Music-making has democratised over the past decade: Lyricist Raj Shekhar

- June 8, 2024
| By : Tanisha Saxena |

The acclaimed Lyricist of ‘animal’ fame shares his creative journey, literary influences, and the magic behind his hit song

INFLUENCES: Lyricist Raj Shekhar says he has been shaped by numerous poets

Raj Shekhar, an acclaimed lyricist, is enjoying success of his soulful songs Papa Meri Jaan and Marham from the 2023 film Animal. 

His journey in Bollywood began with the 2011 romantic comedy Tanu Weds Manu. Since then, he has left a mark on the Hindi film industry with profound lyrics in films like Uri, Tumbbad, Hichki, Veere Di Wedding, Jabariya Jodi, and Saand Ki Aankh, among others. 

In 2018, Raj Shekhar was honoured with the prestigious Kavya Samman award by the Delhi Hindi Academy for his significant contributions to poetry. His work exemplifies a blend of literary richness and universal appeal. 

In an exclusive interview, the 43-year-old, who hails from Madhepura in Bihar, shares insights into his creative process, influences from literary giants, and discusses collaborations.

Excerpts from an interview: 

Q. Your lyrics, like those in Tumbbad and Uri, are deeply contextual. How do you immerse yourself in the story to achieve this?

A. Whenever I write, I strive to avoid anything generic. The characters and geographical settings should seamlessly integrate with the story, yet maintain a universal appeal. While context is key, the universal language is most important.

Q. How has Bollywood music changed in the last decade, and how has this change influenced your work?

A. In the past decade, music-making has democratised, allowing artists from small towns to reach global audiences. Now, multiple lyricists and composers contribute to projects, bringing diverse voices though losing the cohesive thread of past albums. Listeners enjoy a rich variety, and artists constantly innovate. Lyricist credits have also become more streamlined and organised.

Q. Which poets or literary influences shape your poetic and evocative lyrical style?

A. I don’t consider Tukbandi (simple rhyming) as true songs, nor do I listen to them. I’ve completed my Master’s in literature, and my family has always been literary. So, I grew up in a literary environment. I read numerous poets, shaping my mind through their works. I’ve been influenced by many poets through their songs, whether it’s Shailendra, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Gulzar Saab, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, or Hasrat Jaipuri. I can’t pinpoint a specific poet who influenced me the most; I’ve been shaped by all of them.

Q. Many of your songs explore complex human emotions and relationships. Can you discuss your approach to capturing these intricacies in your lyrics, especially for a film like Animal?

A. It’s the characters that make my songs fresh and new. I’m the same person, but the newness comes from characters. Some are die-hard romantics, some are reserved and shy, while others have unique situations and ways of expressing their feelings. My lyrics depend on the complexity of characters, which I use to inform the grammar of my lyrics and bring a sense of novelty. In Animal, for example, Ranvijay’s character is interested in someone different, momentarily. I avoided writing lines that suggest a forever kind of love because the situation didn’t call for it. Pehle bhi mai tumse mila hu, pehli dafa hi milke laga — Ranvijay isn’t lying; it’s just not a forever kind of moment.

Q. How do you collaborate with composers and directors to ensure your lyrics enhance the film’s narrative?

A. The synergy among the director, lyricist, and music director is unique and enriching. Creating music together, even amid disagreements, is a soulful experience. For the film Meenakshi Sundareshwar, we planned the music over Zoom during pandemic, collectively deciding to add a song to a marriage sequence. Similarly, in Tanu Weds Manu, the first song emerged from the combined vision of the director, composer, and lyricist, highlighting the collaborative nature of our work.

Q. How does the rise of streaming platforms impact your songwriting, and how do you ensure your work stands out?

A. With the rise of OTT platforms, reaching a larger audience with your music is challenging. I remain true to my craft, writing with complete honesty. Creativity demands authenticity; any falsity will eventually be evident. For instance, Pehle bhi mai.. has been trending number one on Spotify for over 25 weeks, a testament to the hard work and honesty we invested. I never aimed to please anyone.

Q. Your journey in Hindi cinema started with Tanu Weds Manu and has spanned many notable films. How has your approach to songwriting evolved over the years, and what personal or professional experiences have been most transformative?

A. Starting with Tanu Weds Manu, I’ve learned that keeping it simple and straightforward while preserving the poetic essence is the key to reaching a broader audience. There’s no need for pretence; today’s audience is more aware and educated than ever before.

Q. College life in Delhi is often full of diverse experiences and inspirations. Are there any specific events, places, or moments from your Delhi days that you cherish?

A. Delhi holds a special place in my heart. Moving from Bihar to Delhi for my admission to Kirori Mal College (KMC), University of Delhi, was life-changing. I was involved at ‘The Players’ (theatre society at KMC) and made amazing friends and mentors, with whom I still keep in touch. Those days were magical and dream-like, filled with incredible energy. The KMC hostel remains particularly special to me.

Q. What’s Delhi for you? How is your equation with the city?

A. Delhi has taught me how to live. I feel rejuvenated whenever I think of going back. I miss my friends and, of course, Delhi’s food.

Q. What upcoming projects are you excited about?

A. There’s a lot on the horizon, including Mismatched Season 3 and some Dharma projects. While I can’t reveal too much, I’m hopeful to continue producing good work.