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Got to be a wordsmith

He’s so prolific that he’s got used to charges of plagiarism. “When I started my career as a lyricist,” says the MCom from Banaras Hindu University, “they suspected that my father [the redoubtable Anjaan] was writing for me, and even tested me by making me write some songs on the spot in front of them.” Sameer was brushing off our question about his getting into the tangle in Daag The Fire, when Sukhwinder’s estranged wife accused her husband of filching her lyric and it appearing in the film in Sameer’s name. Very recently, Aadesh Shrivastava heatedly charged the music director, director and him for lifting his song and using it as the title song for Humko Deewana Kar Gaye. “Bolne se kya hota hai' You have to prove it. People are saying something about someone all the time. Does that mean anything' Has Aadesh gone on to prove his baseless charge' In a democracy, anyone can accuse anyone about anything.”

Even his name is not his own, we prodded. Wasn’t his real name Shitla Pandey' When did it become Sameer' There was a hint of a good-natured smile when he said, “Oh, that’s a long story. I’ll tell you some other occasion. Very secret.” On further nudging, he was unrelenting, promising to unwind “when we meet some day; let some things remain a mystery till then”.

Sameer, long dubbed the King of Words, is omnipresent in the credits of Bollywood films, and has even written Bhojpuri songs. Starting off with Gori pareshaan hai,/Kali pareshaan hai in Bekhabar, which he recorded in 1981 (the film released two years later), Sameer’s completed 25 years of writing lyrics and touched 500 films, 5000 songs (about 4,038 songs, he corrects, and still counting). If you are still reeling with Jhalak dikhla ja, his latest acquisition is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya, no less. Interestingly, his word-juggernaut zoomed to 3500 songs in the first 10 years, “the minimum time taken,” he says with justified pride. Now that Bhojpuri films are in vogue, would he take over that territory, too' “No, no,” he says firmly. “I’ve done just two and with the commitments in Bollywood, I simply don’t have the time to spare for Bhojpuri films.”

Time' Sameer is known to write lyrics even while sitting on the sets. “A lyricist has to be prepared to write on the spot, too. There could be a change in mike, a change in singer, lots of things. He has to be a stage performer in a sense.”

We told him about Javed Akhtar’s tirade against vulgar lyrics when he was in Calcutta some months ago for his book launch. And the jousting we had got into over Sameer’s Sarkai liyo khatiya from Raja Babu. “That was taken from a folk song, and I had heard it many times, so I don’t think that it was vulgar. It was a hunourous, funny way of saying something. Those days, such songs were in vogue, like Choli ke peechhey kya hai [Anand Bakshi] or Main to bhelpuri kha raha tha...But I have never regretted anything I have written. I would love to write such a song even today. With due respect to Javed Saab, how can I write Ek ladki ko dekha to for a film like Raja Babu'”

Then, again, Javed had confessed that he even rejected the offer to write for Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai because he found the title obscenely worded. “But in the film industry, you’ve got to write everything. You can’t say I will write only chaalu lyrics or I will write only write poetic lyrics or I will only write for a film with a title that meets my approval. I respect Javed Saab very much,he is a great writer and poet,” Sameer acknowledges.“But first Javed Saab called Kuch Kuch Hota Hai a bad title, a funny title. Next, in another interview, he said the biggest regret he had was rejecting Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. So what do we make out of this'”

The big difference, Sameer says, is that a poet writes what he wants, a lyricist has to write also what the film wants, the director, the producer, the public wants. There are many more boundaries for a lyricist, and they are not easy to circumvent. That way, it’s a much tougher job than a poet’s.”

In many ways, the style, the swiftness of churning out words, of being accused of not being ‘poetic’ enough, Sameer looks so much like the next gen Anand Bakshi. In fact, his next big thing to achieve is to cross 550 films, a world record held by Anand Bakshi. Considering that Bakshi took 40 years to reach 550 films, and Sameer crossing 500 (Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal will be his 501st film) in 25 years, probable is nothing.

“Bakshiji was a great lyricist, he was my guru. If you compare me with him, it’s you who are saying it. I can only say, yes, he was a major influence.” Not his father Anjaan' One perceives a slight irritation in his voice. “Whatever I am today is because of my father. He was a father, friend, guru, everything. But because I would be accused of copying him, I changed my lane right at the beginning. That way Bakshiji was more of an influence.”

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