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“Aamir Khan’s inputs helped me in writing Zindagi Maut Na Ban Jaaye better” – Israr Ansari – Planet Bollywood

The Aamir Khan – Sonali Bendre starrer ‘Sarfarosh’ completes 24 years of its release today. The film marked the directorial debut of John Matthew Matthan and also proved to be a breakthrough film for lyricist Israr Ansari who wrote the iconic song ‘Zindagi Maut Na Ban Jaaye’ for the film. While Israr had written a bunch of songs earlier, this patriotic number gave him identity as a lyric writer. Over the years, Israr has written songs for films, ghazals, qawallis and a bunch of other things that serve as a testimony to his credibility as a writer and lyricist. Some of his other popular songs include ‘Aankhein Bhi Hoti Hain’ (‘Haasil’) and the Ghulam Ali sung ghazal ‘Humein To Abhi Woh Guzra Zamana’.

In this interview, the lyricist shares his memories of working on ‘Sarfarosh’, long-standing association with Jatin-Lalit, collaborating with new age composers like Ram Sampath, admiration for Javed Akhtar, the importance of training for a poet and lyricist and more.

What are your memories of writing ‘Zindagi Maut Na Ban Jaaye’ and working on Sarfarosh?

‘Zindagi Maut Na Ban Jaaye’ was recorded twice. John (Matthew Matthan) saab briefed me about the situation when we met for the first time. We recorded the song in Western Outdoor in the voices of Roop Kumar Rathod and Sonu Nigam. After the song was recorded, they sent the audio track to Aamir Khan saab. His inputs helped me in writing ‘Zindagi Maut Na Ban Jaaye’ better. He loved the song and asked them who has written it. He asked me to meet him at 1 pm the next day. His message was conveyed to me by Jatin (Pandit) bhai. I got a little nervous and thought there must be an issue with what I had written. When I met Aamir saab the next day, he praised me a lot. He told me that the song the song is a superhit but will become an iconic number if I make just one change. He asked me to replace the lines “chhod do zulm-o-sitam, rok lo apne qadam” with something that talks about the situation in our watan or country. I went to another room and came back to the music sitting room after 5-7 minutes. Aamir saab looked at me with a smile and said, “lagta hai kuch baat ban gayee”. I had replaced the lines I had written earlier with “kho raha chain-o-aman, mushkilon mein hai watan”. Aamir saab loved the lines and said that now the song sounds perfect. After two days, we recorded the song again.

The first song you wrote for a film was ‘Pehle Hi Qayamat’ from the film ‘Zaalim’ which had music scored by Anu Malik.

I used to go to music sittings with Jatin-Lalit quite frequently. They would give me tunes to write lyrics on. Around that time, I thought of approaching other composers as well. I reached out to Anu Malik ji via telephone. He was extremely busy but after a couple of days, he responded to me and asked me to share something that I had written. I was speaking from a PCO and requested him to give me some time. He, however, wanted to hear something immediately. “Do-teen mukhde hi suna dijiye”, he said. I made him listen to a few mukhdas but he was not very impressed. There was a long queue behind me in the PCO and people were getting restless. A mukhda came to my mind and I shared that with Anu ji. He asked me to write the antara in 2-3 days and come to Sunny Super Sound. When I met at Sunny Super Sound, he read the antara and liked it. He asked me to come to the studio again after two days at 6 pm. “Aap ke gaane se hi picture ka muhurat hoga”, he told me. It turned out to be my first song to be used in the film.

Why did you not work with Anu Malik after ‘Zaalim’?

I wrote a song for ‘Vijaypath’ that was sung by Kumar Sanu and Kavitha Krishnamurthy. Unfortunately, that song was not used in the film.

The first song you wrote for Jatin-Lalit was ‘Kyun Aanchal Hamara’ from ‘Daava’.

Yes, it was sung by Kumar Sanu and Asha Bhosle. I have a very special memory associated with ‘Zindagi Bin Pyaar Ke Adhoori’ which I wrote for ‘Saazish’. Jatin bhai had really liked the verses I had written for the song. That day, Indeevar ji had come to the studio as one of his songs was getting recorded there as well. When he heard my song, he said, “yeh gaana band mat karo, humein sunne do…” That was the first time I met Indeevar ji. He blessed me and gave me a lot of encouragement.

