Veteran lyricist Amitabh Verma talks about the story behind the songs of 'Shab' and his long association with Onir in an exclusive interview with A Potpourri of Vestiges

By Murtaza Ali Khan

A Potpourri of Vestiges recently caught up with the renowned lyricist Amitabh Verma who has written songs for films like PK, Bas Ek Pal, Life in a Metro, etc. He has also written the songs for Onir's upcoming film Shab, starring Raveena Tandon, Arpita Chatterjee and Ashish Bisht, which is slated to release on 14 July, 2017. Amitabh Verma is a person of multifaceted talents. An FTII graduate, he is a trained editor who has also written screenplays and dialogues other than writing songs in various languages.


How did you get associated with Shab? Tell us about your involvement in the film and relationship you shared with Onir while working as a lyricist.

Onir is the first friend I made when I came to Mumbai way back in 1996, fresh out of FTII. He was an established editor and I was looking for work. We hit it off instantly. I started working with him as his associate. This is the time when Onir wanted to diversify. He became a music producer and produced several music albums.  I had started writing songs while in FTII, thanks to Pritam (music director) who was my batch mate and a close friend. Onir gave me the first professional song writing assignment and I ended up writing songs for all his albums, including the one with the Great Bhupen Da called The Complete Bhupen Hazarika.  

When Onir decided to make his first film My Brother... Nikhil I got to write the songs as well as the dialogues for the film. Since then I have been a part of all his films Bas Ek Pal, Sorry Bhai, I Am and now Shab.

Shab was the first film Onir wrote and had shared it with me so in that sense I knew about it long before I started working on the songs. Since I have been working with him for over 20 years I know his likes and dislikes when it comes to lyrics. Working with him has always been a pleasure and very easy. He always gives a free hand to everyone working with him. Unlike many other directors, he has never asked me to write a ‘Hit’ song. He always insists on good lyrics. It was same with Shab songs also.

Shab has many different characters. How challenging it is for a lyricist to work on a movie with such complex character arcs?

All Onir films have been very very complex in nature. He doesn’t believe in   making simple films but then I had already worked on films like Bas Ek Pal and I Am which were also very complex films so I knew what was I getting into. Also I have known the script and the characters of Shab for a long time so it made my work slightly easy. We had a lot of discussions on the lyrics of each song. Onir made me change a lot of lines. We also fought a lot on many things but in the end we were all very happy with the final product.

Is there any story behind the songs of Shab? If, yes, please do tell us.

Working on Onir’s songs have always been fun. Because we are good friends we keep pulling each other’s leg and tease each other. Sanjay (Suri) invariably takes my side and we gang up against Onir. Like all other Onir films there are interesting story about the songs of Shab as well.

In case of Awari… Mithoon had already written a basic draft of the song before I came in. The word Awari was not mine, it was written by Mithun. I changed it to Roohani. The line I wrote was… Roohani… Roohani… Rab jaisi roohani.  The song was then presented to Onir but he had really liked the sound of the word Awari. As always Onir and me had a lot of discussions (read fight) on it. Both of us were adamant. My logic was that we are talking about Azaan in the first line so Roohani suits better. But because Onir wanted Awari, we had to keep Awari. I still tease Onir that he took undue advantage because he was the director of the film and forced me to retain the word Awari.

There is a story behind the song Afiya too. I didn’t know there existed a word called Afiya. It was Onir who introduced me to this word. Afiya means the noble one. In fact Afiya was the name of one of the characters in Onir’s previous film I Am.  I loved the sound of the word Afiya, more after knowing its meaning.

What is your approach to writing songs? As a lyricist, what kind of coordination is required with the composer?

My approach while writing songs is very simple. I have to write according to the vision of my director. After all, a film is a director’s medium. A song is made by the composer and the lyricist so it is very important that both of them are on the same page. With Mithoon I share a very good rapport. I wrote the first song that he composed, Bas Ek Pal, and since then we have collaborated on many songs for many films. Mithoon himself writes very well and in most of Shab songs he has contributed in a big way even in terms of lyrics.

Apart from being a lyricist you have also assisted directors and have dialogues and screenplays. How do you juggle between these different kinds of assignments? Which of these do you enjoy the most?

I am a trained film Editor who became a song writer by default, thanks to Pritam who literally pushed me into writing songs.  The most interesting part is that I never planned to get into doing so many things. They just came my way. Like when Onir was planning My Brother Nikhil he surprised me by asking me to write the dialogues. Same with screenplay writing, I just got an offer to write the screenplay for a film called Antardwand which won the National award and so other films followed. What I enjoy doing most? It is a question I can’t answer. I think I enjoy doing everything. The best part is that all my assignments are different from each other and that makes working very challenging as well as exciting for me.

You have written songs in different languages. How difficult it is to pen down songs in different languages?

Writing a song is not an easy thing. Writing a song in a different language is even more difficult. Apart from Hindi, I have written songs in English, Punjabi, Bhojpuri… every language has its uniqueness and comes with its own challenges. I remember when I was writing the song Main Talli Ho Gayi for the film Ugly Aur Pagli. I called a Punjabi actor friend of mine and asked him to translate in Punjabi what I wanted to convey. It was tough, but also great fun.

PK has been a landmark film in your career. How did it come around? Also, what other projects are the closest to your heart?

How I got PK is in itself an interesting story. I mentioned about the film Antardwand where I wrote the screenplay, dialogues, and lyrics and was also the associate director. In one of the preview screenings Raju Hirani came. Raju happens to be my senior from FTII. He loved the film and told me that we would work together someday. I guess he called me to write for PK because Amir speaks Bhojpuri in the film and he wanted someone from Bihar to write the song. Thus, Love is a Bhaste of Time happened. After PK I did another film with Raju, Saala khadoos, where I was the dialogue writer and the associate director.

Who are your favorite lyricists and writers? Also tell us about your upcoming projects that follow Shab. 

There are many lyricists whose work I admire. My all time favorite lyricists are Sahir Ludhiyanvi and Shailendra. Among my contemporaries I like Amitabh Bhattacharya and Irshad Kamil a lot.  As a writer I like Raju Hirani, Onir and Charidutt Acharya.

I have just finished a film with Eros called Saat Qadam as a lyricist which I think is going to be my next release. Apart from that I am writing the screenplays for two films and after a long long time also editing a film.
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