Pritam Chakraborty Curated
Music Director & Composer
CURATED BY :
You started off with Jeet Gannguli but the two of you soon parted ways. What happened?
Nothing happened as such, but you see, nothing was happening in our lives. So we sat and decided that we weren't making much headway together. I thought I would immerse myself in jingle work, which occupied me well enough. There was no animosity, no fight.
What was the turning point in your career?
Aisa hua ki Kidnap got delayed because of Sanjay Dutt's dates. And Gadhvi decided to make a quickie, Dhoom. I told Gadhvi that I would like to give it a shot. He was more than excited about it. Thankfully, he and Aditya Chopra both liked the tunes which I suggested, and I was signed for Dhoom. After Dhoom, Anurag Basu who is a friend told Mukesh Bhatt that he would like me to compose the tunes of Gangster. After that, Priyadarshan signed me up for Garam Masala. The ball started rolling.
You have worked with the three Khans. Would you term their contribution as involvement or interference?
Aamir is a part of the direction team from start. Shah Rukh comes and sits around sometimes, but when he's around and likes a song, he contributes a lot on lyrics. With Salman who is very instinctive, I go and meet him with an optional list which helps him to zero down on the final choice. Javed Akhtar and Amitabh Bhattacharya are their own filters but I for one, play everything to the director especially if it is musically inclined.
It’s been an exceptional two years for you, right from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil to Jab Harry Met Sejal. Which album in these two years has been the most challenging and which would you pick as your favourite?
All the albums I worked on in these two years came with their own challenges. While Ae Dil... and Jab Harry Met Sejal were love albums and were up my alley, the challenge was to match the ear and taste of two ‘musical’ directors — Karan Johar and Imtiaz Ali. Tubelight was extremely challenging and limiting in scope as Salman Khan needed massy music and the theme was 1960s with no love story and song situations were mostly between the brothers (Salman and Sohail Khan). To top that Salman Khan’s character needed to have a certain restriction in the movement of his dancing as his character did not allow him to go all out. Dangal, though situational, had varied emotions and also since the demand was not that of ‘hit music’, I could just concentrate on accentuating situations and using songs like background music. As the movie worked big time, the music got established very well. However, the most challenging and satisfying experience was Jagga Jasoos. Whatever the box-office fate was, I am extremely proud of Jagga Jasoos as a film. It’s not everyday you get to work on a movie which is like a full-blown Broadway musical. No, not a La La Land type musical... every Hindi film is like that with six songs to eight songs. Jagga Jasoos was like this full-blown Les Miserables kind of opera where mostly every dialogue was through songs. I wish I get to work on more movies like that but doubt anybody will take a risk like Anurag Basu has taken.
Growing up, who were your musical inspirations and who are the contemporary music directors in Bollywood you admire?
There are so many. It started with my father (Prabodh Chakraborty) and my guitar teacher Deboprasad Ram. And then Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrulgeeti... Abbasuddin, Nirmalendu, Salil Chowdhury, Sudhin Dasgupta... to being a die-hard member of the RD Burman fan club in school. Later, Pink Floyd to Mohiner Ghoraguli, Freddie Mercury to Pratul Mukhopadhyay... Mozart to Bela Bartok, John Williams to (Zbigniew) Preisner, Madan Mohan to Jatin-Lalit , Langas (musicians in Rajasthan) to Gipsy Kings... it was the work more than the artiste. Every piece of work which used to fill my soul, I used to fall in love with the artiste. Even now, I fall in love with a song and then I start admiring the musician behind it and feel envious as to why I am not the creator of the song . It can be anybody — from everybody’s blue- eyed boy Amit Trivedi for Shaam (in Aisha) or little-known Gulraj Singh for Pakeezah (from Ungli)... it’s the song which turns me on first. Everybody is on my admiration list for their songs — from Rahman to Sachin-Jigar.
Which singer, according to you, brings out the best in a Pritam composition?
