Neerja Bhanot was the real inspiration for the music – Vishal
Upcoming Music Composer Vishal Khurana had a colossal task in front of him for his very first film, Neerja. Not only did he have to work with stalwarts like Director Ram Madhvani and Lyricist Prasoon Joshi but was also responsible for composing for a film which is an important story that needs to be told. He has traversed through this mountain and truly stunned the audiences with such beautiful melodies; where the music tells the story and communicates the emotion with such wonder. Vishal takes us through this harmonious journey.
Tell us about your background and training in music.
I started doing music at the age of 7 and that is when I made my first tune as well. I have learned western classical music and done grade 7 in electrical keyboard from Trinity College London. I’ve also learned Dhrupad music from Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar Khan and am still taking vocal training in Indian classical. I have always been a composer but I wanted to learn Indian classical and western classical and so trained in them.
What was your initiation into the film industry?
When I started composing, I always composed songs. So by the time I was around 13 or 14 years of age, I was quite clear that I wanted to compose for films.
How did the opportunity to compose for Neerja come your way?
I had been working with Ram Madhvani (Director) on his advertising work and we collaborated on a lot of ad films during the last two years. While working there was a bond that we developed and that’s how he gave me this wonderful opportunity to compose for Neerja.
What was the brief that you received for the music?
The brief was to make the music all heart as this is an emotional and genuine film. My vision was to have the lyrics, the music and the film feel like they have been made of the same fabric.
And where did you draw inspiration for Neerja from?
The inspiration for Neerja was the story itself. When Ram told me to compose, he just asked me to Google Neerja Bhanot. When I read about her for the first time, I felt very inspired with what she did, who she was and how brave she was. While reading the script, what kept me going was the fact that I was making music for something very special. Neerja Bhanot was the real inspiration.
Also I was very inspired by the fact that Prasoon Joshi was going to write the lyrics for the film, which was a dream come true for me.
What instruments were used to make the background score as well as songs for this movie?
We used various instruments in the song called Aisa kyun ma including a rare instrument called the Mountain Dulcimer. Overall I have also used the cello, guitars, the charango, the base guitar, the accordion and the soundscape, which has been produced by me on the samplers and keyboards.
How would you describe the music in one line?
The music of the film is from the heart, it is genuine and has melody in it.
What is the process you follow to compose music?
I can tell you about the process in which the background score was made. Generally, you get a film and the composer gets about a month to score the full film. But when I read the script for the first time, I felt that we should build this background music in a very different way. So I started by composing some themes for the film. I would read a 5-10 minute scene, imagine what it would be like and then make some themes. I then felt that I should attend some of the film’s acting workshops to get a feel of how the actual dialogues would be said. And that’s when I understood that it is not dramatic but very real.
And that gave me a good idea. So we made around 12 themes and each one was a 10 – 12 minute piece of music. I would imagine it for a particular instance say, for a terrorist. But Ram sir would say we can use it for Neerja’s husband and that used to change the dimension and eventually worked beautifully. The first time that I actually saw the full film was when I had composed the whole background music. So the entire two and a half hours of background music was composed even before the rough cut of the film. And then Ram sir and I sat together for about 10 days and tailor-made the score according to the film.
This was done with the sole intention of creating the score of this film from imagination, so that it is not just about the scene but has the feel of the entire film.
The different way of composing did take a lot of time but it has been a very unique way of scoring a film and I don’t think that it has ever been done.
What is the difference in composing a background score and composing a song?
There is quite a lot of difference. When you compose for a background score you have to actually be in the background. Which means that through the music you are saying what the scene is unable to say and sometimes enhancing what is already there or bringing a new dimension to what we are actually seeing. But a song is tied with the narrative and also should have a hummable quality to it.
I really believe in melody and believe that the music should be melodious. That’s why I make songs which have a melody in them. But a background score cannot always have a melody. There is a theme in this film called the ‘Family Theme’ that plays around 3-4 times in the film and is also part of the promos with the dialogues. That was a melody based theme.
Music plays a very important role in a film. Did you feel any pressure while composing for this film?
I realized that it is a big responsibility and there was a sense of pressure to be able to do the right thing. What Neerja did was with a lot of honesty and sincerity and I felt that as a music composer, even I needed to have those qualities while composing the music. The film had various situations, be it in the tension of the terrorist or the mother-daughter emotion, everything had to come through the song. The song Jeete Hai Chal had to have an inspirational quality to it. And none of this could have been possible if it was not real and true. So that was something that I always had at the back of my mind, to be true to whatever I do.
How challenging is it to compose music for a serious film?
I don’t know about composing for a serious film but it was definitely very challenging to compose for the team that I was working with. Ram Madhvani is a stalwart and the kind of work he has done in advertising is very inspiring. Prasoon Joshi too is a stalwart and a genius and when you are working with two gems like these, the work in itself becomes a challenge because you need to maintain the standard and match their vision. That was the most challenging part.
Lastly, with your training in Dhrupad vocals, do you see yourself becoming a singer?
I don’t know about that. It would depend on the kind of song and the voice needed for it. For now I am happy being a composer.