Monday, 30th October 2017

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'Guru is about rediscovering life'

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 8.01.07

What is it about Mani Ratnam that makes you reserve your best for him?

I think it’s the vibe. The vibe is very important when two creative people work together. It is not about egos. It is about working towards the same goal, reaching the same result. Then again, I don’t reserve anything special for him (laughs). It so happens. It’s how you get inspired by each other.

What is the process? How do the two of you approach a film score?

It’s just that once the film is decided he gives opportunities to come up with ideas. Not just me, whether it’s the cameraman, the actors, everyone. He pushes the ball in your court and then you go about working on it. Then he comes back when things need to be tweaked around, to be made better.

This is very unlike certain other directors, who would say: “I want this and I don’t want anything else”. There you already have the boundaries. Here, with Mani, the sky is the limit. You can think about weird things also and he always wants to do work which is groundbreaking. It’s not that you have to work hard or anything. It just comes naturally with him.

Yuva, your last work with him, had a very Bengali setting. What about Guru?

It’s actually more Gujarati. It’s more close to Mumbai than anything else. We wanted to do one song like Govinda ala re kind of thing but that didn’t fit into the script. So we used that sound and feel in the first song which is Barso re megha megha. That’s where all the big drums came in from. So, it was done for a different song but it fitted into that. It’s all Gujarat. So there was no problem.

Mayya mayya is on the lines of Hamma hamma and Chaiyya chaiyya. When you create an item number like that do you keep the popularity aspect in mind?

In the sub-conscious mind you would want the song to become popular. That’s the whole reason of doing a number like that. People should sing and enjoy. So we put in all into that. For Mayya mayya, I took the hook from a man who was shouting “mayya mayya on the road when I was on the road to Haj. The word “mayya” means water in Arabic and he was selling water. Then later in Mayya mayya we have even added some Gujarati lines because of the characters present in the picturisation.

Tere bina is your tribute to the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan…

Yes, when I was doing the soundtrack of Guru, I was listening to Nusratsaab’s Sajna tere bina. And I thought there was no such song which had come into Hindi films. You know in terms of the feel. So I thought it would be great to use a song like that in this film. And I even used the same kind of lyrics, Tere bina… and it fell into the whole groove in a very different way for the film. But I would say the inspiration was definitely Nusratsaab’s music and his style of singing.

You didn’t know a word of Hindi when you started out. These days, you seem to contribute to the lyrics…

(Laughs) It’s good to work with people who are filled vessels like Gulzarsaab. They are so calm and yet the little, little things they do are fantastic. Tere bina is so simple the way he’s written it. Yet it complements the whole setting so beautifully. And he never tries to do something which is great and show the world what he can write. It’s all from the heart.

Why get someone like Bappi Lahiri to sing the Guru title track?

I was at an award function in 2005 and I heard him sing on stage and I found his vocals to be very dynamic. We intended Abhishek (Bachchan) to sing that song in the film but then he was busy. And I had to go abroad when he was free. So Gulzarsaab and I were talking who we can try out and he said why don’t you use Bappi for the song. It was a great idea actually. He just came from Calcutta and sang the song in two hours flat.

How would you compare the soundtrack of Guru to your last work with Mani Ratnam, Yuva?

The music of Guru is about rediscovering life. Yuva was actually more like item numbers, like fillers rather than actually parts of a film. But here it is all bound together, in the way Jaage hai becomes the backbone of the film. Yuva started apologetically — ok, we will also have songs. But then here Mani said from the start: “Let’s have songs in the story.” This is more like him.

Coming to the song you have done for the United Nations, was Pray for me brother your idea?

I made the song first because I have been feeling very strongly about this for quite some time. You know India is really coming up as a country but at the same time you are having these suicides by farmers and there is so much of poverty all around. That inspired me to make this song. Blaaze and I have sung it. Then the United Millennium Development Cause came in. They have this project of eradicating poverty from this world by 2015 and so they thought of using the Pray for me brother song like an anthem for that.

Then, Universal Music and Nokia followed…

Yes, Universal Music is coming out with the song. We wanted to make a video for Pray for me brother and when I told some of my friends in London, they introduced me to Nokia. It is the first ever video in the mobile cinemascope format. Here the frame becomes vertical as opposed to the horizontal film frame format. My friend Bala (of Bharatbala productions) has made the video. He’s used a lot of skyscrapers to show the extremities with the poor.

You sang Pray for me brother for the first time at your New Year’s Eve concert in Mumbai. What was the response there?

The response was very good. Before I performed the song, we played a little audio-visual where we showed how billions are used for wars while just a fraction is required to feed people. Everyone was clapping after the song and in such a hyper mood like you have on New Year’s Eve, it was good.

Besides that song, how did the concert go?

I wanted to do this concert because it was a great outlet for Pray for me. The other good thing that happened was Nelly Furtado. We were supposed to work together before but it didn’t work out. Now I hear she’s told the press that she wants to work with me. We have to do a project, which is good for me, good for her.

Just a few days to go for the Oscar nomination list... What is your gut feeling?

Well, I am ready to be surprised, in a pleasant way (laughs). I have heard that there have been articles about my three songs in magazines there, like Variety. Rang De Basanti is, of course, there but Water is a very important film because it did very well at the North American box-office. So, let’s see…

Why did you choose to send these three particular songs, Chhan chhan (Water), Luka chhupi (Rang De Basanti) and Khalbali (Rang De Basanti)?

Chhan chhan is very important in the film as it shows the exuberance of characters who are facing a crisis. For the Rang De songs it was very important that I chose songs which have been performed by me. Luka chhupi is special not only because Lataji has sung it but it also proves to be a counterpoint in the film.

What else are you working on as of now?

It’s all work in progress. So, it’s premature to talk about them. But you will soon get to hear about Golden Age, Shekhar Kapur’s sequel to Elizabeth and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha Akbar.