Jazzing up Bollywood

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  • Published 15.03.09

Dhruv Ghanekar is not your run-of-the-mill Bollywood composer. He has just launched a solo album Distance and also performed at a jazz festival last week. He’s now touring the US and Europe with his band Dhruv. In between, he’s also furiously working on the music for a big budget Bollywood movie and a smaller crossover niche film. But he has also hit the high notes in the Hindi film industry after winning the Max Stardust Award for the film Drona.

Or take a look at composer Amit Trivedi who has suddenly shot to musical fame after his hit score Emosanal Atyachar in the recently released film Dev. D. In it, Trivedi has criss-crossed between cultures, experimenting with everything from heavy-duty rock to Indian classical music and even a sitar combined with electronic sounds.

Ghanekar and Trivedi are the leading lights of the newest group of music composers in Bollywood who are dramatically breaking away from old-fashioned themes and putting new sounds on screen.

“From western symphony to Arabic and Turkish sounds to Indian folk music, today music directors are game for anything. And until you do that in music, your style will not develop,” says Ghanekar.

The avant-garde new sound-smiths include rising stars like Monty Sharma (he’s the nephew of Pyarelal, the legendary composer of earlier decades), Amartya Rahut, Ashutosh Pathak and young duo Uday Ninjoor and Justin Yesudas.

Take a look at Monty Sharma, who won over audiences with the mellifluous music of Saawariya in 2007. Ever since the success of Saawariya, there’s been no looking back for this talented composer, who created the music for Chamku and Heroes in 2008.

And now Sharma’s career is swinging to a lively beat with a slew of musical assignments for movies like Right Ya Wrong, Fox, Mirch, Run Bhola Run and Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai.

Similarly, Trivedi has also been bombarded with film offers. He has been signed to work on Anurag Kashyap’s next film Bombay Velvet and he’s also working with Rajkumar Gupta, who directed Aamir, on an untitled film. Besides that, he’s also looking at a few big budget commercial films but he’s picky about scripts. Says Trivedi: “I have dozens of scripts lying at home and I’m taking time to read them. I don’t want to rush and make a hasty decision.”

For Rahut, it’s a time of nail-biting tension. He’s waiting anxiously for the May release of his debut Hindi film Aage Se Right by Indrajit Nattoji, which stars Shreyas Talpade and Kay Kay Menon. Before making his Hindi cinema debut, Rahut, better known as Bobo in the circuit, scored music for two Marathi films Uttarayan (2006) and Evdhasa Abhaal (2008), which fetched him the National Award and Zee Alfa Award respectively. Rahut has been the lead guitarist in several rock bands in Calcutta like Parash Pathar, Asteroids and Cactus.

And Ashutosh Pathak is busy giving final touches to soon-to-be-released indie-film 99 (starring Soha Ali Khan and Cyrus Broacha) and another movie Dilli Destiny. Says Pathak: “My music is edgy, modern and urban. It’s inspired by South American tribal songs and Indian rhythms.”

Then, there’s the Uday-Justin duo, which turned out a string of peppy numbers in Hijack like Aksar and Koyi Na Jaane. Up next are Sudhir Mishra’s film Sikander, in which they have used retro-style ’70s sounds and an untitled film by Kunal Shivdasani, which has a heady mix of romantic and peppy numbers. Also, they’re working on a crossover film Fish Bowl by new director Jinu Daniel for which the music is still at the recording stage.

What differentiates these composers from most other Bollywood sound- makers is their very global approach to music. Sharma, who picked up a string of awards in 2007 for Saawariya, blended western and Indian classical music in Masha Allah (Saawariya). In it, he used violins, cellos and sitars. In another song, Jab Se Tere Naina, he used ghunghroos and guitars mixed with Rajasthani folk music and in Jane Ja, he used the bulbul tarang (Indian banjo) and the piano accordion. He says, “Every instrument gives a different sound and therefore one needs to utilise it creatively in order to give a certain feel to the song.”

Experimenting with new sounds is also Trivedi’s forte and in Dev. D, he did just that (incidentally, he’s a self-taught musician and was once part of the band Om in Mumbai). For Dev. D’s music, he resorted to a mix of various styles — Indian folk and Carnatic music using instruments like the veena, shehnai and bass guitar.

Also, in the film, he used a large orchestra and mixed the sounds with the noise of birds chirping in Yahi Meri Zindagi. Even more innovatively, he blended bhatiali (Bengali folk) and Rajasthani folk in Dhol Yaara Dhol.

