'Melody comes easily to me'

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By Bickram Ghosh on being a stage performer and a music director Pratim D. Gupta What do you want to tell Bickram Ghosh? Tell t2@abpmail.com
  • Published 18.03.09

What’s the best feedback you have got for your score in Little Zizou?

The overall feedback’s been really nice. A lot of people have messaged and told me how they loved hearing Rhythm Speaks in the film. But the one feedback which really means a lot to me was in Delhi, after the film’s premiere on Thursday night. It came from Ravi Shankar. Raviji is not really effusive in his praise for anything. He saw the film over a bag of popcorn and after the show told me: “Aami khub obak holam... aami khub ananda pelam... that you have treated the subject in such a subtle way.” He added that the sound was very diverse and at the same time not very overpowering. That made my day, my week...!

How did you approach the background score of Little Zizou?

I assigned instruments for every character. We gave Boman Irani two instruments primarily. One is the contrabass flute, which is a six-and-a-half-feet tall instrument. Tilmann Dehnhard is one of the few people in the world who still plays it and luckily he was passing through town. He played it while lying down because the flute was so tall it wouldn’t fit in a standing posture! The other instrument we used for Boman is the rabab. It’s sound being so mota, it suited Boman’s body language perfectly. For Liana the little girl, we used the flute throughout. For Imaad Shah, the cool dude, we used the guitar, which was played by Giuliano Modarelli. For the character of Little Zizou, it was the mandolin. So that is how I approached the film and I also composed a theme for each character.

Most importantly I wanted to do a completely acoustic score and I did it. We don’t have a keyboard in the film except for one small little sequence. No programming, no samples, no loops... totally organic. That’s something I believe in because I feel very strongly about musicians being replaced by machines. And you can’t play the saxophone like Manohari Singh on the keyboard. You can’t! So because it was an international project, because it was in English, because it was about Parsis, I thought I could take these liberties.

How did the connection with director Sooni Taraporevala happen?

Sooni, I realised, was hooked on to Rhythmscape. She felt there was an innocence in the album and there was a playfulness. And since she was planning Little Zizou at that time, she thought of me. She knew that I was in Calcutta but she didn’t know how to find me. It was very easy when she came down for The Namesake premiere because my Genex Valley hoardings were everywhere! So she was like “That’s the guy I want!” Someone then must have given her my number. We had a meeting... Mira (Nair) was also there.

Sooni’s brief was simple but the work wasn’t! For the 40-45 minute score of the film, I must have done about two hours of music! She is very sensitive and is very particular about what she wants. Being a student of literature myself (St Xavier’s College) I loved all the brainstorming at my place. The script was sent three years back with the minutest of detailings. And can you imagine we worked on the score for over a year?!

Do you see yourself becoming a busy music director in Bollywood?

Little Zizou, I think, is a good debut for me in Bollywood. I did do another film, Devaki, but unfortunately I had to leave it halfway. Right now, I am looking at doing good work. My priority is not volume at all. I don’t want to do 10 films a year. I would rather wait for a project which has perpetuity. I am not going to go hook, line and sinker for music direction. Because I have got a good thing going with the Rhythmscape concerts and my private albums. Even a few years back I was just an accompanist. I don’t want to throw all this away.

I know that I am sensitive to cinema and that I can make melodies. I used to make melodies in schools. Gun gun korey Ma ke shonatam and she would say that was Raag Malkosh and that was Raag Rajeshri. I had no clue! With Rhythmscape, I came into my being as a composer.

Now composing music for films, I think, is the natural progression. But I am first a performer above anything else. If being a music director was everything for me, I would have left all this and relocated to Mumbai for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya. That’s not who I am. I am essentially a tabla player, a stage performer but yes I think I am also a music director. And the next five-seven years will prove whether I am one.

You have scored for a couple of Tollywood soundtracks. What is the difference in the two industries?

The difference is more in terms of individuals, rather than the industries. There are people in the Bangla industry, who I would imagine would think out of the box. I really enjoyed myself scoring for Anjan Das’s Iti Srikanta. It was a completely Indian classical score and again completely acoustic. Also, I enjoyed working with Riingo (Neel Rajar Deshe). His maverick energy is infectious and he throws up exciting challenges for me.The broad difference, however, is the budget. If I want to bring down Pete Lockett from London for a piece, I can do that in Mumbai. There is no compromise in terms of quality. And, of course, the detailing.

Do directors here realise the importance of background score?

Not really (laughs)! But then again a lot of filmmakers in Mumbai also don’t realise its importance. I have been appalled to see some films where they have completely messed up the background score. Why make it so loud in the first place? Why point things out with music? Why can’t it play on parallel lines?

Are you comfortable ‘composing’ songs, Bollywood-style?

I think so. Five years back I composed Kal saari ratiya, which made it to the MTV Top 10 and then went on MTV International. Then there was Kailash Kher’s Saawariya, which became really big in Mumbai. Not only Bhansali, but even Sanjay Gupta wanted the track. Now I have composed this song for Ashoke Vishwanathan’s The Diamond Murders. Sunidhi Chauhan, who’s sung the song, sent me an SMS saying: “I just love the song!” So people have liked what I have done till date. I think melody comes very easily to me. Maybe because I have heard my Ma singing all my life. Also ironically what works for Rhythmscape are the melodies.

Don’t classical musicians look down upon Hindi film music?

All my life I have listened to RD (Burman), LP (Laxmikant Pyarelal). I think Kishore Kumar was the world’s greatest singer. I am mad about that kind of music, which existed in the 70s. I have a lot of respect for film music. If you are a classical singer, you won’t find it easy to be a playback singer and if you are a playback singer, you will have a tough time as a classical singer. Why not have the mutual respect?

Bol Bickram bol

My all-time favourite music director: Rahul Dev Burman.

My current favourite music director: Shankar Ehsaan Loy, right now! It used to be A.R. Rahman but currently I am finding more variety in SEL.

My all-time favourite Bollywood movie soundtrack: Sholay (RD Burman).

My recent favourite Bollywood movie soundtrack: Swades (A.R. Rahman).

My favourite international movie soundtrack:: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Ennio Morricone). Also The Godfather (Nino Rota) and Legends of the Fall (James Horner).

One Bollywood director I would like to work with: Vishal Bhardwaj. Being a music director himself, the exchange would be great.

One Tollywood director I would like to work with: Rituparno Ghosh. I liked his soundtrack when he was working with Debojyoti Mishra. But right now I think I can give him an edge with my music.

One director who doesn’t understand music: David Dhawan.

One music director who is underrated: Sandesh Shandilya. Loved his work in Chameli and the Jab We Met song Aaoge jab tum.

One music director who is overrated: Himesh Reshammiya, for sure! He became popular because of his singing, which also, I think, is very bad.

One singer I would like to work with: Asha Bhonsle, at least one song. My dream was that Kishore Kumar will sing my song. That can’t happen now.

A singer who can’t sing: Lucky Ali. He can’t sing to save his life. Note-gulo dhorey dhorey beshurey lagay.