Is it fair to ‘brand’ the current composers? When Pritam has been known to compose rooted Indian melodies like ‘Mere Dholna’ (Bhool Bhulaiyaa) or ‘Ghar More Pardesiya’ (Kalank), Himesh Reshammiya for ‘Main Jahaan Rahoon’ (Namastey London) and a ‘Om Namah Shivaye’ (Banaras) and Vishal-Sheykhar have composed the music of Arjun—The Warrior Prince (2012), why do we restrict them all only to ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ music? And recently, to go off at a slight tangent, Amit Trivedi has excelled in the web series, Jubilee and the film Qala with a retro flavour that took us back eight decades?Are music composers being branded when it comes to period films?
Why is it then that only certain composers are considered when a subject is historical or mythological? A Jodhaa Akbar, Lagaan, Mangal Pandey: The Rising and Mohenjo-Daro have all gone to, ironically, the ‘techno’-whiz A.R. Rahman, while Ajay-Atul have been the choices for Thugs of Hindostan, Panipat, Tanhaji and Adipurush. As a third option, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy were assigned Mirzya, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi and Samrat Prithviraj, presumably on the strength of Shankar Mahadevan’s classical work.
Oddly enough, the ‘period’ or olde-worlde (literally) scores that have stood out qualitatively in the millennium, apart from Rahman’s Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar, are Anu Malik’s Asoka—The Great (2001), M.M. Kreem’s Paheli (2005) and the Bahubali franchise (which were Telugu-Hindi bilinguals), Sajid-Wajid’s Veer (2010) and Sandesh Shandilya’s Agni-Varsha (2002) and Rang Rasiya (2014). This besides Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s splendid work in Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat.
But it is a moot point whether Bhansali, apart from his ambition to do music himself, would have trusted any existing composer to fulfill his expectations.
The period film, Kesari (2019), strangely had a concoction of music makers and the folksy ‘Teri Mitti’ composed by Arko, a modern composer indeed, was the only one to make an impact, while most of the rest were traditional Punjabi numbers.
We spoke to a cross-section of talents about this issue, and trade analyst Amod Mehra said, “I think that it is also because of the symphonic sound that Rahman and Ajay-Atul create. A period film’s music is associated generally with grandeur and that has been true in the past as well.”
But period films, whether historical or mythological, also need songs drenched in classical raags and folk. So it is not just about the sound of the score or its bigness. As the late Wajid, of Sajid-Wajid, had rightly told me at the time of their period film, Veer, “For such films, we cannot give a dated sound or lingo – but there must be something in the compositions and words that identifies and connects to the era.”
Composer Sheykhar Ravjiani states that it is their (partner Vishal’s and his) misfortune that the only opportunity they got to score such songs, in the 2012 Arjun—The Warrior Prince, was for an animation film that barely got exposure. “Those who heard the songs know that we can handle such subjects!” he declared. Pritam added that he too would love to score music for such stories and do work in this genre that will stand out. He agrees that this kind of branding of composers is unfair.
However, both the leading composers concur that music in general gets scant importance of late. Sheykhar points out that even Adipurush has not been designed really as a musical, the way most period films in the past were. And Pritam agrees with this view.
Composer Sajid (-Wajid) had once revealed that it was principally because of leading man Salman Khan that they were given the opportunity to create the superb soundtrack of Veer. He said, “The makers originally wanted Rahman because of his reputation in such scores, but Salman-bhai put his foot down!” The result was there for all to hear: Veer effortlessly ranks among the career-best work of the composer duo!
Karan Malhotra, who had worked with Ajay-Atul in Agneepath and Brothers (both contemporary subjects) but shifted to Mithoon for Shamshera, states, “Mithoon is not someone usually associated with the big, commercial and historical actioner my film is. But he has done a phenomenal job, and has created the era of Laxmikant-Pyarelal for me! And I am a sucker for that kind of music. I enjoy it with its live instrumentation. Mithoon flew with my vision in the songs and the background score.”
But he dismisses the branding issue with a simple opinion: “I do not think it is about branding at all! It’s just the filmmaker’s preference, like why I chose Mithoon! I do not agree with the symphonic sound and image bit at all!”
Ashutosh Gowariker agrees that it is fundamentally the filmmaker’s preference that decides the music. “But I will certainly challenge any composer I feel is talented enough to my music, and take out something new from him. Rahman had never done the kind of film Lagaan was. And it was my responsibility to bring out that side of him, and choose Indian instruments that he normally did not use, like the sarangi. Obviously, this also means that a filmmaker must give his composer time and sit with him. I took Ajay-Atul for Panipat because I needed their kind of melody and Maharashtrian sound for two songs. But most filmmakers tend to go for images when they do not have the will to get something new from someone or experiment with talent. For me, music is an integral part of my film, and it should have the right flavour. And I will definitely think out-of-the-box if I feel someone can give me what I need against his perceived image.”
Nevertheless, we do seem to have come very far from an era that saw great music like Mughal-E-Azam, Taj Mahal, Nagin, Anarkali, Basant Bahar, Samrat Chandragupta, Jahan Ara or Sant Gyaneshwar—each with a different music director! After all, Shankar-Jaikishan in Basant Bahar, Hemant Kumar in Nagin and C. Ramachandra in Anarkali were signed totally against their image—but delivered fabulously.
Today, on the other hand, can we hope that someone like a Pritam is signed by Nitesh Tiwari (who has done Dangal and Chhichhore with him) for Ramayan, the way Rajesh Roshan was once to do a film on Maryada Purshottam Ram that was to be directed by Sanjay Khan with his then-son-in-law Hrithik Roshan as Ram?
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