ‘Dabblers in Lyrics’ that talks about how everyone who wrote lyrics was not necessarily a professional lyricist and then goes on to mentions the names of Dharmesh Darshan, Goldie Behl, K C Bokadia and actors like Dev Anand, who “in an unique achievement, (he) wrote both the Hindi and English versions of the title-track of his film Mr Prime Minister”—it might have made more sense.  

The trouble with great ideas not living up to their potential begins when authors somewhere start to swim in the sea of other people’s expectations and invariably drown. This is also visible from the lazy manner in which the cover is designed. Main Shayar Toh Nahin: The Book of Hindi Film Lyricists was perhaps a wonderful idea that could not be translated into something meaningful of which it had immense potential. Still, if you are someone with even the slightest hint of interest in Hindi film songs, pick it up nonetheless for anecdotes and fun. But if you seek something deeper, look elsewhere.

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