In the movie Tamasha, directed by Imtiaz Ali and starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, the song ‘Agar tum saath ho’ is special for many reasons. It’s the return of playback singer Alka Yagnik after a long hiatus. It’s also her duet with Arijit Singh, the current voice of cinematic pathos.
But more than ever, it’s a solid reminder of lyricist Irshad Kamil collaborating with director Imtiaz Ali’s ‘story within a song’ format that somehow always manages to hook us more than the films themselves. If the views on YouTube are any indication, they have a hit on their hands.
Kamil’s poetic words almost give away the story, and appear to be depicting a crucial plot point that will change the course of the narrative (all bets it’s the intermission point). It’s all there in his words, ‘Tum saath ho ya na ho kya fark hai,’ (How does it matter whether we are together or not?) The lovers are mourning their separation but are hopeful of a better day, singing, ‘Din yeh nikal jaaye, agar tum saath ho,’ (This day shall tide too if you stand by me.)
The Ali-Kamil association started with Socha Na Tha (2005). It is the first film for which Kamil wrote lyrics. The zest with which lead pair Abhay Deol and Ayesha Takia sing and frolic to ‘O yaara rab rus jaane de’ perfectly captures the mood of the couple’s runaway romance as they tour the countryside in abandon.
In a way, the song also encapsulates the entire film’s conceit in five minutes. The track comes at a juncture when the lovers decide to venture into the wilderness and announce to anyone listening that they are free at last and in love.
Ali has repeated this trope in all his films, and Kamil has come to his rescue each time by packing into the melodies all the emotions that Ali wants to express.
When Kareena Kapoor’s character Geet (Jab We Met, 2007) sees snow for the first time in her life in Manali en route to meeting her beloved, she breaks out into song: ‘Yeh ishq haaye, baithe bithaye jannat dikhaye.’ (Love makes me see heaven.) The song is spot-on, becoming the film’s high point and telling us all we need to know about Geet, who has her head stuck in the clouds.
‘Dooriyan’ (Love Aaj Kal, 2009) is a film in itself. The song uses montages to convey everything the characters have felt but haven’t said. The song then becomes a catalyst for change for the characters to make leaps of faith. Call it what you may – the realisation song or the catharsis song. It is left to Kamil to glue the film together through his words.
‘Jo bhi main’ (Rockstar, 2011) has an interesting back story. When Ali briefed Kamil about the song, he said, ‘Words destroy what I have to say,’ as was Ali’s own predicament. Kamil suggested a few lines from a ghazal he had previously written, ‘In lafzon ke maayne Kamil jaaney kaun badalta hai Main kehta hoon kuch, aur matlab aur koi ho jaata hai.’ (Who changes the meaning of these words Kamil, I say something, and it changes into something else.) Ali rejected the words, saying his character wasn’t a poet. Kamil simplified it to ‘Jo bhi main kehna chaahoon barbaad kare alfaaz mere.’ All Kamil had done was translated Ali’s brief.
All the songs of Highway (2014) were recorded after the film was shot, except ‘Sooha Saaha' (Red rabbit), which is a lullaby that actor Alia Bhatt co-sang with Zeb Bangash. Her character Veera sings it often and it reminds her kidnapper Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) of his childhood. Kamil writes beautifully of a sparrow and a rabbit befriending each other and running amok a field of treats. Veera becomes a victim of Stockholm syndrome, and the song fleshes out their relationship. The captive becomes the caretaker when Mahabir places his head on Veera’s lap and remembers his mother singing the lullaby to put him to sleep.