You have made music for 11 movies releasing this year. How do you feel about that?
It is a coincidence. Several movies I have been working on for a while are all releasing this year. I’m enjoying this phase even though it’s a bit stressful. Each movie requires a huge amount of time since I also work on the background score. Five have already released — Padman, Raid, Blackmail, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and Manmarziyaan. When you work on the background score, you can sonically bind it together, so that there is no jerk musically while you are watching a movie. Working on so many films required me to juggle a lot, too. Right now, I am working on the four remakes of Queen (in Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil) and Andhadhun, which is releasing on October 5.
How demanding are albums such as Manmarziyaan, for which you have composed 14 songs?
It’s always bliss to collaborate with Anurag Kashyap Sir. I love him as a filmmaker and a human being. I happily accept the challenge his movies pose for me. He uses a lot of songs in bits and pieces in the movie as a part of the narrative. This movie is set in Punjab and the characters speak Hindi-Punjabi. Lyricist Shellee (Shailender Singh Sodhi) and I worked on the entire melody and lyrics. Scouting for voices was the biggest task. The idea was to get fresh voices. We wanted rural voices from Punjab. There are seasoned singers such as Harshdeep Kaur, Jonita Gandhi, Ammy Virk and Shahid Mallya. We also have some new singers on board. Finding new talent was an interesting process and we went through their demos before picking them up. One of the singers of F for fyaar (in Manmarziyaan), Mast Ali, is a cop and Vijay Yamla, who has sung Dhayaan chand, teaches at a university. They have very earthy and rustic voices that I love.
What kind of investment do you need to make when you introduce a new talent?
Nothing much. They are all very talented singers and good with their craft. We just have to explain the song and lyrics to them. These singers are making their debut with this film (Manmarziyaan). I’m sure doors will open for them after the movie’s release. I will work with them in the future too. These days talent and sound scouting have become easy with people posting their work on YouTube and Instagram. When the audience likes a particular singer, there is no stopping that person.
The use of Punjabi sounds is common in Hindi film music. How different is your treatment?
I try to create my kind of music. I don’t follow any references or existing soundtrack. Chonch ladhiyaan or Grey waala shade (in Manmarziyaan) is not the regular Punjabi songs that you will come across. Even though F for Fyaar and Dhayaan chand have Bhangra elements, I still treated them differently — the way I would like to hear a song. I have used lots of sounds and music of Punjab, too. I’ve fused them with my kind of electronic beats and sounds.
What kind of traditional sounds have you used for Manmarziyaan?
I have used a lot of traditional Punjabi instruments, including the tumbi, esraj, dhadd and algoza. I love instruments that help create beautiful music. Electronic music has its own beauty. I try to club the two in my own way.
What is it like to collaborate with Shellee?
Shellee and I have worked together in Dev.D (2009) and Udta Punjab (2016). And he is so rooted in Punjab, so it was a no-brainer for us to get him to work on this movie. I told him not to write very hardcore Punjabi lyrics so that the audience can understand them even though he has to do justice to the milieu that the movie belongs in.
Last time, when you worked with Anurag Kashyap for Bombay Velvet (2015), you explored 1960s jazz culture.
I am very proud of that film. Since the film didn’t do well, it was not appreciated as much as it should have been. However, it was recently featured in the list of top 100 albums of all times (by a film website) and I was very happy about it.
Will your next release, Andhadhun’s music, be piano-heavy?
Yes. Ayushmann Khurrana, who is a fantastic musician, plays a blind pianist and the piano is the key instrument for the movie’s soundtrack. I’m a decent pianist. I used to listen to a lot of classical music by (Ludwig van) Beethoven and (Johann Sebastian) Bach, among others. In the movie, there are two pieces which are more classical in nature. We have also created piano-based music keeping popular sensibilities in mind. The piano and guitar are two wonderful accompaniments for songs.
Earlier, music used to drive the box-office collection of certain kind of movies. How much does music influence the movie business today?
It varies from film to film. There are genres, such as romantic films, which need good music. They also have the scope for creating popular music that would pull people into theatres. Movies like Baahubali I and II (2015 and 2017, respectively) and Dangal (2016) are not so dependent on music because their content is very strong. Manmarziyaan is a musical and the campaign planned around that has worked really well.
When do you decide to do playback singing in your movies?
It’s a decision taken by filmmakers. I play my scratch to them, when they think my voice works for the song, I keep it. I think I’m a very average singer. We have a pool of terrific and dedicated full-time singers in India. Since my songs can be elevated by better singers, I choose not to sing. Instead, I try to get the best voice for the songs I compose.
How difficult is it to work on album remakes? What was the experience with Queen’s remakes?
Language is the biggest challenge. It is difficult to translate and find the apt expression that you want to create. However, there are language supervisors to help me. The soundtrack for the remakes of Queen is different from the original. However, the soundtrack is the same for all the four remakes. We are dubbing the songs in the four regional languages.
While Sairat’s music was outstanding, its remake Dhadak’s — both by Ajay-Atul — was not.
Something gets lost in translation. When already something has worked in one language, it is always tough to recreate that in another language. There is always a 50:50 chance that it might not work. In Dhadak, the title song was a fresh one and it worked well.