Lyricist Protiqe Mojoomdar: Shankarji is a task master

Protiqe Mojoomdar is a songwriter has penned down various songs in the past; some of his acclaimed work is I AM KALAM (2011), a fable-like journey of a child who learns the ropes of life through experience and willpower. The song was ‘Zindagi aisi waisi na ho’ by Papon. The film went on to collect 22 awards internationally, 1 National Award and 1 Filmfare Award. His second song was the theme song of JALPARI – THE DESERT MERMAID’ (2012) and rendered by Shubha Mudgal, a film which went on to win the Kids’ Jury Award at Cannes. He has worked with Shankar Ehsaan Loy as well. 

In conversation the ace lyricist Protiqe he spoke in length about his body of work and more.

Excerpts from the interview

How was your experience working with Shankar Ehsaan and Loy? Who among them is the task master?

It was Magical. That’s the word. Everything I had read about the process of making music for films, through the years, came alive in this experience! They are thorough gentlemen and through-bred professionals, respectful and encouraging. We had started with already written lyrics (since the writing had happened together with the screenplay by Nitin Dixit & director: Nila Madhab).. and they chose to follow the mood of the screenplay and much against my expectations, used my lyrics as the starting point for all the songs in the album – and then together, we jammed till we came up with the musical mood for each song. I found it rather awesome that having worked with the best in the business, they didn’t throw a shadow over me.. instead, created a friendly vibe and got the best out of me over sessions and calls and whatsapp (over 6 months). It was awesome to find that the lyrics inspired them to create diverse compositions – one Qawwali (Halkaa ho jaa rey) with Divya Kumar and Diljot Qawwali Group, one Punjabi-Carnatic wedding song for Master Saleem (Morni) and a Sufi number with Papon (Bandeya). Shankar ji loved that I could sing. He even mentioned once, when I was humming back the melody to him, that it’s relieving to work with a Lyricist who can get the composition right first time. Shankar ji is definitely the task master and loves to record the melody while jamming, getting the scanning right, etc. However, SEL is a cohesive team, each complimenting the other. Ehsaan and Loy are constantly inspiring the session with their riffs, bassline and grooves – it’s very efficient to work with a team who arranges their own music.

You have worked with Papon share your experience?

Actually I did work with Papon for his debut as Music Director ..but that was a while ago Perhaps not many know, that he and I debuted with the same feature film – I AM KALAM (2011). The song was ‘Zindagi Aisi Waisi’ composed by him. We had a musical rapport, much before we entered Bollywood (since 2006), and you will find 2 of my songs in his first Hindi Pop album ‘The Story So Far’ which won the GIMA, and quite a few other Indie albums. So, no pressure at all, when he came to me with a first bona fide ‘Papon album’ , well partly at least – in fact we were overjoyed at our association becoming firmer, and starting with a refreshing young rom-com like ISHQERIA; we were glad we cracked it to the expectations of Prerna (the director). We got to make what is now my favourite Papon song ‘Toofani Hawa’, where he features in the video as well playing the Rockstar he is. It’s a sound inspired from Papon’s large body of experiments with folk and western styles, so he was at home with this! Listen to our first Bollywood Holi song from the film, to know what I mean.

Having worked in the Indie space and Bollywood how do you compare the two?

The scope for a lyricist doesn’t change whether it’s devotional music or item numbers or a soft rock Indie track. We have to get the song to sound right and fill meaning from beginning to end, almost like a story being told, a story to be remembered. The scope is defined by the melody, if that is the starting point. Or, it starts with a brief and the mood of the song in the mind of the maker. The principle difference between Indie songs and Bollywood music is the number of creative minds that get involved in creating the song, I guess. For Feature Films, it’s invariably both the Director and Music Producer, and sometimes also the Creative Producer & Studio Creative team, and often the Star is also involved in decision making. While an Indie song will be created by jamming together with members of a band or the composers/artistes themselves. So yes, writing for Indie artistes (like I have done with Lesle Lewis, Papon, Euphoria and the Midival Punditz, Karsh Kale) is a lot of fun and less complicated, because you can experiment a lot and you have to just catch the vibe of the musicians – the song is the end product. However, for Bollywood songs, the visual and the story are the end products, and that raises the stakes and responsibility of the writing. That is more challenging and the end result is super satisfying, when everything fits – the mood, the words, the vocals and the visuals. 

Being a Bengali you have penned Punjabi lyrics what is your take?

