Sounds of change

Sounds of change

Music composer Samira Koppikar on breaking into the big league with Laal Kaptaan and being a singer-songwriter in the era of high-end recording technology.

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Samira Koppikar

Synth sounds merged with heavy bass and drums open Kaal kaal, a haunting composition in the recently released Saif Ali Khan-starrer period drama Laal Kaptaan. Perhaps the only interesting bit in director Navdeep Singh’s film, besides Khan’s look, has been its soundtrack. If Kaal kaal is haunting, with a unique mix of traditional and contemporary sounds, there is the semi-classical Red red najariya by Shreya Ghoshal. The piece borders a lot on folk music, with sarangi and a theka on dholak helping it pull along. There is also Taandav, which follows the drama musically and lyrically. The soundtrack has music composer and singer Samira Koppikar, 33, at its helm, who has finally broken into the big league with the film’s music.

“Navdeep handed the script for Laal Kaptaan to me a year and a half ago. That’s when I got into the world of this revenge drama, the characters and their moods. A lot of the motifs in the film ended up giving a lot of ideas for its sound,” says Koppikar, who earlier worked with Singh in Anushka Sharma and Neil Bhoopalam-starrer NH10.

“He had a very clear vision of the kind of music — he wanted a bit of an edgy sound with elements of traditional music. A lot of times, in the film, you cannot talk about the ideology and philosophy but a song can do that for you,” says Koppikar, who also got behind the microphone for Lahu ka rang kara in the film.

“I have been known as a singer because that is what released first but I have always been composing,” says Koppikar, adding that singing and music creation is inseparable for her. “In a film, you have to be true to the script and the vision of the directors and producers. When it’s an independent song, it’s an extension of who you are and what is it that you want to say personally,” she adds.

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Saif Ali Khan in a still from Laal Kaptaan.

Growing up in Mumbai’s Bandra in a family of doctors who were also music connoisseurs, a career in music for Koppikar was more her father’s dream than her own. As a young girl, Koppikar heard a bit of everything — from Hindustani classical to yesteryear Bollywood tunes, and jazz, among others. Her parents ensured that she was trained in Hindustani classical music, for which she was sent to a slew of gurus including Mohinderjeet Singh. Even now, her training continues under Rajshree Pathak, a classical singer trained under thumri queen Shobha Gurtu. “I think this learning can never stop. Everyday one discovers something new,” she says.

Koppikar was 24 when she happened to meet her neighbour, music producer and arranger Indrajeet Sharma, who introduced her to Louiz Banks, India’s best-known jazz performer. Banks heard her and decided to take Koppikar on tour for the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival, where they performed new scores that Banks had composed for the festival, as well as many of his old compositions. Koppikar also managed to perform some of her own songs. “I wanted to do something more than just sing jazz standards. So I told him that I’d like to compose and he readily agreed. That exposure really helped me,” she says.

She was once playing her music to some of her family friends when Dipa Motwani of Phantom Films heard her and recommended her to Singh, who was going to direct NH10. She contributed the popular and bass heavy Maati ka palang to the album, which she composed and sang and the song caught attention. The usage of sitar riffs alongside pounding drums and aggressive, rhythmic, dramatic guitar playing created the mood for a film based on honour killing.

Koppikar began her career with NH10, but it was Hate Story’s (2014) Aaj phir tumpe pyar that released first and became popular on the radio and social media alike. It wasn’t as edgy as NH10 was to be some months later, but it worked its way through the hearts of those who enjoy Arijit Singh’s voice dipped in typical pop. She also came up with the soppy but popular Mohabbat barsa dena tu in Creature 3D.

Even though Koppikar is enjoying the recording technology, she misses the spontaneity and organic nature of recordings earlier. “Singers are not available half the time,” says Koppikar, adding that she functions more like a singer-songwriter than sitting on a computer and figuring composition, editing and auto corrections.

She is currently working on Anand L Rai’s project and also Singh’s next.