This past weekend, ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas invited a select gathering to Sofitel in BKC for an exclusive concert. The occasion was the launch of Nayaab Lamhe – Timeless Moments, his first-ever album with poet-lyricist Gulzar. The album contains six ghazals and nazms, penned in typical Gulzar style. Udhas performed tracks from the album at the event while ‘Baarish’, ‘Raat Woh Ruki Nahin’ and ‘Na Jaane Kahaan’ immediately impressed the guests.
The collaboration brought to mind one thing. Most fans know 84-year-old Gulzar for his lyrics in Hindi films, which will make for an endless list. At a much lesser frequency, he has worked on private albums, either in ghazals or popular non-film music. Examples are Dil Padosi Hai (1987) with R.D. Burman and Asha Bhosle; Marasim (1999) with Jagjit Singh; Sunset Point (2000) with Bhupinder and Chitral; Visaal (2001) with Ghulam Ali; and Ishqa Ishqa (2005) with Vishal Bhardwaj; besides tributes to Bhupen Hazarika, Amrita Pritam and Rabindranath Tagore.
He’s not the only film lyricist to venture into non-celluloid album territory. The album culture started in the late 1970s and before that, many old-timers wrote unsung poetry. Later, Javed Akhtar did Sangam (1996) with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; Silsilay (1998) and Soz (2002) with Jagjit Singh; Tum Yaad Aaye (1997) with Alka Yagnik; Breathless (1998) with Shankar Mahadevan; Tum Aaye (2002) with Yagnik and Hariharan; and girl band Viva’s debut album.
The Indipop wave of the 1990s had its own lyrics specialists. Dev Kohli, Manohar Iyer and Mehboob did both film and non-film projects. Raajesh Johri wrote for Suneeta Rao, Colonial Cousins, Shiamak Davar and Anup Jalota. Shyam Anuragi penned for Alisha Chinai, Shweta Shetty and Suneeta Rao. Prasoon Joshi wrote for Shubha Mudgal. Jaideep Sahni wrote for Euphoria and Mudgal. Sandra Richards wrote for Anaida’s debut album Love Today Hai Nahin Asaan (1995).
There are some observations. One is that barring Gulzar and Akhtar, the writers often didn’t get adequate credit, and non-film lyricists were given a raw deal. Two, many lyricists opted for films because of the money and the name. Three, the Internet barely has any information on these lyrics writers.
The fact is that they have always played an important role in the creation of a song. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at today’s scenario. Hindi film music is in a mess, with hardly any hits. Many musicians are looking at indie music, releasing singles or EPs (albums are rare) for online business and YouTube viewing. Some even want adequate originals for live shows, and need good lyricists.
Yet, the mindset of event managers and artiste promoters tends to focus on known singers and music directors. There is definitely an opportunity for good writers in this independent segment. As for ghazals, one always relies on good poetry. And besides known names like Gulzar and Akhtar, it’s time we tap some young potential.