Music composers Shankar Ehsaan Loy have been in the industry for 18 years now. The trio reveal that one of the things they gauge before saying yes to a film is “whether they can spend one and a half years with that director or not.”

Loy says, “It is not only the film but the kind of people you meet. Besides the work, it is also about enjoying the experience of working with someone.” The trio talk about their work, what they look for in a singer, the importance of a good script to compose for a film and hanging out with Gulzar.

From 2 States to Kill Dil, the year has been eventful for you. How easy or difficult is it to shift from one genre of music to another?

Ehsaan: The mother ship of any project we take up is always the script. The music takes up the whole essence of the script. We don’t have a bank of 100 songs which a director can use. Luckily we function on an empty bank account and thus we understand a script before we begin composing. You can’t put the songs of Rock On into My Name Is Khan.

Much like A R Rahman, we come from an advertising background where one has to work with a certain amount of discipline. Can you pull off a heavy metal track in a L.I.C commercial? It won’t work.

Shankar: We are more of music designers than music composers. We design music for a film.

Ehsaan: The music of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is tailor made for them. You cannot fit any other film with that music.

Has it ever happened where one of you have liked a script and others haven’t?

Ehsaan: We have heard a lot of scripts and refused a lot of films. Some of those films have not even been made or haven’t done well.

Shankar: You have an association with the director, the producer, the technical team for almost a year or more. When Shaad (director) came with Kill Dil, we knew it will be a big party all the way. It is the whole experience, Gulzar Saab coming on board, getting to spend time with him, have lunches and hang out with him and crack dirty jokes.

How much has director Shaad Ali changed since Bunty and Bubbly?

Shankar : As a technician, he has changed a lot but as a person, there is zero change.

Ehsaan : But change is inevitable. When one has seen success, flops, experienced losses, understood what went wrong, you grow better. In my opinion, Shaad has got this film perfect. When we watched the first cut while doing the background, we laughed so much. With this film, he has hit bull’s eye.

How was it working with Gulzar Sahab?

Shankar : You know, these great people have the ability of breaking the ice and making you feel comfortable. He will make you feel, ‘Arey Yeh Toh Apna Hi Bachcha Hai’. He comes to the studio, he writes in front of us. If we ask him to make changes, he understands. He is Gulzar and in front of him we are people with very limited knowledge of vocabulary. But he makes the changes. He understands that we are asking him to make changes for a specific reason. There might be a phonetic reason. Then he comes sometimes just to listen to our songs and often he comes just to hang out with us. We feel blessed to be working with someone like him.

A lot of young budding singers complain how young musicians do not have the patience to allow a singer to assimilate the song and its essence. Do you agree that you guys were a lot more calm, serene and patient as compared to the newer lot?

Loy : See the older method follows a format where the singers will get a song a day or two before they actually record the song. They used to have a sitting. But now with a time crunch, the demands are little more. I agree this is difficult for a singer sometimes.

I think in our case, the moment a singer walks into a door and sees Shankar out there, he sees trouble. Even senior singers find it a problem because Shankar knows what’s going on. They need to be comfortable. And with musicians and singers, it is when they are relaxed and comfortable, can they deliver to the best of their ability. Some days you are on top of your game, some days you are a little downhill.

In case of a singer, we always allow them the window to come back and redo the song. It is often a personal self evaluation. We do evaluate it with the director and then internally if we feel may be he/she needs to come back. Also if the lyricist feels that someone is not articulate enough or as emphatic in the song as they should be, then changes are needed.

Shankar : The thing about singers is that they should be comfortable behind the mike, not get intimidated. The confidence must not die. They might get stuck on a line and if we ask them to repeat it, it’s a morale blow.

So we often have to play a psychological game when despite knowing that the take is not as good, we allow them to go ahead, muster faith on the track. So second antra they sing great and third antra they have nailed beautifully then we get them back to sing the first para in the same mood, by then they would have perfected the song and its feel.

They get paranoid if you stop them, they’ll think too many things in one shot – my voice is not ok, the directors are making a face, my song will be redone, my song will never come out in the market, I will never get a show, I won’t make money, my career is doomed. One bad day can do this to you. Behind a mike, a singer feels naked.

Did you keep in mind Govinda’s voice, while casting a singer for him?

Shankar : Quite the contrary. Govinda was the senior most actor and for him we got the youngest singer (Siddharth Mahadevan) to sing. See the casting has to be apt and yet interesting. Govinda has never ever performed on something like Bol Beliya. It’s a dance song and yet there is mystery and villain-ish feel to it.

So you never co-relate the singer’s voice and the actor’s voice

Loy : I think the only time, we have done that is when we cast Farhan for Rock On. He has a very distinct voice character.

Shankar, how do you detach the singer  from the composer in you?

Shankar : It can’t be myopic. Always view a song from a top angle and how can I do justice to the song.

With the advent of technology and the ability to mix a certain song in a way that negatives are not seen, are singers finding it easier to earn a spot. 

Loy : Yes and No. Tweaking can only help get a good song in the album but the challenge lies in going on the stage and performing. And if you are saying how older singers from 90s have disappeared today, understand music is about singing and creating and not being a part of Bollywood necessarily. As long as they are doing gigs, it is working well for them. They aren’t jobless. What people don’t understand is that the function of singers is mainly to do gigs. As long as a musician is busy, they are good.

By Priyanka Jain