Two years ago, a pair of singers dressed as Elvis crooned “Bol bol, why did you ditch me?” The gavel sounded the birth of a new metaphor in film music and it marked the arrival of Amitabh Bhattacharya.
If you have hummed along to Emosanal Atyachar from Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D or Character Dheela from Ready, you know Bhattacharya’s words. A forerunner among a new, energized front in lyric-writing, Bhattacharya borrows from slang, street-speak and rustic wit. Most recently, he is the man behind Bhaag DK Bose from the soon-to-be-released Delhi Belly. With this song, Bhattacharya has found himself at the heart of controversies, not least to do with the alliterative play on the song’s title. The 34-year-old came to Mumbai from Lucknow to be a singer—but destiny, he says, had other plans. Edited excerpts from an interview:
You can’t watch a music channel or flip radio stations without hearing one of your songs these days. How did the journey start?
I was born in Mumbai but grew up in Lucknow. I returned to Mumbai in 1999 after I graduated with a BA in English and economics. I had wanted to be a singer all along really. In Lucknow, I was a member of state-level performing bands and worked with a local radio station.
Before coming here, I had never tried my hand at writing. The attempt started when I was jamming with my friend, composer Amit Trivedi. I would sing random words to a melody he had composed. I would just hum and fit some words in; but they were not gibberish. Eight years ago, I wrote the songs for the album Om: The Fusion Band under the pen name of Indraneel. It was fun and it was something to do in the days of struggle.
Wordsmith: Bhattacharya got his first credited break with Aamir. Photo Ritam Banerjee/Mint
What happened then?
I got my first credited break with Aamir (2008) and then Dev.D (2009) released, although that was the first film I was signed for...by Anurag (Kashyap). Since then, I have written lyrics for Chance Pe Dance, Udaan, Anjaana Anjaani, No One Killed Jessica, I Am, Luv Ka The End and Ready.
‘Bhaag DK Bose’ was in the news for its lyrics and faced some criticism.
Not everything you do is accepted by all sections of society. There are different kinds of cinema and different moods within the story—it could be depressing, intense, patriotic, romantic or mischievous. DK Bose is mischievous and you need to listen to it with a sense of humour. I don’t understand why the good, the intense, the profound is not talked about. Why are only songs like this picked on? I have written sensitive poetry for Udaan, I Am and No One Killed Jessica, but no one called me to ask about those. They only want to know about DK Bose, Mutton and Character dheela.
What comes first—the words or the melody?
For me, the lyrics come from the melody, the script and the background. These days, 99% of the time the melody comes first because everyone likes to lock in a style: rock, Punjabi, pop, reggae, etc. Then they want a catchy hook. Once I have a hook and a visual in mind, it’s easier to put words to a tune.
DK Bose is an ode to the underdog, losers who are stuck in the system. The inspiration for the words came from the backdrop, the characters and script. Songs like this and Mutton—the masti songs—are easy to write. Romantic songs are harder to write because the metaphors and couplets have to be poetic and original.
Do you have a background or interest in poetry?
Now that I am into lyric-writing people assume I know about shayari, meter, etc. I have never been into shayari or poetry, though I do take an interest in the work of Javed Akhtar and Gulzaar saab. I grew up listening to old Hindi songs.
What are some of the films you are working on now?
I have done the Antenna song in Always Kabhi Kabhi and the entire album of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and UTV’s My Friend Pinto. I am working on two Dharma Production films, Shakun Batra’s film with Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor and the Agneepath remake, and there’s also Yash Raj Films’ Ladies vs Ricky Bahl. But going ahead, I want to work on albums where I am the solo lyricist. As a lyricist-singer my dream would be to work with A.R. Rahman.
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