In a candid conversation with Antara, of Silhouette Magazine, renowned film historian, musicologist and author Manek Premchand talks about his latest book Hitting the Right Notes, released in December 2016 and his other books that have expressed his passion and love for Hindi film music of the Golden Era…Read More
Manek Premchand – A Beacon For Music Travellers
Sometime back I was reading about a song from Kismet (1943), Dheere dheere aa re baadal, a wonderful song picturised on Ashok Kumar and Mumtaz Shanti. Further reading about it put me into a sort of confusion. Some said that the male voice was that of Ashok Kumar, while others said it was Arun Kumar Mukherjee. Bit of a dilemma, what do I do? Refer to a book called Romancing The Song…Read More
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A meeting with Mitesh Mehta, Chairman of Enlighten India magazine:
Enlighten India met up with Manek Premchand, the celebrated author of a new book in the market, Romancing The Song, and asked him about his work.
EI: Tell us, what is this book about?
MP: Romancing The Song is a landmark effort to look at Hindi cinema, now in its 100th year, and get up close to just one aspect of it, lyric-writing. Our films are a huge superstructure, engaging the talents of a multitude of people; songwriting is a tiny part of our cinema, but is a universe in itself when you look at it closely.
EI: By songwriting do you mean lyric-writing? Or even the scores?
MP: I know what you mean! Abroad, a songwriter is a musician who writes both the lyrics and the musical score. In India, the songwriter is the same as the lyricist. Yes, I mean the actual words that are sung.
EI: What made you write this?
MP: I have been associated with old music, film and non-film, from my childhood, and noticed over the decades that lyricists are often glossed over by a spectrum of people across the board. We have emerged into a society which places unusually high emphasis on Commerce and Science, but very little in the Arts. Within music specifically, based on recall values, if you hum a song, far many people on the street may remember who sang a particular song, and fewer will know the composer. The lyricist will be known by fewer still. It’s very lopsided. If we were to numerically represent that on a scale of 100, perhaps we may get 75:30:10, for how many people recall even from popular songs, the three figures being for singer, composer and lyricist respectively. Interestingly, many people remember who sang them on the screen too! But the writer? Nah! Thin chance.
Take yesteryear’s popular song Kisi ki muskuraahaton pe ho nisaar, for example. Many would know it was sung by Mukesh for Raj Kapoor, some would know the composers (Shankar-Jaikishan), but who wrote this gem? Few would know this was the gifted Shailendra. Or that the high imagery of the Geeta Dutt rendered, SD Burman tuned Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam was created by Kaifi Azmi.
It’s not really the fault of the general public. But I feel people who are in the business of sharing such info, don’t do that much of the time. You won’t find the songwriter in many featured stories of Hindi films on internet sites such as Wikipedia and IMDb. The music label Saregama still makes CDs and often gives lyric-writers’ names a miss. Radio and TV anchors bypass their mention too. This is very sad, because writing is serious work, and many, many melodies of the golden era were based on exceptional writing, whether they took the story forward or were unhinged from the narrative.
That apart, most people have no idea what a ghazal is, much less rubai and other forms. These, and meanings and situations are offered in this book—in a user-friendly way too, so people may get some focus.
EI: But why this title, isn’t Romancing The Song too general, without saying what the contents are?
MP: It is. But copywriters had a role here, and they looked to satisfy many parameters. But then we have a second line that explains it well: Hindi Cinema’s Lyrical Journey.
EI: We notice that this is a huge book, running beyond 650 pages! Why so thick? In an age of shortening attention spans, could this not have been like say, 200-300 pages?
MP: We agonized over that one so much! Yes, people have so much pressure on their time now. The net, cellphones, the speed of modern life. Then again, we have so many ebooks. Yes, as I was writing it over 5 years, the manuscript kept swelling, and was I worried! Who can lie down and read such a heavy book, and go to sleep? But then I got clarity. Since this book traces the journey of lyrics of the entire 80-plus years, and since I had to litter it with loads of examples, not too much trimming was possible. It would be unfair to a work with pretensions to huge responsibility. So I figured whoever wants to enjoy and learn about our film lyrics needs a good book, and I will attempt to offer it to them, even if this thick.
EI: And relatively expensive too at 1500!
MP: Yes a bit high, but not at all high if you look at the cost of hard-bound books of this size today. Anyway, lots of sites like flipkart and infibeam are offering nice discounts on it, apart from stores like Kitab Khana and Strand in Mumbai. Do also remember that the distribution chain takes away so much of this. Except for a handful of writers in India, most of us don’t make enough to live by on it! The emotional high does come of course, when people say, yes, I like it!
EI: What are you planning on next?
MP: Helping my author wife Lata Jagtiani, putting the finishing touches on her own book on the composer OP Nayyar. That should be out soon. After that, either I will commence writing something on music, or I will take a tanpura and head for the hills. It partly depends upon how Romancing The Song fares!
Originally published in the Jan-Feb 2013 edition of the magazine.