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"I cannot say person to person that I’m the lyrics writer of Ringa Ringa from Slumdog Millionaire" --Raqueeb Alam (lyricist & singer)
- Amanda Sodhi           Let us know what you think about this article writer Amanda Sodhi brings you an exclusive interview with singer and lyricist Raqueeb Alam. Alam has many song lyrics to his credit, including Ringa Ringa from the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

Since there aren’t too many interviews of you available, I’m going to start off this interview by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into lyrics writing and singing.

I came to Chennai for studies. I was doing Mechanical Engineering. My parents were not able to send me money for my education as my father was a simple school teacher and had very limited salary. When I was moving from my hometown Madhupur to Chennai that time itself he told me, “Raqueeb it’s very tough to send you money as you know my income is limited,” and I told him, don’t worry Abbu I will earn and learn. We are three brothers…no sisters…and, as a father he had the responsibility to educate all his children…he could not send me all the money and keep my two brothers uneducated and behind…So, I started singing in Hotel Trident…And, once I got the test of money, earning became primary and learning became secondary. I wanted to be a singer after my studies, but I never thought that I can write lyrics. Since I can sing, it helps me a lot to write the lyrics.

You’ve written lyrics for Ringa Ringa from the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Yet, there still isn’t much known about you. Do you intentionally stay away from the media?

It’s not like that. The media didn’t notice me. I cannot say person to person that I’m the lyrics writer of Ringa Ringa from Slumdog Millionaire.

Tell us about how you got a break as a lyrics writer and singer…

First time I sang for dubbing a movie to Hindi, and also I wrote lyrics for the dubbed version of a movie called Devi, from Telugu to Hindi.

How did you meet AR Rahman? What is your experience like working with him?

Once I met a lyrics writer named Mr. P.K. Mishra who wrote for Roja, Hum Se Hai Muqaabla, etc. and he took me to Mr. Rahman. I sang for the first time with Sonu Nigam for Mr.Romeo, the Prabhu Deva and Shilpa Shetty starrer. One day Mr. Rahman called me and he asked me, “Can you write lyrics?” I said I will try my best and I wrote for Deepa Mehta’s Water. The song was Aa Shaam Rang Mei Rang Doon.

You’ve worked with Rahman for a very long time…how have you seen him evolve as a music composer over the years?

He is a genius, no doubt. The best thing with him is, he takes work from me in a very easy way…once he gave me two hours time and he asked me to write two songs and I wrote them on spot by god grace!

How have you seen yourself evolve as a lyricist over the years?

I don’t know...I feel that somebody is holding my hand and writing on behalf of me…

You work on very limited lyrics assignments—is this because you are very selective on which assignments you take on?

Yeah…I like to accept assignments in which there is scope to do something different.

What I find very wonderful about your lyrics is that you are able to write lyrics for “fun” songs yet you still use so much rich imagery. Jiya Se Jiya and Blue Theme Song are both examples of this. Tell us a bit about your process for writing lyrics. For example, does the film’s director tell you about the situation the song will be picturized on? Does the music director compose a tune and you write lyrics to fit the tune? Or, do you write lyrics first and then the music director composes a tune?

Yeah…the director gives me brief of the song…mostly I write on tune…but sometimes I write first and then the composer composes based upon the lyrics.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing to fit a tune and writing first and having the music composer compose accordingly?

For me writing on tune is easier because when I hear the tune a number of times, the tune itself starts giving the words according to the mood of the song…

Do you have a book where you jot down lines to use for future lyrics assignments of yours?

No…Most of the songs I wrote, I actually wrote on the spot…Meherbaan from Ada I wrote in 30 minutes…You won’t believe this, but Rahman sahib was standing near the mic and I was writing and I wrote four lines and gave it to him and by the time he sang, I wrote another four that I completed the song in 30 to 40 minutes…Jiya Se Jiya I also wrote on the spot. For Sultan The Warrior I wrote two songs in two hours.

What is your opinion of lyrics these days?

I am too small to comment on this because I’m holding the finger of my senior writers and trying to walk around…every writer is a guru for me.

Who are some lyricists from this generation that you think show promise?

I think Gulzar sahib and Prasoon Joshi ji.

Are there any songs which are your favorite? Any favorite lyrics and/or poems?

Favorite songs include, “Hum intezaar karenge tera qayaamat tak,” “Ek ladki ko dekha,” and “Maa tujhe salaam.”

Favorite poems include, “Ragon mein daudte phirne ke hum naheen qaayal, jab aankh hi se naa tapka toh phir lahoo kya hai,” by Ghalib; “Badaa hua to kya hua, jaise ped khajoor, panthi ko chhayaa nahi, Phal lage ati door,” by Kabir Das; and “Teri Payal se ghata jab kabhi takrati hai, Gungunaate hue barish ki boond aati hai” by Qatil Shefai.

In addition to Hindi, you are also fluent in Tamil and have worked on Tamil projects…Do you think that the media tends to not give as much coverage to non-Hindi projects and artists?

No…it’s not like that…maine khud apne aap ko is layaq nahi samjha is liye khud ko media ke samne lane ki koshish nahi ki.

You’ve written some very lovely lyrics for Ada, however the film hasn’t released yet. Do you think it is important for a film to do well at the box-office in order for a song to get maximum recognition?

Yeah…if a does well, the songs will be popular as well…I hope Meherbaan can be nominated for best song…Inshah Allah.

Is there any advice you’d like to give to aspiring artists?

Mehanat kaa paseene se hunar ki mitti ko saano aur imaandari ke sanche mein dhal do...

Could you tell us about your upcoming projects?

Right now I’m doing only one project “Sultan The Warrior and Rashid Ali's music album.

Is there anything else you’d like to add to this interview?

Will request to all readers to please pray for me brother!

It was nice talking to you, Raqueeb. I hope we get to hear many more of your soulful lyrics in the years to come. God bless!

Thank you so much.

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