Making melodies

Composer-lyricist duo, Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire, on their work in PK, being rebels in the mainstream and creating soulful tunes in the age of cut-and-paste music

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | New Delhi | Published:December 7, 2014 12:50 am
Lyricist Swanand Kirkire and composer Shantanu Moitra (source: Express photo by Amit Chakravarty) Lyricist Swanand Kirkire and composer Shantanu Moitra (Source: Express photo by Amit Chakravarty)

While recording a romantic song, Shaan walked up to music composer Shantanu Moitra and admitted that after a long time he had been asked to sing in the C scale, which brings out the gentleness in the voice of a male playback singer. Shaan later told Moitra that he enjoyed the session particularly because he did not adhere to today’s flashy music norms, where one is made to sing at the top of their voices. “In my interpretation of a love song, nobody screams,” says Moitra. The song Chaar Kadam for Rajkumar Hirani’s PK, thus, has a nursery rhyme-like melody, debunking popular trends that drive film music. The lyrics too, are simple, penned by Hirani’s long-time collaborator and lyricist Swanand Kirkire.

While some of PK’s compositions have a familiarity to them, reminiscent of Moitra’s work on 3 Idiots, it is a relief to hear songs that don’t use auto-tune, with arrangements that are uncluttered.

Moitra and Kirkire confess that PK’s music is a knee-jerk reaction to film music today. “There is a perception that the youth is dumb and only parties. I see young people attending Hari Prasad Chaurasia’s concerts as well,” says Moitra. “When you sit in the canteen, humming to a guitar being strum, do you think of auto-tune before breaking into a song? With singers such as Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam and Shaan, I just throw a tune at them and they add to the song in ways I could never imagine,” Moitra adds. The composer has stayed away from the use of electronic music in PK, making way for composer duo Ajay-Atul to work on the song Tharki Chokro. “I am not very comfortable with the new age arrangements. But in the songs I composed, I’ve used orchestra with a treatment that is almost baroque. Like chamber music,” he adds.

Kirkire says that unlike other Hirani films which belonged to “one world”— 3 Idiots, for example, had a setting of a college campus — PK has many worlds. “You have Aamir Khan’s character who is from an ambiguous world, Sanjay Dutt’s is Rajasthani and Anushka Sharma’s comes from an urban setting,” says the lyricist, who is working with Ilayaraja for R Balki’s Shamitabh and Amit Trivedi for Fitoor. But in this increasingly commercialised scene, where lyric writing is suffering the most, PK gave Kirkire the chance to be profound and entertaining at the same time. Moitra aptly describes Kirkire’s style of writing as “lingo of the streets”.

This composer-lyricist duo has delivered some of the most soulful Hindi film albums, such as Parineeta (2005) and Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi (2003), working with like-minded directors. But where they truly struck a successful, ongoing partnership is with Hirani, with whom they have created memorable albums such as Lage Raho Munnabhai (2007) and 3 Idiots (2009). According to Kirkire, what connects him with Moitra is their rebellious attitude. “When my father or teachers asked me not to do a certain thing, I did just that. It continues here and it has worked well for us. You don’t tell me what not to do,” he says.

It also helps that neither had set out for a career in Bollywood. Kirkire, also a singer, is a theatre actor and is making his debut in Prakash Jha’s upcoming film. Moitra has his passion projects too. “For us, music is not limited to films. We recently recorded an album with the Pakistani musicians Zeb and Haniya. I didn’t want to leave my fantastic life and music in Delhi to work in Bollywood all my life. I was supposed to do selective projects and go back,” says Moitra.

Over the past two years Moitra’s worked on the National Award-winning score for Telugu film Na Bangaaru Talli, Shyam Benegal’s TV series Samvidhaan, Madras Cafe and Bobby Jasoos.

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