INTERVIEW

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 Scroll.in. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Raabta, Agent Vinod (2012).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.