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The new melody moguls
(From top): Salim and Suleiman (left) chill out on a Mumbai street; Vishal (right) and Shekhar take a break in the studio; Shantanu Moitra strikes a pose

It has been a high-decibel year for music director Shantanu Moitra. His tunes like Piu Bole and Kaisi Paheli, from the film Parineeta zoomed up the charts and turned into foot-tapping megahits. With those tunes still ringing in everyone’s ears, Moitra has suddenly been deluged by offers and has already been signed on by Vidhu Vinod Chopra for his next mega-movies Munnabhai Meets Mahatma and Eklavya.

Flip the turntable and move over to Pritam Chakraborty who has been making music nonstop ever since his peppy numbers in the 2004 hit Dhoom turned into mega-footstompers. He has turned out more winning tunes in the recently released Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, Chocolate and Garam Masala.

Or, what about Vishal-Shekhar who made listeners sit up with their six-minute techno track Dus Bahane from Dus and the peppy Salaam Namaste, both of which are in the running to be the top moneymakers of 2005.

Switch the track once again and listen to brothers Salim and Suleiman Merchant who are hoping to wow listeners once again with the cool and casual music of Neal ‘N’ Nikki.

Yep. The good times are back in the Hindi film industry. But it’s not just the movie directors who are delivering A grade hits. A brand new crop of music directors is hitting the high notes and delivering mega-hit music. What’s more, they are being given crucial breaks and being roped in to make high-profile productions for Bollywood banners like Yashraj and Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

Says singer Mahalakshmi, “People wonder why there are so many more successful films today. It’s because the burst of fresh blood has led to newer ideas in directing, singing and composing.”

Take a look at composer Moitra who has suddenly become one of the most sought-after names in the music industry. In a time when listeners want trendy and peppy music, Moitra’s genre of music has more to do with melody. And that’s exactly the reason behind the success of Parineeta, which according to him “had romanticism and nostalgia of a bygone era”. Born in Lucknow and raised in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, Moitra, an Economics graduate, was a client-service executive in Contract in Delhi before he decided to chuck it all and make music his calling.

He got his first break in the music video Mann Ke Manjire (2001) directed by Shoojit Sarkar and never looked back after that. In the last few years he’s composed more than 50 ad jingles including catchy numbers from ads like Horlicks and Uncle Chips. But Moitra always nursed an ambition to make it big in Bollywood. His first break came when his friend Somnath Sen invited him to compose music for his film Leela starring Dimple Kapadia in 2002. Though the film failed at the box-office, Moitra’s music was noticed and he was signed by director Sudhir Mishra for Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi which released earlier this year.

But it was with Parineeta that he hit the jackpot in terms of what one calls “commercial success”. Says his ex-boss Pradeep Sarkar, director of Parineeta, “He was my obvious choice and I suggested his name to Vidhu Vinod Chopra because of his passion for music.”

Singer Mahalakshmi, who sang for Moitra in an early film Pyaar Ki Dhun points out, “He [Moitra] has a great affinity for folk music as well as Western music of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Up next are his three big projects ' Munnabhai Meets Mahatma, Eklavya and Yagna where besides composing he is also assisting Vidhu Vinod Chopra. “I enjoy working with Vidhuji as he never interferes in my work. The music of my upcoming films will be vastly different from my earlier ones and I hope people like it,” he says.

For music director Pritam Chakraborty, it’s a time of nail-biting tension. He’s got the names and the banners behind him after the super success of Dhoom directed by Sanjay Gadhvi in 2004.

Electrifying and passionate ' that’s how the maverick music-director rates his brand of music. And with hits like Ada in Garam Masala directed by Priyadarshan this year, Pritam is being touted as the next biggest musical sensation in Bollywood. “Expectations are mounting and it’s making me all the more nervous,” he says.

One can’t miss the glint in Chakraborty’s eyes when he talks about his genre of music and how he hopes to deliver hits without sticking too much to a formula, “Commercial viability is important for every composer because you are making music for a larger audience. I want my music to have a universal appeal,” he says.

Graduating in Geology in 1992 from Presidency College, Chakraborty dropped out of his M.Sc. classes in 1993 to chart a career of his choice from FTII Pune where he took up Sound Recording and Engineering in 1994. He finally landed in Mumbai with dreams to make it on his own and soon signed on for a string of commercials like Thums Up, Hyundai Santro, Limca, Complan and Emami. A stream of serials followed like Kashmir, Milee on Star Plus, Yeh Meri Life Hai on Sony and Remix on Star One.

Chakraborty’s career has been boosted by Yashraj Films which showed it was willing to take a big bet on a comparative newcomer. His first film came with Sanjay Gadhvi in the film Tere Liye (2000) which flopped even though the music was good. Then came the big moment when he got a call from Yashraj films to compose the music for Mere Yaar Ke Shaadi Hai (2002) directed by Gadhvi. “That was the ticket to entry in Yashraj Productions. I consider myself lucky to work in this production house at the beginning of my career,” he says.