That’s what makes me spend so much time in casting a singer for a particular song. Because it’s absolutely necessary to get the right singer who brings out the best in the composition. I have my phases of favourites but generally it varies with songs. The endeavour till the end is to make the singer get the best out of the composition. Sometimes a particular singer goes beyond expectation and takes a song to the next level... like Papon in Kyon (Barfi!), Arijit Singh in Channa mereya (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), Mohit Chauhan in Tum se hi (Jab We Met), KK in Zara sa (Jannat), Shreya (Ghoshal) in Yeh ishq haaye (Jab We Met)... the list is endless. That’s the time when real magic happens. And I keep my fingers crossed that it happens in every song of mine.
Of all the songs you’ve made over the years, which remains the most personal and why?
Difficult to answer. I have done over 100 movies and over 600 songs spread over 15 years. It has been a rollercoaster ride, emotionally. Difficult to pick one song. Stories of all songs are rich in memories. I can fill up a book with these experiences.
If you had to revisit any song composed by you over the years and tweak it, which would it be?
Oh no! This is a constant point of contention between me and the producers. I am never fully satisfied with any song and keep reworking it until the deadline for the album is about to get over. The producer has to snatch the songs from me! I am just never fully satisfied by any of my executions. But after it’s out of my hands, I just let it go and try not to stress over it. So back to your question... given a chance which song I want to tweak — the answer will be all of them for various reasons.
Did you expect so many awards for Ae Dil Hain Mushkil? Have you kept a count of the trophies you have won for this film?
I think almost every award function felicitated me for ADHM. But honestly, I didn’t expect so much appreciation, love and euphoria over my songs in that film. Trust me, it is to be seen to be believed. All the songs- Title Song, Bulleya, Alizeh, Break-Up Song or Channa Mere Aa- clicked in a big way. I think I owe it to Karan Johar. It is very important for a director to involve himself in the music of his film so that he can guide the music team keeping the emotions in the story in mind. Karan did that beautifully.During his brief, he explained the song situations to me very vividly. I somehow knew that the audiences will connect with ADHM as it had a lot of angst and longing- the two vital ingredients of a love story.
How was it working with Salman Khan?
Very pleasant! Salman is a very chilled-out person, does not talk much and he has a very good and “massy” music sense. He’s very clear about what he wants and my (now) only song in “Bodyguard” was approved literally in five seconds. Salman came up to me and said, “‘Ready’ is an outstanding album!” When I asked him if he was being polite, he just said, “You have no idea how good it is!” When “Bodyguard” went to Himesh, he came to me and told me, “You do ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ instead.” I was okay with that.
Who are your friends in the industry?
I don't have actors as friends. There is no actor who is my 3 am friend. There are a couple of musicians whom i can call friends and i have a close knit group of friends whom i feel comfortable with. I don't like talking unnecessarily and my communication skills are zilch. I just can't converse with people. Maybe it is because of my sluttering or stammering but i am not confident of talking with people. I only talk to very closed friends and family. So, that's why i have very less friends too.
How do you compose a love song?
It has to do with how deep is the relationship. A lot of times if you see a love song, it has to be a deep love song, but sometimes the film does not establish enough love between the couples so the song can be lighter. Even in various genres of love songs or sad songs, the intensity or the depth differs according to the character and according to the setting of the film.
How do you decide to compose music for a film?
It really relies on certain factors like whether the director is a friend, if I have worked with him earlier. Sometimes it is that I like a script or I like a setting like if it is a musical setting or if it is a rom-com.
How did you feel when you were often referred to as a copycat?
There was a time that I was only known for being a plagiarist. It used to hurt at times because there was so much effort i was putting into music. And instead of that, it was a couple of tunes that i had reproduced from folk songs to remake as film songs, which were being written about. People weren't appreciating the music that i was making. But thankfully, that phase is over and i am getting my due. My songs are being liked and appreciated and getting me more work.
As a musician, tell us how important lyrics are for a song.
Poetry is necessary for a song. I believe song composition is then most important part. After that comes the lyrics and then the singing. Beats, rhythm, and orchestration are also important. So poetry is very important. Lyrics gives longevity to a song. You tend to remember and associate yourself with a song for longer time when you understand and relate to the lyrics of the song
If you had to compile a playlist of the Top 5 songs composed by you, which ones would you choose?
