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The Zoobi doobi man

Parineeta, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Khoya Khoya Chand, Antaheen... a Shantanu Moitra soundtrack always demands a careful listen. And more often than not the songs don’t let go of you. With 3 Idiots, Shantanu is helming not only a Rajkumar Hirani film but also an Aamir Khan biggie. Reason enough to chat with the man who has not one of his own songs but Salil Chowdhury’s Pagol hawa as his caller tune...

Will it be right to say that 3 Idiots is the most important soundtrack of your career so far?

Not really. If the importance of a film is on the basis of the bigness of the film and the star cast of the film, then it doesn’t apply to me. 3 Idiots is as important to me as my next release Well Done Abba. But it’s true that 3 Idiots was one of the most challenging works for me.

Why so?

The film is actually an introspective journey of one guy. It’s a back-and-forth structure, with the flashback being about the time when he was a student. And if you hear the album in the preset order, it’s a journey too. All izz well is about the youth, Zoobi doobi is a romantic fun number, then you have Behti hawa which is like a search, then we go further into that mindspace with Give Me Some Sunshine and finally we have a youth anthem (Jaane nahin denge tujhe). It was important to kind of write a script through the songs. This is something that has been not done before.

But when an AamirKhan is the star of your film, doesn’t that have an impact your work?

No, no. With Aamir Khan there, the only thing I am assured of is a meaningful conversation in the room. I am not daunted or intimidated by someone like him. The only time ever in my career when I did get that feeling was when I walked into Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s room for the first time. I knew this is the guy who did Parinda and 1942: A Love Story, and then he offered me Parineeta. I was a little jittery that time... you know, a Delhi person with a non-Mumbai attitude. Compared to that 3 Idiots was an absolute pleasure. Aamir is a complete darling.

Does Aamir have a say in the songs as well?

No, he didn’t have any input for the songs. It was only Raju, Vinod, (lyricist) Swanand (Kirkire) and me.

How do the four of you work because this is your fouth soundtrack together, after Parineeta, Lage Raho Munnabhai and Eklavya?

Firstly what happens is that Vinod ceases to be a producer and becomes more of a creative guy. The captain of the ship is really Raju Hirani. Then it becomes a process which can take considerable time. Like the song Give Me Some Sunshine I did one-and-a-half years back. One thing that we usually do is when the script is being written, they come to me with a song which can take the story forward. They don’t pre-decide the placement of a song. As the story goes forward they come up with situations which can be told through songs. So, I am as much a part of their script journey, as they are a part of the musical journey. Then either a line comes up first or a tune comes up first and we get going. For Give Me Some Sunshine, that line came first... for All Izz Well, the tune came first. It’s a back-and-forth thing. It’s crazy, it’s intense, it’s madness... the passion is unbelievable. We always try to do something good. There’s never a pressure of doing something which is a hit... cholbe ki cholbe na is never a consideration.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra was always against having songs in his movies, ruing the fact that in Bollywood people have to make a Sound of Music and Godfather in the same film. Has that attitude changed?

Look at the incredible journey he has taken. He has worked with RD Burman, when he was at the bottom of his career. And he’s seen RD dying in front of him and not being able to see the music of 1942: A Love Story become such a huge hit. That event has changed Vinod’s attitude towards music and films. He asks what am I going to create for people? Who are the people? That strength comes from Vinod.

Is it difficult then to work outside Vinod Chopra films? With Shyam Benegal or Sudhir Mishra?

The approaches are completely different. Mr Benegal gives me a brief and then he comes and listens to the song once. He believes that the creation of the song is entirely my department. I come from an advertising background, so I can work with all kinds of people. Sudhir Mishra also never comes to the recording studio. The path that you choose is not important, the end result is important. How Bawra mann happened is not important, the fact that Bawra mann happened is important.

A Shantanu Moitra song is easy to identify. Do you consciously put in the same elements?

No, no, no (laughs)! It’s like a DNA architecture of a human being. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. The amazing part is that forget films, you can apparently make out a Shantanu Moitra composition from a 30-second jingle! It’s not something done consciously but I don’t want to curb it. You don’t change your style for something else. I try and keep that integrity.

Why do you mostly work with a fixed set of singers like Sonu, Shreya and Shaan?

This, I have taken a leaf out of the book of Salil Chowdhury, whom I completely idolise and study like an Eklavya would. And that is the fact that there are many, many sides to a singer. Two or three songs are just not enough to understand a singer. So I try and explore Shaan, Shreya and Sonu more and more.

Have you seen 3 Idiots? What do you feel?

Very conservatively speaking, 3 Idiots is one of the better films I have seen in a long, long time.

Better than Lage Raho Munnabhai?

Yeah!

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