There have been dozens of songs in our films that have been written by two songwriters together. Have you ever paused to wonder how such collaboration was achieved? After all, authoring lyrics together is much harder than writing prose together. For one thing, in a work of prose there usually are more words, permitting different scribes to write parts of it in long-enough sequences or separate chapters, and then splice them together. Doing the same thing in a song of just a hundred words or so is much harder.
That’s one thing, but writing poetry offers more challenges. Besides just the economy of language, poetry needs to employ imageries that are not commonly found in prose. When John Milton said, in On His Blindness, “When I consider how my light is spent, Ere half my days in this dark world and wide”, he was talking about losing his eyesight in a syntax that prose writers don’t attempt, and even among poets is so different. Poetry is more prone to interpretations too, because it conveys shades of deeper meanings. Thus we have Ghazals of Ghalib, a book edited by Aijaz Ahmed, in which seven American poets have offered interpretations of many of the bard’s ghazals, with even three poets interpreting specific poems in some cases.
This is not to diminish the difficulty of writing prose, but the lyrical and metaphorical aspects of poetry offer a higher challenge. Songwriting has inherent elements like melody and rhythm that prose does not carry, a cadence that Hindustani lyricists call lehja. A hearing of a poet’s work at a mushaira gives us an aural idea of this metrical structure as it rolls off the shair’s tongue. This rhythmic intonation is also called prosody, which is absent in prose.
That is why there have been far many more writers collaborating in stories and screenplays, as against in writing lyrics. Even if the songs were composed by people who were themselves deep into meaningful poetry—Naushad and Ravi for example—the lyrics-writing part was left to those who had already been commissioned to write them, without any interference.
Collaborations in story and dialogue writing in our films have happened much more often than in songwriting. For writing so many stories, screenplays and dialogues ensemble, Salim and Javed remain on Mount Rushmore of Hindi Film history. By employing more than two storywriters, several BR Chopra films went further: they credited the story or screenplay to the “BR Chopra Story Department”. These films include Dharamputra (1961), Ittefaq (1969), and Dhund (1973). And the epic Mughal-e-Azam credited four people sculpting its story together: Wajahat Mirza, Kamaal Amrohi, Amanullah Khan, and Ehsan Rizvi.
It isn’t that poets have never collaborated before. The Japanese have had Renku, a traditional poetry form that is collaborative. Each poet creates a verse on a subject decided in advance, then the next poet writes a verse that should have relevance to the verse penned just before. How smartly he relates to the preceding verse is a measure of his craft as a poet.
In India a few years back a poetess named Shernaz Wadia teamed up with a poetess from Israel, Avril Meallam, to create collaborative poems that they call ‘Tapestry Poetry’. One of them takes a subject, writes an entire poem on it, and then sends it to the other by email. The other lady writes another poem on the same subject, and sends it back. One at a time they then integrate the two poems, to make the end result look like a tapestry of words. The idea of a shared pattern to offer their voices in a collective rhythm is also an exercise that is taught to many students in educational facilities around the world.
Consider these lyrical collaborations from our films:
• Sundar naari preetam pyaari (AH Shor and Arzoo Lucknowi for Pankaj Mullick in Manzil, 1936)
• Naina bhar aaye neer (Anjum Pilibhiti and Kavi Shaant for Shamshad Begum in Humayun, 1945)
• Aadmi wo hai musibat se pareshaan na ho (Shams Lucknowi and Behzad Lucknowi for Pushpa Hans in Sheesh Mahal, 1950)
• Rote-rote guzar gayi raat re (Shailendra and Kaifi Azmi for Lata in Buzdil, 1951)
• Dil ki pareshaaniyaan (Vishwamitra Adil and Udhav Kumar for Mukesh in Hum Log, 1951)
• Shaam-e-gham ki qasam (Majrooh and Ali Sardar Jaffry for Talat in Footpath, 1953)
• Zameen bhi wohi hai, wohi aasmaan (Saifuddin Saif and Majrooh for Rafi in Chandni Chowk, 1954)
• Kya paaya duniya ne (Asad Bhopali and Prem Dhawan for Geeta and Talat in Darbaar, 1955)
• Dil to razamand hai (Anjaan and IC Kapoor for Asha Bhosle in Mai Baap, 1957)
• Zindagi bhar gham judaai ka (Prem Dhawan and Ali Sardar Jaffry for Rafi in Miss Bombay, 1957)
• Rasiya re man basiya re (Prem Dhawan and Ali Sardar Jaffry for Meena Kapoor in Pardesi, 1957)
• Nainon mein gori kise basa liya (Anjaan and IC Kapoor for Lata in Naag Champa, 1958)
• Hai badhke farishton se (Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and Madan Mohan—not the famous composer, someone else—for Rafi in Maa Ke Aansoo, 1959)
• Maine rakkha hai muhabbat apne afsaane ka naam (Javed and Anwar for Rafi in Shabnam, 1964)
• Haaye tabassum tera (Javed and Anwar for Rafi in Nishaan, 1965)
• Apne liye jeeyen to kya jeeyen (Javed and Anwar for Manna Dey in Baadal, 1966)
• Jeena yahaan, marna yahaan (Shailendra and Shaili Shailendra for Mukesh in Mera Naam Joker, 1970)
• Hey aayo aayo Navratri tyohaar (Qamar Jalalabadi and Indeewar for Rafi and Mukesh in Johar Mehmood In Hong Kong, 1971)
• Achha hi hua dil toot gaya (Qamar Jalalabadi and Vedpal Verma for Rafi in Maa Behen Aur Biwi, 1973)
• Inteha ho gayi intezaar ki (Anjaan and Prakash Mehra for Kishore and Asha in Sharabi, 1984)
Sometimes the joint writing venture happens because one writer has passed away, as happened in Jeena yahaan marna yahaan, listed above. Many poems written by Mirabai, Ghalib and Daagh have had similar posthumous ‘collaborations’. At other times, one person may write the standalone couplet that starts some poems, and the other person the main poem.
Three is not a crowd
Two is company, three is a crowd, goes the idiom. With two people making music together, we can imagine the division of labour: perhaps one person in the team makes the essential tune, and the other person then gets the show on the road, by refining the tune, adding instruments, executing the rehearsals, the actual takes and so on. The other way is, each partner makes a few songs in an album, from start to end, with no interference from the other partner. With such avenues open to them, the idea of two musicians partnering in making music has been quite fruitful in our films, as seen with Husnlal-Bhagatram, Shankar-Jaikishan, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Anand-Milind Nadeem-Shravan and so many others who came together to offer thousands of melodies in our cinema.
But what about three-partner groups? What does a third composing partner do? Is he superfluous? The team of Shankar-Ehsan-Loy has made good music over so many years now. But they were not the first trio of musicians together in our films. That credit goes to Lala-Asar-Sattar, who united to make music in Sangram (1965), which featured that beautiful Rafi song, Main to tere haseen khayaalon mein kho gaya. Clearly then, when it comes to making tunes, three is not a crowd. In songwriting though, it must be so. There hasn’t been a trio yet.
Originally published: 19th March, 2017