Masaan is incredibly important for us as a band
A mere mention of Indian Ocean will spur the memory of some of the most earthy tunes rendered memorable by the band, and not their namesake, the ocean. Such is the influence of one of India’s foremost fusion-rock acts. Not only are they helping further the independent music scene in the country, but they also have integrated themselves into film music, by creating their own trademark sounds in tandem with some of the most powerful scripts over the last few years.
And yet another worthy feather in their cap is the newest work of brilliance – Masaan, which sees them compose a short, but distinctly relevant soundtrack in partnership with Varun Grover’s powerful lyrics and Neerj Ghaywan’s sensitive storytelling.
Pandolin got speaking with Amit Kilam, one-fifth of the band’s quintet, consisting of Rahul Ram, Himanshu Joshi, Nikhil Rao and Tuheen Chakraborty, on the music of Masaan, with their manager, Dhruv Jagasia chiming in for good measure.
At what point where you approached for Masaan?
Amit: The idea of Masaan came to us twice. Initially Neeraj tried to get in touch with us, via email, in the fairly standard way one approaches composers.
After that, Ranjan Singh, who is also executive producers of the film, and who we worked with in Katiyabaaz and who was deeply involved with the Indian Ocean, knew that we had time and we were open to composing more. So he told us about this really good script they had, and that was Masaan.
Dhruv: Indian Ocean was Neeraj’s first choice for the movie. He sent us the script, which we read and really liked. We obviously wanted to meet the filmmaker next, and when we met Neeraj, he showed Amit and Rahul his short films which we really liked. So the idea of Masaan culminated some time around mid last year.
You have been associated with two of Anurag Kashyap’s past projects – Black Friday and Gulaal. Plus, you worked on Phantom’s earlier release Katiyabaaz before Masaan. So is there a great working relationship there?
Amit: Oh yes, definitely. We had a lot of fun while working on Black Friday, which wasn’t a Phantom production, but Anurag is the common factor. And Kanpura, our first song with Phantom was great fun too. What we like about Phantom is they know how to put out their films. Their works boasts of strong content, and with that they’re competing with the big budget boys. They’re smart, they understand the business of films, and they always come up with good scripts.
What was the brief given to you for Masaan?
Amit: The brief for each of the three songs was very different, and each had its own place in the progression of the film. Varun and Neeraj were closely associated throughout the multiple discussions we had on the music, where we met them to take briefs. But these briefs were constantly evolving over the period of time.
For instance, we were quite confused about the tune for Tu Kisi Rail Si. It was after several evolving ideas that we got it right.
How was the experience working with Varun Grover, who was not only the lyricist this time but also the screenwriter?
Amit: It was excellent. That is the best short and crisp answer we can provide for our experience with Varun. There are very few people in Bollywood who can write such nice lyrics. We’ve worked with two such incredible writers in the past – Sanjeev Sharma and Piyush Mishra, who we respect a lot. And honestly, some of the stuff being written in Hindi film music is atrocious. And Varun, clearly, seems to be in the league of some extraordinary gentlemen.
Dhruv: He did write the lyrics for Kanpura also, from Katiyabaaz!
Amit: He did, but we never had a chance to meet him and work with him. We just had his lyrics. This time though, we could actually sit and gel with him.
The movie is largely based in Benares. Were you expected to explore that aspect musically?
Amit: No, not really. That wasn’t part of the brief given to us. We didn’t have to be typical. It’s similar to saying that if this movie was based in Africa, we would not have incorporated African beats into the music. The idea always was to bring out our expression, of what we felt. Now, the main sounds of Benares belong to the harmonium, tabla and dholak. But the movie is based in contemporary Benares. There is Facebook, and there is youth. And in modern day Benares, Indian Ocean has a huge following, so our sound fit in perfectly.
Indian Ocean almost always has one of its members sing their songs. But this time you had Swanand Kirkire take the mic for ‘Tu Kisi Rail Si’. Whose decision was that?
Amit: It was actually the filmmakers’ decision. They wanted a different voice. And as soon as the song was composed, we realised that they were right. The song would work great in someone else’s voice. That was when Swanand came in.
Dhruv: Amit sang ‘Mann Kasturi’ and he is one of the most reluctant singers I know. He came up with the song, and this song’s composition actually has a very interesting anecdote.
Amit, please share the anecdote with us.