Ashutosh Pathak’s music is inspired by an eclectic mix of sounds that includes South American tribal songs and Indian rhythms; Photograph courtesy: Ashutosh Pathak

In fact, Trivedi has dipped into his enormous musical repertoire even in earlier films. In his last film, Aamir, he tuned into different genres from folk to rock to classical. For instance, in the song Chakkar Ghumyo, he pulled out Rajasthan folk elements from his musical repertoire.

At a different level, in Haara, he introduced the noise of a whip and a door slamming when one of the characters in the film was in a tight spot.

Rahut too has a penchant for using various types of instruments. He’s planning to use a ukulele (a four-stringed Hawaiian mandolin) to record one of the songs in Junction, directed by Atul Sabarwal.

The new brigade of composers is determined to be different in every way. So, many are also working with newer singers in order to bring freshness to their songs. While Trivedi has worked with newer singers like Anusha Mani and Shruti Pathak in Dev. D, Sharma is working with Abhas Joshi, a Star Voice of India contestant. And Amartya Rahut is making music with Shilpa Rao and Ghanekar with Nandini Shrikar.

And it’s not just new singers who these composers are trying out. They’re also aiming for offbeat lyrics, which are catchy and at the same time innovative. For instance, in Dev. D, Kashyap wanted lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya to come up with funny lyrics for the song Emosanal Atyachar, which uses colloquial Hinglish phrases.

Apart from composing for films, these composers also do non-film work which helps them to be choosy about which films they work on. Most are from the advertising industry and have been composing jingles for years.

Take, for instance, Rahut who moved to Mumbai seven years back to pursue his dream of making music in the movies. He got his big break in the advertising world where he composed tunes for ad films like Itchguard, McDonald’s and Vodafone. In Mumbai, he formed a rock band called Om with his contemporary Trivedi.

Or look at Ashutosh Pathak who’s been doing jingles for 15 years now apart from writing lyrics, singing, and playing the guitar in his own band Ashu. He also regularly jams with friend and business partner Dhruv Ghanekar in some musical assignments.

Both Ashutosh and Dhruv have a state-of-the-art recording studio in Mumbai called Blue Frog, which they set up in 2007. And ever since it opened its doors, it has become a highly sought-after venue for Mumbai’s advertising and film fraternity when they want to record songs or jingles.

Ghanekar, who is a talented guitar player (he was earlier part of a popular band Chakravyuh and now has his own band Dhruv) hates the idea of turning out typical Bollywood sounds.

That was also one of the reasons why the makers of Drona, a cutting-edge superhero film with Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra signed him on as music composer. The songs were interspersed with very global pop, rock, electronic and even jazz sounds.

Says Ghanekar: “The alternative music scene is very big in the West with composers doing lots of underground music. That is yet to grow in India and as a result, all our songs sound sugar-coated at the end of the day. I am trying to fight against the hip-hop genre, which is being done to death by Indian composers today.”

Ghanekar’s interest in jazz took him to the Berkeley School of Music, California in 1996. After returning to India in 1997, he teamed up with his musician friend Pathak to create music for several offbeat films like Tamanna, Bombay Boys, Snip, King of Bollywood and White Noise. Ghanekar’s music is heavily influenced by Western symphony, Indian classical music and a bit of punk-rock.

Currently, however, both are doing individual film work. Says Pathak, “Though advertising is our bread and butter, working in films is creatively satisfying.”

Or, look at Uday Ninjoor and Justin Yesudas (they’re buddies from school). They started out by doing jingles for ad films and then set up their own recording studio in Mumbai last year. “After having worked several years as music directors in the advertising world, we wanted to have our own space complete with all the works and facilities,” says Justin. He adds: “It helped to generate more Bollywood assignments for us.”

The two are clear that advertising is their bread and butter. Says Justin, “Though as a commercial studio we take up advertising work because money-wise that is more feasible, but we are also taking up film assignments.”

So what makes them strike new chords in an already crowded music industry? Almost everybody agrees that luck plays an integral role. Says Justin: “The biggest challenge is to convince the producer about what you want in terms of music. If that battle is won, the rest is your destiny; whether your experimentation is accepted or not.”

Agrees Pathak: “We must ensure that in order to be different we should not compromise on quality. But things are changing as directors are thinking out-of-the-box and trying to come out of the formula. And if you don’t do it, you will perish in this competitive industry.”