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Last Updated 10.12.2018 | 6:00 PM IST
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Gulzar & Sajid-Wajid talk about Music of Veer

Savouring life to the hilt writing across the borders of poetry and literature, a bit for pelf and a lot for self, Gulzar scales another dimension with Veer, a film whose music has taken Sajid-Wajid into another stratosphere 12 years after starting out with the classy Teri jawani badi mast mast hai in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya


He relaxes in his study, insisting we share a cup of tea. Gulzar’s 73 years sit lightly on him, and its been a full fifty years since he entered the portals of the film industry. He has written stories, scripts and dialogues and lyrics, directed films, written literature in both prose and poetry and even done television work.

His special rapports with R.D.Burman, Anu Malik, A.R.Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj have stood out, but the list spans Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan, Hemant Kumar, Vasant Desai, Shankar-Jaikishan, Kanu Roy, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Rajesh Roshan, Khayyam, Jaidev, Pt.Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Ilaiyaraja, M.M.Kreem, Shantanu Moitra, Anand-Milind, Jatin-Lalit and Dr Bhupen Hazarika among others. Gulzar attributes his long innings, spanning from composers S.D.Burman to Sajid-Wajid again in the forthcoming Office Office and Sandesh Shandilya in a forthcoming film, to his integrity and dignity.

“I have never compromised on what I wrote,” ruminates the poet over tea. “Sometime ago, I quit a film over a meaningless word that they wanted in a song. I have turned down the biggest films and names because I did not agree with the ideology of a film or their demands. I am not someone who does a film where all that is expected from a lyricist are ‘hit’ songs!”

He elaborates, “A lyricist by default participates in any statement his film makes. For me, the budget of a film, its cast and setup never matter. There is a big-name filmmaker I turned down twice because I did not agree with what his two films were saying. The third time round, when he made a clean story, I worked with him. Some of my best work to come is in three small films.”

And which are those? “There is this small film called SRK, brilliantly written and directed by Ajay Verma. It has music by Ilaiyaraja, with whom I am working again 27 years after Sadma. This film is held up but Ajay has also completed Dus Tola, which is my first film with Sandesh Shandilya. A project close to my heart is Meghdoot, an anti-war musical about soldiers in Siachen, for which I am doing the story-screenplay-dialogues and lyrics.”

The futility of war and cross-border and communal harmony are subjects very close to him, says Gulzar. “The Partition has been the biggest influence in my formative years,” he declares. “Having seen the riots of 1947, I as a writer have to react to it, because it is personal in the sense that it has happened in my time in society. For over 20 years, I suffered terrible nightmares. I would be terrified of going to sleep just because of the fear that they would come back. A writer can only purge himself through his work. I give the entire credit to my sustained secular thought process – which is so ingrained that it is a part of me – to my father who kept his thoughts so balanced and exposed me to our biggest patriotic names.”

The three plays based on his verse and short stories, Kharashein (Scars), Lakeerein (Borders) and the just-premiered Atthaniyan (50 Paise Coins) also reflect this grief and caution. “From ’47 to Gujarat in 2002, my plays are about love and harmony. We need a human approach to borders, for they are not just about soldiers and guns but also about trees, flowers and people who share the same culture and roots. Atthaniyan talks about how life can never be a full rupee – we are half-happy, half-sad, half-living, half-dead…there is also a tangential reference to 26/11 as the film is based in Mumbai.”
Gulzar’s film innings also reflected this somewhere in his later films as director like Maachis and Hu Tu Tu as opposed to different genres earlier from Koshish, Aandhi, Mausam and Angoor. Why has he not directed in over 10 years? Has he never been inspired enough by any story?

“On the contrary,” he smiles. “There are so many stories – of mine and of others – that I can make. But I have to sort my priorities. I do not have an unlimited life, so I must also do whatever I want to do outside cinema – like writing books, short stories for children, poetry…I have averaged two or three books a year and though I did not do all this with that specific aim, I won the Sahitya Akademi Award and my Doctorate, showing somewhere that my choices were correct. A film draws you, gets you attention, but a book is 100 per cent your statement – without dilution.”