Out of all the songs you have written, which one is your favourite?

According to me, the finest song I have written is ‘Zindagi Ke Faisle Mein’ from ‘Zameer’. The film was a love triangle featuring Ajay Devgn, Mahima Chaudhary and Ameesha Patel. In the second antara, they are showing the marriage between Ajay and Ameesha. There is a certain sadness attached to it. When I wrote the second antara, Jatin bhai liked it but the director was not too pleased. He wanted the song to have a happy vibe to it since it was a wedding song. However, we had to depict a sense of gloom as well. It was a tricky situation to be in. Finally, I weaved in a universal or neutral thought in the antara – “jo milna hai mil ke rahega, jo khona hai kho ke rahega. Kitni bhi karle koshish koi, jo hona hai hote rahega…” The director immediately approved of it and praised me for doing complete justice to the situation.

You started working as a lyricist in the ‘90s when one witnessed a massive drop in the quality of lyrics.

Teams were formed and it was difficult to work with composers who had already decided who they wish to work with. Once a team of composer and lyricist becomes successful, producers want to use them repeatedly. There were only a handful of filmmakers who were concerned about the quality of lyrics.

Did you grow up in Mumbai?

No, I was born in Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh. It’s a small town near Varanasi. I grew up there and studied till intermediate. I came to Mumbai to help my elder brother with his business. At that time, I had no plans of becoming a professional writer or lyricist.

Do you think training or preparation is necessary for becoming a poet or lyricist?

Absolutely! You have to work towards honing your craft. Mushairas were very popular in Ghazipur. Once a renowned poet from Allahabad called Aslam Allahabadi had come to Ghazipur. He presented a beautiful ghazal at a mushaira and the next day, all the youngsters in the town were talking about him and his poetry. Not just men but women too were discussing his poetry. That was one of the first time I realized the kind of power poetry has. I read a lot of books. Maine teen saal Aslam Sidiqui saab se taaleem li. He was from Mumbai. Mujhe shayari ka shauq Ghazipur se tha par maine Mumbai aa kar dhang se taaleem li.

I trained under Aslam saab for three years. For the longest time, he didn’t approve of anything that I had written. He would tell me, “tum gaate achcha ho, singer ban jaao. Shayari likhna chhod do.” One day I wrote a ghazal, “jaanisaari naa ho jismein who mohabbat kya hai, warna shama ko patangon se adaawat kya hai”. He said, “aage kya likha?”. I recited the following lines, “sab to yun hi chand se tasbeeh diya karte hain, ab tumhein apne taraaug ki zaroorat kya hai…”. He looked up, smiled at me and said, “ab aisa lagta hai tum shayar ban sakte ho”.

How did you get a break in the industry?

My brother had a shop in Mohammed Ali Road. I would keep writing in my free time. There was a bank called Mercantile Bank in that area around that time. There was an officer who used to work there. He would see me write and one day, he asked me to recite my poetry. I made him listen to a few couplets and he really liked them.

After a couple of months, he told me that he would want me to meet Sulakshana Pandit ji. On a Saturday, when he had a half day, he took me to meet Sulakshana ji. I made her listen to several of my ghazals. She was very encouraging. She told me that she sings ghazals on stage and would definitely use some of my ghazals. ‘Yaara Dildara’ and ‘Khiladi’, the first few films by her brothers Jatin and Lalit had released by then. She called Jatin bhai. He heard some of the mukhdas written by me and liked them. He asked me to come to his sitting room the next day. When I went there, he asked me if I could write to a tune. Even though I had never written to a tune, I said a yes (laughs). He composed a tune and I wrote the mukhda in two minutes. The tune was played by his assistant on a guitar. The song was ‘Kyun Aanchal Hamara’ from ‘Daava’. Jatin bhai was very particular about lyrics and would mostly compose on his harmonium.

How was the experience of working with Ram Sampath?

Ram is a hugely talented composer and has a lot of respect for lyricists. I wrote the song ‘Chayee Madhoshiyaan’ from ‘Jumbo’ for him. It was a mellifluous melody sung beautifully by Sonu Nigam and Sona Mohapatra.