Ha ha..I am asked this question quite often and I have never been able to do it . Basically, I don’t want to risk it as the list changes every hour and by the time this interview comes out, I will curse myself for giving you a list which I don’t believe in!
Having judged reality shows, how do you view reality shows in the light of reviving the soul of music?
Reality shows act as an entry ticket to the ‘other’ world. And it is only better if it is seen likewise. The real journey starts when a participant experiences and learns the details from the celebrated musicians who are part of the show. I believe reality shows have worked to protect the spirit of music because it connects the entire nation to the core. They act as a library as it helps the producers and music composers to browse through a plethora of good artists that this platform serves.
Who has been your inspiration?
I cannot name one. As a person grows, his learning and inspiration also evolve. As a kid you are a blank canvas, so at that tender age if you like somebody, you become fanatic. Gradually, as you grow and get a better hold onto things, you start appreciating every form of art. When I was a kid, I was a die-hard fan of R.D. Burman, as l left school and college I started listening to Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, Jaidev, and Madan Mohan. So there has been an eclectic mix of composers and music that shaped me.
Have you ever considered starting a music academy of your own?
I want to re-open my father's music school. I want to do it for my father. My father had to close down the school and I want to start it again. I will do it in West Bengal only. I want to open it with the same name Unimus Music College. I will try to start in the same place near Park Circus, but if it is not possible, I would look for some other place
How does it feel when you work very hard on the score for a film but then the film and the music flops?
What makes a good song?
Tell us about your creative process. How do you create? Where do you create? What happens when a tune doesn’t come?
What happens when, for example, a film like Barfi or Jagga Jasoos doesn’t release in places, or an unfinished product gets released? Do you think creative compulsions should not have any restrictions? Should there be some responsibility that artists have towards practical realities?
The fate of a song is always so closely linked with the fate of a film. How do you know that changing or improving that one beat can make all the difference?
How do you deal with the failure of a film at the box office? Especially a film like Jagga Jasoos, for which you worked really hard and composed such amazing music?
When many of us are low, we turn to music. When you are low about music, what do you turn to?
You are very passionate about JAM8. What drives you? What is it that makes you want to do this?
You gave your heart and soul for Jagga Jasoos and Jab Harry Met Sejal. While the music of both the films were loved, the films didn’t do well. Does that affect you?
A film doing well or not is not in my hands and whenever I compose for a film, I don’t think whether the film will do well or not. If you ask me whether it affects me or not, of course, it does. I am very much a part of the film. It’s success or failure affects me.
What according to you is the music taste of Indian millennials?
Though people look for new orchestration and modern sound nowadays yet the basic requirement for a good melody and lyrics haven’t gone away.
Today’s songs don’t necessarily have poetry. Mostly they only have beats and rhythm. Your say?
Poetry is necessary in a song. I believe song composition is then most important part. After that comes the lyrics and then the singing. Beats, rhythm and orchestration are also important. So poetry is very important. Lyrics gives longevity to a song. You tend to remember and associate yourself with a song for longer time when you understand and relate to the lyrics of the song.
The Indian music industry today has become competitive. More emphasis is given to performances, looks and fan following. What is your take?
I think at the end of the day how you look might create an advantage at the beginning but it’s the content which ultimately succeeds. So, in the long run, it’s the talent and hard work which pays your bills. As far as competition is concerned, as competition has increased, the volume of work has also increased. There is lot of work. The industry has opened up and it’s no longer about three or four composer or singers. Anybody who is good gets work. So along with competition, opportunities have also increased.
Tell us the kind of work that you want JAM8 to take up?
