In It to Win It - A Lyrical Strike on Cancer

Written by Krishnan Sivaramakrishnan on 27 February 2019

How do you stall the advance of the second largest killer disease in the country—Cancer? You need a mass movement—nothing less. This is a story of one in the making.

Deadly is the picture painted by cancer stats. The ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) estimates that every day 1300 people die because of cancer—on an average, one death every minute.

Deadlier still is the plight of the sufferers and their families. Cancer detection comes like a death notice. It chokes the will of the sufferer and the spirit of the family. In most cases, detection is late. That limits the treatment options doctors can offer the affected. And, often, these options come at steep costs.

It is this sad human plight that forms the theme of a new song—“In It to Win It”—created and produced by the Shankar Mahadevan Academy. Bristling with spirit, even outrage, the song pumps you to get up and act.

The story behind the song

I watched this song and found it impactful. Catchy lyrics, stirring messages, impressive choreography, it had it all. Curious, I popped a few questions across to Sridhar Ranganathan, the Academy’s co-founder. He answered them in no time. The story behind the song seemed to me as impressive as its presentation on video. Here is an excerpt of the Q&A:

What was the Aha moment for producing this song?

It was a casual conversation between me and Ramesh Kumar Shah, founder of the Cancerve Foundation, an online platform that is a helping hand to needy cancer patients and their families. After our conversation, I went back and wrote a few lines.

Main Cancer hun, Main bhayanak hun

Main bedh bhav nahi rakta , Main Cancer hun 

Main Shareer ka athankvad hun, Main Cancer hun 

Main raes garibi nahi samajta, Main dharm karm nahi jaanta

Main Cancer hun, Mera eelaaj karna mushkil hain

Mera rogiyon har jaga hain, Main Cancer hun

Main insanniyat nahi jaanta, Main sarvanaash ka Roop hun, Main Cancer hun

And I thought it would be a very cool idea to express them in a Rap format. It would engage people, and draw their attention to the problem. And the song “In It to Win It” was born.

As part of its social programs, Shankar Mahadevan Academy has a tradition of producing one song every year on social causes. For 2019 we chose “In It to Win It” as the social-cause theme—a theme that will allow us to extend support to those affected by cancer.

How did you turn the initial lines into a song?

We produced the song in three passes. A worldwide lyrics contest, open for 3 weeks, fetched 30 entries. The winning song lyrics came from Jyoti Kunder. The lyrics for the Rap portion came from Varun Ramaswamy. The tune was composed in the 3-4 weeks that followed, and the video produced in 15 days thereafter.

We wrapped up the shoot of the song, directed by Sanober Khan of the Harshad Rajpure Films, in 45 days, within the first two months of 2019. The streets of Mumbai and the Tata Memorial Hospital served as the locales for the song. And we released the song on Monday, 25th February, 2019, exactly a week before the Academy completed its 8th year.

Who is the song meant for?

The song will be taught to all the schools connected with the Shankar Mahadevan Academy. And it will be taught to students at the Academy who take the Grow With Music program. We will also look at every way to spread this song to general audiences and society at large. I think that music is a powerful medium to inspire people and get them to act.

What is the message of this song?

One message is cancer can strike anybody. Another is persons affected by cancer only look for our support, understanding, care and perhaps a bit of empathy—no need for pity, no need to shun them. It is not anybody's fault, and especially not their fault, that they got cancer.

What action do you want from people who watch the song on video?

One clear action I would like is to see the song as a catalyst in getting more companies to provide CSR funds for really poor people suffering from cancer. Another action is to see everybody doing their bit to increase awareness of cancer. I would also like to see concrete action toward early detection.

The song also carries a subtle message that all human beings are one. “In It to Win It” taps that into feeling—it’s like calling out to people, “Let’s fight it together, and conquer cancer.

The Takeaways

Q&A over, it was now time for me to write about what I took away from this experience.

A vehicle that runs on emotion

Even a small pebble can create ripples. It is instinctive of the Academy to choose a song as a vehicle to convey messages about fighting cancer. It’s a vehicle that can ride far. Nothing works as well as a song to bind layers of information in a compact way. When a song calls out people to act, the message strikes a chord.

A lifeline for affected families

Next, if you ask me to write just one word about the song, I would just pick “support”. To support is to give affected families the strength and will to stay in the ring and fight the disease. The very least we can do is extend understanding and care. The best we can do is help the needy meet the costs of treatment. Active support of this kind can be a lifeline for the affected families.

Awareness is the best defense

Support can even go a step above and beyond this. What if we were all to spread awareness—actively, diligently, urgently. Every family needs to know why cancer exists, how it’s born, how it grows, how it looks, and how to detect it early. ICMR states that awareness is indeed our best defense against rising death rates. And “In It to Win It” is a call-to-action for that kind of support.

As I wind up this story, two lines from the Q&A come together in my mind:

“Cancer can strike anybody. It’s not anybody's fault that they get cancer.”

“All human beings are one.”

And the lines makes me wonder:

Even cancer treats us all as one. Why can’t we?