Music composer Amit Trivedi and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya talk about their ambitious 14 song album of ‘Bombay Velvet’, creating a new genre called Hindi jazz and teaming up with Anurag Kashyap six years after ‘Dev D’ that bagged National Award for music.
Anurag Kashyap said the boldest thing about Bombay Velvet is it’s music: full-blown, uncompromising jazz. Given the current trend-driven market, were you guys sceptical about its commercial viability?
Trivedi: The film revolves around a jazz bar existing in Bombay of the 50s and the 60s. The market may have changed now with very few musicians in Mumbai are doing jazz today. But the city used to have a flourishing jazz culture around that period. We had to be truthful and authentic to that world.
Bhattacharya: Jazz is not really music for the layman. So, the only way to make it palatable to the regular Indian listener was to go Hindi and keep the lyrics very simple.
So, this gave birth to a new genre?
Trivedi: We call it ‘Hindi jazz’. Each song has a story. The basic essence is authentic jazz, it’s the old world vibe: the arrangement, the grandness. But the melodies are Indian, created to suit today’s audience’s taste while keeping that era in mind. It’s the merging of two worlds from different countries — the big band jazz with its Afro-American origins combined with the Hindi film music — the kind popularised by OP Nayyar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and Geeta Dutt.
What kind of research did you do for the film’s music? Tell us about the recording with live musicians in Prague.
Trivedi: I listened to a lot standard jazz and classic jazz from that era to imbibe the feel. At first, we had planned to go to New Orleans, that is considered to be a hub for jazz music where the best of old school to modernday jazz exists. It somehow didn’t work out. But I told the production house that I needed to have a big band jazz group from London or Prague. Vivek Agarwal from Phantom Films helped by shortlisting a number of bands. We finally went to Prague, the mecca of philharmonic orchestra and home to the best big band orchestra available in the European subcontinent. The experience of recording with 100-plus musicians was unlike anything I have done in Bollywood. We recorded with some of the best session musicians in the business who have played for Hollywood stalwarts such as Hans Zimmer and John Williams.
We also recorded quite a bit in Chennai and some in Mumbai. Gino Banks, one of the brightest jazz drummers in India, has featured in more than five songs of Bombay Velvet.
Playback singer Neeti Mohan is the star of the album, how did you zero in on her?
Trivedi: Anurag first told me about Bombay Velvet six years ago. I had many singers in mind for the female protagonist. But I couldn’t lock a singer till the cast was finalised. Once Anushka Sharma came on board, I instantly associated her with Neeti, especially because of Jiya Re, a song she had sung for AR Rahman in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. She has a vibrant voice. I needed a voice that would seamlessly transform into Anushka’s on the screen.
But to get Neeti do the job took a lot of hard work. Generally singers today just walk into the studio, learn the song then and there and deliver it immediately. In this case, she had to live with the songs. It was a two-year long exercise for her to get deeper into the film’s world. We went through a number of workshops and music sessions. I had to be friends with Neeti before I could make her sing. I had to explore her past relationships and link them to the emotions of the song. For example, for the recording of the painful, operatic Dhadam Dhadam, I locked her up in a dark room. I told her not to think about the song but just left her to the moment. I felt pathetic bringing all her past back. But I had to make sure she gets it right.
Bhattacharya: Her voice has the right kind of jazz sensibilities with a certain Hindustaniyat.
Bombay Velvet, in many ways, is like a good old fashioned Hindi film album. The singer is paramount to the song and the album is both woven into the narrative and works independently. How has the response been?
Trivedi: My challenge was to do this right. I think we as a generation are losing patience. We walk out of a movie the moment we get bored. Great things aren’t happening today. But we thought of bringing back the golden era with Bombay Velvet.
I’ve got a thumbs up from jazz purists, critics and true connoisseurs of good music. I am happy about that. As far as the commonman is concerned, the music is gradually growing on them. We know it won’t be an instant success and won’t be played all over. It’s not Baby Doll. The Bombay Velvet album will need its own time and patience. Almost all the songs are used in the movie and Anurag has used them uniquely in his storytelling. I believe it will eventually find its way into audience’s heart once they watch the film.
Bhattacharya: As an artist, Bombay Velvet was a kind of experience I have never had. I discovered another side of me. If one notices, I write more contemporary and casual lyrics. Here, I’ve tried to keep the lyrics minimalistic, simple yet profound. I have received a lot of messages from people who have genuinely found the work interesting.
Behroopiya doesn’t seem to belong to the album…
Trivedi: Many people have told us about this. Behroopiya was tried at the end when everybody got scared of so much jazz, especially the marketing people. The producers got wary and suggested that we should have something that “today’s audience” can relate to. So we had to make a love song that was a little modern. We were against it but you have to do a few things you don’t want to in Bollywood. But quite unbelievably, that’s the song people seem to be liking the most. That’s the Indian market for you, which is demographically so diverse.
Kashyap apparently came up with phrase ‘Emotional Attyachar’ because he misheard something Bhattacharya wrote. It’s six years after Dev.D that the three of you have come together for feature film (barring the short film in Bombay Talkies). How involved is he in the process?
Trivedi: He is the same guy, who gives a hell lot of freedom, isn’t scared and goes all out if he has to. In this case, opting for a full-blown jazz soundtrack. Working with him feels like home. He is involved in every step of the process: song recording, dubbing, sitting with singers and writing sessions.
Bhattacharya: Soon after Dev.D came out, when Anurag came up with the idea of making Bombay Velvet. He wanted it to have a song called Dil Gira Dhadam. He had already told about it to Amit, who developed a song over the years. Meanwhile, Anurag came up with another idea built on the song: this time, with the phrase Dhadkane Goonjti Dhadam Dhadam. True to his knack for juxtaposing things, he wanted that incorporated into a song of heartbreak.
There is a song called Darbaan, the only in the album from the 3rd person perspective of the journey of Ranbir’s character, someone who has risen from the city’s muscle-power and politics. For the song, Anurag’s brief was that the character has all that it takes to make it big and break into the elite circle, signified by the alishaan makaan in the song. But there is always that bully, that darbaan who will not let you rise.