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Features |  17 May 2016 18:55 |  By Suhas Thobbi

Sound of the Future: Next gen composers redefine mainstream music

MUMBAI: Amidst the trailers of 'Sultan' and 'Sarbjit', released a two-and-a-half minute official trailer of a movie that earned official entries to film festivals across the globe – a fate the other two movies would never be able to achieve.

The absence of a big production and distribution house behind the movie led to minimum commercial success for the film - ‘Kaafiron Ki Namaaz’, but the makers have no regrets for the approach and its eventual outcome. From the casting to locations, the movie seemed to be designed for a character supposed to be played by a Daniel Day Lewis or a Naseerudin Shah. But it had neither. The music spoke of a careful precise effort executed in a highly technical designed studio owned by the Yash Raj Banner. Again, not the case.

The man orchestrating of the overall sonic responsibilities of ‘Kaafiron Ki Namaaz’ – compositions, programming and background score – fell on the young shoulders of Advait Nemlekar, who worked on a formula designed for long-term success (or survival) in the music business.

27-year-old Advait Nemlekar recognised at an early age the importance of flexibility as a music composer. For a relatively unknown guy, finding a project where he would have the freedom to express is, indeed, a big deal. And utlising that freedom and the belief that ‘Sky is the limit’ resulted into Nemlekar’s biggest project so far. “I am glad I exist during this phase,” declared Nemlekar. “The times have changed. There is  absolutely no hierarchy in most parts of the entertainment business. No one throws tantrums to the young contributors (actors, musicians, editors, etc.) and the transparency has led to diverse sounds in Bollywood.”

Nemlekar believes the mantra for success for any emerging music composer relies on the magnitude of the musician’s taste. “I listen to everything, from dubstep to devotional songs.” Born with a silver spoon, Nemlekar’s magnitude of struggle to success differed from several other emerging artistes, but the goal – to a certain extent – remains similar. “I want to associate with as many projects as I can.”

For Nemlekar, the experience gained through Whistling Woods and contribution to the Gujarati entertainment industry worked as stepping stones to subsequent goals. In Rohan- Vinayak’s case – the music directors for Ashiwni Iyer Tiwari’s ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ – the world of advertisements acted as building blocks on their journey to their maiden Bollywood project. With over 700 advertisement projects so far, Rohan-Vinyak were chosen as ideal candidates for the implementation of ‘Nil Battey Sannata’s music, and the young musicians found the nature of the scene comforting and progressive for conveying their ideas. “As music directors, we believe, the scene is getting better. The film-makers have finally understood the beauty of providing live instruments’ sound into the mix, instead of the over emphasis on Midi keyboards. It’s evident that the scene belongs to every musician with a different perception of music scoring,” said the duo.

Advertisement jingles do not end or begin with the credits, and the lack of recognition de-motivate certain musicians from venturing deeper into the stream. But the duo owes their growth and evolution (as musicians) to their experience prior to Bollywood. “In advertising, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the music remains the client’s. In the case of movies, music composers receive the freedom to explore and take risks. Advertisements do offer you a lot of money, but only a limited space. We’d continue to work on ads. It was like our school, the place where we learned the trade of composing.”

The struggles and the success stories in the industry haven’t been biased towards one gender or another. For Samira Koppikar – the young Mumbai-based female composer – the ‘moment of glory’ occurred in 2014. With contribution to movies like ‘Creature 3D’ and ‘Hate Story 2’, Koppikar earned a pat on the back from critics and the mainstream audience through her composition ‘Maati Ka Palang’ from the movie ‘NH10’. Lately, film-makers have adopted the multiple-composer approach for the soundtrack, and recent records suggest the formula has been a win-win situation for producers and audience alike. The goal is to achieve diversity in the soundtrack of the movie, and signing multiple composers for the same movie provides multiple sonic perspectives to the construction of the score. Koppikar has also released singles under her indie project ‘Bebasi’ in 2015, and that continues to remain her way of ‘schooling’ herself further.

Mumbai also hosts another film industry that has attracted the eyeballs of several mainstream Bollywood critics and elitists. The Marathi film industry, over the years, begged for attention and appreciation for its consistent display of unique art and efforts that rarely found a home in Bollywood. When the duo Ajay-Atul chose a studio set in Hollywood for the score of their latest Marathi project ‘Sairat’, the development made news for the right reasons. The limelight was long due, and another emerging Marathi music composer believes “the time is right” for him too. With three movies under his belt already, Soham Pathak has achieved in his early 20s enough credibility and assignments to ensure the inflow of projects do not stop.

“I do look up to other music directors from the small industry that we currently have. But I find myself on a mission to redefine Marathi music to ensure more and more non-Marathi audiences relate to it. I love the dholaks and tablas, and I just want to fuse them with the music I learned from the alternative scene. It is equally important to capture and express sounds that usually do not find a place in mainstream Marathi music. The way Marathi music has been looked upon - I want to change that without hurting its original sound because it has created an identity of its own. Now, I just want to add my influence and make it trendy,” said Pathak, whose road to mainstream films involved success in the alternative music scene. Pathak had been the vocalist of several Hindi/English rock bands, and the current frontman of Sparsh credits the knowledge gained through the ‘band’ culture has effectively reshaped his understanding of music.

The word ‘versatility’ has been so often loosely used that any musician covering aspects beyond one genre receives the recognition of a versatile musician. From ‘Sholay’ to ‘Gunda’, a movie requires an arranger/music producer whose knowledge about the sound complementing the respective scene plays as one crucial aspect of versatility. Several music directors downplay the script of the project, and even the Rahmans and Trivedis have fallen prey to the inevitable mistake. However, young music directors carry an additional responsibility in ensuring the mistake does not occur at an early stage.

Advait Nemlekar, Rohan-Vinayak duo, Soham Pathak and Samira Koppikar stand as an ideal example on the refreshing ideas that arrive with the music composers behaving as a luring factor, not only for the producers, but also the playback singers. Through their respective display of ideas, these musicians managed to work with the established playback singers of the 90s and the 2000s who would often associate themselves with the Cerejos, Rahmans, Sajid-Wajids. If Usha Uthup and Sukhwinder Singh found comfort in Nemlekar’s work, the simplicity in Rohan-Vinayak’s sound won Hariharan’s trust. Soham Pathak roped in Vishal Dadlani and Neeti Mohan for the upcoming Marathi flick ‘Paisa Paisa’, while Koppikar continues to find herself in the league of established music composers. Musicians today bring the aspects necessary to fill the void that exists between the mainstream audience and the sound.

The industry does not care about gender, age or the family name anymore. The music scene in India is welcoming the raw talented musicians for their revitalising initiatives, and the practice would further deliver the required diversity leading to an enriched ecosystem. These musicians may not care for the production banner or the commercial aspects of the art, but the sound needs to be heard. If the helpless reliance on Punjabi music or the outdated generic form of musical expression has caused you sleepless nights worrying about the future of mainstream music, you clearly have not been listening at the right places.