Toofan Composers Revisit Career, Discuss Film Music
Shankar Mahadevan’s bossy voice, Ehsaan Noorani’s guitar riffs and Loy Mendonsa’s seamless keys are back with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s boxing movie Toofan, slated for release July 16 on Amazon Prime Video. In an interview with Scroll. In, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy revisits their 25-year career which began with the unprecedented Due (1997).
What should we expect from the âToofanâ soundtrack?
Shankar: The title song has the adrenaline rush of a sports movie song but is also an emotional roller coaster. You can trace the person’s transformation in the song itself – it has a sweetness at the start and climaxes and takes off. Ananya, sung by Arijit Singh, has a very singer-songwriter production. Purvaiya, sung by me, is like qawwali rock.
You are one of the few composers to use Arijit Singh in an interesting way.
Loy: Shankar always says that when a composer, like for example Arijit, sings a song, he sees it differently. Often, Shankar sings a tune to the singer, but they still struggle with it for three and a half hours. Greats like Shankar and Arijit make it easy.
Shankar: Arijit is not only a singer, he has enormous depth and musical knowledge. I don’t know any singer other than him who hears the tune and writes the notation. He can sing everything, from R’n’B to ghazal, because he listens to everything and can modulate accordingly. It is a queen conch breed ka ghoda.
Take Sajde of Kill Dil. It’s a song monster, especially when the hook comes. He first sang the opening part of ‘Rabb labbha papiya nu’ and didn’t stop until he got it right. It was only then that he ate lunch and sang the rest. He fully understands the aesthetics of a melody and then adapts to it. Her voice is touched from above, like that of Kishore da.
Let’s go back to some of your best works, starting with the classic music-themed film Marathi ‘Katyar Kaljat Ghusli‘.
Shankar: Every Maharashtrian knows the songs of Katyar Kaljat Ghusli because it is a hit musical piece in the Marathi world. We were worried about being criticized for our take on a classic, but where else could we compose a bandish? With the songs recreated, we understood that the idea was to bring the song out of a natyasangeet arena into a cinematic space.
When our first song About Niragas Ho was out and we saw the love and affection he received, we knew we were safe. I am proud that today’s generation cannot tell which song is by SEL and which is by Pandit Jeetendra Abhisheki. We did it all as one compact album.
You came back to classic with ‘Bandits bandits‘.
Shankar: Here we have treated the characters separately. For example, in Sajan Bin, we know the teenybopper writes her own stuff and she’s not that good. She’s successful but is actually semi-mediocre so her singing and lyrics about going viral and selfies are deliberate. But when the classic rooted guy walks in, the contrast is communicated instantly.
We were like children in a candy store with the project. Making music for 10 episodes, composing a bandish, a thumri, a tarana, a pop song, a Rajasthani folk song, instrumentals, it was all amazing.
Speaking of recreating classics, let’s move on to “Don” and “Don 2”.
Ehsaan: We gave the title song a cheesy but modern sound. Aaj Ki Raat was the black horse. We only retained Ye Mera Dil. Without this, the film would not have taken place.
the Don 2 the album was not as successful. The movie was a tight thriller that didn’t need so many songs. the Dushman Mera song was a tribute to Kishore Kumar, the way Shankar sang it.
Songs don’t play a big role in contemporary cinematic storytelling.
Loy: I think that’s a good thing because now you have songs that you really need. Very rarely, all songs are successful. Two-three are chartbusters, the rest float.
‘Rock On !!’, once again, had a successful soundtrack. Not ‘Rock On 2’, whose songs also capture the musical evolution of the group Magik.
Ehsaan: The first movie was about a college rock band. So most of the music was recorded live in a studio, made to sound like a garage band. The compositions were simple. In the sequel these guys are now producers, and another musician, played by Shraddha, brings his influences, so we had to make music for these two worlds.
When the Rock On !! the album was out, critics murdered it. They said Javed saab’s words are terrible. But it’s such innovative writing. He’s an Urdu poet who writes for an amateur rock band. When the movie worked, the people of Inner India stood up and maybe listened to rock for the first time.
Shankar: He can’t write “Phoolon ki khushboo mein jo chupi hai” or something for a rock band.
