| 03 Mar 2024
NY based musician Wayne Sharpe - "Composing for a Bollywood film is like scoring for two Hollywood films as it is twice the amount of work!"

New York based musician Wayne Sharpe grabbed Filmfare awards in 2004 for his background score in Prakash Jha's 'Gangajal'. His background scores in Apaharan and Gangajal intensified the mood of the films and made a mark. Composing for Jha's upcoming â€?Rajniti', Sharpe converses with's Anita Iyer about his views on Bollywood music, Indian film makers preference for background scores and his Bollywood ventures   

You are composing for Prakash Jha's upcoming Rajniti

Prakash spent some time last June in my studio going over the themes and starting to work on the trailer  I am working on the background score as well as the tracks for the film. I have seen some footage and it has an epic feel to it and can support a very large and full background score. Like my earlier scores for Prakash, this one will have a very western sound with some Indian Instrumentation. Prakash always has a clear vision on what he wants musically  We work well together because he has great concepts and a very musical approach to films  He communicates his vision to me in words and pictures; I then translate it into music.

Having composed for Prakash Jha's earlier films as well, how did you association begun?

I was introduced to Prakaksh Jha by a mutual friend Gopi Sait. Prakash was visting NYC and he came to my studio. I played him my music and he described his upcoming films and we just gelled creatively. Soon after, he invited me to India to compose the music for Gangaajal and to see the film shoot. Being on set in India I was able to take the visual elements and better translate them musically for the score. He then invited me to score Apaharan and now Rajneeti.

You are also composing the music of Lahore…

I just completed a film, Lahore with first time director Sanjay Puran Sigh Chauhan. The film is set in India and Pakistan deals with themes of sport and nationalism and is very timely given recent events in that part of the world  The background score was very intense and diverse and I spent quite more time on this film than others. It has a very western sound and feel to it that is juxtaposed with Indian Instruments and sounds. I composed half of the music before even meeting the director and later received the script in English. I composed the themes and synchronised them with the clips and sent them back to India. Sanjay would then watch the scenes and make comments and suggestions by phone or email. Working this way has made the process much easier and more efficient  Sanjay later came to the US for a few weeks and worked with me on the music.

You had also roped in the Hollywood voice Lisbeth Scott for Lahore

Lisbeth Scott who has rendered for Chronicles of Narnia, Munich with Steven Speilberg for the main theme for Lahore. She actually made up her own language for the theme! Lahore is a strong film and has been winning best picture awards in American and International film festivals. The film opens this September.

Where do you compose compositions- back home in New York or in India?

I compose the music here in my studio in the states. I then travel to India to record the live orchestra and Indian instruments and mix the film there.

Can you talk more about the project Basmati Blues, recorded with Sonu Niigaam and Sunidhi Chauhan?

Basmati Blues is a Hollywood film that crosses over into the Indian song and dance. It will be shot in both India and US and will have about 6-8 songs in it. The film is scheduled to go into production this fall  I co-wrote and recorded two songs with Sonu for the film. We then had Sunidhi Chauhan sing a duet with Sonu and it came out incredibly well  She has such an incredible voice and was so great to work with and working with them was a complete treat!

When were you first exposed to Bollywood music and which was the first Bollywood track you heard?

I was tuned to Indian classical and Middle Eastern music for years, but the one artist that really changed my opinion was A.R. Rahman. I first heard his score in Taal... about the time when I started working with Prakash for the first time. That score changed my thinking when it came to Bollywood Hindi music. He blended the western sound so well and it was entirely new to my western ears! Since then, I have been introduced to a great deal of wonderful Hindi music 

I was introduced to the soundtrack of Devdas by Gangaajal's Producer, Praveen Nishol  Ismail Darbar's Silsila Ye Chahat Ka..., sung by Shreya Ghoshal is probably my all time favorite Hindi song. I was immediately taken by Yogesh  Pradhan's powerful arrangement and I still listen to it! It is a great example how music is universal.

Keeping Bollywood aside, what projects do you work on in New York?

I primarily compose, perform and produce my music for feature films and television. Some of my previous work includes music for the Olympics, the children's shows Pokemon and Yughio and IMAX films. I have also composed music for many national television commercials such as Panteen, Cover Girl, McDonalds, Maybelline. I have an upcoming Hollywood film that I will be starting soon after Rajneeti.

How difficult or different is it to compose for Bollywood?

I think that it is inherently the same process as I am still creating or supporting an emotional mood or center of the film through music. Once I know the story and dialogue, it is very similar.

The differences are that a Hollywood film is usually well under 2 hours long, whereas Bollywood films are quite often three hours long. The typical length of original music in a Hollywood film is around 35-50 minutes of background music. A typical Bollywood film has up to 2 hours of background music. With Apaharan, there were 92 pieces of music, whereas with the average Hollywood film maybe 40 pieces. So, it is really like scoring two Hollywood films in one Bollywood and is twice the amount of work!

The trend in Hollywood scores lately has been one of minimalism with lots of space  I think that Bollywood tends to sometimes overuse the background score. I like to have a movie breathe and have breaks in the music, otherwise it is just overloading the film.

As you are not acquainted with the local language in India, does that pose as a hindrance in delivering ideas or executing them here?

I get that question most frequently! I am learning Hindi and of course and everyone wants to teach you the funny phrases and swear words first. We have all had a lot of laughs on the sets but I am learning the language.

When I work with Prakash, we spend three full days spotting... the film where we go through every scene at least once and he conveys story, dialogue, the emotional center and what he needs to be highlighted in the music. I take very detailed notes. Even when the scenes are in a foreign language, the emotions and mood still come through and are understood  But, the spotting process is what allows me to translate the emotions necessary for the score.

While I don't understand all of the language or lyrics, I still have an emotional experience. As a composer, that is the goal of what we do. It should transcend the limits of language and reach into a person's soul 

How has things changed after you bagged the Filmfare. Did you lap more Bollywood projects following that?

I think it made a difference with Indian films, it probably got my name to people who have never heard of me before. It was a great honor to be recognized and I am grateful to be able to express myself creatively in India. Awards are a nice bonus, but my main motivation is composing the best music I can for the films I undertake.

What are requisites of a good background score? How important are background scores in a movie?

A good background score should be able to convey through music the emotional tone of the visual scene. It should enhance the visual and overall mood of the scene without competing with it. The background music can sometimes even make or break a movie. I have seen some films where the background music has truly made the film what it is.

Do you think filmmakers give importance to background scores in India?

I think they are now but years ago it was different. It was looked at in a different light, but now I feel Indian film makers are paying attention to the music behind the scene.

Any Indian musician you would like to collaborate with?

I have always wanted to work with A.R. Rahman. I have spoken to him on the phone when I asked him to collaborate with me on an America/Indian film, but he was involved in 4 films at that time!  As I said before I am such a great fan of his, so I hope that the timing will be better for us in the future. I have been lucky to have collaborated with so many other wonderful Indian musicians so far.