We move on to his latest triumph after the Oscar and Kaminey – Veer. “Sajid-Wajid are extremely talented and have never got their due, which I hope happens now,” he raves. “They impressed me in their first meeting. Their compositions had the perfect blend of the contemporary and the folk flavour needed for this 19th century love story of a tribal during the British Raj. They are masters at rhythm and so versatile. They use musical notes to give a perfect flavour. The film was given a treatment and grandeur all its own and the recordings were done live.”

So enamoured is the poet by their skills that he recommended them to Pravesh Mehra for the music of his Office Office, the satire based on the hit sitcom of that name. “When they met him, Parvesh was as impressed as I was. And they have done a great job in that film too!”

He is all praise for Salman Khan too. “Like his father, he has a rare dignity and a sense of values,” says the writer. “An artiste resides within the star, so only money is never important for him. Did you know that he makes wonderful and sensitive paintings?”
His next is Ishqiya, he says. “It’s a humorous film. I loved writing Dil to baccha hai ji for Naseeruddin Shah, but I wish they had let him lip-sync the song. He would have done wonders.” After that will come Mani Ratnam‘s Raavan and Vishal Bhardwaj’s Ek Bata Saat. The comfort zone is obvious. “We never discuss money and we trust each other completely. I know that Vishal will never approach me if something does not need my expertise. It reminds me of the time when Sanjeev Kumar and R.D.Burman trusted me to approach them only if something was worth their talent. Of course, they were so versatile that I knew that they could do anything, and Sanjeev would crib that I was testing his patience!


SAJID-WAJID

Veer has raised the bar in today’s film music, recalling the rich orchestration-meets-solid compositions era of Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

Sajid: (Making a saluting gesture to the Almighty) Thank you, and all credit goes to Salman (Khan)bhai for giving us this movie. He gave us our break and has encouraged us all through. Salman had a huge role in this music too. We have tried to justify this faith- in the last six months and have composed three diverse scores for his Wanted, Main Aurr Mrs Khanna and Veer. Each of these are also different from Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Partner, Hello and God Tussi Great Ho. Wand then coming out with songs in all our films. There is an honesty in our approach that has led us to sustain, apart from the variety.


True, you are known for your versatility, but Veer falls in another realm.

Wajid: Let us be frank. The film, but for Salmanbhai, was going to another composer. For 12 long years, we were waiting for a chance to prove ourselves, to challenge ourselves. Yes, we came up with diverse hits from our albums like Deewana to scores as varied as Kya Yehi Pyaar Hai, Chori Chori and Kal Kissne Dekha apart from Salmanbhai’s films. But we needed an epic film for that, and frankly we enjoyed meeting this challenge. For the first time ever, we are scoring for a rooted Indian theme, rather than a typical Hindi film of today.

Sajid: Veer reflects the perfect tradition of India – in the distinct style of Sajid-Wajid, if I may put it that way!


This film has two more firsts: Gulzar’s lyrics in a Sajid-Wajid film, and this is also Anil Sharma’s first musical ace among over half a dozen composers he has worked with.

Wajid: Thanks for that compliment!

Sajid: I think that any new team-up gives a certain freshness to the work of both a lyricist and a composer. As for Gulzarsaab, who would not want to work with him? We all unanimously wanted him – Salmanbhai, Anilji and us.


How was your interaction with him, professionally and otherwise?

Wajid: Gulzarsaab and we hit it off at the first sitting, and though we were working together for the first time, we knew him through our father, who has played on the films he directed.

Sajid: Gulzar-saab is a ‘preserver’ of words from Indian languages at a time when vocabulary is getting very restricted! In our first meeting he became very charged with what he heard, for all the five tunes were composed first. Taali maar de hatti veera was the first song composed.

