Edited excerpts from an interview between Madhan Karky and Vishal Menon.
What is a quality an aspiring lyricist must possess?
Knowledge of Tamil grammar. A lot of people, including me, don’t know much about Tamil grammar. I’m learning as I write and make mistakes. This knowledge will help a lot, especially with flexibility. It is not just about being correct. I feel the need for this a lot when I work on dubbed movies because you’ll have to fit in words to match the lip movement, concept, meaning and to also the tune. There are lots of constraints…that’s when the beauty of grammar really helps.
5 must-read books?
I’m not much of a reader. I’ve read only 10 to 12 books in my life apart from the school text books. I’m more of a visual person who loves to watch movies, documentaries, explore art and listen to people. But not read. But I would recommend Sapiens to everyone, it is by Yuval Noah Harari.
5 Tamil films songs or lyricists a future writer must study?
A lot of works by Pattukottai Kalayanasundaram, Kannadasan and my dad. With Pattukkottai, you must learn how he uses simple language to express hard-hitting concepts and facts, yet in a very powerful manner. From Kannadasan, one must learn how he uses daily words to express the most complex emotions and relationships that can make you melt. From my father, I like his techniques. Like how he uses science to explain love.
A technique to improve writing?
Keep writing, keep making mistakes. I ask writers to take existing songs, imagine the same situation and write new lines to fit the meter. That will help them understand the working style. People find it tough to understand tunes. But when you try this out, you shouldn’t let the words of that song influence you. You shouldn’t try to end a line, for instance, using the same syllable as the one that’s already being used in the song. So I suggest they listen to non-Tamil songs and imagine a new situation for it before writing it in Tamil.
One thing they should never do while writing?
Use their mobiles. It’s distracting. I too have started doing that. Whenever I write, I make sure I leave my phone with my wife. I’ve also put a timer to reduce my phone usage. I’ve cut it down from four hours per day to around two hours and 15 minutes. I want to reduce it ever further. Social networking can really be a pain when you’re writing. You open one page and it can lead to so many new pages and then you realise you’ve lost the plot. I finish a song much faster when my phone is away.