I am just the echo of your silence: Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry

The veteran Telugu lyricist, who was recently awarded the Padma Shri, believes that every song he writes is an award in itself
Seetharama Sastry
Seetharama Sastry

Seetharama Sastry, the literary doyen, who was bestowed with the Padma Shri recently, was honoured by the Film Critics Association in Hyderabad. Talking at the event, Sastry said, “Padma Shri is an award, not a title. I always was, am and will be Seetharama Sastry.”

Before speaking to the press at the informal conference, the lyricist clarified that there was one question which really irked him. “Please don’t ask me ‘how I felt’ on receiving the award,” he quipped adding, “How will anyone feel? I was surprised and of course happy to receive the love of the people who sent in my nomination. That is bigger than any title.” 

Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry believes that every song he writes is an award in itself. Sirivennela, the first movie he wrote songs for, turned into his pseudo-identity and became a prefix to his own name. “My pen name was Bharani back then, we contemplated using that for the album as well. But there was another Bharani (Tanikella Bharani) in the industry already. K Viswanath suggested I use my own name along with the movie’s name. I am forever indebted to him for introducing this industry to me,” said Sastry. 

Hearsay is that the veteran lyricist prefers to write during the silent hours of the night. Sastry agreed, and said, “Once there is an idea in the mind, there is a certain restlessness and angst that you need to release through your words. And there are lesser distractions during the night, and the focus is stronger.”

Sastry has a strict rule about how he writes lyrics for cinema. “I never write for a situation or a person. I celebrate universality. Anything that the song is saying should not just adhere to the character and the situation in the film but also apply to anyone who listens to it. Even when I write any hero’s introduction song, it’s not only celebrating him but also the philosophy that anyone can apply,” elucidated the writer. He added as an afterthought, “What is a song? When words can’t express the depth of what one is feeling, you use your imagination and present it in a song. Words that mean one thing when put together with another can mean a completely different abstract emotion. What I write is merely a reflection of what a person is feeling. I am just the echo of your silence.” 

The ongoing debate amongst the cinema music industry is whether lyrics are written to a locked tune or vice versa. After a chuckle, Sastry said, “I am a person who hasn’t learnt the intricasies of writing Telugu poetry. Naku Chandassu radu. I write lyrics on a rhythm, so writing lyrics to the tune is how it should be done. However, I would appreciate it if the music director has me around before locking a tune so that I can share if a word won’t fit the tune.” That is how he deals with creative differences as well. “The business of cinema has numerous people coming together. No two humans in this world will be in absolute agreement. We have to find a common ground and come to an understanding without compromising on quality. Moderation is the key.”

As time goes by, change is inevitable. And so are the trends in the cinema, including lyrics. Sastry lamented, “We understand the Spanish line Que Cera Cera but we don’t know what the word Ekimeeda from our own mother tongue means. It is unfortunate. However, I don’t believe time changes. Time doesn’t change, the five elements don’t change, the human emotions don’t change. What changes are habits and experiences. And I write based on human emotion, not on human experience.”

Amidst the debate of how much influence cinema has on the society, Sastry believes that it is the other way round. “Cinema only reflects the society,” he says. He also shares that he has limitations when he writes for movies. “I never write anything that objectifies or demeans a woman - even if I am writing about a sex worker. I won’t write anything that I won’t be able to listen to with my wife and daughter. I also never write anything that wrongly influences youngsters. I will tell them to bunk classes like I did in the song Botany Paatham, but that is because the true learning is beyond marks. It’s beyond closed doors.”  

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