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I write to justify the character: Irshad Kamil

Lyricist, poet and writer Irshad Kamil opens up about his work philosophy, his future projects and why a song from his 2011 movie Rockstar continues to be his caller tune, as Deepali Dhingra tunes in

A white, black and brown furry cat greets us with a loud “meoww!” just as we are about to ring the doorbell of Irshad Kamil’s residence. We look down and see the feline curled up with a bowl of milk next to her, looking up at us with big brown eyes. Thank god, we didn’t step on her tail, we think to ourselves, as the maid opens the door to let us in. “

Irshad Kamil
Irshad Kamil believes there is a lack of philosophy in contemporary songs 

She comes to our house every day,” Kamil tells us later, when we’re seated inside his house, “Sometimes, she comes to drink milk. At other times, she comes here out of affection.”

It’s a relationship of unspoken words for the lyricist and poet, for whom, ironically, it’s words that matter. But he’s also the man who wrote ‘Jo Bhi Main Kehna Chahoon, Barbaad Karein Alfaaz Mere’ (Whatever I want to say, is destroyed by my words) from the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Rockstar. “There are times when words become limitations, as the person may not be able to grasp the true meaning of what you’re trying to say. The intention might be purer than what the words convey. That is why you will notice that when you get overwhelmed by your emotions — whether love or hatred — you prefer to stay mum,” says Kamil.

The song, incidentally, has been his caller tune since 2011, ever since the movie released. “I’ve written many songs since then, but no other song has motivated or inspired me enough to change it. I think once I have that, the song itself will force me to replace it with the new one,” he adds with a smile.

The lyricist, who hails from Malerkotla in Punjab, and holds a PhD in Hindi poetry, is one of the few true poets in Bollywood today. Think of songs such as Bhaage Re Mann from Chameli, Aaoge Jab from Jab We Met, Pee Loon from Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Tum Hi Ho Bandhu from Cocktail, Naadan Parindey from Rockstar and Patakha Guddi from Highway, and you will know why we say that. “The great Hindi writer Nirmal Verma once told me that to be a good writer, you need to experience life. In contemporary songs, you will find ‘jumlebaazi’ (wordplay) but a lack of philosophy, which comes from experiencing life,” believes the poet.

The 42-year-old, who has written a number of plays in the past, has recently come out with Bolti Deewarein — his first play to be published as a book. Kamil feels it’s easier to come up with independent work, than write lyrics for Hindi movies. “While writing lyrics, there are at least six challenges you face. You have to justify the tune and the situation, then you have to satisfy yourself, the director of the movie as well as the music director and finally, the audience,” he counts on his finger. So, ultimately, who does he write for? “None of the above,” he smiles, “I write to justify what the character is trying to say. Whether it was a Ranbir Kapoor of Rockstar, or a Shahid Kapoor of Jab We Met or an Emraan Hashmi from Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, the songs they sang justified their characters,” says Kamil.

Having worked with director Imtiaz Ali in all his films, and currently working on his next, Tamasha, we assume it’s a given that he will collaborate with the filmmaker on each of the latter’s projects. But that’s not the case. “Imtiaz and I haven’t signed any lifetime agreement contract,” he laughs. “However, it does make it easier to work as a technician when the filmmaker is your friend and vice versa,” admits the lyricist. Kamil also has Farah Khan’s Happy New Year and Sooraj Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo to look forward to. “I take up projects that inspire me and I try and work with people whose company I enjoy. At the end of the day, this is not a job for me,” Kamil leaves us with those parting words, as we step out of the house with a last look at the cat and wave at her. We think she understands.

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