One name that is synonymous with the new-found revival of Kannada cinema is the master lyricist and poet, Jayant Kaikini. One of our volunteers, Vaishakhi, was fortunate enough to spend some time and exchange a few words with the gifted wordsmith…
The place was Udupi… the occasion Kadengodlu Shankara Bhat Kavya Prashasti 2009 award ceremony. It is awarded for excellence in the field of Kannada poetry and literature. The award was supposed to be given to two people. One of them, however, refused to accept it. The organizers agreed to his request off-stage. But the poet got the shock of his life on the dais when the organizers decided to give the award to him anyway. He had to be literally pinned down to the seat like a child on a dentist’s chair. It was none other than Jayant Kaikini!!
If the people on stage had not forced him to be seated he would have probably chased everyone out! For being a lyricist whose songs won the hearts of the youth across the state, he certainly has the heart of a child.
Anisuthide yaako indu
Nanene lucky endu
These words kept coming back to me as I geared up to meet the man behind the words himself. If you were expecting your average, snobbish stereotyped film industry elite, then you would have been in in for a shock. His demeanour was amazingly polite, down-to-earth, affable and energetic. It was hard to believe that this was the same person who had won 4 Sahitya Academy awards (including one at the tender age of 19), numerous other awards and is the best lyricist in the Kannada film scene at present.
When he addressed the audience he spoke with such fervor and sincerity that it could put a veteran politician to shame. It was a joy listening to him. He spoke about the current media scene and the commercialization of literature. He ended his speech thanking the youth as he said if it weren’t for them he would have never reached where he is now. At the end of the event I waited patiently as he bid adieu to almost everyone, speaking to everybody with the same jovial affability that seemed to be so integral in Jayanth Kaikini’s personality. After he was done we settled under a tree where we thought would be ideal to have a talk (and indeed even the mosquitoes who normally rule the night, did not disturb us much). Here are a few excerpts from the conversation that followed.
Tell us about your journey from Gokarna to Mumbai and then Bangalore.
I was born in Gokarna, spent my childhood there. In those days there weren’t many options in Bangalore, so after finishing my studies I went to Mumbai. I worked for a factory called Hoechste. Mumbai shaped the vision of life for me. Although Gokarna was a vibrant place, there was a fusion of the past and present. It was, after all, a pilgrimage centre like Udupi. But Mumbai was a liberating experience. In Mumbai, everyone is recognized only by the work they do. They have transcended the barriers of caste and religion. Men and women are treated alike because they work together. Mumbai is the epitome of the saying “work is worship”. In such an atmosphere I could write easily. Also at that time I was away from the mainstream Kannada literature, so I did not have to cater to any trend and could write as I wanted. I enjoyed life so I wrote to understand life better. In 2000, I came to Bangalore as an advisor to a television channel. And I have been staying there since.
How did you start writing songs for films?
When I was in Mumbai, I hadn’t started writing poems yet. I used to write prose or plays. Vyaasaraaya Ninjoor inspired me to write poems. He is a great writer, who did not receive the fame he deserved. In fact, there is also an enzyme named after him called the Ninjoor enzyme. It was after his inspiration that I started writing poems. When I came to Bangalore, I was exposed to the media. As everyone, I was a big film buff, only I never thought I would write songs for films myself. When Yograj Bhat, director of Mungaaru Male, came to me to write a song for the movie, I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t sure if being a 50 year old man, I could write a love song. But I did anyway, and that is how ‘Anisuthide’ came to happen. And the rest is history.
Can you tell us about your songs and how it was like to write them?
After Mungaaru Male I became a little choosy. I usually write songs only for good projects. Because a good song needs a good movie to sustain it and vice versa. Although I have written some 70 songs, only some 50 are in vogue because they are in good films. And in India songs easily outlive the films. In fact it is not any ideology that has united India, but Bollywood songs that have done the job. They remain the same whether in Kashmir or Kanyakumari. Bollywood songs have knit India together like never before and this is a phenomenon seen only here. We listen to and hum the songs and forget our daily routine, trying to find a few pleasurable minutes between the humdrum of life. Most of the time, we wouldn’t have seen the film itself. In India we have a unique and rich legacy of songs. And I am happy to be a part of it.
If we say that Gopalkrishna Adiga was the pioneer of the Navya kavya style of poetry, will it be true to say that you are the pioneer of the modern style in poetry.
No. my regular works, i.e. my other poems, are like Gopalkrishna Adiga’s poems. The poems that I have written in the past 30 years cannot be sung. They are blank verse-mukta chanda saara. While writing film songs, we have to write it to the tune that is given to us.
What are your other works?
I have written about 5 anthologies of short stories, 5 books of poetry, 3 plays and two non-fiction books. About 14-15 books in total.
And the Sahitya Academy award?
Yes I got the Sahitya Academy award for four of my works. One of them I got at the age of 19. So that one has become famous as I was really young at that time. Not that I am old now, of course!
What did you get the Filmfare award for?
I got it for Minchaagi neenu baralu from Gaalipata.
Have you been associated with the advertising world in any way earlier?
When I was in Mumbai, I used to voice over for advertisements. I also used to translate them into Kannada. After coming to Bangalore, I have done a lot of other things. I was an editor for a magazine called Bhavana. Then I was an advisor for ETV for some time. I also worked as a free-lance talk show anchor for ETV Kannada. Right now I am a member of the jury in Ede thumbi Haaduvenu, the talent show organized by SP Balasubramaniam.
What do you think makes your songs different and pleasurable to hear?
I try to bring out the abstraction in love. Once you use the word love there isn’t really much left to say. You might as well go to Archie’s and buy a greeting card. When a person is falling in love, there is a grey area in between which cannot be understood directly, and that is the most enigmatic part. As such you cannot literally analyze the meaning of the words, but the abstraction gives it a new meaning. I like the way Javed Akhtar and Gulzar write songs as they keep trying new expressions. I wish more good films would come, then good songs can last longer.
Do you feel, given the new trend in films and songs, the youth are coming back to Kannada?
Of course they are. There is now a trend, were listening to Kannada songs is considered fashionable. But it is more important that we speak Kannada at home. Kannada has now become a dining table or kitchen language. This is not a healthy trend. We should speak in Kannada at home. No matter what language the child speaks outside, or which medium he or she is studying in, parents and relatives should ensure their conversation is only in Kannada.
So do you think Kannada has a future? Especially now when English medium is given more importance and most of the teachers cannot even teach Kannada as a second language properly.
Yes indeed, Kannada does have a future. Kannada is the poor man’s language. As long as there is poverty in India, Kannada will be there. Being the elite few, who manage to get two square meals a day, when we speak of culture and language, it really does not make any sense. The real custodians of our language are the poor people.
Lastly, do you have any message for the youth?
No. I don’t believe giving any messages or even receiving any messages from others.
With this we concluded our little parley. I was left with a feeling that while he ostensibly did not give any message, his life itself was a message told to people in the same melodious words as his songs. It was a message loving your language and culture. As one may realize, I did not ask him about his future plans. He was a person who sprung surprises on people like a jack-in-the-box. So, I thought it would be better to wait and watch what is coming up next.