Thirty-nine seconds before BBC’s Sherlock series gets underway, the work of London-based Michael Price and David Arnold — BAFTA and Emmy-winning music composers — takes centrestage. The immensely catchy soundtrack of the series is their handiwork; in keeping with the nature of the series — a timeless classic updated for a contemporary audience — it merges tunes from a string section with electronic music. Now, a bunch of boys from Mumbai, who go by the name The Indian Jam Project, have created an Indian classical version of the theme song by combining a flute and tabla alongside a keyboard. The result is a soft and delicate piece which has been called “outrageously great” by Price on Twitter. While fans bonded over this video shot in a Mumbai balcony on social networking sites, Sherlock producer Mark Gattis gave it an honorary mention at the Comic Con in Mumbai.
“I am still quite surprised at the overwhelming response we’ve received,” says 20-year-old keyboard player Tushar Lal, who helmed the project along with his friends Samay Lalwani, 22, on the tabla and Prathamesh Ravindra Salunke, 22, on the flute. In the one year since they began, egged on by an increasing fan base, the boys have created Indian classical versions of theme songs of popular tele-series such as Game of Thrones, and films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Interstellar and more recently, a combination of tunes from the Harry Potter films. Depending on the kind of classical instrument needed for a particular piece, they join forces with sarangi player Sandeep Mishra and santoor player Abrar Ahmed.
“It all began with watching Game of Thrones. I was always humming that tune. One day, I wanted to do it my way,” says Lal, whose fascination with the chord structures of the HBO drama, created by composer Ramin Djawadi, led him to compose “an Indianised cover” of the track during a jam session at his residence in Mumbai’s Andheri. Lal, a self-taught musician, had always been exposed to different genres of music — his mother was as fond of music by Farida Khanum as by Eric Clapton — and his remastering of title tracks reflect his wide range of interests. So if Rains of Castamere, one of the Game of Thrones anthems, uses the haunting Bhimpalasi with its komal (dissonant) nishad (ni) and gandhaar (ga) in tow, strains of sarangi and complicated rhythm structures on a tabla form “A Window to the Past” in the Harry Potter series. The “Face of Voldemort” track is conveyed through evocative notes on a flute and the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean hook comes through five baanyas (the high-pitched tabla on the right), with no other instrumentation in the background for a few seconds. “It was unimaginable to play a melody part only through a percussion instrument such as the tabla. The result of that hook line was very interesting,” says Lalwani.
The keyboard, played by Lal, is always the base. “It makes it easy to layer the melodies on it,” says Lal, whose process includes composing the main piece followed by individual instrumental pieces and then bringing them all together. “It’s important to understand the scope of the music we are working on. Most of it has originally been created with western chord structures. It will sound extremely mechanical if the same is replicated on Indian instruments. So the challenge is to not just get the basic tune right, but to lift it a little, so that it adds to what we’ve already heard and imbibed,” says Salunke, who is currently training under Pt Rakesh Chaurasia.
Ahmed, one of the few young santoor players in the country, believes that it’s challenging to re-create these as Indian classical music pieces because of the difference in genres. While western classical music is harmony-based, its Indian counterpart is completely melody-based. “The chromatic (natural) scale of a santoor is harder to play as compared to playing the instrument for a raga because as Indian musicians, we are used to glides and microtones (smallest possible musical interval) and not to extremely straight notes. These microtones are instrumental in bringing soul to a piece. But once we began playing, it worked as an advantage because microtones enhanced the basic structure and presented it as something new,” says Ahmed.
The videos of Indian Jam Project are a hit on YouTube. Their last piece, based on the Harry Potter series, has had almost 5 lakh hits in just a month’s time. The collective will soon be coming up with their version of The Lord of the Rings theme. “We’ll probably follow it up with Star Wars as the film hits the screens in December. And now that people find us interesting, we’ll soon present some original music too,” says Lal.