Bringing poetry back to songs

Amrita Prasad
Friday, 22 February 2019

In conversation with well-known lyricist and dialogue writer Manoj Muntashir, who was in town recently for the recital of his published poetry collection Meri Fitrat Hai Mastana

Despite being an extremely successful lyricist and dialogue writer, Manoj Muntashir comes across as a simple and humble individual. We caught up with Manoj, who was in Pune for the recital of his recently published poetry collection Meri Fitrat Hai Mastana at the author talk event organised by Pune Chapter of Kalam, and he did floor us with his modesty, command over Urdu and ‘mastana’ style. 

At the event, Manoj spoke with Neelam Seolekar, director, Oxford Properties and O Hotel, (the Pune Chapter of Kalam is organised by Sujata Sabnis, Neelam Seolekar and Amita Munot, and O Hotel is the venue sponsor) while giving the audience a peek into his journey. Manoj, who has written lyrics for songs like Galliyan, Tere Sang Yaara, Kaun Tujhe, Phir Bhi Tumko Chahunga, Rashke Qamar, Dekhte Dekhte and so on, revealed that during his struggling days, he had spent months on the streets of Mumbai and slept with beggars.  

However, his life took a U-turn when Amitabh Bachchan happened to watch an episode of a show called Yatra which was written by him. “I got a message on my pager reading that Amitabh Bachchan wants to meet me. First, I thought it was some kind of a prank, and didn’t reply. If I did, I would have to pay. But when the message appeared a couple of times, I replied and ended up meeting Bachchan saab. And, this is how I ended up writing the episodes for Kaun Banega Crorepati,” informs Manoj. Followed by KBC, he wrote for other reality shows including Indian Idol. Phrases like ‘Computerji Lock Kiya Jaye’ was in fact written by Manoj.   

He not only wrote the Hindi dialogues for highest-grossing films like Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, but also for the Hindi version of Black Panther. The writer, who hails from a small village — Gaurigunj in Uttar Pradesh, believes that everyone is born for a reason, and with a talent. “You just have to find what that is and then give it your all and you’ll see magic happening,” he says.  

Coming to Baahubali series, Manoj, who had never written dialogues before, won SS Rajamouli’s heart with his flair for Hindi when the filmmaker heard him narrating a story in Hindi to music director MM Kreem. “I was sitting in a room with Kreem sir and narrating a story in Hindi. Rajamouli sir happened to walk in. I did not recognise him. He went back and decided that I should write the dialogues for the Hindi versions of Baahubali. I confessed to him about my lack of experience in dialogue writing but Rajamouli sir said that he wanted his Baahubali to speak Hindi the way I speak,” says Manoj. 

Transporting himself from the ancient Hindu kingdom Mahishmati to the fictional African nation of Wakanda was not difficult for him because the spirit of Black Panther is just as ‘Indian as the Baahubali franchise’.  

Manoj doesn’t believe in the direct translation of dialogues from one language to another but says what he did for Baahubali was transcreation. He began from scratch and reproduced the essence of the screenplay. “When I wrote the climax (first) I thought it was fake and plastic because I didn’t follow the Tamil and Telugu scripts. I had to rethink and recreate the dialogues for it,” he adds.  

But what about Black Panther which is a superhero film? Manoj, who draws similarities between Black Panther and Indian mythology, says, “Black Panther is a very Indian story. King T’Challa (Black Panther) is like any other king from Amar Chitra Katha. There is a fight for righteousness, a fight for the throne, just like in Baahubali. Then, the father-son story, brother-sister story, cousin-rivalry story —  all this Indian-ness can be found in Black Panther.”

Coming back to the industry and fierce competition, Manoj says that it’s difficult to survive if one doesn’t have connections and for an artist it’s tough to get work. But one has to be persistent. “When you don’t have a godfather, then god is your father. I kept knocking on the doors of various studios and production houses. If you knock on hundred doors, at least one will open up,” says Manoj who started reading Mirza Ghalib in 7th standard. He didn’t understand the meaning of the poems so he bought an Urdu book and learnt how to read, write and speak Urdu. Originally born as Manoj Shukla, he even added Muntashir to his name just like most poets and shayars do.   

Manoj has been known to bring poetry back to Hindi film lyrics and believes that a shayar’s job is to simplify thoughts, feelings and emotions for the common man. But can youngsters connect to the language? Says he, “The youngsters are being underestimated. They understand, love, and enjoy poetry and shayri, but lyricists have to say it in the language they understand. You can’t write very complicated and complex verses in Urdu and Hindi and expect the audience to understand. The key is to keep it simple. Also, when you are writing lyrics for a song, and you are given a situation, as a lyricist, you have to identify with the situation, else all you write would be a lie. I have to understand the feelings, the agony and the joy of characters and place my own love story in the script, only then I can do justice to the lyrics and emotions in the song.”

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