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That Song You Love So Much? Chances Are The Lyricist Never Gets Credit For Their Words

Posted: August 10, 2020

It isn’t easy writing a song that resonates with crores of people. Yet our lyricists hardly ever get their due credit on most music platforms, and often in the film itself.

The job of a lyricist is not simple; it requires in incredible amount of skill. It is unfair then, that they don’t even get the basic minimum – credit for the words they have written.

I don’t want to presume, but if you’ve grown up in India, and if you’re as ‘filmy’ as I am, you’ve probably had a background track to your life, courtesy Bollywood. It is a cliché, but it is also true that from the simple joy of a birthday, to the complexities of love, the depths of grief, and the highs of achievement, there is a Bollywood song for every emotion.

And yet, while I may be able to name my favourite singers, and my favourite composers, I would struggle to name my favourite lyricists – and I say this as a writer myself. I know the value of words, and I naturally gravitate towards songs that have a depth of meaning, rather than a catchy tune, and yet I don’t even think of the people who wrote those words.

Disrespected and forgotten – the reality of a lyricist’s life

About a month ago, Anupama Chopra hosted a ‘Lyricists Adda,’ with Kausar Munir, Anvita Dutt, Varun Grover, Swanand Kirkire and Amitabh Bhattacharya – a group of lyricists, whose body of work put together approximates nearly 816 songs!

It was a fascinating conversation, that took a deep dive into the challenges of songwriting, their social responsibility (Amitabh Bhattarcharya admitted that now, he wouldn’t write a song as objectifying as ‘Chikni Chameli’) and the way changes such as the arrival of OTT platforms and the pandemic have affected their work.

One of the most important points of discussion, however, is the utter lack of respect that they are treated with.

There is the fact that like other technical artists, they are seated at the very back at award functions etc. Or that the general public hardly recognizes them (Kausar joked that people think she is a middle aged male duo ‘Kausar-Munir’).

Even composers, who are friends and who they work so closely with, fail to be respectful sometimes, as Kausar Munir pointed out, sharing that she often received emails from composers, where they didn’t even bother to hide the fact that they were offering the same bit of work to multiple lyricists!

In another incident, she was not even invited to the mega-launch of a song she had written the lyrics for, and no one even remembered her till the event was ongoing – something that the other lyricists agreed was a common occurrence.

Worse, they don’t even receive basic credit for their own work. As they pointed out, the names of lyricists are not included in the descriptions of songs on official YouTube channels, and other newer streaming platforms like Spotify, Saavn and Gaana. Even legends like Gulzar, Javed Akhtar or Anand Bakshi, are also denied this acknowledgement! There is no way to search for a song on these platforms, by the name of the lyricist. Nor is the lyricist’s name mentioned when the song/movie is being launched on social media.

https://twitter.com/varungrover/status/1026050765276762112

Even in a film like Rockstar, which had music as a central theme, and which is known for songs that have beautiful lyrics, the lyricist Irshad Kamil’s name was missing from the initial album cover, as Swanand Kirkire pointed out.

As lyricist Shailender Singh Sodhi (Shellee), says in this article, a missing credit line, has financial implications as well, as “lyricists lose out on royalty when their name is missed out or incorrectly spelt in the credits.”

Give them the credit

In an effort to raise awareness, they’ve put out a music video, the ‘Lyrics Writers’ Anthem’ titled, ‘Credit de do yaar!’ A fun, peppy number, (written by Kausar Munir, Varun Grover and Swanand Kirkire, sung by Swanand Kirkire and with music by Chinmayi Tripathi and Joel Mukherjii) featuring 15 contemporary lyrics writers from Bollywood, the song is a simple demand that they be credited for their work.

The video ends with an appeal by Varun Grover to all listeners that they ask for the lyrics writer’s name to be included wherever they notice that it is missing.

As they point out, a cultural shift is required, wherein we recognize that the idea of a hierarchy is ridiculous. Every artist is equally important in the making of a film. This can happen only when those in positions of power – the stars, the directors, music composers etc. become allies who amplify the voices and demands of those who come farther down in the food chain (till equality is achieved).

Both the The Lyricists Adda, and the ‘Lyrics Writers’ Anthem’ have been eye openers. Now, I’ve started looking for their names, and I hope that the industry as a whole has taken notice too.

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