If you are a fan of the film Umrao Jaan, then gear up to experience a musical that will transport you to the era of royalty.
Directed by Rajeev Goswami, the musical Umrao Jaan Ada is adapted from the Urdu classic Umrao Jaan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa. The music for the play has been composed by Bollywood’s ace music directors Salim-Sulaiman. The duo sat down with indianexpress.com to talk about the play, the music industry today and much more.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Umrao Jaan the film is iconic. Was it exciting to give music to Umrao Jaan the play?
Sulaiman: Umrao Jaan Ada is a completely different story in a lot of ways. We have not followed the films (Umrao Jaan starring Rekha in 1981 and Umrao Jaan starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in 2006). There are a lot of nuances which were not in the film but were there in the book – Umrao Jaan Ada. We have tried to follow the book and to keep its authenticity and stay true to its writing. Yes, it has been an interesting journey. Some characters have come alive in the play, which were almost non-existent in the story. It creates drama that makes the play pretty interesting.
Salim: It is incredible for me to create Khayyam sahab’s music. At the age of 8, I embraced music. Umrao Jaan’s music became a textbook for me. In fact, it was an introduction to classical music for me. When we thought of creating a musical equivalent to what happens abroad, we wanted to do it with Umrao Jaan majorly because of its iconic music. It was like a childhood calling for me. Apart from the existing music, we composed three original songs for the play. It was a challenge but yet exciting.
In the age of remixes and recreations, are you also bringing a new twist to the music of the play?
Sulaiman: There is no sort of contamination of music in the play. We have been as authentic as possible. The only change is the screenplay because we have gone by the book.
Salim: While making the play, we were sure people will ask us that how come we are remaking or recreating the songs from the classic film. But when you will watch the play, you will know that we have kept every nuance of Asha Bhosle’s voice and tune of Khayyam sahab intact. In fact, every musical instrument is being played live. We have taken the orchestra to another level.
How different is it composing for plays when compared to films?
Sulaiman: The process is pretty much the same but the difference comes when you are composing the background score for a play. For a film, the scene is set and the edit is locked. But here, it is all live. You don’t know if the actor will take an extra breath or change expression or anything. You cannot stick to a plan with the music. It is spontaneous. It gives us complete chills but that is why we rehearse so much. There is always a plan A, B and C. But we try to achieve plan A.
You have often expressed your opinion on remakes. However, it hasn’t stopped. Is it an alarming situation?
Salim: It is absolutely an alarming situation. Please understand Umrao Jaan is incomplete without “Dil Cheez Kya Hai” or “In Aankho Ki Masti Ke”, so we have taken absolute care of every tune, instrument and singer. We have not tried to make anything different to what the original songs sound like.
Sonu Nigam had said long ago that the industry is living and breathing in the monopoly of music producers. Is that the reason why experimentation is not happening?
Sulaiman: Honestly, the fault lies with the record labels and not composers. It is the responsibility of record labels to feed music to the listeners. They are cheating the listeners and holding them back from having a better experience in terms of music. We as composers are a few in a billion and what we create is heard by millions. It is our responsibility to educate people about different music. As a composer, that is my dream but I am not ready to recreate someone else’s music. The monopoly of music labels has led to this saddening situation. Today, everybody is running towards fetching views and likes on social media. So, it has become a rat race than a creative process. As of now, the joy of creating or listening to music has simply vanished. In today’s time, everybody is happy apart from the musicians and composers.
Salim: I think even films are not being made where we can experiment and bring in some traditional music. People even now ask me about Dor and its music. But are such kind of films being made today? So, even listeners are not happy. It is a racket of record labels. The three-four people responsible for creating music are delivering filth to people.
In the past few years, Punjabi music in Bollywood has grown. Is it also because we are failing to churn out something new?
Sulaiman: I have not done a mainstream film for a long time now and that is purely because it has a recreated song. A few others are in the same zone. Maybe the Punjab industry does not have such qualms. Today, music has completely become a money-making business.
These days, a lot of independent music is being made. These people are making music to create their fan base and are not associated with Bollywood. I think this is a positive byproduct of the chaos within the industry. Today, a listener has a playlist that’s a mix of independent and Bollywood songs. It has become a matter of choice. Sooner, more and more people will move to independent music scenario.
Any recent track you heard and felt – wow, this sounds different.
Salim: Recently, there was a song called “Nindiya”. It is a beautiful composition. Apart from that, I liked some songs here and there. “Dil Diyan Gallan” was pretty good too. It is a pretty song and has a timeless quality. But the sad part is, very few such experiences are happening.