Music composer Pritam Chakraborty talks about his dislike for item songs despite his expertise at it,his lethargy and search for soul in Bollywoods claptrap
There seems to be a shift in your music in the last year. Have you made a conscious choice to only do certain kinds of films?
No,its only because some very good films and directors came my way. I have been constantly working for the last 10 years. My basic problem is to stay excited. When I get a film like Barfi! or Cocktail,it excites me creatively much more than a generic chartbuster album. Despite being commercial movies,they have a lot of scope to create something new. For example,in Cocktails Tum hi ho bandhu,we tried using a new sufi-electronica sound set to lyrics like Jug mujhpe lagaye pabandi,main hoon hi nahin is duniya ki. I found a Sufi connect in it. The same applies for Agent Vinod or Yeh Jawaani…
Barfi!,of course,was a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity. It allowed me to revisit the 60s,the Salil Chowdhury era of music. Anurag (Basu) is someone who sends me out of my comfort zone. It had many more good songs,but he said,They are good but lets not do what you have already done before. That helped me break the mould.
But what about the plagiarism issues? Have you left them behind as well?
I think there is an attitudinal problem in todays generation. They dont see the finer differences and jump to conclusions too fast. Its not something I want to talk about.
How important is the director in your scheme of things?
Over the years,I have realised that directors are the most important force behind good music. You need that comfort level with them. They dont interfere but they are a great bouncing board to have. Anurag has a great flair for music and a deep understanding of lyrics. Ayan Mukerji (director of Yeh Jawaani…) and Homi Adajania (director,Cocktail) too are intelligent filmmakers. They will let you fly and will back you. Plus,they know how to use music interestingly in their films .
You had such a terrific partnership with Imtiaz Ali (Jab We Met,Love Aaj Kal). Do you feel upset over losing him to AR Rahman now that he is working with him in Highway after Rockstar?
I have too much respect for Rahman,the person and musician,to be upset. And Imtiaz is still a friend and I am very fond of him. Its not like he was married to the idea of working only with me. Rockstar was Imtiazs passion project for which he always had Rahman in mind. Even in Love Aaj Kal he wanted to work with him.
You make music for 10 albums in a year,out of which some are pretty mediocre. Whats the reason behind this inconsistency?
Almost 70 per cent of the work I do is what I actually dont want to do. I have a tremendous problem in saying no to people. Also,people here get angry if you say no to a project. Besides,most of the times you dont know how the film is going to turn out. I choose films based on the script/director. Then,when I realise its not working out,my interest level drops automatically. I snap out of the project and it naturally reflects in the work. This has happened way too many times.
So are you happy with your career at this point?
I am not entirely happy. I want to do good projects. I might have made a career out of item songs,but I despise them. Sadly,thats what most producers/directors come to me for. A couple of years ago,I went into depression. Hits like Character dheela were always there but I was looking for something more. The demands of Hindi film music are unique and,unfortunately,few directors understand that. Its a tricky balance,because Bollywood doesnt demand music to solely serve the film. It has to work independently,and act as a marketing tool to get the audience to the theatre.
You are known for not answering calls from big producers and staying away from the media. Why do you do that?
I stay away from the media because I am shy and hate public appearances. Playing at a stage show is different but I feel horribly awkward in television interviews. As for not taking calls from people,its because I am really disorganised. My phone is always on the silent mode since I am constantly working. Any kind of foreign sonic intervention disturbs me. I generally call back when there are missed calls. But many times,I write text messages and dont send them,thinking that I have. My forgetfulness is to blame for it. I have annoyed many people like this and many people in the industry misunderstand me. I come across as a brat to them. Recently,I was supposed to meet Ajay Devgn over something he wanted to discuss. It was scheduled for a Monday morning. I worked through Sunday night and completely forgot about the meeting. He got angry,at least thats what his assistants said,and refused to meet me later. Now,how do I explain that I had actually forgotten? I plan to call and visit him.
Now that you are aware of your shortcomings,do you plan to handle things differently?
Yes,I want to finish off everything I have on my plate and start afresh. From about 20 films a year,I have brought it down to eight-odd films. I am giving away lucrative offers. I want to start with a long break. Ive been jumping from one film to the other,and have not been able to spend time with my wife and kids. Then,I want to look at myself in the mirror,get rid of the long hair and the paunch. I havent shortened my hair since Life in a Metro. Also,I really want to do music outside Bollywood. I couldnt do Coke Studio@MTV this year because I was tied up with films. But Ive promised them Ill do it next year. I want to do more stage shows,but not play at weddings.
You were involved with Bangla bands in your college days in Kolkata,what led you to Bollywood?
I have grown up listening to everything from Rabindrasangeet to Pink Floyd to RD Burman. After studying geology in Presidency College,I found out about the sound recording and engineering course at Film and Television Institute of India in Pune and joined it. I had started to compose music for many diploma films there and that acted as a springboard to get into the Mumbai film industry.
When you look back at your decade in Bollywood,how do you assess your growth as a musician?
I have grown to appreciate the importance of lyrics. Its as important as the melody and rhythm. It gives a face to the melody,and longevity to the tunes. And half the fun of a song comes from its metre,which comes from how the lyrics fit in and how they sound phonetically. I completely go by my sonic instincts.
You have given breaks to so many playback singers who went on to become big names Mohit Chauhan,Zubin Garg,Mika,Papon and,more recently,Arijit Singh. How do you decide what voice suits your music?
I go after voices I have fixed my mind upon. I rediscovered Mohit,long after his band Silk Route disbanded,while watching a film called Main Meri Patni Aur Woh in a song called Guncha. It struck me as a smokey,bluesy voice that can also carry Indian melodies. He has the innocence of a country singer,a voice from the mountains. Imtiaz and I wanted him for Tum se hi in Jab We Met. Imtiaz knew him well,but he had disappeared for a trip to the Himalayas. We waited for a month-and-a-half to get him to sing the song. But its difficult to convince producers at times. Most of the times,they only want to stick to established voices even if a new singer is doing better. Like it was very difficult to market Arijit in the beginning.
The importance of playback singers seems to have diminished in Bollywood. What is your opinion on it?
Everything has a limited shelf life now. Producers want the music to be churned out like a factory-made product. There is an overkill,and it bores people fast. Also,a lot of different kinds of music are being made in Bollywood today.
Do you keep a track of what your contemporaries are up to?
I dont get the time. I listen to snatches of songs on the radio while travelling in my car. I like a bit of what everyone does. Rahman,Amit Trivedi,Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy or Vishal-Shekhar. Among recent ones,I like Lootera and I thought Sachin-Jigar did a brilliant job in Go Goa Gone. I think the last album that truly blew me away was Delhi 6.
What are your upcoming films?
I have Rambo Rajkumar with Prabhudheva. Then I have Shaadi ke Side Effects and Dhoom 3. There are two projects I have committed to but not signed yet Kabir Khans next with Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif and Anurag Basus Jagga Jasoos.
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