Becoming MUNTASHIR

–Discovering Manoj’s journey with words

For those who know Manoj Muntashir as an Indian lyricist, script & screenwriter, I am here to apprise you that he has also turned out to be a celebrated author now as his very first book, ‘Meri Fitrat Hai Mastana’ has been officially ranked amongst top-10 Hindi bestsellers of the decade by Jaipur Literature Festival 2019. Smita Dwivedi in conversation with Manoj Muntashir brings in his passion for words.

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Pen was, is and will be mightier than sword

Manoj, being a native of Majrooh Sultanpuri’s homeland, always wanted to be writer. He was amazed to witness the grandeur of Majrooh’s home visits. This created a huge impact on his young mind and very early in life, he realized the mightiness of Pen and power of Words.

His initial claim to fame was the song “Galliyan” from the film Ek Villain. He later penned the songs “Tere Sang Yaara” from Rustom; “Kaun Tujhe” from M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story and “Phir Bhi Tumko Chaahunga” to name a few.

Latest, to this list is a song titled “Teri Mitti” from ‘Kesari’ starring Akshay Kumar, which is an emotional tribute to every soldier who devoted his life to the nation.

Impressed by his language depth, Baahubali director, S S Rajamouli, entrusted Manoj to write the dialogues and lyrics for the Hindi version of Baahubali: The Conclusion, which had become a rage. Baahubali, inspite of being a Telugu film, has equally amazed and impressed Hindi audience as a huge amount of effort put behind it to keep the essence of the original. He even wrote Hindi dialogues for the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther”.

Serving mother tongue

Having so much acclaim for Bollywood writings, how it feels to be a bestseller author? “I literally feel like quoting Dagh Dehalvi Sahab over here…“Urdu Hai Jiska Naam, Humeein Jaante Hain Dagh… Saare Jahan Me Dhoom Humari Zubaan Ki Hai,” he narrated.

“I am more than happy about my first book being the bestseller. I feel grateful to lots of people. No writer can make a book work if the publisher is not as passionate as him. I was fortunate to have Aditi Goyal Maheshwari of Vani Prakashan as my publisher who takes pride in calling herself ‘Kitabwali’. She is the main reason behind my book selling like hot cakes. From the selection of the poetries to marketing them properly, she did everything like a bolt of fire. Like most writers, I am super lazy and so desperately needed someone to ignite me. Aditi did the same.”

“Recently at Jaipur Literature Festival, “Meri Fitrat Hai Mastana” was officially declared to rank in the Top 10 bestsellers of the decade, making my eyes fill with tears of joy. In a country where Hindi readership is declining rapidly, I could gather some good numbers and that makes me ecstatic. I am proud to be a loyal servant to my mother tongue,” he added.

First words

On asking about his first experiment with writings, he shared, “I started writing when I was only 7. However, that was more of a creative scribbling than writing. I vividly remember writing my first formatted Ghazal at the age of 14. Everything about that Ghazal was either incorrect or innocent, but I didn’t stop as something within me was driving me nuts. I used to hold the pen with the same passion as lads of my age would hold a cricket bat or later the hands of their girlfriends. Words come to me naturally, this was an instant realization.”

Getting booked

On asking about his experience of writing the first book, he shared, “Meri Fitrat Hai Mastana” was never written as a book. It’s more of a compilation which encapsulates my work over the last 20 years. In 1999, I moved to Mumbai to fetch my career in films. Soon after I became extremely busy with Television, I barely had any time left for the personal kind of writing. I was loaded with deadlines and the poet inside me was struggling to find a space. But how long can you keep a cat away from the milk? I bounced back to the world of imagination. I would steal time to let my expressions flow freely. Sometimes 10 poems in a month would manifest on paper and sometimes months would pass by without writing a single word. Years passed by and I started realizing I have enough material to compile into a book.”

A book is always a best friend

While sharing about his favourite books and authors who have influenced him, he said, “It would be difficult to tell as the list is very long. In fact, the list is never-ending. Starting with ‘Ghalib’ whom I read when I was merely 7, to ‘Faiz’, who romanticized my vision of the world, to ‘Josh Mailhabadi’ who made the blood in my veins boil, to ‘Premchandra’, ‘Amritlal Nagar’, ‘Nirala’, ‘Dinkar’ and finally ‘Sahir’ who is the reason for whatever Manoj Muntashir is today…I was inspired by many.”

“The books which inspired me the most was, ‘Freedom At Midnight’ by Larry Collins & Dominic, ‘My Experiments with Truth’ by Gandhi, ‘Talkhiyan’ by Sahir, ‘Ghazal’ by Majrooh, ‘Firaq Sahab’ and ‘Maine Firaq Ko Dekha Tha’ by Ramesh Chandra Dwivedi, ‘Tarkash’ by Javed Akhtar and many more,” he added.

Being a youth icon

Manoj has a huge fan following on social media, and his work is creating magic with millions of views, likes, shares, and emojis. According to him, “The reason is simple. I talk to them in their language. I never come with a baggage of knowledge. My role is to entertain first and then educate if I get some space. I remember one of my songs, ‘Tere Sang Yaara’, in which I used the words ‘Zard Sitara’ which became so popular that people googled to find out the meaning of ‘Zard’. While keeping my listeners entertained, I could add one new word to their vocabulary and that is exactly what I plan to continue doing.”

“We have always undermined the sensibilities of the youth. It’s quite cynical to say they don’t understand good thoughts or deep poetry. It’s just that, you have to befriend them first. Once they trust you, they will give you all their heart and soul and make your work the bestseller.”

Be a Reader…Always!

On asking about message for budding authors and writers, he shared simple rather common advice, which he himself got from legendary Gulzar Saab, “Read, read and read, till you are brimmed with thoughts and it starts overflowing. One cannot be a good author/writer, if he/she has not exposed his mental abilities to variety of literature from different genres, periodic eras, cult, countries and languages.”

What Next!

So, are there plans to write more books in future? “I never do anything halfheartedly. I always put my heart and soul into my work. For me writing something is just 15 minutes job, but it has to come naturally. However, preparations for the same can take hours, weeks and sometimes months,” he replied. As per him, “One aspect, for which I have great inputs is Parenting, so next book is going to be on Parenting. My relationship with my mother is outstanding and it hasn’t changed a bit over the years or after getting success. My father still scolds me and mother still caresses me. My mother is strong force behind my success. And I want to remain indebted always.”

On a Concluding Note

While concluding, Manoj shared a wonderful thought about unleashing the ‘real’ Muntashir, “Writing for cinema is still my first love, but writing books is my responsibility for the generation that believes in my words. I must offer something beyond candyfloss entertainment. In addition, when I am writing for the cinema, I am controlled, whereas the real Muntashir gets unleashed when I am writing for myself. Infact my favorite activity is going on long walks early morning with Muntashir.

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