A film’s background score is like an invisible emotional anchor. Even the most average of performances can be catapulted using a befitting background track. And who would know this better than Julius Packiam, who has been in the field of background music for over two decades now. From Kabul Express and New York to Phantom and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Julius shares a long-standing relationship with Director Kabir Khan. With his latest film Tubelight ready for release, he tells us more about his approach to music, his inspirations and the changes he’s witnessed in Bollywood music.

Julius Packiam, Sound Designer for Tubelight

Julius Packiam, Sound Designer for Tubelight

What was Kabir Khan’s brief to you for Tubelight?  How would you describe the music of the film? 

Kabir wanted the music to be befitting to the storyline.

The songs of the film are easygoing songs. They are truthful melodies. It’s not like modern dance music. It has the flavor of essential love and bonding.

We have used elements from the mountains to give the film the desired flavour.

Do you take clues from the film’s milieu while composing? If yes, how did you approach this film which is set in Kumaon, Uttarakhand?

Yes, it’s natural. Tubelight has a song called ‘Naach Meri Jaan’ that has elements of folk music. It sounds Garhwali and Himachali. We’ve also used the flute in it. The sound is very pahadi (From the hills). We’ve used a lot of that in the background music of the film as well to keep the space of the mountains alive for the audiences. So, yes, we have used elements from the mountains to give the film the desired flavour.

You have collaborated with Kabir Khan on a number of films. What is your professional understanding like?

Kabir and I were classmates since college. We studied together at Kirori Mal College in Delhi University. I was in the music society of the college and Kabir was in the dance society. We’ve been friends all along. He studied cinema and I went along with my music. I was the one who gave music to his first college project.  We now share a bonding, which is almost three decades long. With that kind of an understanding, it is not much of a stress to work with him.

The songs of Tubelight have the flavor of essential love and bonding

Your website lists three tabs in your work profile viz. Production, Composition and Arrangement. How different is it to work on these three aspects of music? Do you work on all three aspects on any given project?

These three processes are an intrinsic part of any assignment. First comes the composition, which includes preparing a melody, then comes the arrangement where you get other parts to be made around the melody and last is the production which includes recording and giving finishing touches like adding post production elements to it. I am personally involved in all the three steps to ensure they  get done smoothly.

We have drifted away from melody and moved more towards production

You’ve also sung in a couple of commercials. Are you planning to sing more often, especially for films? How does one go about deciding on the voice that works best for a composition? 

No, I cannot sing now. I used to sing when I was in college and it was then that these commercials happened. I have lost my singing voice. Yes, I can do it casually but will not pursue it professionally Over a period of time your voice cracks due to age. Today’s youngsters are phenomenal. I don’t stand a chance with them around (Laughs). The competition in singing is too good.

I have done only two songs in films. I usually do the background music. I do want to get into making songs, which will happen soon. So, I’ve not been too involved with singers. I use singers just for background scores. For example, if I need an aalaap (Yodel) I will have it sung from a singer. Or maybe a chant in the background. It is more of a treatment to the scene. If it’s a romantic scene, I will use a different singer. If it’s a landscape then I will choose a singer who can sing Irish or Turkish chants so that it sounds exotic. Everything depends on the scene.

READ: A R Rahman helped me realize I wanted to be in music: Rochak

You’ve been in the business of music for the last 25 years. How has the music scene evolved? What are the changes you’ve witnessed?

Every time has its own specialty. Today, we have evolved technologically. People say that music from the 70s and 80s is evergreen. Yes, we might not have the same melodies today, but there are some songs which are very well composed. I would not say all the songs are good but few of them are really good.

Today, we have drifted away from melody and moved more towards production. Now, a song should have good beats and thumps and should be able to make people dance. There must be a hook line so that youngsters catch it fast. These things have come into play which can be called as the evolution of Bollywood music. For us, it has been more of a technological upgrade than a musical one. 

Today’s singers are phenomenal

As a musician, where do you take inspiration from?

I take inspiration from everything that is around me. All my senses are alert. If I see a guy playing Baansuri (flute) on the street, I will be inspired. I can even get inspired from an orchestral piece that I hear playing on a flight. So, the bottom line is that inspirations are everywhere. One just has to keep all the senses alive. I tend to appreciate all kinds of music and sounds. There have been influences from the past that have kept me going. Life in itself inspires me.