The nameplate on the door bears the family name “Sharma”, but composer Mithoon prefers to be addressed only by his first name. And as you enter his studio flat at suburban Mumbai’s Yari Road, the first thing that strikes you is the number of Jesus Christ portraits that adorn the walls, cabinets and cupboards. These are the springs that feed the composer’s creativity. Even Tum hi ho, the song from Aashiqui 2, which swept the music charts and awards in the last one year, was inspired from these portraits. “I came up with the hookline of Tum hi ho in my head right after finishing prayers,” he says, while talking about his career defining song.
After quick success and adulation for his original and soulful compositions for films such as Onir’s Bas Ek Pal (2006), Anwar (2007), The Train (2007) and Lamhaa (2010), Mithoon went through a phase of deep professional crisis. “I was told that my music is monotonous. The phone calls became fewer and industry people started ignoring me,” he says. That’s when his new-found faith resuscitated him. “Jesus is like a role model to me. I don’t believe in rituals and I don’t intend to convert either, but I see the larger message behind Christianity,” says the 29-year old musician.
For those familiar with his earlier music, be it the sublime Madno from Lamhaa or the mystical Anwar, Mithoon’s deep spiritual connection is not all that surprising. Although he avoids the labelling, Mithoon agrees that his music always reflected this side of him. “I avoid glitter, anything ornamental or plastic in my music. I try to keep it clutter-free, which, spiritually speaking, is like the Sufi way of life, detaching oneself from the clutter of the world,” he says.
It has also brought about a change in how he looks at work. “Earlier, I was trying too hard to chase success. I was becoming mechanical,” he says, adding, “Now I am not that ambitious professionally. I don’t think long term and take films as they come. Sometimes I tell my office staff that, ‘we might just stop working suddenly one day’,” he laughs, adding,” But I do want to achieve something spiritually.”
As the son of famous Bollywood arranger Naresh Sharma, Mithoon started his musical journey when his father told him to take up the arrangement of the song Woh lamhe woh baatein from Zeher (2005). The song became a rage, soon to be followed by Aadat from another from Bhatt stable, Kalyug (2005); their successes also heralding the arrival of “Sufi-rock” in Hindi film music. Mithoon could have easily gone his father’s way, carving out a career in music arrangement, but he decided, “no more recreation and production. I have a lot to tell myself.” As he did famously in his album-stealing single Dil sambhal ja zara from Murder 2 (2011). His next lot of films include Creature, Traffic, Onir’s remake of Hamlet, a film with Rajshri Productions, Bhaag Johnny, Hate Story 2 and The Villain.
A fan of composer Madan Mohan’s “ability to convert moods and emotions into songs”, Mithoon gives music based on a simple philosophy. “It should come in the purest way possible of how I am feeling. It’s a meditative, internal thing, and I try to avoid as much external influences, like a groove I may have heard,” he says. He has sometimes been criticised about excessive use of piano, guitar and pads, to which he says, “I get up and breathe the same air everytime. What’s the problem with monotony?”
Trained in jazz piano from a young age, Mithoon always composes on the piano. His artistry with the instrument is evident when he plays it, and displays an array of moods, switching effortlessly from one harmony to the other, while playing the Aashiqui 2 tune. “This is bright, this is a little brighter, and this, is a little melancholic,” he says with gentle and light touches of the piano keys. “It’s like a pen in my hand and I am writing a story.”