Apart from film songs, you have written many popular ghazals as well.

Yes! Some of my most loved ghazals like ‘Humein To Ab Bhi Woh Guzra Zamana’ and ‘Kachchi Deewar Hoon’ have been rendered by Ghulam Ali saab. I have also worked on a couple of bhajan albums with Anup Jalota ji.

A while back, many Hindi film lyricists joined hands for a campaign called ‘Credit De Do Yaar’. Through this campaign, the issue of streaming platforms not mentioning the names of the lyricists in the album listing was highlighted.

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. The names of lyricists are often missing from the credits on multiple platforms. Sometimes, wrong entries also take place. Last year, when Tips uploaded a video of ‘Zindagi Maut Na Ban Jaaye’, they credited another lyricist instead of me. I wrote a letter pointing out this mistake and sent it to Tips’ office. Thankfully, it was rectified soon enough. I have not received due credit for many of the songs I have written.

You are now working as a composer as well.

Yes, I always had a knack of creating tunes in my head. Last year, I wrote and composed a Holi song which was released by Zee Music Company. I also did a romantic number for T-Series a while back. I can play a bit of harmonium but I mostly compose by mouth. I have a decent understanding of sur and melody.

When one looks at your career, one realizes you have done quality work but the volume of work could have been a little higher.

I have worked with many leading composers from the industry. I started out in the mid ‘90s and by mid 2000s, most of those composers were not working actively. Another reason, which I have stated earlier, was that there was a lot of groupism in the industry and it was difficult for a lot of people, no matter how talented they were, to get work.

There has been a deterioration in the quality of lyrics in Hindi film music. Several factors like music directors, who don’t even have a decent command over Hindi, writing lyrics and individuals, who are not very well-read, being given the responsibility to write songs, have contributed to this. What are your thoughts on this?

I consider Javed Akhtar saab to be the last shaayar of our times. I don’t see much hope for good poetry to be used in films in the near future. There is a dearth of filmmakers who appreciate or have an understanding of poetry.

One of your most popular songs has been ‘Aankhein Bhi Hoti Hain’ from Haasil.

Jatin-Lalit used to create a bank of songs and I would write for them often. When I met Tigmanshu Dhulia, he told me about the situation and how a romantic song could be used there. Incidentally, Jatin bhai and I had created ‘Aankhein Bhi Hoti Hain’ as a part of another sitting. I told Jatin bhai that the song would work very well for this particular situation.

‘Tu Hi Tu’, my favourite song written by you, is from the same film.

I wrote many mukhdas for this song but Tigmanshu kept rejecting them. After writing almost ten mukhdas, I almost gave up. Suddenly, a new thought occurred to me. “Haseen tasbih ke daanon mein, parindon ki udaanon mein, zarron mein, chattanon mein, jahaan ki har zabaanon mein, main kahoon har shay mein, tu hi tu”…. I had written these lines for an antara for Jatin bhai. I recited these lines to Tigmanshu on phone and he approved them immediately. However, he asked me how I will make a mukhda out of an antara. I assured him that I will make it happen. The song was beautifully sung by Roop Kumar Rathod and Javed Ali.

You worked extensively with Jatin-Lalit. What, do you think, stood out about them?

Both of them were extremely talented. I have mostly worked with Jatin bhai. They would make directors listen to their individual compositions. Jatin bhai has always been a gentle and kind-hearted soul. He would treat his associates like his family members.

Which language or script did you write poetry and lyrics in?

I am comfortable writing in both Devanagri and Arabic script. However, keeping the comfort of filmmakers in mind, I would mostly write in the Roman script.

You have worked extensively as a diction coach and linguistic trainer.

Yes, I have worked with Kishore Namit Kapoor acting school for a long time. I have also had a long association with Saregama Li’l Champs. I have worked with many popular actors to help them improve their Hindi and Urdu diction. Recently, I coached Malaika Arora for a project.

You have had a long journey in the industry. Do you have any regrets?

I have no regrets. Industry mein logon ko khairkaahi karne se kaam milta hai. I never wanted to pander to anybody’s whims or fancies. 

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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