With a career spanning over two decades, National Award winner Muntashir on the importance of learning from legends
Manoj Muntashir appears to make a reference to his own life when he says, “If you’re a pure artiste, it may take 10 years for you to find fame in Bollywood, par, phir, aapke din nahin, aapka daur aayega.” Having come into the spotlight after his work on Ek Villian in 2014, the Teri mitti writer has grown from strength to strength, establishing his foothold in Bollywood. He connects with mid-day for a conversation after his recent National Award win for Saina.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
Looking back at your work on this project, what do you think was among its most defining factors?
The music took five years to make. I have to thank Amaal Malik, who was determined to make this his [most defining work]. Also, you would imagine that a man like Bhushan Kumar, who produces 50 films [at a time] would possibly not be able to invest his time in small things, but he will sit in on meetings of each song, and will pin point every word [if needed]. Finally, Amol Gupte gave me such a brief of Saina’s [Nehwal] life, that it helped me in my process. If you hear the track, Parinda, it doesn’t have details of her life; it is a portrayal of her attitude towards life, and reflects that she didn’t want to be part of one small page in history [books], but wanted to make history. I thought about how I would feel if I was Saina. And that’s how all great artistes work. They either live [like] the character, or create one. I have been lucky to have worked on stories of real-life people in a major chunk of my projects, and they give me an idea of how I should approach the music. [At the onset of my career], when I’d write for Kaun Banega Crorepati, both for Mr Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, I would think about how they would speak in those situations.
Also Read: Manoj Muntashir: Priyanka Chopra Jonas has the fire, conviction to play role
When you look back at the beginning of your career in this industry, what was your approach to writing 20 years ago?
I was heavily inspired by Sahir Ludhianvi, among others. Having a role model can set you off in the right direction. I have seen youngsters saying that they don’t wish to follow [writers] or practices in films, but if you do not have a hero, a certain frame, you can’t fill a picture in it. If you don’t study the basics, you can’t sit for the medical examination, and these role models help you easily learn the basics. As soon as we stop getting influenced by the works of the greats, we will start digging our own grave. I also think there was a seed of writing in me. If you’re not a born writer, nothing in this world can make you one. Do something else, and you can still succeed. After a lot of introspection, I knew that words support me, and I can articulate subjects. Finally, I think it’s important to reiterate the importance of reading. Bank mein agar paise nahin daloge, toh nikaloge kya? Aur yeh roz ki sadhana hai. You have to wake up each day with the aim of creating something that outlives you. I am glad that with Saina being awarded, it is good music that has been recognised.
Looking back at your career, what have been the defining milestones for you?
I don’t think one song can define you. Often, you may write something that you think may be great, but it may elicit no response. But, you need to keep writing well. If I still have to point a few out, I’d say Galliyan was a defining one. After that song, people [appreciated] the fact that there was someone in the industry who was writing in that way. From there, I got a lot of work. Tere sang yaara was another important song, in which Akshay Kumar and [producer] Neeraj Pandey allowed me to use lyrics that were poetic, even though they were using the song in a commercial film and needed the track to be a defining one. I’m fortunate that they gave me that chance. For a while, our industry has harboured the notion that female-led songs don’t do well, even though we have legendary female singers in India. At such a time, the fact that I got to use the female-led track Kaun tujhe as the crux of MS Dhoni, was special. Phir bhi tumko chaahunga was a track that had been [penned] 15 years ago. People rejected it, until it was finally accepted. But, finally, it is Teri mitti that really revolutionised my life. People saw me as someone who was more than just a writer. After it did well, people would touch my feet, and I would feel ashamed and ask them to not do that. They’d say that they weren’t bowing down to me but to the talent that wrote it.
Also Read: Manoj Muntashir: With Parineeti Chopra’s expressions, the 'lori' has come alive
What about the importance of poetry in cinematic music do you think people are not identifying?
Everyone loves poetry, even if they don’t know it. It is in the DNA of this soil. People are mistaken to assume that the young generation doesn’t enjoy poetry. Look at my followers – I have 5.5 million followers on the internet. Who uses the internet? The young generation does. Poets like to ignore this huge audience because they think kids don’t like poetry. But that’s wrong. I realised that poets have just not delivered to them something that’s of their interest.
Can you tell us what’s in the pipeline?
I’ll talk about three of them. The first is Vikram Vedha. I’ve penned the dialogues and the songs, and it has Vishal-Shekhar’s music. Then there’s Maidaan, which has been beautifully made. It marks my first collaboration with AR Rahman, and I am so excited about it. I am also very excited about Adipurush, which is the story of Ram; it has been narrated several times in India, and there is always an audience for it. With Prabhas as Ram, Kriti Sanon as Sita, and the music of Ajay Atul, this is something to look forward to.