Chakraborty worked with a few movies that turned into duds after that like Fun2shh ' Dudes In The 10th Century and Agnipankh. But then he made a fast-moving comeback in Dhoom with the song Dhoom Macha Le. This year too, he has kept up his chart-busting ways with tunes for movies like Garam Masala, Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena and Chocolate.

Right now, his career seems to be rocking with a slew of musical assignments like Anurag Basu’s Gangster, Vikram Bhatt’s Ankahi and Meghna Gulzar’s Honeymoon. The first flush of success is visible on his face though he’s trying not to show it. But the film that he’s really waiting for is Dhoom II directed by Gadhvi starring Hrithik Roshan, Bipasha Basu, Uday Chopra and Aishwarya Rai.

Says director Gadhvi, “There’s a comfort zone with Pritam and so every time I make a film I approach him to do the music.”

Others too have had their share of luck in recent months like the composer duo Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani whose songs Dus Bahane from the film Dus and Salaam Namaste became the rage with youngsters. The duo ' Shekhar used to compose jingles and Vishal co-founded the rock band Pentagram ' first came together for Raj Kaushal’s Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi in 1999 for which they composed the hit Musu Musu.

But it’s in the last few years that the beat has picked up for them, especially after they gave the musical hit Jhankar Beats in 2003. The film even won them a Filmfare award. And with Dus and the Siddharth Anand-directed Salaam Namaste this year, they’ve proved that they are a team that can match and conquer the ever-changing expectations of music lovers.

So what makes them tick in this competitive industry' Vishal’s understanding of Western music and Shekhar’s flair for Indian music is a great amalgam feels Mahalakshmi who reckons that is a big reason why their music goes down so well with the public. Their latest offering Home Delivery directed by Sujoy Ghosh is a medley of peppy numbers. Moreover, they’ve just done a hip-hop song that they got Abhishek Bachchan to sing (his first song) for Bluffmaster. “We gave the CD to Abhishek, and he rehearsed it for two-three days. When he came in to the recording, he was very nervous but he just banged it out,” says Vishal.

Up next is the title track for Ek Ajnabee produced by Bunty Walia and Jaspreet Singh starring Amitabh Bachchan. This apart, they’re also looking forward to Milan Luthria’s Taxi No. Nau Do Gyaarah where they have done a club track called Bambai Nagariya sung by Bappi Lahiri.

Pritam Chakraborty strums up a merry tune

Like the others, Vishal and Shekhar too have developed a comfort zone with directors whom they have worked with before. So they will score for Ghosh, Anand and Anubhav Sinha’s (director of Dus) next projects.

They believe that their non-film work helps them to stay clear of getting stereotyped. They compose jingles full time. Besides, Vishal is the lead vocalist for Pentagram. And Shekhar is working on his second Hindi pop album.

At another level experimentation has been the reason for music composers Salim and Suleiman’s popularity as well. Their initial claim to fame, however, was as background score specialists. They first hit the limelight with their background score in G.P Sippy’s Hamesha in 1997.

But the turning point came with the score for Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot in 2003. After this, they moved on to other projects like Darna Mana Hai (2003) and Ab Tak Chappan (2004) (under Ram Gopal Varma Productions), Nagesh Kukunoor’s Teen Deeware in (2003) and Iqbal (2005).

Salim and Suleiman are careful to point out that a lot depends on the director and how a film or even a scene turns out. Their winning streak as music directors began earlier when they worked on Kaal with Karan Johar. They attribute the success of the item number Tauba Tauba in Kaal featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Malaika Arora Khan to the wonderful picturisation and of course Karan Johar’s conceptualisation.

Right now, the spotlight is again trained on the brothers as their film Neal ‘N’ Nikki directed by Arjun Sablok under Yashraj Productions has just released.

They recall that the most challenging background score they composed was for the film Ab Tak Chappan starring Nana Patekar. “It was difficult because the score had to be minimalistic because it was an action film,” says Salim.

These young music directors are not only ushering in new sounds into the Hindi film score but also creating a new working style. For instance, Mahalakshmi points out that unlike the sittings of old, when music directors decided everything down to the last inflection and gave the singer little scope to experiment, today’s music directors are more flexible. “The recording procedure is very easy and ideas flow,” she says.

Going by their track record, the future’s certainly bright for these music directors as more and more big banners are scouting for fresh talent. Says Gadhvi, “As long as the music is great, their songs will be heard. Maybe all will not be successful, but whoever does will go a long way.”

Photographs by Gajanan Dudhalkar, Sanjit Kundu and Hemant Mishra

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