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On a brand new beat
Bickram Ghosh, Purab Kohli, Girish Malik and Sonu Niigaam at the recording studio in Mumbai

What is this film that you are scoring music for?

Sonu Niigaam: The film is called Jal. It is directed by Girish Malik and is based on a village in the deep deserts of Kutch. I haven’t heard anything like this ever, it’s so different.

Bickram Ghosh: It’s an amazing tale about the crisis posed by the drying up of the river Narmada. A concept about human beings versus birds and the absence of water. Girish, who is also a brilliant actor and dancer, is directing his first film that promises to be visually stunning. Jal stars Purab Kohli who’s looking quite the part with a huge moustache, the kind one can roll around! It also has Mukul Dev, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Yashpal Sharma.

How did the connection with the filmmakers happen?

Sonu: I have known Girish for almost a decade but never really knew him closely until a couple of months back when we met at a party. We got chatting and he proposed that I listen to some ideas he was working on. He came across as refreshingly original and different. We zeroed in on a subject and music came up in the discussions. He’s very clear about the kind of music he wants and has proper references for it. One of the references happened to be Bickrambhai’s who is working with me on a world album project. Thus, the whole association fell in place.

Bickram: Yes, I was contacted by Girish and his team. They had heard my track Primal from my album with Pete Lockett (The Kingdom of Rhythm) and tracked me down. They felt this was the premise of the sound they were looking for.

What made the two of you come together as music composers?

Sonu: It is Bickrambhai who suggested that we collaborate on this together. I loved working with him while doing the album, the experience was very enriching. This was another opportunity to work with a like-minded artiste and individual, thus I grabbed it.

Bickram: I thought that bringing Sonubhai in on the project would be another opportunity to take forward this amazing musical exploration that was started with the album. I’m really glad he agreed.

How long have you guys shared a rapport?

Bickram: Sonubhai and I have been working on an album tentatively titled Heart and Beat for a year now. During this time of making music, we discovered an amazing chemistry. I always admired his vocal skills and working together was an absolute pleasure. We were able to write lyrics, and create songs and rhythms in a matter of minutes! So when the offer for Jal came to me, I asked Sonubhai if he would like to come on board. He readily agreed. I think we both saw it as an opportunity to work together again.

Sonu: I remember meeting Bickrambhai briefly during my Sa Re Ga Ma Pa days when he had come with Pandit Ravi Shankar. But our close friend Manisha Dey is instrumental in getting us together. I sang for a movie (Gumshuda) he composed for and thereafter we bonded.

Sonu, is this your first stint as music composer?

Sonu: I’m actually quite well-versed with this role. I have composed for my albums. Chanda Ki Doli was even programmed by me. I had never thought of composing for films, mainly due to my crazy schedule and also because I like to work with like-minded people who have some basic sense of music. Not this ‘illusion of knowing music’. Everything in this set-up is up to my expectations and that feels great.

What are your respective roles as a music composer duo?

Sonu: There are no decided boundaries as we love and respect each other too much to tie each other down with decided roles.

Bickram: True. Though I think we have a bit of a pattern. The composition process mostly begins with me creating a rhythmic pattern and Sonubhai weaving in the basic melody. It’s almost like an impromptu jam. After the basic process, we step into each other’s territory and roles begin to overlap.

What kind of sound have you designed for Jal?

Sonu: I’d call it ‘Muddy-Electronica’. Electronica that has a mitti ki khushboo.

Bickram: I like that — muddy electronica! We’ve done one song. Jal de... Sonubhai has written the first lines Jal de jal de jaldi jal de jalne na de jal hi jal de... Sanjeev Tiwari has written a part too. The mood is sombre and goes into an outcry for water. Raga-driven melody with rhythm sections and interludes where trancy loops meet ethnic instruments. Shubha Mudgalji has sung it.

Will we also find you singing/playing in some of the tracks?

Sonu: That depends on whether composer Sonu and Bickram choose Sonu the singer and Bickram the percussionist to work with them!

Bickram: Touché! I’m playing because the film demands a lot of drumming. Sonubhai is debating whether to sing or not.

Do you see yourselves taking this forward and getting busy in Bollywood?

Sonu: I don’t know if we have enough time to indulge in full-time composing since music is a passion more than a profession for both of us. But then that’s when good work comes out, when you do it for the sake of art, not economics. If we meet like-minded people, we’ll surely work on some chosen project.

Bickram: Our main focus is to lend our talent to projects which have the right aesthetic values for us to step in. I see us doing select projects, be it mainstream or art house. We have discussed one more project. Let’s see.

What about the album that both of you were working on together?

Sonu: It’s in the making.

Bickram: It’s 70 per cent complete and is incredibly out-of-the-box. We have done songs in Hindi, English and Gujarati with rhythmic cycles ranging between three and a half and nine beats! You will also discover us as lyricists in this project. We’re hoping to wrap it up soon.

Sonu, what else is keeping you busy?

Sonu: As of now, my platter is pretty full. After my performances in the recent award functions and the opening song at the ICC World Cup opening at Dhaka, I can see a lot of positivity in the way the world is looking at me. Or perhaps I have become more open to the world.

I was kind of in my own space in between as I needed some time with myself. It was fulfilling and that’s probably why I am bonding well with the world now.

l kinds of opportunities are knocking at my door. I’ve accepted a few, like the X Factor. There are a couple of movie scripts that look interesting. I guess I jumped into acting a bit too early in my life. This, perhaps, would have been the right time. Nevertheless, we all learn from our mistakes.

I’ve cancelled all long tours since my mom has been diagnosed with cancer. I want to be around her so I took up the X Factor and postponed my American album. I’m not singing for too many movies as I no longer fancy it much. There are some selective people I work with and I’m happy with that. A contemporary music album is overdue too.

Bickram, what about you?

Bickram: I’m launching my project on Tagore called Tagore Lounge produced by Veecon on March 24. Terra Groove, a rhythmic magnum opus with Hollywood percussionist Greg Ellis, is expected around mid-year. Also, Tablasphere and Mortal, two fusion albums are ready for release. My song for the cricket World Cup — sung by Rupam Islam — is on air and I’m scoring for Suman Ghosh’s Nobel Chor.

RAPID FIRE

Favourite music composer in Bollywood BG: RD Burman, Madan Mohan
SN: Shankar Jaikishan, RD, Anu Malik, SEL (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy)

Favourite music composer in Hollywood BG: Juno Reactor, Philip Glass
SN: I don’t know many names as there is no song and dance in 99 per cent of their movies

A filmmaker you wish to do music for someday BG: Sir Richard Attenborough
SN: Karan Johar

A favourite among recent Bollywood film soundtracks BG: Tanu Weds Manu SN: Khuda jaane from Bachna Ae Haseeno

Favourite singer BG: Kishore Kumar, Sonu Niigaam SN: Salamat Ali Khan, Lataji, Rafisaab

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