How would you describe your evolution as a lyricist?
Growing up in Lucknow taught me the correct lehza, and having studied Hindi in school, I was in sync with the language. But there wasn’t a writer in me. I stumbled upon writing only in Bombay. I would make up lyrics to sing along with melodies. People repeatedly told me that the songs I wrote were good. But for eight years, I was reluctant and paid no heed to it. Some people write stories stemming from their personal instances, others write poetry but I can’t do it. Main sirf dhun pe gaane likhta hun. I can place myself in any situation and write a song in the most human way possible without having lived that moment.
Why use your pen name Indraneel?
In 1999, when I came to Bombay, there was a mindset that if you have come to Bollywood to become a singer, then stick to it. Don’t try your hand at composing or writing or acting. If you are a singer writing songs, it might create a rift with some big lyricist and you’ll stop getting work. This nonsense was very prevalent with old-school Bollywood. I really wanted to become a singer and did not want anything to be a hurdle. So I used a pen name ‘Indraneel’ until I wrote for Aamir.
Was it tough getting accepted as a lyricist and not a singer?
After eight years in Mumbai, I was still a nobody. I was spending from my pocket, recording my songs so that I could approach composers and make them listen to my tracks. I reached that point where one realises that as they are struggling to create one type of identity in the industry, another aspect of them is already opening up some avenues. But you resist those avenues because of a mental block, such as the one I had against my writing. I had to take a call to seriously pursue lyric-writing.
What role did Mumbai play in your life?
Being in Mumbai gave me an identity crisis, having to choose between singing and writing lyrics. Also, Mumbai is a busy place, full of opportunities, but with each passing day yahan life kam hoti jaa rahi hai. After you have had a great day at work, cracked an amazing song, you return to an empty apartment, then it hits you — what are accomplishments and success unless you have someone to share it with.