Darkness was beginning to fall upon the lawns of Royal Orchid hotel, Bangalore. With the onset of winter, the chill in the air was apparent on the skin in despair. It helped that I was at the Bangalore Literature Festival, 2016. Authors, thought leaders, and opinion makers kept the evening warm.
Mr. Mohandas Pai had just concluded his conversation with Mr. Rajiv Malhotra. I wanted to meet Mr. Rajiv Malhotra to ask a couple of questions I had about my reading of his book – Indra’s Net. I followed him to the book signing venue only to find an interminably long queue to get his signature. I am not the one who would wait in the queues to get signatures or have a conversation. With a touch of disappointment, I returned to the spot I had left my friends at. However, the excitement on their faces did no justice to my disappointment. Before I could ask them about it, they held my head and turned me towards a platform reserved for the camera crew.
“Piyush Mishra is here!” – hushed one of my friends.
His concert was to start at 8PM but he had clearly reached before time. I had seen him sitting in the audience for the Bengaluru Poetry Festival too. He has a liking towards spending his time watching the preceding and succeeding events. We knew we had to speak with him. While we were still discussing how to break the ice, one of the friends walked up to him, exchanged glances and said –
“Hum bhi Bihar se hain” (I too am from Bihar.)– This was said in reference to his movie Gangs of Wasseypur.
That was all that we needed. In a minute we introduced ourselves and bookstalkist.
“Would you please do a small interview with us?” I made a request.
He smiled and asked –
“Haan, bolo, kab karna hai?” (Yes, tell me when do we do it? )
“Concert ke baad?” (After the concert?)
“Tab toh bahut late ho jaayega, abhi kar lein?” (It will be too late after that, shall we do it now?)
“Ji. Abhi kar lete hain.” (Yes Sir, let’s do it now.)
“Kahaan karna hai? Yehin?” (Where do we do it? Here?)
“Nahi Sir, it will be too noisy here. Please give us 5 minutes to make the arrangements.”
We huddled together, placed a chair nearby the spot but away enough to not attract unnecessary public attention. We escorted him to the seat, both my friends held a camera each and I started with my questions –
I have followed your works closely and I have always been an admirer. While we didn’t see you often in movies, there came a time when you were almost everywhere. From songwriting, composing to acting, you have done them all. Speaking about the process of a song composition, how do you approach it? Your lyrics are powerful. Is the poet in you more dominant than the musician?
There isn’t a defined process for me. At times I compose while I am writing. Other times, I do the opposite too.
I have a liking towards writing. So, for a person who wants to become a songwriter, what according to you would be his stepping stones to gain entry to the Hindi Film Industry?
There is no rocket science involved. One will have to go there. Understand things. Understand how things work in Mumbai. There is only one way. You have to go to Bombay and understand Bombay. There is no hard and fast rule which I can tell sitting here. There is no other way.
If you had to choose one from all the things that you do, what would you pick?
That is hypothetical. Why would I choose only one? There is still a lot to do. I have just formed a band. This year, I will be working with the band. It’s called Balli Maran. Ghalib Saab’s place. Then, there are several other projects I am working on. There is a novel I am working on – Hamlet Kabhi Bombay Nahi Gaya (Hamlet never went to Bombay). There is a lot of energy this year.
Why the name ‘Balli Maran’?
My roots are there. Roots are in Delhi. And I am hugely indebted to Ghalib Saab for my poetry.
I read an interview of yours. I got to understand that you had a difficult childhood. How much of a role does pain in one’s life play in his/her art form? Does it help? The concept that is explored in the movie Rockstar wherein the protagonist is looking for pain to portray it in his songs, how much of that is true in real world? Is there a correlation?
It has some role to play definitely. If life is well balanced, it becomes difficult to do poetry. Gautam Buddha didn’t do poetry. Not only your pain but others’ pain too affects you. I have written about the pain of workers in Chandni Chowk factories. When a 5 year-old girl is raped, you feel pain in such a situation. There has to be some pain, some trauma. A very joyous poem, I haven’t been able to write so far.
Have you ever tried to pen down a happy poem/song that turned into something else, something that you hadn’t set out to write?
There are interesting, exciting poems, yes. There are different shades of society. There is pain, there is joy, there is love, there is sex, there is violence too. There are a lot of things together.
He continues nonchalantly –
I don’t define myself. I am not a shayar, wayar yaar, not even a poet. Yes, I am a poet. Poet is not a purist term. Neither can you be defined as Shayar nor ghazal-wallah, not even a kavita-wallah. I like such a term.
I have tried something particular at times. Sometimes I sit to write a happy poem. By the time I finish writing, I notice that I have written another dark poem.
It shouldn’t be geometrical. Nobody should get geometrical. You should write the way heart says without any overthinking. Once done, if you don’t like it, you should strike it off. You should know how to strike out your own composition. That’s important.
A German poet who is considered to be one of the greatest lyrical poet – RM Rilke writes in one of his letters to a young poet – “Don’t start with love poems!” The 10 letters he wrote to an aspiring poet have been published as a collection in a book. He advised the young poet to not write love poems in the beginning of his journey into poetry writing. How much merit do you see in it? Why such an advice? Are love poems easier to write?
I haven’t heard of him, so I am not sure if I can say something about it but my first poem was written in 8th standard. I was fed up of my parents and wrote about my feeling then. It was not a love poem. I have written love poems but there has been a social backdrop. In the poem Ghar – ‘Ujla hi ujla sheher hoga, jisme hum tum banayenge ghar’. It is about love but there is a social backdrop. The context was Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. Without a political or social context, it’s difficult to write. You can’t compose in utopia. In Husna too, there is a social and political context of the partition. The boy and the girl in love can’t get married and they are aware of that. So, that is important.
We have watched Gangs of Wasseypur and recently, we also watched Pink, So, how do you pick your roles? In GOW, you had a much bigger role to play wherein you were there in both parts of the films and had a critical character to portray. So, how do you decide that this is to be taken and that is to be declined? Does money play a part? Do you think about the monetary success of the film?
It’s more of intuition. I do what I like. So, if I like a story, I do the movie. Commercial aspect of it, it feels good if the movie also does well commercially. Also, it feels good when you work with good actors. In Pink, Amitabh ji was there.
How was it working with him?
It was a great experience. He is extremely professional and passionate about cinema. Very disciplined and passionate, particularly at this age, it gets difficult.
Are you reading any book now?
Reading – it’s reduced now. Presently I am reading… that Shivanand Saraswati book.
He tries but fails to recollect the title of the book.
How many books do you read in a year on an average?
It has stopped. For the last 4-5 years, I have not been reading much.
We are team bookstalkist. Any message you would like to share with us and our readers?
Do read. Only now my readings have stopped. I used to read Hindi literature, Urdu, Shayaris. Do read. What message can I possibly give? Keep reading.
I didn’t want to conclude this interview. The feeling hasn’t sunk in yet. I would say the man interviewed is to be blamed. It never felt like I was meeting him for the first time. I would give some credit to myself as well. When you hear somebody almost every day and hum his lines every now and then, you can’t be any more surprised than I was while meeting and talking to him. It felt like we just took off from the last line of the last song of the last night that he was singing in my laptop.
He stayed for around 30 more minutes, on the same chair that we arranged for him, chitchatting with his followers and fans. Night had set in already by this time. The volunteers escorted him to the Guests’ lounge. An hour later, we had occupied the first row to watch him sing, recite, and talk to his audience. The odious day turned into pure gold when he recognized us from the stage, acknowledged our presence in the first row and quoted from our conversation for one of his poetry recitals.