Brand of brothers

With the unprecedented success of Sairat, the talented composer duo Ajay-Atul may have got their long overdue share of national attention

Updated - October 18, 2016 02:58 pm IST

Published - June 04, 2016 08:19 am IST

In a scene in the second half of > Sairat, the Marathi movie that has taken the box office by storm , when a happily married Parshya and Archie pass by in a bike, their eyes fall on a group of local party workers thrashing young lovers for public display of affection. For a brief moment, we see saffron flags in their hands. It refers to the right-wing moral policing we witness in real life.

Sairat is being lauded for redefining the familiar trope of a star-crossed love story with its brutal, uncompromising portrayal of caste. It is ironic, therefore, that while chatting with the composers — brothers Ajay (40) and Atul (42) Gogavale — about Sairat ’s score, the name of politician Raj Thackeray comes up, and in a good way. It turns out that the leader of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a party that has a reputation for doing exactly the things that inspired that scene in the film, was instrumental in giving the talented composer duo their big break in films.

Impressed by their first album Vishwa Vinayaka , Thackeray, a >film and music enthusiast , set the composers up for a meeting with director Ram Gopal Varma.

Varma is a staunch atheist and Vishwa Vinayaka was a devotional album. “He was ready to give a routine listen to a couple of tracks and say no in the end. But the album kept playing and as ‘ Ganeshay Dheemahi ’ began, he got up and started talking, “So, there’s this guy. He is invisible…” It took them a while to realise that Varma was narrating the story of the film he had just offered to them. Except the catchy title song ‘ Gayab ’, not much of the album is remembered. But the composers have never looked back since. They made their entry into Marathi cinema with albums like Aga Bai Arrecha (2004), giving a new direction to Marathi film music.

It was not until Agneepath — a nod to the big, grand and melodious Bollywood — that the composers got pan-India attention. And now, with Sairat gaining national significance, the rest of the country is getting a taste of the original, unadulterated Ajay-Atul. The huge mainstream success of the songs of Sairat is a triumph in today’s age, when the chasm between ‘good’, honest, original film music and widespread popularity is deepening. The infectious ‘ Zingaat ’, playing from mandaps to vada pav stalls alike, has become the new normal in Maharashtra. Their powerful, gooseflesh-inducing ‘ Deva Shree Ganesha ’ from Agneepath remains a Ganpati favourite. And the flute prelude of ‘ Yad Lagale ’ is the hottest ringtone, the latest new song that every Maharashtrian kid taking synthesiser classes want to learn.

From the heartland But the journey before is the classic story of struggle against all odds. Ajay-Atul were born in a family of farmers. Their father’s generation were the first to have jobs in a company or the government.

The musically-inclined brothers grew up in Pune, Junnar and Shirur, with limited access to music. They gobbled up everything from devotional songs to Anup Jalota, Binaca Geetmala to Bappi Lahiri. They never had pocket money to buy cassettes. The occasional free ones would be another source for new music. “There was such tremendous hunger within us to consume music that whatever entered, remained in the system,” says Atul. Simultaneously, the boys participated in whatever musical programmes came their way in school, Ajay singing in the chorus, Atul on the harmonium. They also began learning as many instruments as they could lay their hands on. “We would befriend people with synthesisers, flutes, mouth organs, even a toy drum. We learnt to play any instrument we had for two hours,” Ajay recollects. Later, when they started composing jingles and music for TV serials in Pune, working with rented keyboards, they would pitch their ideas to producers by singing the melodies. “ Mooh se sunate the ,” says Ajay. When one such producer couldn’t pay the promised amount, he gave them the harmonium he had inherited from his father but had never used. “At the time, we would carry the harmonium on a cycle and go for a round of sittings at the producer’s place,” Ajay recalls. This continued till they got their own keyboard. That cost them close to a lakh, for which their parents had to borrow money.

Their student days were a period marked by enthusiasm but without direction. In that pre-Internet era, recalls Ajay, they had no idea what music direction was, let alone things like arrangement or a music conductor. Then, like god showing up in dreams, Ilaiyaraja happened to Ajay-Atul. Watching Appu Raja (1989) changed their lives. “Until then, music was a more frivolous thing. The background music and songs of the film made us realise the power of music and how it can move us,” says Ajay. The duo won a National Award for Marathi film Jogwa in 2010.

While they listened to Ilaiyaraja’s music obsessively, the maestro opened the doors to a whole new world: the Western symphony orchestra. It led to their discovery of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach and eventually Hollywood legends like John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

It won’t be wrong to say that these life-changing influences have culminated in Sairat , where a sweeping symphony orchestra in all its glory has blended with simple, sweet Marathi folk as though they are made for each other. The score is masterfully used by director Nagraj Manjule to distinguish the two contrasting halves of the film. All the four songs come in quick succession in the first half, telling us exactly how to feel.

“We wanted to glorify their love [in a way] that we didn’t want to be limited to Marathi folk. At the same time, we wanted it to be filmy, but not Bollywood filmy. We were keen on keeping words that were very grameen ,” explains Ajay, whose robust, distinctive singing adds to the duo’s unique sound. The second half is full of empty silences. “We wanted the audience to feel Parshya and Archie suffering. We wanted the audience to want to hold on to something.”

And the ‘item song’ of the album, that has resulted in a series of viral videos of people dancing in the aisles, is a cleverly composed track that stays truthful to the film. “If you go to rural Maharashtra today, you will hear some cheap, remix version of a Marathi film song. In ‘ Zingaat ’, we wanted to be true to the texture of the badly-done club mix. It is used as a background score almost, where people are dancing in this party,” says Ajay. The composers, whose other Bollywood works include Singham , Brothers and PK (‘ Tharki Chhokro ’) write their own lyrics in Marathi.

For the score of Sairat (except ‘ Zingaat ’) they went to Los Angeles to record with the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra. Let alone a Marathi film, it’s a first for any Indian musician; the folks at Hollywood told them. “Earlier, we recorded orchestras in Mumbai, Chennai, but we don’t have as many horns and cellos here. We really wanted it to be done by people who had invented it, that would make it sound as good as Hollywood and get them to play Indian melodies. Even when you listen to them on low volume on your phone, you can feel the broad, rich, thick sound. And it is about 80 per cent of what we heard it there, live,” says Atul.

Musically, they complete each other. “We are more like friends than brothers,” says Atul. They are representatives of a rare breed of musician: those who, in spite of all the changes in the film music scene today, have retained the old-fashioned way of composing music.

Their strength is their inclination towards live music and strong, raag-infused melodies, and they want to stick to that. As Atul says, “Why do we go to the movies? Why are there so many speakers in a theatre? We want all the sounds to be used, do as much live music as possible. Synthetic music can’t sustain too long.”

Given their popularity in Marathi cinema and the kind of success they have got in Bollywood, they have done relatively few films. “We look for something challenging. A lot of times, the calls we get sound like a menu card. We avoid those,” says Ajay.

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