Eccentricity, which defines Piyush Mishra’s candid persona by his own admission, is a hallmark of his songs as well. Conversational and evocative yet dramatic — his songs catapult a person from being a passive listener to an active participant. This, the musician says, is a reason why people from the industry ‘could not accept him much.’ “Cinema couldn’t accept me — not many people from the Indian film industry came to me for music. But the result is my songs became completely unique and followed a very unconventional method. That’s why I really don’t care about what the industry likes or dislikes. My songs are getting used better this way independent of the industry,” the singer-lyricist shares.
Listening to his songs ‘Husna’, ‘Ghar’, ‘Ik Baghal’, ‘Aarambh’, et al, leaves an unsettling feeling that the musician strives for. “After listening to my songs, people should ponder whether they are doing morally right or wrong things,” the writer says. From singing at private ‘mehfils’ of who’s who of the cinema and theatre world, to creating his own band ‘Ballimaaraan’ in 2016, the evolution of his songs happened alongside his exploration of different ideologies.
“Unlike earlier, I’m a theist and I’m a believer now. I pray regularly so it also reflects in my lyrics. Nowadays my ideology is God and it completely engulfs my writing. Now I am more at ease while writing songs,” the actor admits.
Most recently seen performing at the fourth edition of The Delhi Festival with his band, Mishra, who is also a renowned poet, theatre artist and playwright, in an interaction with The Indian Express talks about the idea behind the formation of his band, the impact of ideology on his writing, his process of creating music, and even touches upon his creative purpose.
There seems to be a different genre altogether in the way you compose music and write lyrics. How do you bring about that? What is your process of writing such songs and making this kind of music?
I’ve been very reactionary since childhood. Hence all the lyrics of my songs are very reactionary at heart. I believe every song should have a feeling, a distinctive quality that stings your heart. Also, a lot of people don’t know this. But most of my songs are basically theatre songs. For example, ‘Husna’ is a song for theatre. I write my songs as if speaking a dialogue, as we do in theatre. There is a conversational quality in my songs. People usually hesitate to write such songs; they feel the audience won’t understand. Contrary to that belief, my songs are well accepted. When I write I’m basically chatting. There’s a conversation running in all the songs, and that’s why they are able to communicate better. My music also follows the same pattern. However, people in the industry don’t accept me much as a music composer. Cinema couldn’t accept me — not many people from the Indian film industry came to me for music — only 3-4 films. But the result is my songs became completely unique and followed a very unconventional method. That’s why I really don’t care about what the industry likes or dislikes. My songs are getting used better this way independent of the industry. I believe in such songs that people can sing easily; they shouldn’t be thinking twice that ‘I won’t be able to sing that’. That is the reason they can easily sing ‘Husna’, ‘Ek Baghal’, ‘Aarambh’; they catch the rhythm easily.
Mostly there is an underlying social or political theme behind your lyrics. Is that a conscious decision?
I am aware of everything. As long as you are not connected with society you can’t write songs. All my songs have a social backdrop. All my songs emanate from the complexities of society. For example, ‘Ghar’ emanated in the context of a particular situation in the play ‘Jab Shehar Hamara Sota Hai’ — a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy are expressing their love; they are talking about a utopian situation where there is no sadness, no religious intolerance. And the subtext behind my lyrics is civil riots that are taking place, in which Hindus and Muslims are being cut. Amongst all this, Ghar comes. These songs are a response to what’s happening around us. They are answers. I cannot write a song unless I know its context. I have to know the full social politically charged context before I begin writing.
What was the idea behind forming your band ‘Ballimaaraan’?
