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Book Review: Sunshine Lanes

 

Words worth the weight
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Book Review | Sunshine Lanes | Prasoon Joshi |
 

A poetic journey indeed! There aren’t too many contemporary Hindi film lyricists who can legitimately lay claims to being a poet to boot. Prasoon Joshi’s Gulzar-like portrait on the cover of this book, the right temple of a pair of spectacles dangling from a corner of the mouth completes the pensive image of a man who has successfully steered clear of the crassly commercial aspects of his calling and survived to tell the tale.

Sunshine Lanes – A Poetic Journey, which was formally launched at the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year, is a collection of some of Joshi’s best songs, printed here in the Devanagari script with the English translations alongside. Each lyric has a story behind it, which explicated in the writer’s own words.

The book, which also includes some non-film compositions and poems, provides an insight into the overall creative process of lyric-writing, besides specific anecdotal details about Joshi’s professional interactions with frequent collaborators like AR Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

In a preface, Joshi provides a brief overview of his formative years, the influence of which still lives on in his lyrics and poems. It, however, only whets the appetite – does not quite satiate it. Both the ‘writer’s comments’ at the end of each song and the aforementioned preface seem all too pithy to do complete justice to the storehouse of stories that Joshi must be privy to.

Yet, Sunshine Lanes throws just about enough light on the man and his craft to be regarded as an important addition to books about Hindi film music. Lyric writing is central to the evolution of a song and the lyricist has a unique vantage point from where he can view the creation of a film song in its entirety, both subjectively and dispassionately.

Joshi brings his acumen as a writer to bear upon the ruminations. Not only does his book elucidate the elements that constitute a film song, it also explains, if regrettably only in passing, the significance of each of the songs included in this selection, in terms of specific words and lines, or as a whole.

“I am often asked what makes for a beautiful song,” he writes. “What came first, the tunes or the words? For me, a soulful song is one that makes it impossible to decipher this, where there is no overt competition between the music and the lyrics – one that is just a beautiful blend.”               

Joshi does not work in a vacuum. He is conscious of the history of the film song and his own place within its evolutionary continuum. He knows that the quality of lyric writing is currently at low ebb in Mumbai, with the emphasis being firmly on ‘entertaining music’, but he is not willing to write off his fraternity.

He, however, believes that “if this trend continues and the staple and ‘instantly understandable’ songs are demanded and settled for most of the time, the space for experimentation will continue to diminish progressively.”
  
Joshi has been chipping away relentlessly at the shibboleths. As the lyricist of some of the finest film songs of our times, he knows exactly what it takes to make instant connect with the masses without undermining the creative essence
of a lyric.

“Writing lyrics hasn’t been and is not my profession. It’s a passion,” writes Joshi in the preface. It is passion that shields him from the detrimental pressures that less creatively fortified lyricists are vulnerable to in the Mumbai movie industry.

Joshi has a day job. He makes a living as an adman of repute and stature – he is the executive chairman and chief executive of McCann World Group, India and president, South Asia. So he does not have to write Hindi film songs to pay his bills. He can afford to cherry pick his assignments and work only with those with whom he can relate as a writer. He can afford to be an outsider while being an integral part of the industry.

Joshi is acutely aware of the constraints and challenges of his craft. “Writing lyrics for films is like walking a tightrope – one cannot be vague and excessively symbolic like in poetry, but at the same time, the mystique and beauty should not be compromised. Striking the right balance is critical.”

He has been doing just that ever since he wrote his first film lyrics for Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja at the turn of the millennium.


His felicity with, and respect for, words go back to his childhood in Almora, where he grew up in a family that was steeped in the traditions of Indian classical music and high literature. Joshi’s first book of poems was published a quarter century ago, when he was only 17.

The times have changed beyond recognition, but Joshi has stuck to his guns. This book is a testimony to his admirable resolve.

Author: Prasoon Joshi
Publications: Rainlight/Rupa Publications
Edition: Hardcover     
ISBN: 978-81-291-2386-2
Pages:  267               
Price: Rs 495

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017