A Journey Lyrical
Apoet first, a Bollywood wordsmith later. Manoj Muntashir is clear about his primary identity. "Poetry is the foundation for my other skills," says the man whose words add magic to many a screen moment. Manoj was speaking at the first session of Kalam in New York, Kalam ka Bahubali. The session, held as an online video conference, is one of the many featuring literary stalwarts that the Foundation is holding to help people cope with the pandemic. Lovers of literature from across the world can join these enriching sessions online. The conversation with Manoj was steered by Anoop Bhargava, the co-founder of JhilMil, with other guests joining in. The poet, lyricist and screenwriter got his big break when Amitabh Bachchan chose him to write his script for Kaun Banega Crorepati. This was the turning point in Manoj's life. His words made an immediate impact on the music makers and several other high-profile projects followed. He considers Teri Mitti to be his best work so far. He disclosed that writing the song had consumed and overwhelmed him. The strong emotions that the song had to carry challenged his sensibilities. Writing the Hindi dialogues for the Bahubali films is another feather in his cap. The project allowed him to work with the best in the industry and opened up for him a new way of expressing his talent. S.S. Rajamouli, the director of the Bahubali films, had chosen Manoj after hearing his lines for the 2016 hit, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story. The poet also took the audience along on his journey from Manoj Shukla to Manoj Muntashir. He was born in a small village called Gauriganj at Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. He had an affinity for words and language from a young age. When he was only around six, he learnt Urdu from a manual in just two months. Having read just about every Urdu writer and poet whose books he could lay his hands on, Manoj began writing, restricting himself to poetry till he was 17 or 18. His adopted surname, Muntashir, is another expression of his love for Urdu. Do the constraints of the film industry stifle his creativity? Manoj feels that the challenges of film writing are best taken as opportunities to hone and showcase one's skill and craft. "If one can prove their skill in the commercial domain without compromising or strangling their 'shayari', it indicates success," he says. He spoke about his culture shock with the kind of lyrics that were being written as he was taking baby steps in the industry. His faith in his craft and his conviction allowed him to stand his ground and not "sell his soul". According to him, despite the constraints, Bollywood provides a platform to writers to reach a wider audience and gain recognition. Manoj draws a lot of inspiration from his life experiences. He owes his first burst of inspiration to a broken romance, when his first lyrics, Ankhon ki chamak, was born out of heartbreak. A science student, he found a similarity between heartbreak and the energy being produced after an explosion. Explaining his creative process, Manoj says that he thinks in poetry and then fits that into a tune. Music directors now cooperate with him and give him leeway. He feels that lyrics have become more fluid than before. For him, each song generates a blueprint for the next. His advice on overcoming a writer's block: "When you feel you are hitting a wall, pause for some time and soak in the world around you; the solution will surely emerge." The ever-smiling poet finds positivity even in the lockdown. "This period is giving us time to cherish what we have — our life, family, friends, achievements and even our homes — and we should appreciate that," he said.