We love incorporating Indian instruments into our compositions
Nil Battey Sannata, has been creating quite a stir since the release of its trailer, for the heartwarming story line as much as the music direction by Rohan Utpat and Vinayak Salvi, whose debut film this is. We catch up with the duo who have been childhood friends to find out more about their musical journey.
What drew you to make the transition from a finance analyst to a composer and what has the journey been like?
Vinayak: Rohan and I have been friends since we were four years old, and we’ve pretty much grown up together. We both started taking tabla classes when he was around 12, and he is still learning it. We went to college together, where we were involved in band competitions and other activities and once we passed out, we interviewed at a company, where we were both selected as finance analysts. We were there for a year, but we took it pretty lightly (laughs). We didn’t really give it our all, and Rohan left a couple of months before I did.
Rohan: I started doing tabla concerts with various artists, and was also a part of a band called ‘Chor Bazaar’. It was after we quit our jobs that we got to know about sound direction, and got into composing for ads through a mutual friend. We started assisting him then, which we continued for almost a year, before we started working independently as a team.
How did you get your first big break in the industry? Take us through the ads and films you’ve composed for.
Vinayak: In June 2011, we got our first ad with a really well-known production house. We’ve probably done 600-700 ads since then, working on brands like KBC, Indian Idol and the T20 ‘Mauka Mauka’ ad, which did really well.
Tell us a little bit about the ‘Mauka Mauka’ campaign and the thought process and reactions involved.
Rohan: It was great that our work got noticed and people really liked the track. The director of the ad, he wanted a sufi/qawwali sound, with percussions and a very Punjabi folk-style singing; a sufiyana. That’s how we zeroed in on the sound, and the lyricist, Vikas Dubey came up with the word ‘mauka’. If you notice, there are many hit songs which have one key word on loop, on repeat. So we decided to do the same thing with ‘mauka’; it’s the Indians teasing the Pakistanis in cricket about getting a chance to beat them.
Vinayak: There isn’t a workflow to composition as such, so we just try to find out the kind of sound we’re looking for, and take it from there. It’s definitely on the folk side, with some modern sounds such as the guitar distortion in the background.
How did you come on board Nil Battey Sannata and what was it about the film that appealed to you?
Rohan: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, the director of Nil Battey Sannata, used to directed ad films before, and that’s how we were introduced to her. After working with her on some ads, we went on to work on film promos, and also worked with on a short film that won the Dadasaheb Phalke award for direction.
VInayak: The film was called What’s for breakfast?, and we’d done a track for it. That’s how we got to know her. Her husband, Nitesh Tiwari sir, had written the story for Nil Battey Sannata, and she approached us asking if we’d be interested in working on the film. It was an amazing opportunity — something that any music director in the ad space hopes to do. We came on board, and made an outline for every song, and got it approved by her. She had heard our style of work before, and it was humbling to know that they thought we would able to do the film justice.
What is the process you follow to make music? Do you have a favortie time of day/place/method that motivates you while composing?
Vinayak: There is no formula as such, and mainly, we just jam together. We have so many common interests, musically, so we’re always on the same page. Rohan has a lot of knowledge about the Indian classical music side, as he was in that circuit for so long, being a student of Pt Anindo Chatterjee, the world-class tabla player. I follow Western music, and was always inspired by John Mayer, musically. So we always come up with a combination of Indian and Western influences, but we love incorporating Indian instruments into our compositions.
Rohan: I’ve been learning and playing with classical musicians for a long time, so we have a long list of artists we look up to. We listen to the santoor, vocals, sitar, sarod, flute recitals of all the legendary musicians. I really look up to my own Guruji.
Vinayak: It’s interesting you ask about the place and time of the day that motivates us, because when we’re really working on something, we can literally work anywhere. Our house was undergoing renovation, and it was 3 AM, and we had to finish a track. So we just started jamming and finished our work. We don’t really need a particular setting as such, but yes, we do also work out of studios (laughs). No matter how long or short the song is, it’s about figuring out the melody — arriving at those 10 minutes is the real quest. Night time is definitely the best time for us, with fewer external sounds to distract us.
Were there any compositions that you looked at as a benchmark for the music of Nil Battey Sannata?
Rohan: We never really look for references, and there were none that were given to us for this film, either. We love everyone from A R Rahman to Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Vishal – Shekhar, Saleem Suleiman. They each have their signature sounds, and they have all influenced us over the years.
Vinayak: We started on a completely blank slate, and took it from there.
‘Maths Mein Dabba Gul’ is a fun, spunky song. What was your frame of mind while working on it and how did you zero in on the vocalist?
Vinayak: This song was about making a track that everyone could relate to. We needed a song that was accessible to all generations, from a young child to someone elderly. I can’t say everyone has a problem with ‘Maths’, but tell me, really, was it your favourite subject? (laughs)
Rohan: It needed to be catchy and fun, something people would like to sing or hum. We have used live mandolins and the dholak; there are no electronic sounds in it. We have some contemporary elements, but they never overpower these two instruments. There’s also a rap in the middle, which just abuses maths in a very subtle way, about how it’s a headache for everyone. Nitesh Tiwari sir wrote the song, and it starts with a maths equation, and incorporating it was a great idea. Maybe some kids will remember it for their exams next time (laughs).
‘Murabba’ is quite a soulful tune that stays with you. How do you think it adds to a film which already has such a strong story line?
Vinayak: The lyricist, Manoj Yadav, has done a spectacular job. He’s very well-read and you can see that in the lyrics, there are very unusual words in the song, and it’s very beautifully done. It’s a different way of expressing the very simple thought that life is short and sweet, and you have to make it count. He’s done a lot of work for Coke Studio, and has worked with Clinton (Cerejo, Music Composer & Singer), and is also the writer of the famous ‘Madari’. We were in the process of working on the composition, and the lyrics really gave us a structure to work with.
Rohan: Ashwiny had told us that this was the title track that the film would open with. She wanted to create a mood for whatever is happening in the movie, and it was a fresh and positive track. The brief was to explain the philosophy in a simple way, a feel-good motivating song. There’s some guitar, that makes it contemporary, while still being very Indian — this set the tone for the film.
What best defines your style of music?
Vinayak: The sound that you will hear in this movie, is the sound that we really love. We’d say it’s very close to the music that we personally enjoy listening to. We were really happy that we go to do what we love to do. We had a lot of creative freedom — the director was very co-operative, and she really just left us to it.
In your journey so far, what kind of challenges have you had to face and overcome?
Rohan: We were working in a really great team, with a lot of understanding. We would just get our ideas approved and work on it, and have a lot of fun. We did bomb a few times, but we did work through them. This is definitely one of the perks of enjoying your work.
Vinayak: We like keeping our sound minimal, instead of a full-blown orchestration. We can do that if it’s required, but we love keeping it simple, with two or three primary instruments.