The voice, guitar and keyboard come together to create chartbusters. Not just box-office winners, they want their songs to elicit wah-wahs from music-lovers too. Truly, three is a magic number! Chitra Swaminathan meets Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, who are on a musical overdrive.
The Amar-Akbar-Anthony of Bollywood music Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and their work are as colourful as a Bollywood blockbuster.
“Hindi film songs were a huge part of our musical diet during our growing-up years. So, it’s wonderful to make music in Bollywood that has a global presence today. Tunes you churn out in a Mumbai studio are hummed in Massachusetts and Melbourne. And top-of-the-chart is certainly an exciting place to be in,” says Shankar with a broad smile on his clean-shaven face. He and his music partners, Ehsaan and Loy were in the city recently to perform at the ‘Heal the World’ concert. Despite a hectic recording schedule, the awesome threesome has not given up doing shows. “It’s rejuvenating to be on stage,” says Shankar.
They are also furiously working on an album. “We are keen to release it soon. It will be packed with compositions straight from our hearts,” says the nattily-attired Ehsaan.
Ask one of the first trio music composers in Hindi cinema if three is good company, and the tall and fair keyboardist Loy quips: “Going by our track record, aren’t you convinced?”
Juggling with genres
The three heads juggle with multiple genres to come up with tunes that sometimes appeal to the heart (‘Maa’ or the title track of ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’) and sometimes to the feet (‘It’s the time to disco’ or ‘Kajra re’). “When it comes to films, we always work as a trio. Then, we disband and do our own thing. For instance, I do fusion concerts with the likes of Zakir Hussain, U. Shrinivas and John McLaughlin. It’s another feeling to sing classical compositions. They keep you rooted. In fact, it’s a long-cherished dream to spend an entire day in Chennai, during the December Season, attending kutcheris. Hope I am able to do it this year,” says Shankar. “Not one day, I can spend several days here,” chips in Loy, “tucking into my favourite idli-dosa-sambar.”
Any plans of composing music for a Tamil film? “If we get an opportunity, why not? Music is about seven notes; language hardly matters,” says guitarist Ehsaan.
Their varied musical orientation and exposure have helped them create compositions that have many shades and defy being slotted. Even amongst them, the musical lines have blurred so much that Ehsaan sometimes comes up with a beautiful classical piece while Shankar suggests a guitar riff.
Twelve years of partnership and several hit songs later, the trio continues to operate like college buddies chatting over chai and samosas. “Passion for music and creative challenges bind us. Most compositions happen during friendly banter. At work, we are completely chilled out,” says Loy.
So, how does a composition take shape? “Simple — instinct, imagination and impulse,” say the trio, whose forthcoming releases are “My name is Khan”, “Wake up Sid” and “London Dreams”.
The three come from an advertising background. Loy has also done television. He wrote for programmes such as Prannoy Roy’s ‘The World This Week’ and Siddhartha Basu’s quiz shows. Ehsaan has many popular jingles to his credit, while Shankar has sung for jingles, films, and did ‘Breathless’ with Javed Akhtar.
Proverbial outsiders in the industry, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have been doing music for many big banners and their songs stand out for their decent lyrics. “We are fortunate to have set a standard. We are not choosy about our projects. We are particular about working with the right people — directors who understand our work and are ready to experiment with sound. So, those who come to us never make ridiculous demands. Even an item number such as ‘Kajra re’, when penned by a lyricist such as Gulzar saab, sounds like a literary piece,” emphasises Shankar.