Wajid: For dummy words, we had used the phrase Hoon aape hoon aape, which Gulzar-saab loved and decided to retain, weaving it in as the line Hoon aape sheesha dekhe gori.


But what is a Punjabi song doing in the story of a Rajput that is partly based in England around 1870?

Wajid: Taali is not a Punjabi song. It’s a warrior’s song with raag-ragini mixed with folk. Gulzarsaab is a master at dialects. Taali maar de hatti veera has a lingo that only has a whiff of Punjab. Back in 1870, we had few borders. And no one can claim ownership on North Indian folk! Salman-bhai is shown as a warrior from the Northern belt and isn’t really a Rajput.


How do you think the score will work with today’s listeners, especially the younger generation?

Sajid: Well, there is no techno or electronic song here with back-up vocals, rap and all that! But we have mesmerising romantic tracks like Salaam aaya and Surili ankhiyon wale that have caught on with youngsters.

Wajid: This is one time when we explored the khubsoorati of music in the golden era when the composition and the interludes shared the relationship a question has with an answer – one completed the other. We have restored that. Arrangements hardly exist in today’s songs. There is a certain amount of laziness and excuse-making that the people do not like such songs anymore. But that’s not true. The ability to do this is there in every composer, par nikaalnewala chahiye! We need filmmakers with the right sensibilities.

Sajid: The album is contemporary yet rich, classy yet of the popular kind and purely melodious. More importantly, it is made at leisure, with a lot of thought over even the smallest music pieces, and therefore it has shelf-value too. It has got us the respect we have been wanting. We recorded ‘live’ at studios and in most songs we got a standing ovation from musicians, some of whom even refused payment. Another satisfying aspect of this exercise was that this resulted in both veteran and today’s musicians come together to play on one platform. We had the best of recording engineers in Yash Raj Studios, Ashok Honda Studios, Sahara and Empire and the magician who mixed and mastered was Eric Pillai.

Wajid: Today, there is this misconception that only fast dancing numbers work today. But it is the depth in the slow notes jo aap ko apna banaa lete hain!


You have explored a lot into world music and fusion, travelling globally to listen to different artistes and integrating elements in your work. Has that paradoxically helped you to score a rooted score like Veer?

Sajid: It definitely has. We now have a world view. We know how to play with sound, musical layers and colours. Since we want contemporary listeners to relate to Veer we have to do this. Growth is vital today, as these are the most difficult times for a composer, since his audience, including children, is exposed to so much music. So while a typically Western score will not work, a typically Indian one will work only for a short while if there is no evolution. We have to blend the two. But we never let the electronic and world music elements dominate the acoustics and the Indian melody, be it in the songs of Partner or in Tujhe Aksa beach (God Tussi Great Ho).

Wajid: In the thumri, Kanha, we don’t follow one thaat like in the conventional such composition. Our singer Rekha (Bhardwaj)ji was delighted with the way we moved from a mishra raag (mixed raag) to pure Raag Nand so fluidly within the composition. The style of tabla playing here is over 150 years old and we used it for authenticity, but since it is a travelling song we have also used percussion-oriented world music patterns. And then we have Suzanne’s portions like Every time I look at you that also have classical Western and modern elements. We would not have been able to get these nuances into Veer had we got the film earlier in our careers. And therefore, we are happy that we did not get Veer in, say, 2001 or 2003.


So what did your father, Ustad Sharafat Ali Khan, and grandfather Ustad Abdul Latif Khan, have to say about your first rooted score?

Sajid: They all gave us Rs 1001 each. That is king-size appreciation coming from them!


What next?

Wajid: We have Dabanng with Salmanbhai and interesting films like Peter Gaya Kaam Se and Jaane Kahaan Se Aayi Hai.


Sajid: Trust me, we forgot Veer the day we finished work on it. A composer must move on. We only wish that the film’s background music, which consists extensively of our music pieces, would have come to us! Hum chaumukha kaam karna chahate hain (We want to do every kind of music). Good songs last for years and we are always fighting to improve ourselves!


Screen India

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