They have the ’90s boy-band vibe of Boyzone or Backstreet Boys as well as one closer in time — One Direction. t2 met the four-member Indian pop-rock band Sanam — comprising Sanam Puri (singer-pianist), Samar Puri (guitarist), Keshav Dhanraj (drummer) and Venky S (bassist) — during their recent trip to Calcutta.
Your YouTube channel has 4.7 million followers. How has the journey been so far?
Venky S: When we started out, we didn’t know that we’d reach out to these many people. We thought that the right direction of releasing our music was through YouTube. When we started out, it was really simple — we used to send the video link to all the people on our friend’s list and spam them and ask them to share it with everybody (laughs). We have come a long way from there.
Sanam Puri: When we started out, more than half the things that are happening now were not planned. We didn’t even do renditions before — our plan was to only do originals. Then we released our first rendition, Jee le zaraa from Talaash, and we got a good response. We thought it’s a good thing; if we do renditions, it is one way of introducing our original music to people, and then do original music that will reach more people. Then we did the rendition of Lag ja gale — it’s a very sensitive song and we were very nervous. But the kind of response we got encouraged us to do more old song renditions.
Keshav Dhanraj: We basically pick songs that we like. While making music, we do stuff that makes us happy and what we want to do.
A cover of Adnan Sami’s song Bheegi bheegi raaton mein was out on your channel recently. What made you choose that song?
Sanam: This is a song that we really liked when it came out in 2000. I used to like Adnan’s Tera chehra jab nazar aaye more than Bheegi bheegi raaton, but it was with a label that we couldn’t touch.
Venky: When we make a rendition, we usually start working on the song only after we get the permission. Then we look at the catalogue and see which are the songs we connect to and which one we can do justice to. We see if we can interpret it differently or something that fits in with what we do as a band. Bheegi bheegi raaton was shot during the monsoons and it was a perfect fit.
What do you keep in mind while shooting the video of your songs?
Samar: When we started doing renditions, we used to just put out simple videos of us playing in a room, like in Jee le zaraa or Lag ja gale.
Sanam: The challenging part of shooting Bheegi bheegi raaton was the rain shot. There were two guys spraying water at me from two different directions! The water was getting into my mouth while singing… I had to spit again and again (laughs). But it was fun. There are those slow-mo shots where I had to sing double time, I used to spit every time the shot used to get over.
You also have originals on your channel and the new song is called Tu yahaan...
Keshav: Tu yahaan was a fun song and we took a really long time shooting that video.
Sanam: It took us a year to release that video as we had to make a few changes.
While composing a new song, what role does each of you have?
Samar: I write most of the songs. Siddhant Kaushal has written the lyrics for Tu yahaan. He’s written a few Punjabi songs for us before too. We all compose a song...
Sanam: I composed the melody of Tu yahaan on the piano. Then Siddhant Kaushal wrote the lyrics and then everyone got together and did the music. That’s the whole process of composing.
Keshav: Even while recording a song, we do different things. Venky does a lot of guitar stuff, Sanam also plays the piano. Each of us plays different instruments — it depends on who takes charge of that particular song. For live shows, we have two keyboardists, a percussionist and another guitarist.
How did the band start?
Venky: The band started in Bombay when I introduced my school band friends Sanam and Samar to Keshav. Sanam and Samar were my school friends from Muscat. We all moved to Bombay almost around the same time. It was around 2009 when the band formed. It was called The SQS Project. We took part in a competition called Supastars and I joined them in that competition and won it. We were called SQS Supastars because those were the terms of the contest that the winners will be called Supastars. SQS Supastars were bound by a three-year contract. After that, we changed the band name to Sanam.
Keshav: When we met our manager Ben Thomas, he was pushing our songs to people. Whenever we were sending our songs to people, say on WhatsApp, they’d see SQS Project and ask, “Oh, you started a new construction company or something?” It sounded like a corporate company. We realised it didn’t sound musical and didn’t work for us. Then we went through around 300 different band names before we decided on Sanam. We had like an email list of around 300 names!
Sanam, you sang the Rabindrasangeet Tumi robe nirobe on your channel so well. How do you know Bengali?
Sanam: I don’t know Bengali at all (laughs)! I love the song. I know the lyrics because a friend helped me understand the song. I had to work on the pronunciation and get into the whole muscle memory zone.
For Sanam and Samar, being brothers, how is it like being together in a band?
Samar: Today one guy came up to me and said, “Sanam teri kasam, I love you!” and I said, “Thank you”. And then he saw Sanam and realised I’m not Sanam. So he looked back at me again and said, “I love you too” (laughs)!
Sanam: Many a time what happens is, some people come up to Samar for pictures and get confused thinking it’s me. It’s so much fun… we look similar.
How do you work together as a band?
Sanam: We are managed by Ben Thomas of Kurian & Co. Talent Management. There are a lot of things that an artiste cannot talk about. The manager needs to do that on their behalf. The whole band culture is not there in India — it’s more about solo singers or playback. That’s what everybody’s dream is — playback. The band scene is there but it’s very independent and niche. We are trying to tell everyone that it’s about a band and not just a singer. Every instrument played is important, be it drums, guitar or bass. The singer will sound bland without the music. That’s where everybody plays an equal part.
Keshav: We are lucky that we have a strong team.