I used to sing all these songs in private mehfils. Someday Vishal Bhardwaj would call, someday Manoj Vajpayee, and they would request me to sing. The music arranger of ‘Gulaal’ told me one day ‘You sing so good, why don’t you create a band, instead of singing for 10-12 people.’ The idea appealed to me. I knew a guitarist with whom I wanted to create the band. He was in Chandigarh then and agreed to join me. Then one more friend who was a percussionist joined. So we were a band of three people. It was formed in 2016. Then the band gradually expanded — we now have piano, flute, and saxophone players as well. We became ambitious — started making more songs with a wider range. In today’s date, it’s one of the leading bands, we are travelling everywhere. One thing that we always kept in mind was that the lyrics should always be mine. It is basically a lyrics-oriented band. We wanted to make socio-politically charged songs. Adhiktar vo hi songs likhne ki koshish kari jisme chutkiya li jaa sake (I have tried to mostly write songs which people can enjoy).
In your autobiography ‘Teri Auqat Kya Hai Piyush Mishra’, you mentioned the change in your ideology over the years. Does ideology impact one’s creative being?
Unlike earlier, I’m a theist and I’m a believer now. I pray now so it reflects in my lyrics. Also, now I am more at ease while writing songs. I’ve become more curious about things happening around me. I ask these questions often now: ‘Why is this happening? How is it happening?’ This is how ideology affects you. Nowadays my ideology is God and it completely and fully impacts my writing. These days I write songs with an open mind. Once upon a time, I was a leftist. In those days everything used to go through the Left. Compared to how I used to write before, now a different kind of independence is there in my writing. There is no kind of pressure on me whatsoever.
Your song ‘Aarambh’ has become an anthem for different sections of society. Did you ever imagine it to become such an evergreen song?
I wrote the song in two days. There was no ideology behind it. I wrote it for ‘Gulaal’. I was told I need to write a song for elections, and that student politics is the underlying theme. While writing it I never thought it’d become so big. It’s used for political parties, Indian army, the cricket team, etc. I feel nowadays ‘Aarambh’ comes after the national anthem. Seeing this I feel both astonished and happy. I write most of my songs in 1-2 days – both writing and composing music. I compose while I write songs and I write while I compose.
You are an actor, writer, and singer — in which medium do you express yourself best?
Acting is a big zigzag to me, I do it in between my other work. Sometimes I lose my fascination with acting — when I feel I am not able to do good acting, I stop thinking about it. But nowadays I’ve started to think about it again. When I keep on exploring acting, I keep on exploring other things too. If I don’t explore acting, then all other things also stop. Primarily, everything in my life starts from acting only and I wish to continue doing that. I am a trained actor. I got a diploma in acting from the National School of Drama. When I act, I imagine a whole world so in that case, these things also become imaginable – songs, scriptwriting, lyrics writing, music composition. This is because acting increases your imaginary powers. Acting is the source of everything else for me. I begin with acting and then digress into other forms.
What is your creative purpose?
Before I die, I want to do so much work that people will always remember. My aim is not to change society. After listening to my songs, people should ponder whether they are doing morally right or wrong things. This is enough for me, and this is the reason behind my creative endeavours. Secondly, I want to continue doing a lot of work, so that I continue to remain alive. I want to explore things one after another in myself and in the creative world. I cannot live without work. The one who doesn’t work is a dead man; he is like a corpse. When not working, I eat, do meditation, and sleep. Otherwise, I am working all the time. The overpowering intention of doing more work has made me so creative.
Will we see you exploring any other art form in the upcoming years?
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I have done so much work that I am tired but still want to keep working. However, work has to be done according to the amount of life left. The work I am doing will continue to happen but more magnification will come in the same things; they’ll become more refined. I will try the things that I haven’t done. That’s the endeavour. I had not written a novel, I wrote my autobiography in the form of a novel, which became a hit. Same with my band. I had given up painting and sculpting in childhood. If I feel like doing it now, I will do it again. Why not? So my goal is to keep exploring myself.
You are dabbling in so many mediums, there are bound to be failures. How do you deal with that?
I pass through it. I have stopped expecting anything from my work. I work and then stop thinking about it; I don’t cling to it.
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