‘Udja Re’ is a very good song.
Shankar: We figured out what a DJ would do with my voice on repeat. So I sang something in the folk musicians space, and we cut and filtered it and we just had fun the whole time.
Your vocals are adjusted to a great effect in the title track ‘Kill Dil’.
Shankar: There are songs that float because of merit. They don’t have a box office or marketing support. The movie failed badly, but any song-based reality TV show will choose Kill Dil like a challenge song, because it’s a challenge.
Another song they choose is Tere Naina of Chandni Chowk in China, which, again, no one watched. These songs will last a long time without film, without context.
Ehsaan: Shaad Ali is a fan of Quentin Tarantino, so he wanted the title song to be in the Django Unchained zone, that’s how the opening riffs come in. It’s a beautifully eclectic song. Looks like Kishore and Rafi together, with the yodeling, then the hook comes in, and it becomes an alternative rock song.
‘Mirzya’ must have broken your heart.
Ehsaan: Rakeysh Omparakash Mehra told us to be prepared to fail. He said he was going to do everything in terms of experimentation so that we could do whatever we wanted. We have singers across the border, a trumpeter from Chicago. Having the CD in hand is like having a musical encyclopedia. If we had the right to Mirzya, which is with T-Series, we would get Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records to re-release it as world music.
Shankar: It’s like owning a collector’s edition pen or vinyl LP.
Loy: Also the extent of the film, caught between the earth and the sky, is reflected in the music, at the same time anchored then transcendent.
‘Zinda‘in’ Bhaag Milkha Bhaag ‘created the trend of rock songs for Indian sports movies.
Ehsaan: Rakeysh said he didn’t want to be period specific. Anyway, we didn’t know what songs could play in that setting, so we became contemporary.
Shankar: Ehsaan developed the opening riff at random as we filmed for the 2011 Cricket World Cup song From Ghumake. He suddenly played the riff and we thought it could be used for a good Punjabi rock song. We recorded it instantly. And you would assume that the djent part of the song was Ehsaan’s, but actually Loy wrote it.
‘Johnny gaddaarhe title song is a great rock song.
Shankar: We had the song ready in 25 minutes, the time it takes to reach Mahim from Bandra. Sriram Raghavan recounted the movie and had just left in his car when Ehsaan came up with the riff and within minutes we had it ready. We called Sriram and got him back to the studio immediately.
“Konchem Istam Konchem Kashtam”, your only Telugu work, has funny songs.
Ehsaan: When I do Instagram lives, all the people in the South still talk about it. It’s an eclectic album. And the director, who is called Kishore Kumar, really understood the right melodies. The problem with the Telugu, Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam industries is that they are not affected by the trade in singles and blankets, which continues.
Work with Kamal Haasan on Vishwaroopam was just as fabulous. He let us go to the edge, incorporating the kathak and everything.
What have been the biggest changes in the Hindi film music industry for you to listen to?
Ehsaan: The first big change: AR Rahman. The second big change: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. With Dil Chahta Hai, we showed that Bollywood music can be cool. It has caused people who don’t listen to Bollywood to pay attention to Hindi film music.
Shankar: I really wish the power of the music composer would go back to what it used to be. The power should stay with the creator, not the trader or the businessman or whatever. These people narrow the thinking horizons of composers.
If Rakeysh comes into the studio, we know we have a huge field to play on, for example. But the studio is so accessible that everyone enters believing themselves to be a poet or a composer. An airplane owner won’t tell the pilot to flip that switch and go left, will they? So many times, composers are forced to write a hook that seems forced.
Another thing is that we suddenly have this bad impression on young people. They say, yeh gaana youth ke liye nahi hai. Are young people crazy? The maximum appreciation of Bandits bandits came from the millennials, that also for the thumri and the bandish. They cover these songs on the guitar. They say Sapnon Se Bhare Naina is not young. Young people don’t understand music or what?
Where do we hear you three more?
Shankar: We do Bunty aur Babli 2, Prithviraj, Sam Bahadur, and an untitled film by Avnish Barjatya, son of Sooraj Barjatya. Working with the Barjatya is so beautiful, laid back, such a lovely and pure environment. There are also some cool things to do for OTT.
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