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Tushar Lall on his Bollywood debut with Brahmastra

The founder of Indian Jam Project, who is known to give iconic Western songs an Indian twist, shares how raag Madhuvanti and Bond music go hand in hand

Farah Khatoon | Published 26.10.22, 05:52 AM

Tushar Lall is still wrapping his head around the fact that he is a part of the colossal documentary The Sound of 007 that traces the remarkable journey of the Bond music, right from Dr No’s dramatic theme in 1962 to Billie Elish’s Academy Award-winning number No Time to Die in the latest installation of the franchise.

“Obviously, it feels insane. I’m very honoured and grateful that this has happened. Apart from me and all the musicians there, I am also very happy to see Hindustani classical instruments in its full context has been put on one of the biggest documentaries of the decade and for a franchise which has a musical legacy of more than 60 years. Also, to find out that the origins of Bond’s music were actually Indian and this is where the music has come out of is exciting,” says Lall whose 2017 rendition of Skyfall is featured in the documentary directed by Mat Whitercross and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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The founder of Indian Jam Project, who is known to give iconic Western songs an Indian twist, shares how raag Madhuvanti and Bond music go hand in hand and making his Bollywood debut with Brahmastra. Read on.

What was your initial reaction when you were informed that your composition will be a part of this documentary?

I was very excited because the Bond theme fits very well with this raag that I’m really fond of. In my head, I’d always imagined them together and when Mat Whitecross got in touch with me, I obviously got very excited. I already thought that there should be a version of James Bond played in a Hindustani classical way and they just asked for it literally in the best way possible. This got the best representation it could have out in the world.

Did it bring back memories of the making of Skyfall?

Skyfall is an incredible track and Adele is an incredible performer. My favourite though would be Sam Smith — Writing On The Wall, and after that Skyfall is a close second. Playing it out on Hindustani instruments always adds a new flavour to it and if the track itself is so evocative or so well done, like playing Skyfall on a bansi and then putting strings and tabla behind just adds colours in a way which I can’t explain. From Western classical you have the orchestration perspective and from Hindustani you have beautiful nuanced instruments which can make anything even more evocative than it already is. So, all in all, it was incredible, especially bringing back memories of Skyfall.

It must have been a challenging task of incorporating Indian notes to the highly Western set. Tell us more.

It is challenging because I’ve been studying Western and Hindustani classical for almost 15 years now and the primary difference that exists in my head is that there’s an absence of a harmonic structure in Hindustani classical music; it wasn’t written like that. In Western, you start with ledger lines and the entire thing start with church and the entire foundations are based on harmonics structures. So naturally, whenever I’m mixing a score and raag, I have to kind of take the top lines of the score and match it to an existing raag. I think the notes of bond like you know, the top line of Bond theme in general and this raag in Hindustani, I might be a little off, but this raag is called Madhuvanti. I think Madhuvanti and Bond chromaticism... they kind of go hand in hand. And you can experiment with it.

How long did it take to make the piece?

Everything depends on a deadline. So usually for me to deliver quality work, I would take around seven to 10 days to make a track, but I think this one had a very tight deadline. We finished the entire thing in a week or two. I’m mostly very sorted about the audio in my head and I know how it will sound and I have full control over it. The video is something that throws me out. But I’m very fortunate to have friends who are incredible DPs and directors.

Among your various adaptations which piece has received the most amount of appreciation/ adulation?

This is a tough one. I would look at my true growth on YouTube and my number one variable would be comments and not views actually. In the comments, you can really know what people are thinking and I think adulation wise the piece I did with Pink Floyd’s music where  I took two of the most famous tracks and in the end I kind of bent that entire arrangement towards Yaman by changing one note. And another one would be Requiem For A Dream, the take I did. In that particular piece we played very fast and I know this sounds bad but we’ve played impossible tempos and it wasn’t easy to shoot and record but I think that has paid off and people appreciated that one as well.

What is it that you keep in mind while picking up a song and composing it, since you improvise and add your element as well to it.

While picking up a song, I mostly look at the top lines, see if it can go with a raag or if it can’t and then take a decision on if it has to be soundscape based or if it needs to be disposed fully towards Hindustani classical raag.

The popularity of Indian music and compositions have increased in the West. What do you have to say about that?

I think the West has a great eye for recognising and appreciating the effort and especially whenever we played shows in Europe or even in Korea. We have received so much appreciation; it’s unbelievable. They don’t even understand it fully but kind of respect the fact that someone has put a lot of effort into it.

You made your Bollywood debut with Brahmastra. How was it working for a homegrown project of such a grand scale and how was it working with the musicians here?

Brahmastra was an amazing learning experience. Ayan’s (Mukerji) DA got in touch with me and she told me that they are looking for a hybrid of an orchestral and Hindustani space and they would love for me to cover the Hindustani part of the score, which is an incredible honour in itself. I also met Pritam dada and I respect him so much for just his body of work. When I met him, I was very scared but he was just the sweetest person ever. He had faith in me, he trusted me with my processes and I told him that I would give it my all and for three months I forgot that I had any life. I was so glad that it worked out well. It was a huge learning experience.

Also, how different is it working independently versus following the director’s vision for a film?

I think working for a director’s vision is the biggest challenge and the best part is that you need to understand the film is the most important person in the room and not your own musical sensibility or judgment. I just finished scoring a docu-series for Amazon called Dancing on the Grave, an incredible piece of work and which is coming out in January 2023 by this incredible director named Patrick Graham who made Ghoul, Betaal, and a lot of insane Netflix shows.

We are sure this is just the start in the Hindi film industry. What else are you working on?

I’m hoping it’s a start and I would love to work in the Hindi film industry. Right now, I am working on two other web series. I’m excited that whatever I picked up from Western and Hindustani classical in the last 10-15 years, I get to finally implement all my techniques into scores which are going out in Bollywood or the OTP space.

What else is happening with the Indian Jam Project?

Whenever I want to remind myself that I’m a performing musician, I go back to the Indian Jam project and I meet all my friends who play with me. It’s always a good space to be in. We have a tour coming up in Germany from March 2023, it’s all a bunch of public shows and they we are very excited about and we might extend the tour into the UK tour as well.

Picture credit: Jeetu & Kinneri

Last updated on 26.10.22, 05:52 AM
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