Deccan Chronicle

Lyricist always goes unrecognized, says Raj Sekhar

Deccan Chronicle.| Ajit Andhare

Published on: February 15, 2023 | Updated on: February 15, 2023
Lyricist Raj Sekhar. (Photo By Arrangement)

Lyricist Raj Sekhar. (Photo By Arrangement)

Chances are that you might have heard Aise Kyun..’ from Season 2 of the Netflix series Mistmatched but might not know the name of its lyricist. Driving home this point is lyricist Raj Sekhar who has penned lyrics for movies like ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, ‘Veere Di Wedding’, ‘Uri’, ’Good Luck Jerry’ among others. 

In an exclusive chat with 'Deccan Chronicle', he explains the nuances of writing lyrics and what happens when songs court controversies.

Tell us about the movie starring Fahad Fasil you are working for.

I have been a great admirer of Fahadh Faasil’s work. As a lyricist, there are always actors for whom you want to write, and Fahadh is one of them.

It so happened that my friend and music composer Justin Prabhakaran, with whom I also worked on ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’, asked me to write one Hindi song for a Malayalam film. I agreed and casually inquired about the actor. To my surprise, it was Fahadh. You can't imagine my astonishment.  

It is a Hindi song set in a Malayalam film which I wrote on a tune. It is an interesting yet tricky space. The part of the story where the song fits is set in Mumbai.

My usual process for writing is to understand the concept of the film, for which I insist on reading the script. So, I got a call from the director, Akhil Sathyan, who is such a sweet soul. He narrated the story to me and even sent me edited footage of the song, making things easier for me. This only shows the trust that fows effortlessly through that person.

How was your meeting with Fahadh Fasil?

An interesting anecdote: there is a song in the film with just a portion of qawwali in it. While we were chatting, they played the song for me, and the qawwali portion just had ‘maula maula’. Though they wanted me to write, they were not sure if I would agree. Of course, I wrote the qawwali portion, and this happened before the actual Hindi song took place.

Several months later, I got a call from Akhil, inviting me over. When I reached there they were shooting with Fahadh. He met me with so much warmth. Fahadh is extremely humble, respectful, and down to earth, with no air of a superstar about him. Among the many stars that I have worked with, there are only a few who are so real.

That night we three sat on the road and chatted our way to glory from 10 pm until 4 am. In between the shoot breaks, we sang Guru Dutt songs, as Fahadh is a huge Guru Dutt fan. It is marvelous to see that even after reaching a certain stature in life, the authenticity of the person is intact.

Interestingly, Akhil and I are in the scene with Fahadh. We are sitting behind Fahad in the bus shot. So this film is not only my Malayalam debut as a lyricist but also my debut as an actor in Malayalam Films. (Smiles)

How different or difficult is it to write lyrics for a movie being made in multiple languages?

I haven’t really written songs in two different languages—in ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, I wrote one English song, ‘Old School Girl’ and in ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’, there are Tamil words that I would pick up from my friends. Besides, I shamelessly call my friends and pick their brains when I am in doubt about languages.

I worked on a song for a Prabhas movie with Justin for Hindi lyrics. Though It didn’t come out, we had fun writing it. One thing I realised is that the Telugu metaphors and similes that were in the songs wouldn’t work in Hindi because, right from the geographical to the cultural integration, everything is different. So I would not say it is difficult, but since it is a new language, one has to adapt according to the language and listeners.

‘RRR’ is garnering headlines abroad for the song ‘Naatu Naatu’. Do you think after this, lyricists, singers, and music composers will start getting their due?

I loved ‘RRR’. It is a delight to watch. I am so happy that they are winning so many awards, especially for music. I am an old fan of M.M. Keeravani, right from ‘Tum Aaye To Aaaya Mujhe Yaad, Gaali Main Chand Nikla…’, ‘Kaun Mera Kya Tu Lage…’, and the songs from ‘Jism’. There is a distinct taste to his music. Listening to his music is like an incense stick burning in the corner. It is so perfumed and subtle.

Talking about due credit, I would like to say that as far as singers, composers, and lyricists are concerned, it is the lyricist that always goes unrecognised. One needs to understand that a lyricist is either the first or second person to be involved in a song after the music composer. Credit should definitely be given to the singer, composer, and actors, but I fail to understand why the lyricist is left behind. This is very sad. The energy with which one creates and writes something gets crushed when credit is not given.

Was there any song that you wrote and didn’t expect anything great from it but it went on to become a massive hit?

What I was not expecting from all the songs that I have written is the response they got. ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ songs were my very first assignment of writing lyrics. I was an assistant director for the film and I accidentally ended up as a lyricist. People still listen to those songs with great fervour. In between, there have been many songs, but among the recent ones is ‘Aise Kyun..’ from Season 2 of the Netflix series Mistmatched. I never thought that this song would become so popular. Almost 50–60 million streams for a web series song is unprecedented. What I learned from this is that you can’t plan for such a response.

There is a predominant perception that a song should not be longer than three minutes, but this song is six minutes long. Anurag Saikia, Akarsh Khurana, and I never thought that it would become so famous, all we wanted was for Rekha Bharadwaj to sing it. Plus, Akarsh was kind enough to not tweak a single word despite a lot of difficult, unheard words.

What’s your take on the South Vs North debate going on in Bollywood?

This is not a Bollywood debate but a pan-India debate. I believe this debate is manufactured because when we watch Mani sir’s or Rajni sir’s movies, we never watch them thinking that these are South films.

Tell me one thing - is R. Madhvan a North actor or a South actor? You’ll find Nayantara and Dhanush fans in Bihar and UP too. ‘RRR’ belongs to the North or South? And ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ has a huge fan following in the North. Yes, sometimes language seems to be a barrier but the "madness" we have for cinema and films will bring us closer. I don’t see ‘RRR’ merely as a Telugu film. This is not North versus South, but it is the togetherness of the North and South scenario that we should talk about.

In ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’, two lines are in Tamil, which Justin wrote, and the rest are in Hindi, which I wrote. I am working on films in which 60% are Malayalam and 40% Hindi. In fact, I find it to be a beautiful thing that boundaries are getting blurred with these inclusions and we are getting to know each other’s culture.

I am from Bihar, and without letting go of my identity, can I learn something from other cultures and traditions? In my observation, the songs of the South are closer to nature—mountains, spring, sun, grass, and dew—and this is where the metaphors come from. Their songs are very close to classic literature, and films are a great medium for reaching the audience.

Do you think ‘Pathaan’ will end this debate?  

What people do not realize is that when such a boycott happens, the subsidiary industries that are associated with that film also get affected. For so many people whose livelihood depends on the working of the film also get affected.

With the release of ‘Pathaan’, there has been a cheerful atmosphere. In fact, it is endearing to see many single-screen multiplexes being reopened with the release of ‘Pathaan’ and getting back into the business.

‘Beshram Rang’ faced a lot of controversies. As a lyricist, do you think songs benefit from controversies?

Today songs and films have become an easy and soft target. I would like to quote a phrase, "every bit of publicity is good publicity, whether it is negative or positive."

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