Amit: So, it was around the time that Neeraj and Varun were coming over to meet us, and this song hadn’t been composed until the very last minute. I was at the time booking tickets for something, and my money got deducted but the website didn’t send in my tickets. So I called up the guys, and they put me on hold for almost 10-15 minutes, like they always do. And there was this peculiar tone playing. It wasn’t even music. Just the same beat over and over again, and I was singing along, and suddenly, I had the tune. So I had to hang up, record it immediately, and then call back and repeat the process.
Dhruv: Before you think he may have lifted the song, let me specify that the song had no tune at all.
Amit: No it didn’t. There was no music. Just one recurring beat.
Dhruv: Neerj and Varun thought it was fantastic. And Rahul felt Amit did a smashing job. And I speak for Rahul as well, when I say they decided that he should sing it.
You shot a special video for Mann Kasturi on the banks of the Ganga in Benares. How was that experience like?
Amit: We haven’t made many videos. Especially not ones that require us to lip-sync to the song playing in the background. So we had a few attempts with this one.
The brief given was – ‘Soak in Benares. Let Benares do things to you’. I have no idea, till this date, what that even means. As for our band member, Tureen Chakraborty, he just soaked himself in food through and through.
What was the idea behind Mann Kasturi? The song starts on a haunting note and becomes poetically optimistic.
Amit: The lyrics of the song are absolutely brilliant. But you need to be well versed in Hindi to get the complete meaning of it. The song’s title pretty much gives away what it really means. The basic gist is: All the answers for your quest lie within. Kasturi is a deer which gives off the smell of musk from within its body, but throughout its life it roams around in search of the source of this peculiar smell, not realising that it’s coming from within. So, it’s a metaphor, and a beautiful one.
You used one of your already existing songs, Bhor, for the movie. Whose decision was that?
Amit: We hadn’t cracked that song until the very end. When we saw the first edit of the movie, Rahul (Ram) felt that Bhor would really go with it. The original version of Bhor didn’t really go with it as it had different lyrics and a different tempo also, and Neeraj wasn’t a fan of that. So we slowed it down and changed it a bit, and he loved it.
Indian Ocean has composed music for a bunch of movie soundtracks over the years. What is the crucial point that leads you to pick a movie?
Amit: We meet the filmmakers and speak to them about the movie. And to be honest, Indian Ocean are the easiest composers for first time directors to work with, ‘cause we don’t care who the hero is, or the producer or what kind of promotion, as all that comes in later. If we’re convinced with the idea and the script we go for it.
Dhruv: The mandate is that they interact with me first. Send in a script. And then if there is mutual agreement, we take it forward.
Of all the films you’ve composed, what are you favourites?
Amit: Ouch, that’s difficult. I’d say Black Friday, ‘cause we had a lot of fun composing for it, because we did everything from the soundtrack and the background score. As a challenge, Peepli Live was incredibly challenging, especially the song ‘Tum Abhi Se Darte Ho’ was very difficult.
Masaan, too, is incredibly important for us as a band. Because it’s a new band, it’s version 2.0, and for us it was important to do a good job of this, and gel together. Which we did.
Your last album, Tandanu was very well received for its brilliant collaborations. Is there a new album coming soon?
Amit: There definitely is. We’ve composed 3 to 4 songs. And we have additional 3 to 4 tunes. But the concert season is coming in, so by all accounts, the album will only come out next year.
You are the original independent music veterans in the country. What would you make of the current rock scene?
Amit: Achcha hai, definitely. It’s picking up. The scene has become more than rock, there is a lot of electronic music. The best thing is there is hope. Everyone interested in it thinks they can make it, that they can choose music as a career. There are lots of music festivals, plus new venues have opened up. Every musician manages to bag at least one gig a month, so they’re not as hard pressed for cash as we were.
As a band, you have successfully managed to work together, through various albums and movie soundtracks. What advice would you have for young musicians who are collaborating with others, or who are composing as a group?
Amit: Honestly, my only advice would be, have some patience. There will be times when you’ll notice that only one or two members are contributing, and handling all the music. If you have the patience to ride it out, you will realise that other members too contribute and take responsibility. Different bands work differently. If person A is the only one doing a chunk of composing right now, a little patience and you will realise that the others are too. And when the others start composing, it is also important for Person A to not be egoistic, and actually work together. So just control your egos, and play.