Music

Of love stories, angst-y songs of longing

As compliments pour in from the industry for his title song for Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, composer Pritam talks about what drives his creations

Composer Pritam confesses that his head is buzzing; 11 a.m. is an unearthly hour for him to have woken up for our meeting. He is a creature of the night. Distracted by the ‘sweet’ tape recorder icon on our recording app and worried that he hadn’t trimmed his beard for the photo session, the normally hard-to-pin-down Pritam eventually takes a seat to field our long list of questions. Excerpts:

Let’s begin by taking you back a little… What are your earliest memories of music?

My father had a music school in the house. I remember my father had a show. He used to play the steel guitar, lap guitar to perform Rabindra Sangeet and Bengali songs. He made me play the maraca. Since I was very small and playing in rhythm, I got a lot of attention from the audience.

When did composing happen for the first time?

In Class VIII… no, IX I think. I made a song for a girl, which appeared in a film also.

Which film was this?

Was it an album? I don’t remember now. I wrote that song in Bengali.

Did she get to hear it?

Utna tak nahin hua [it never reached that far]. She shifted to Meghalaya. All the small memories of love, hurt and happiness inspire my compositions. Not at that point in time, but they always are in your subconscious.

Do love stories inspire you more than any other genre of cinema?

I love doing love stories, I love doing angst-y songs. They come naturally to me — the longing-wala gaana.

But as a film student you learnt sound recording at the Film and Television Institute of India?

I learnt sound recording by accident. I had no intention of going into films. I was studying geology, Earth sciences in Presidency College, Kolkata. I thought if you study geology, you get to travel. But no one told me you travel to godforsaken places where there is nobody, where you roam around all day with a compass and map in hand and learn fossil names.

I started getting ready for the Civil Services. But I used to play in bands — guitar and bass. I saw this advertisement for the film institute. The FTII exam and the income tax inspector exam were on the same day. I left home with both admit cards. While waiting at the bus stand, two buses for the FTII exam centre came and none for the income tax exam. So I boarded one for the FTII exam. It is all destiny.

FTII changed things for me even though I haven’t taken sound as a profession. It helped me grow holistically, to understand the medium of cinema. I would have never come to Bombay if not for FTII. As a lower middle-class boy from Bengal, I would not have had the guts.

Resul Pookutty was my senior. [Hungarian filmmaker] István Gaál was making a short film in the institute. I was very close to the music professor Kedar Avati who was doing music for him.

How did you enter Hindi cinema?

While doing sound, I started doing music for everybody at the FTII. By the time I was in my third year, I was the official music director. In my batch, out of the eight diploma films I scored for six. There was a huge TV serial boom at that time; everybody was making a pilot for the channels and needed one title song. The seniors, Batul Mukhtiar and Shabnam Sukhdev, used to call me, aake music kar le. They gave me my first job. Onir’s sister, Irene Dhar Malik, used to study at the institute. Whatever Onir used to edit — he was an editor at that time — he used to call me for the music. I used to take the bus [to Mumbai] at night with my keyboards, do the music and come back [to Pune]. All these people pulled me towards music. I started doing lots of ads — all of Raju [Rajkumar] Hirani’s work. Raju was editing Sanjay Gadhvi’s film. Gadhvi did Tere Liye and Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai with us [as a duo with Jeet Gannguli]. That’s how the film journey started.

Was Dhoom the turning point?

Sharara Sharara’ and ‘Jaage Jaage Armaan’ (from Mere Yaar…) were big hits but that didn’t lead to any job. Work took off after Dhoom. Anurag Basu, Vishesh Films, Venus and Priyadarshan took a liking to me. My associations with them started.

How do you decide on the music for a film?

See, I have been a film student. The songs come from the script. My sound varies with the script. I have always designed my sound. However commercial the film might be, there is always a thought behind it. For example a Love Aaj Kal or a Jab We Met or a Singh is Kinng is heavily influenced by Punjabi because of the characters.

You can’t expect a Veer Singh (Love Aaj Kal) to sing a retro song or an R.D. Burman kind of song/ He will sing ‘Ahoon Ahoon’ or ‘Aaj Din Chadheya Tere Rang Varga’. Where did the Barfi sound come from? It is set in retro Kolkata so the sound is very retro. All songs have that old-world charm

How has the response been to the two songs of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) so far?

The music is topping the charts everywhere. I haven’t got so many compliments from within the industry for my work as I have for the title song.

People have also been criticising the title song for being like a (Mahesh) Bhatt song…

When I used to work for the Bhatts (Vishesh Films), I used to have a rock ballad kind of a sound for them: angst-y, longing songs with great lyrics. What you hear as the Vishesh Film sound today started with me. Anu Malik worked a lot with them. He and Nadeem-Shravan gave a very Indian, dholak tabla touch to that longing song. I carried on the same colour and philosophy, but it became more ballady and rock-based. It started with Gangster.

People are telling me Ae Dil Hai Mushkil sounds like a Bhatt dardwala gaana. It’s a genre that I have created; it’s my own style that I have gone back to. Why go back? Because ADHM has a script which is about unfulfilled love; it has lots of angst. I have kept the songs very simple because Ayaan [Ranbir Kapoor’s character] as a musician is very raw; he isn’t evolved. He sings from the heart.

Does criticism bother you?

I am oversensitive. Some criticism has no base. On the Internet, in the name of anonymity, you can comment on anything and hit below the belt. Good, positive criticism is always welcome. It feeds my energy.

Someone stated that KK [singer] would have suited the ADHM song better. It’s a valid opinion, but why Arijit Singh? Because there are totally different kinds of songs in the film — from Sufi with lots of harkat to even an item song. There are only a few singers who could handle all kinds of genres. Arijit is the closest to me, I have seen him grow as a singer. Also, the protagonist, Ayaan’s voice cannot change in each song. The film version of ‘Bulleya’ is in Arijit’s voice, not Amit Mishra’s.

People haven’t liked the Sufi music itself… they say it’s been done to death…

More than me Amitabh Bhattacharya [the lyricist] can answer this question. When I composed I didn’t know words like rooh, jazeera, bulleya will be used. Amitabh has made it Sufi; the music was not that.. Agar wo love lyrics daal deta to ye love song ho jaata. It has got to do completely with the poetry. He has got Bulleh Shah in it.

Sometime back you came out clean on charges levelled against ‘Pyaar Ki Pungi’? Did that settle the debate that raged against you regarding plagiarism?

Whatever happened earlier happened. Then I took a decision to stop it. Now whenever there is any false thing coming up, the legal team takes action. The ‘Pungi’ controversy was unnecessary. Once we hit back, they apologised openly.

Does it hurt when people point a finger because of what happened earlier?

Of course, it hurts. People are callous. They form opinions easily. I have to take it in my stride. If it goes beyond a point, we take action.

There are accusations about ‘Bulleya’ too — about borrowing from Papa Roach and Iron Maiden

Uska koi notes match nahin karta hai [The notes do not match]. You can’t fight with anonymous people. That 1/16th quantisation guitar plays in every metal song. If someone defames me, we will take action.

What do you aim for with your music?

Whenever the final mixing and mastering happens, I always tell myself the song no longer belongs to me. It belongs to the public. I was introduced to a couple as the composer of Jab We Met. They asked me, “‘Tum Se Hi’ is your song?” Then they said, “No it is our song. We fell in love and married through that song. It is part of our life.” That’s what actually drives me to the music. Somewhere, somebody might be falling in love or creating a memory or experience through my music.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 11:50:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Of-love-stories-angst-y-songs-of-longing/article14683799.ece

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