They were the first of their pack who ventured into contemporary music for Bollywood with Dil Chahta Hai. Decades later, they have made a place in the industry as an institution – of intriguing, soulful music which has a genuine palpable feel to it. Shankar Mahadevan, Loy Mendonsa and Ehsaan Noorani are amongst the musicians who are considered game changers. Koimoi caught up with the trio whom Gulzar Sahab refers to as ‘The Three Musketeers’ to chat about Kill Dil, the present music scenario and how much has technology tainted real voice of singers.
You have begun the year with 2 States and now you are back withI. The music space of each of these is very different. How easy or difficult is it to shift from one genre of music to another?
Ehsaan: The mother ship is always the script. The directors won’t make the film without it, the actors won’t act without it. The music takes up the whole essence of the script. We don’t have a bank of 100 songs which a director can use. Luckily we function on an empty bank account and thus we understand a script before we begin composing. You can’t put the songs of Rock On into My Name Is Khan. Like Rahman, we have all worked in advertising for years and there you have to work with a certain amount of discipline. Now can you pull off a heavy metal track in a L.I.C commercial? It won’t work, you will kill people. We have worked in that background and we maintain our schema of work the same.
Shankar: We are more of music designers than music composers. We design music for a film.
Ehsaan: The music of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara is tailor made for them. You cannot fit any other film with that music.
Has it ever happened where one of you have liked a script and others haven’t?
Loy: There have been times when all three haven’t liked scripts unanimously (laughs).
Ehsaan: I think it basically is a gut feeling. We have heard a lot of scripts and refused a lot of films and believe me terrible scripts. Those films have not even been made thankfully. The films we have left haven’t done well either. So, we do get a gut feeling.
Shankar: When a film starts off, music is the first that picks up about it. You have an association with the director, the producer, the technical team for almost a year or more. The first thing you gauge when someone comes with a script is whether it is possible to spend one and half years of this person. It is not only the film but the kind of people you meet. After 18 years of being here, it is more about enjoying the experience. When Shaad came with Kill Dil, we knew it will be a big party all the way. It is the whole experience, Gulzar Sahab coming, we will have lunch, hang out together, talk about food, crack dirty jokes.
How much has Shaad changed since Bunty Aur Babli?
Shankar: Shaad has changed a lot. He knows addresses of more restaurants from where we can order food (laughs) As a technician, he has changed a lot but as a person, there is zero change.
Ehsaan: But change is inevitable. You meet your success, your flops, your losses and understand what went wrong, where we went wrong. You grow better! In my opinion, Shaad has got this film perfect. When we watched the first cut while doing the background, we laughed our guts off. This one he has hit bull’s eye.
How was it working with Gulzar Sahab?
Shankar : You know, these great people have the ability of breaking the ice and making you feel comfortable. He will make you feel, ‘Arey Yeh Toh Apna Hi Bachcha Hai’. He comes to the studio, he writes infront of us. If we ask him to make changes, he understands. He is Gulzar and infront of him we are people with very limited knowledge of vocabulary. But he makes the changes. We are asking him to make changes for a specific reason. There might be a phonetic reason. Then he comes sometimes just to listen to our songs. and often he comes just to hang out with us. We feel blessed to be working with someone like him.
A lot of young budding singers do complain about the how the young musicians do not have the patience to allow a singer to assimilate the song and its essence. Do you agree that you guys were a lot more calm, serene and patient as compared to the newer lot?
Loy : See the older method follows a format where the singers will get a song a day or two before. They used to have a sitting. But now with a time crunch, the demands are little more. I agree this is a bit of situation sometimes. I think in our case, the moment a singer walks into a door and sees Shankar out there, he sees trouble. Even senior singers find it a problem because Shankar knows what’s going on. They need to be comfortable. And with musicians and singers, it is when they are relaxed and comfortable, can they deliver to the best of their ability. Some days you are on top of your game, some days you are a little downhill. In case of a singer, we always allow them the window to come back and redo the song. It is often a personal self evaluation. We do evaluate it with the director and then internally and if we feel may be he/she needs to come back. Also if the lyricist feels that someone is not articulate enough or as emphatic in the song as they should be, yes, changes are needed.
Shankar : The thing about singers is that they should be comfortable behind the mike, not intimidated and also get the feeling that they are doing a good job. The confidence must not die. They might get stuck on a line and if we ask them to repeat it, it’s morale blow. So we often have to play a psychological game when despite knowing that the take is not as good, we allow them to go ahead, muster faith on the track. So second antra they sing great and third antra they have nailed beautifully then we get them back to sing the first para in the same mood, by then they would have perfected the song and its feel. They get paranoid if you stop them, they’ll think too many things in one shot – my voice is not ok, the directors are making a face, my song will be redone, my song will never come out in the market, I will never get a show, I won’t make money, my career is doomed. One bad day can do this to you and behind a mike you stand naked.
Do you keep in mind Govinda’s voice, while casting a singer for them?
Shankar : Quite the contrary. Govinda was the senior most actor and for him we got the youngest guy to sing, Siddharth Mahadevan. See the casting has to apt and yet interesting. Govinda has never ever performed for something like Bol Beliya. It’s a dance song and yet there is mystery and villain-ish feel to it.
So you never co-relate the singer’s voice and the actor’s voice
Loy : I think the only time, we have done that is when we cast Farhan for Rock On. He has a very distinct voice character. It’s the same band. So the moment you put a singer there, you pulled out of the film. See either the voice grabs you and if it can’t you are out of the song. It’s a detachment play. He was the lead singer of a band.
While we are at Rock On, how much did you guys have to train Farhan for it?
Loy : Farhan was initially under a lot of stress and Shankar gave a lot of pointers. Sessions and sessions of practice helped him nail it eventually.
Shankar : He was very nervous initially. But by the time, we were in our last song there were people in studio cheering him. The first song he recorded was Tum Ho Toh and that was a very tough one.
Shankar, how do you detach the singer from the composer in you?
Shankar : It can’t be myopic. Always view a song from a top angle and how can I do justice to the song.
Loy : Also Shankar and we are the kind of composers who have thankfully a little stronger presence in the industry and it is our responsibility to introduce fresher talent. All you need is a springboard. It’s tough and there is a fight, and lots of talent. Strangely enough, music in India needs to be validated by Bollywood. It is a litmus tests of sorts.
Do you think the advent of technology and the ability to mix a certain song in such a way that the negatives don’t surface is a flaw in the industry today? Non-singers are finding it easier to earn a spot.
Loy : Yes and No. But tweaking can only help get a good song in the album but the really challenge is going on stage and performing. And if you are saying how older singers from 90s have disappeared today, understand music is about singing and creating and not being a part of Bollywood necessarily. As long as they are doing gigs, it is working well for them. They aren’t jobless. What people don’t understand is that the function of singers is mainly to do gigs. As long as a musician is busy, they are good.
Kill Dil has a very Macaroni Western feel to it in its title track. Is it intentional?
Loy : Very much. We are people who have been playing guitar and listening to music since childhood. It is actually Surf music, like Beach Boys variety. This film is a tribute on many many levels. It is a great chance to put it there.