Wednesday, May 20, 2009



I was sitting with my friend in the drawing room of his apartment, discussing inanities. After sometimes, I remarked:

“ Do you know that such and such producer despite rolling in money with this one of the top ten blockbuster movies of all time, did not pay the royalty of the song to the lyricist-------and reneged on his other promises that he had made to him?”

“Is that true?” he asked.

“Yes, but when the Best Lyricist Award was announced for the lyrics of a very well-known song, that producer quietly collected it on his behalf.”

“How was that?” my friend asked.

“Well, the lyricist had been confined to bed and thereafter left for his heavenly abode, unsung and unattended. He had died of chronic alcoholism. Except for one or two persons from Bollywood, no one else came to his funeral,” I replied.

This remark took my friend down the memory lane. He began...

“I remember the time, sometimes in April 1986 or so, when the son and the maternal uncle of this lyric-writer came to me for a job. The job was menial. They were given the job of painting a building which they happily did. Initially, I did not know that they were related to this lyricist who happened to be from my hometown. But I had great regards for this man who had written so many songs for nearly a hundred Bollywood movies and made a great name for himself. I was, therefore, moved that he should come to such a plight that his son should seek an ordinary job. One day, I told his son to tell his dad to meet me in front of a bar in Santacruz, on the second day at 8 p.m., adding, ‘And don’t worry. He doesn’t know me, but I know him.’ The next day, when the son came on the job he told me that his father would be there on the morrow at the appointed time and place.”

“Hey, why in front of a bar?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, I knew that he was a boozer, and the least I could do for him was to invite him for drinks,” my friend stated in a matter of fact manner.

“Did he come?”

“You bet he did! I was there before the time. I saw him coming. He was dressed in a Sherwani and pajama.  He stopped near the bar, looked at the signboard, and then started looking about the place.  I wished him:

‘Assalaam Alaykum.... ---Sahaab.’
‘Wa Alaykum Salaam,’ he replied.

“Then I took him inside the bar, and we made ourselves comfortable at a table. A bar-girl came for the order.  Incidentally, at that time, the film-song that was being played had been written by my guest. When the bar-girl came back to our table with our order, I pointed out my guest and told her that the writer of that song was here. She went and told the manager at the counter who began craning his neck to get a glimpse of my guest.”

“Then what happened?” I asked.

“Well, after a couple of hours we left the place. I handed him a couple of hundred rupees to take a cab home. He insisted on a thousand bucks – which I politely refused.”

All this sounded so strange to me. Here was this lyricist who knew English, Persian, Arabic,  and Urdu. His capability of writing Urdu lyrics for different ragas was well known. He wrote film songs in a manner that had a direct appeal to the heart. He was a special favourite of a music director for whom he had made a bank of songs that were never recorded. In fact, this lyricist had won the Filmfare Best Lyrics Award for penning the song for this music director. And yet.....

Coming out of my reverie, I asked:

“But how was he reduced to such a penury?”

“I’m coming to that. I invited him several times thereafter at different bars and treated him to drinks. Each time he demanded money. On one occasion he put his one step forward and striking a pose, said: ‘Half of the world is under this foot.’ I could only smile at him.”

Losing patience, I asked my friend to tell me why this lyricist did not make the progress he so richly deserved. Thereafter my friend recounted an incident which, in my opinion, had been solely responsible for the fall from grace of this great lyricist.

“You’ll have to trace the story back to the time when once a musical duo threw a lavish party at their residence. They were the rising stars on the horizon of filmy music. This lyricist had been amply rewarded by them in their initial success when they began their independent musical career. So naturally he, too, was invited. The party was going on in full swing. Drinks were served to the guests. As usual, the lyricist had one too many. After a while, the lyricist wanted to pass water. Instead of going to the urinal, he made his way up to the terrace. There, he began to urinate. Someone found that out. He asked him what he was doing. At that time, the drunken lyricist uttered: I’m passing them in my urine; (i.e. the musical duo who had invited him to the party). This did not go down well with that person who soon went and complained to one of the hosts. Naturally, on hearing about the arrogant and rude manner of the lyricist, the musical duo was pissed off...”

“Then what happened?” I asked, not believing my ears.

Heaving a deep sigh, my friend continued:

“The musical duo then talked about it to one of the topmost female playback singers. She chided them for having put up with the lyricist. “How many ------(naming the lyricist) do you want?” she demanded. After a few days, she invited a lyricist and introduced him to the musical duo. Ironically, the first two initials of this lyricist's name matched those of our lyricist. As fate would have it, the new lyricist went on to become the favourite of this star musical duo and wrote lyrics for them in many Bollywood movies.”

I said: “He wrote lyrics for them in almost half the number of films that these monarchs of the music directors composed music for. That was a great loss for our lyricist!”

“Yes, one man’s loss is another man’s gain,” my friend retorted.

What a loss, indeed. If only that lyricist had kept his mouth shut and the zip closed, the history of the film lyrics in Bollywood would have been different. There were other parallels of course, but no one had gone to such an extent. I got up to leave and my friend saw me to the door.

While stepping out I said: “By the way, I just wanted you to know that in 1980 the son of one of the musical duo was my student for martial arts.”

Before my friend could say anything I had already stepped into the elevator.



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