JAM8 is an A&R (Artist and Repertoire) incubation platform. The basic motive is to find talented people who will incubated, groomed and pushed into the music industry. India is lagging in A&R incubation. Our country is full of talent but lot of good talent is left out because they don’t get opportunity. JAM8’s basic approach is to give that opportunity. We want JAM8 to take up the space of serving the entire creative community on sonic identities. So, basically if there is a big brand out there who want to create impact with their marketing or a big television series out there that wants to create an iconic theme song or a film like Raees who wants to create songs, we want JAM8 to be the ‘go to’ creative person for every one of these guys.
What is your take on the trend of rehashing, remixing and bringing back older songs.
Rehashing and remixing old songs are fine till they are part of the script. When it becomes a norm and every alternative film has a remixed song, it is not a healthy trend.
Tell us about your passion for music.
What are your views on the instant popularity of certain songs over other songs that take longer to become popular?
You’ve composed a lot of hit songs over the years. Tell us about your toughest composition.
How did you enter Hindi cinema?
While doing sound, I started doing music for everybody at the FTII. By the time I was in my third year, I was the official music director. In my batch, out of the eight diploma films I scored for six. There was a huge TV serial boom at that time; everybody was making a pilot for the channels and needed one title song. The seniors, Batul Mukhtiar and Shabnam Sukhdev, used to call me, aake music kar le. They gave me my first job. Onir’s sister, Irene Dhar Malik, used to study at the institute. Whatever Onir used to edit — he was an editor at that time — he used to call me for the music. I used to take the bus [to Mumbai] at night with my keyboards, do the music and come back [to Pune]. All these people pulled me towards music. I started doing lots of ads — all of Raju [Rajkumar] Hirani’s work. Raju was editing Sanjay Gadhvi’s film. Gadhvi did Tere Liye and Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai with us [as a duo with Jeet Gannguli]. That’s how the film journey started.
How do you decide on the music for a film?
See, I have been a film student. The songs come from the script. My sound varies with the script. I have always designed my sound. However commercial the film might be, there is always a thought behind it. For example a Love Aaj Kal or a Jab We Met or a Singh is Kinng is heavily influenced by Punjabi because of the characters. You can’t expect a Veer Singh (Love Aaj Kal) to sing a retro song or an R.D. Burman kind of song/ He will sing ‘Ahoon Ahoon’ or ‘Aaj Din Chadheya Tere Rang Varga’. Where did the Barfi sound come from? It is set in retro Kolkata so the sound is very retro. All songs have that old-world charm.
Does criticism bother you?
I am oversensitive. Some criticism has no base. On the Internet, in the name of anonymity, you can comment on anything and hit below the belt. Good, positive criticism is always welcome. It feeds my energy. Someone stated that KK [singer] would have suited the ADHM song better. It’s a valid opinion, but why Arijit Singh? Because there are totally different kinds of songs in the film — from Sufi with lots of harkat to even an item song. There are only a few singers who could handle all kinds of genres. Arijit is the closest to me, I have seen him grow as a singer. Also, the protagonist, Ayaan’s voice cannot change in each song. The film version of ‘Bulleya’ is in Arijit’s voice, not Amit Mishra’s.
What do you aim for with your music?
Whenever the final mixing and mastering happens, I always tell myself the song no longer belongs to me. It belongs to the public. I was introduced to a couple as the composer of Jab We Met. They asked me, “‘Tum Se Hi’ is your song?” Then they said, “No it is our song. We fell in love and married through that song. It is part of our life.” That’s what actually drives me to the music. Somewhere, somebody might be falling in love or creating a memory or experience through my music.
You have been often criticized for plagiarism. Do you feel the criticism was justified?
Yes, I did make mistakes in the beginning of my career and have been persecuted for it since so many years now, which made me go through hell. But there is karma. God knows I didn't do wrong on purpose and he keeps a track of our lives and I feel his hand on my head. I have learnt to move on and ignore the jibes that people enjoy in hurting others.
Your songs are both peppy and soulful. But, is there a genre that you’d like to experiment with?
I haven't explored much of folk; rural rustic music has its own charm and someday I'd like to infuse it in my work. I like experimenting with genres, and though it was sporadic, I'd composed pop rock songs for 'Life in A...Metro'. In fact I've tried my hand at Broadway kind of music in one of my albums.