Neeraj Pandey started off his career as a Game Artist, but it was unsurpassable itch to write for the screen that drew him to Mumbai and put him on the path of becoming a writer. Last year, he had two of his films, Kaamyaab and Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, screen at MAMI film festival. While Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi directed by veteran actress Seema Pahwa is set to release soon, Kaamyaab has already hit the theatres and has gotten raving reviews. Neeraj has written the entire album for Kaamyaab and was fortunate enough to have the legendary singer Bappi Lahiri sing the first song he ever wrote for the screen. Here’s talking to the young writer to know how he ‘cracks’ his songs, what’s his current state of mind and just how did he manage to bag Kaamyaab. Excerpts.
Q: How did you happen to write the songs of Kaamyaab?
A: I was writing for a company that creates Video content when I got a call from Drishyam Films. Varun Grover suggested they speak with me if they needed a writer, so they said they wanted to meet me for a project. I went to their office and, as luck would have it, I bumped into Hardik Mehta. He too was there for his own film and told me that one of his projects, Kaamyaab, was greenlit by Drishyam. Later, on Facebook, Hardik told me that he was looking for someone to write songs for his film and whether I would want to give it a shot. I was amazed that things could work out like this. I asked myself, ‘Aisey bhi cheezein hoti hain kya?’ But I went and met him, and we discussed it and cracked the first song. After he read the lyrics, he told me I would be writing songs for the entire film. This is how I got Kaamyaab.
Q: Kaamyaab had one of the first songs you wrote. what do you feel about it now that you hear it on air?
A: There are two very strong emotions within me when I listen to my own song. I am excited yet detached. The reason is that it’s been some time that I wrote these songs. The person who wrote those songs was a different person. But one knows that the songs are a part of one’s life. Tum is kissey ke hisse ho. I saw the struggles of the characters when I was writing these songs. I would keep thinking about them. I would dream about them. Today when I see them in the form of an album, it gives me
different happiness, that okay this work is finished. I think about all the self-doubt I had back then, on whether writing these songs would be possible or not. But when I listen to them now, I realize that persistence is the key. If you keep at it, things can be accomplished. There is a park near my home where I would run one round whenever I faced a writer’s block. A few days ago, when I was running in that park while listening to those songs, I figured that one circle is complete. It was a very fulfilling feeling. I am now only excited about upcoming projects because every work is an exploration of the self. Every project is a way to reach your inner self.
Q: Bappi Da singing some of the first lyrics you ever wrote for the screen must be a bit surreal or unnerving…
A: Yes, it was. Our music director Rachita Arora and I were thinking about consulting Bappi Da if he could listen to music and tell us if we were going in the right direction. But then Hardik and the producers spoke to Bappi Da whether he could sing a song in the film. When we went to his house, it was very surreal. I had never thought in life, that the person whose songs I grew up listening to, I would sit in his home. I mean, he has worked with Rafi Sahab. He has worked with Lata ji. He has spent 50 years in the industry. And this person is asking me how to say this, and what is it that you have written. He is taking feedback from us and feeding us Sandesh! To date, I can’t believe it happened. More than me, my dad is proud of the fact that I worked with Bappi Da. I believe that it was destined. It was nothing that could be arranged by me. It happened by design.
Q: As a songwriter, how much of the script and situation do you need to know to write
A: In Kaamyaab, Hardik had given me the entire script. Even the senior lyricists I spoke with, told me that I should read the script entirely because it helps you understand what to write. When you read the script, you realize where the film is coming from. Even then, Hardik briefed me independently about situations. In some songs, he also discovered some bits he liked and some he did not. So, I rewrote those and rewrote some more. But as a basic line of thought, I prefer reading the full script. But if that is not possible, then I would want to have the situation. The Moothon title track was cracked by me and music director Sagar Desai in 40 minutes flat. But that was different. I would still prefer reading the entire script.
Q: As someone who wrote scripts and poems, when did you realize you can write a song?
A: Even after writing for three films – Kaamyaab, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi and Moothon — I am still trying to figure out if I can write a song! But I had experimented between writing styles and how different it was to write a poem than writing a song. When it comes to writing songs for films, there is a journey to the entire process. Every film is different, and you need to give it all and keep at it until you crack a song. Writing a song is not an independent process. Bohot log ka involvement hota hai. Every song requires multiple drafts. I think that as I go further and finish at least 10 films, I will realize what the pattern is. There are days when I want to explore more genres of writing to realize what I want to write and what is my voice and genre of writing songs.
Q: What is your dream project?
A: Until now whatever work I have done has been my dream project. I have dreamed of working in these kinds of movies. Bappi Da sang the first song I ever wrote. The second one was sung by Hariharan sir. The Moothon song was sung by Vishal Dadlani sir. Plus, I am working with Sanjay Mishra in Kaamyaab whom I admired in the film Aankhon Dekhi and I always dreamed of working with him. Sagar Desai, too. I also wanted to collaborate with Rachita, and I ended up doing that. So, I have always thought about doing good work, which for me is honest work. Every work that comes my way will be a dream project because this is the dream I had to explore films and become a writer.
Q: Your advice to aspiring screen/ songwriters or whether you think they need any advice?
A: I don’t know. Advice kya doon? From my experience, what I have learned from the industry is that people are supportive in general. More than talent, they look at how much hunger do you have in you. Writing is basically re-writing. If you can write 20 drafts of one thing, you can do it. Just be honest with yourself. Even in screenwriting or songwriting, what matters is, what is your point of the situation? How do you feel about it? If you feel the same that lakhs of other people are feeling, there is little value to your point of view. If you are looking at something with a new lens and you can bring that to the table, then your work will be valued. The key to this is, to be honest with yourself. You need to be able to translate on paper what you feel when you look at something new. Look for metaphors. Express yourself. If you are honest about what you are feeling, and you are honest about your writing, things will work out. Never be scared. It’s important to doubt yourself, as that will only improve your work but don’t let that self-doubt stop you from writing. Having said that, to each their own because, for now, I am also exploring things!
Interview By: Reza Noorani