I may be Bengali by birth and mother-tongue, but I have been born and brought up in Bihar and finally, spent my formative years in Delhi (16 years in fact). So I have grown up with Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi all around me apart from Bangla & English. In fact, my first famous theatre role in college was as a middle aged Punjaabi teacher - so I had to learn a bit of Punjabi back then. Even I didn’t know I had it in me to write songs in Punjabi, till I received this superb brief to write the first song from Director Nila Madhab Panda for my first feature film album as an independent lyricist: Babloo Happy Hai. Since I was keen on writing ALL the songs of this film as promised by Nila, I wasn’t going to let this one pass, that’s how it panned out. The idea was to recreate, along with debutante music composers Bishakh Kanish, the character James Bond as a caricature of the good-for-nothing misogynistic dudes who just play with girls’ emotions, but never end up keeping their commitments. The idea translated into two words ‘Jimmy Bhaand’ and I attempted the first broken Punjabi words, which passed muster and finally Bishakh Kanish and Mika just showered their love and talents into the song! Years later, when Nila briefed me on Halkaa, he specifically asked me to write in Punjabi for the climax song ‘Morni’. And SEL loved the rhythm in the lyrics, vibed with the chorus I had worked out, and Master Saleem killed it with his delivery. I take that as 3 certificates for my Punjaabi lyrics.. However, apart from a few words and ideas, I don’t claim to be a Punjabi writer at all, as I have not studied the language, it’s at best just hackneyed attempts at reproducing a little that I have picked up in Delhi.

You have worked with a host of playback singers who is your favourite?

I love that you have asked this of me – generally this question is reserved for Music Directors and actors But actually, lyricists are definitely part of the voice casting for most songs (as I have had the good fortune to be), as we write to co-create a particular mood; and a certain voice quality and pronunciation/style are required to deliver certain words and compositions. For instance, imagine “Laaga Chunari mein Daagh” in any voice or vocal texture other than Manna Dey or “Gaye tum gaye ho Kyun” without Papon’s guttural baritone. Similarly, I feel blessed that I had a chance to work with some of the best vocalists in the industry today.


which song of yours would you rate as your career best work?

I think it’d be mistreating some of my really inspired work, to name just one. But I’d say I’ve been happiest with: “Main to Chalta Hi Raha Aur Rastaa Mujhe Milta Hi gaya” by Papon from the GIMA winner ‘The Story So far’ / “Uhe Batiya phir se dohra de” by Bishakh Kanish for Babloo Happy Hai (and got a compliment from Shankar ji and Suresh Wadekar ji for the same which will remain special) / the infectious street Qawwali & Title song ‘Halkaa Ho Jaa rey’ by Shankar Ehsaan Loy and rendered by Divya Kumar, Ankita and Diljot Aqwwali Group, for the recent release Halkaa as top of my list. 

What is your take on current crop of lyricists in Bollywood ? Whose work do you like ?

I think some amazing talent is now out there, and I am always in awe of the work that is churned every week! I happen to follow some of their work pretty closely – esp. Irshad Kamil, Kausar Munir, Varun Grover and Tanvir Ghazi (who I have shared credits with for the Hawa Badlo anthem) being top of the heap according to me. I think as time passes, some people age like wine, and some stay contemporary and some burn out. But very few people become Gulzar, so my respect, my love and my salute to his indomitable spirit and talent. There shall be nobody like him in this craft.

Who is your favourite music director? And who do you aspire to work with?

I really enjoyed working with Papon (I AM KALAM, ISHQERIA), Bishakh Jyoti (BABLOO HAPPY HAI, KAUN KITNEY PAANI MEIN and some others) and Avinash Baghel (MRS SCOOTER) amongst the newer talents. They bring in a refreshing quality to their music, and allow for us to co-create and don’t rest till they have found the correct arrangement. By far, and not because I just worked with them, my favourites for Bollywood music have been Shankar Ehsaan Loy. The balance in melody, classical and western training as well as the attitude of Rockstar perfromers, all combine to make them an undefeatable combination. If you just listen to DIL CHAHTA HAI, KAL HO NA HO & ROCK ON, you will see what I mean. This kind of range and understanding of both the narrative and the audio quality and complete dedication to the craft, are hard to come by. No wonder, they are working on just 2-3 albums in a year, and I was privileged this year to be a part of one. I pray that I get the chance to work with them again (and I dare not look at the competition while saying that).

I really admire Amit Trivedi’s body of work and love Pritam’s melodies and grooves, and hope that I’m able to work with them some day.

After, HALKAA and ISHQERIA what are your upcoming Bollywood projects?

Honestly, nothing else yet from Bollywood. But I am looking forward to a couple of Indie collaborations, and maybe my first Bengali single! Looking forward to some Bollywood offers soon, hopefully.