Hit music composer Pritam on taking a break, sticking to deadlines and Arijit Singh

The Bollywood composer clears the air on his self-imposed vacation, his pet project JAM8, and his working methods.

When Pritam Chakraborty announced a sabbatical on his Facebook profile on August 8 after the release of Jab Harry Met Sejal, the 46-year-old Hindi film composer’s fanbase began to grieve all over the internet.

Working on the 29 songs of Jagga Jasoos and the 13-song album Jab Harry Met Sejal had left the hit machine stressed and sleep-deprived. “Will see you in a year or year and a half with some new films,” he had written. But he was misinterpreted, Pritam told What he meant was that he had decided long ago that he wouldn’t be signing any film till the release of Jab Harry Met Sejal or Jagga Jasoos, whichever released later. “I said that I will take a very short break that can be 15 days, a month or two months, and whichever film I sign will come out after one year or a year and a half later, not before that.”

Where once he used to work on 18 films at a time, Pritam now chooses his projects efficiently. In 2017, he had three releases, Tubelight, Jagga Jasoos and Jab Harry Met Sejal. The year before that, he had four, two of which (Dangal and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) had many chart-busters. How does he choose films now? “Is the script musical?” or “Does the basic premise have scope for music?”

But often, the script may not have the scope for a lot of songs but is too good to ignore. For example, Dangal. Sometimes, Pritam does a film because it’s being made by a friend, such as Kabir Khan’s Tubelight, even though he knew that he wouldn’t be able to make “Salman Khan type music” that would make his fans happy.

Selfie Le Le Re, Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015).

However, Pritam has also rejected projects because of lack of time, such as Advait Chandan’s October release Secret Superstar. “When he [Chandan] narrated the film, I was crying as the script was just brilliant, but I genuinely didn’t have any time,” Pritam said. “I said no and I was very sad about it.” He highly approves of his replacement, Amit Trivedi, and the film’s lyricist Kausar Munir. “I feel Amit will be able to do justice and Kausar is the mother of a daughter. It’s an amazing combination,” he said. Secret Superstar stars Zaira Wasim as a young girl who battles familial pressures to succeed in her quest to become a singer.

Critics and audiences alike were not kind to Pritam’s last release, Jab Harry Met Sejal, but its soundtrack received acclaim. A new batch of songs (Ghar, Parinda, Yaadon Mein), which were not promoted before the film’s release, charmed listeners for their quaint and sombre nature when compared to the market-friendly, bombastic sound of the lead singles. When it comes to a Pritam soundtrack, under-promoted songs often become a rage after the film’s release: Dangals Naina, Barfi!s Kyon, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewanis Illahi.

Alizeh, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016).

While these songs maybe some of Pritam’s personal favourites (he holds Alizeh from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil close to his heart), their lack of promotion do not affect him. “They are not promoted as they should be but this is a decision taken by the music company,” Pritam said, “I remember a lot of Life in a… Metro, Jab We Met and Cocktails songs that were not promoted before the release but somehow they caught on later. That’s the game we have to give into.”

In fact, Pritam believes that his favourite song from his albums is most likely to not get promoted.

When asked about Arijit Singh, the voice of some of his best compositions till date, he attributes the singer’s success to his “perfect thinking mind”. But he agrees that Singh gets trapped into singing mediocre songs often, and that he is overused. Mumbai’s directors and producers think otherwise. They argue that even Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar were omnipresent in music albums in their time, Pritam said.

Ullu Ka Pattha, Jagga Jasoos (2017).

That Pritam works till the last minute on his soundtracks is not news anymore. Does that create delays in the production of the complete soundtrack, resulting in a bunch of songs gaining traction after the release? Not exactly, according to Pritam.

“I don’t delay beyond the record company’s deadline,” he said, “I always follow the deadline. My pattern is that I give a mastered copy on the deadline, and then I replace it, I keep upgrading it.”

For instance, the first batch of cassettes and CDs of Life in a… Metro released in east India were mastered differently from the second batch distributed in north and west India.

“You won’t understand the difference so much, but the improvement in mixing and mastering affect you on a subconscious level,” Pritam said. He cited Butterfly from Jab Harry Met Sejal as an example. The version used in the film has been mastered with a tumbi track, which is absent in the final copy available online on digital streaming platforms.

Pritam has been doing last-minute tweaks from the beginning of his career. If a particular song captured his interest, he kept working on it till it satisfied him. The orchestration of Love Aaj Kals Chor Bazaari was such that while shooting, it was a dholak-duff type track, but the final version was a hip-hop dance number. Likewise, he increased the tempo of Zara Zara Touch Me from Race by three to four times after shooting had been completed. (“I don’t know how Muhammad bhai, the editor matched the lip sync.”) He did the same with Dhoom’s title track.

Dhoom Machale, Dhoom (2004).

But Pritam believes that most people cannot distinguish between two differently mastered copies of a song. Three factors make a song a hit, according to him: the lyrics, the singing and the composition. The rest (mastering, orchestration, tempo change, mixing) decide how quickly a song will be a hit.

Elaborating on his working process, Pritam said that he always has multiple ideas for a single song, and extensive back-and-forth conversations with the director and his team results in multiple mixes until he zeroes in on a single version. But he wishes to be like his frequent collaborator, lyricist and singer Amitabh Bhattacharya. “He generally works alone, picks up one direction on a germ level, and keeps working at it with all the effort and attention,” Pritam said.

The composer is now passing on all the skills and tricks that he has learned over two decades to the young composers and producers of his project JAM8. The ensemble composed Raeess Zaalima and almost the entire soundtrack of Raabta alongside Pritam. “I had planned something like JAM8 back in 2009 but everybody kept asking me, ‘Why are you creating your own competition?’,” he said, “No one looked at it positively.”

Pritam’s original idea was to be a music manager for JAM8, whose various members would create original soundtracks for films like in Hollywood. JAM8 finally materialised in 2015, and today, “it is functioning damn well”.

Pritam hopes that it will take a year for JAM8 to make its presence felt in the industry. “Frankly, I want JAM8 to be an autonomous system,” he said. “I want to put all my heart, soul and thoughts into it, but it should be self-dependent. It should create its own formulas, and if it does well and runs by itself, I will very proud of it.”

Raabta, Agent Vinod (2012).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.