He’s worked with the cream of filmmakers and lyricists -and delivered too – but his career has reached an impasse. Ismail Darbar hopes to break the long jinx soon, beginning with an English film, The Unforgettable
It’s not as if Ismail Darbar’s only worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Subhash Ghai, Nitin Manmohan, Boney Kapoor, Vashu Bhagnani and Nitin Chandrakant Desai (as producer) – he’s delivered too. So how does he look at and explain the cul-de-sac that his career has reached?
Smiles the composer, “Main sirf ek baat kehna chahata hoon – it is God’s wish. My success, which lasted for over four years, was also His doing. So is this phase. I think that He must have planned something special for me, which will happen when He wills!” He pauses and goes on, “I look at this positively. It is said that Allah jisse pyaar zyaada karta hai ussiko taqleef deta hain!”
Apart from the larger scheme of things, surely there must be some practical aspects that caused him to lose out? Says Ismail candidly, “Haan, kuchh khamiyaan to rahi hongi mujh mein!”
There are deserving talents who do not do well but Ismail has also been mired in controversies on the personal front during this low phase. “As I said, God must be particularly fond of me!” he replies.
We persist – those are personal aspects that have no bearing on careers. But we hear about his famous blunt tongue. Couldn’t that be jettisoned to prevent his talent from rusting?
Ismail smiles, “Yes, I am blunt, but God has blessed me with sur ki samajh and that is my art. And my art is linked with nature. If I cultivate a hypocritical stance, my music will be affected, my aatma and my sur-they will change for the worse. Besides that, I have a work-style of my own, which does not suit everybody. But I am hopeful – bhagwan ki laathi ki koi awaaz nahin hoti. The screenplay that he writes cannot be altered merely by human beings who are not comfortable with me!”
Ismail’s first film since 2005’s Kisna (except for Mehbooba that released last year after almost a decade in the making) is the English film The Unforgettable directed by Arsala Qureishi and Sabrina Louis, for which he has composed two songs in Hindi with Kunal Ganjawala and Sunidhi Chauhan -the music is now out. “Though I am saying it myself, the songs are extraordinary and I am very proud of them,” says Ismail. “Arsala and Sabrina had a very clear vision, so it was easy to make good songs even if they would not be lip-synched.”
Coming from a school where he learnt under and played for the legends and the best of younger composers, Ismail is very clear about two interrelated aspects – the importance of the composition and its dependence in turn on the words. “Unless the lyricist or filmmaker insist, I never compose a song till the words are written, because main samajhta hoon ke the lyricist is more important than the music composer – with his verse, he can take you to a different world. I think that it is very important to understand the words and meaning before setting them to a tune. A tune should not be only about a mood or a situation!”
What does he think of film music in the last few years? “Most of the top names are doing very good work. But there are some trends I do not understand, like the disregard for good verse and proper singers. I introduced Shreya Ghoshal in 2002 in Devdas with Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) and KK got a major break in our Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but there seems to be no prominent singer since. There are so many with good voice-qualities and also talent but the songs they get to sing do not make them stand out.”
Ismail firmly believes that one strong score can bring back the era of melody. “But it should have strong lyrics, brilliant singing and above all, music that’s made without thought for kya bikega, kya chalega. The idea should be to excel, not sell! The older composers competed on grounds of excellence, not with CD sales or charts as parameters!”
Why is he not working again with Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is doing at least two projects? “Honestly, he always decides to do a film with me and we have a spat that leads to a misunderstanding! But that’s fine. Our relationship is not based on matlab. I cannot badmouth him because he has signed someone else, since that is not going to take away anything from what Sanjay is – an impassioned filmmaker in love with music. I am glad that Sanjay himself is composing (music) for his film – any new talent spurs on the competition and livens up the battle. Besides, Sanjay’s more than a friend – he is my guru, my mentor!”
He is grateful to television for keeping him in the limelight and has especially affectionate memories of Himesh Reshammiya. “Allah usska bhala kare – when he was at his peak in 2006, he took me to Bhushan Kumar-who already knew me as both Hum Dilâ€¦ and Deewangee had their music on T-Series – and persuaded him to do an album with me as composer and singer. He did not need to do that.”
But why has the album not come out? “I recorded four songs – out of the eight I had planned in different shades. A blunt composer like me who tells a singer what he thinks of his singing and talent could not spare Ismail the singer either! I found myself bad as a singer – except in one kind of song. And an album must have variety- so I scrapped it!”
But even granting his fastidiousness, he could still surely approach the well-known music-savvy filmmakers for work. “Honestly, I did approach a couple of such names. See, it’s like this: I will meet producers with complete humility, but if they outrage my sense of self-respect I will not tolerate it!”
Ismail admits that after Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (his debut film for which he won the National Award) he was on a great high. “I even did two songs for a Prithvi Theatres’ play for free and worked with Gulzarsaab. We got along very well and one song that Kavita Krishnamurthi Subramaniam sang, Mat phoonkon bansi mein Kanha, chhaati mein ched pad gaye, was really good. At that time, I was also signed for Mehbooba with Anand Bakshisaab, and I was awestruck by the genius of the man who understood stories, characters, situations and songwriting like no one else did!”
Mehbooba released only in 2008 and the songs failed to make a mark. “They sounded dated. It was my second film, and the director wanted me to make Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s style of songs and I had no issues being inspired by such extraordinary names. Had the film released on time, the music would have worked.”
As things stand, Mehbooba remains his latest release, though Kisna was made later. “It was the sheer pleasure working with Subhash (Ghai)ji, who paid me a compliment saying that I was the only composer who could take over when Rahman left the film after doing two songs. I had a great time with Javedsaab too.”
What next? “I do not want to talk till something concrete happens,” says the composer. “If it does not, it will be God’s love again! I am satisfied that people recall my songs even now, whether it is Devdas, Kisna, Deewangee, Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya, Baaz or even Sridevi‘s Shakti and Desh Devi.”