Singer-actor Ayushmann Khurrana and composer Rochak Kohli share their experience of collaborating on their latest romantic single Chan kitthan and the nostalgia surrounding ’90s music, with Titas Chowdhury.
Titas Chowdhury (TC): Chan kitthan is essentially a Punjabi folk song. What made you want to recreate this song in particular?
Rochak Kohli (RK): Chan kitthan was written pre-Independence. It is a very old Punjabi song. There are many such Punjabi songs that people have rendered in their own ways. There are a lot of folk songs out there waiting to be explored. You have to be very careful before laying your hands on such songs because they are pure folk songs whose essence needs to be kept intact. When we thought of making a version of this song, we were very sure that it should not fall into the regular parameters. When you hear the song, it does not fit into the regular Hindi music zone. It is definitely an independent space. The credit goes to Bhushan (Kumar) sir who found out this song and gave us a brief to make a version. Kumaar has simplified the original song which was in pure Punjabi and has made it more appealable to the different age groups. Then Ayushmann did his magic.
Ayushmann Khurrana (AK): When I heard the song for the first time, I thought that it is the best recreation of the song because Kumaar had taken only one line from that folk song and the rest of the lyrics were changed. The melody is totally different. The best part about this version is that this is perhaps the most popular Chan kitthan. It has reached to the non-Punjabis also due to its simple and yet effective lyrics. A recreation only helps a folk song to reach out to more people, and that is what Chan kitthan has done.
TC: Ayushmann, you have that rare quality in your voice. There is sense of nostalgia and homecoming attached to your tonal quality.
AK: I think it comes with my personality. I am a simple guy. I like simple joys of life. I dwell in nostalgia and I love it. I guess it comes from there. It, perhaps, also comes from the films that I make. They are also very simple and realistic. I know my zone and I work within that. I don’t try too hard, be it acting or singing.
TC: They are close to home...
AK: Absolutely. Most of my singles are Punjabi. Most of my singles are in collaboration with Rochak. We understand each other. He knows my strength and he knows where to push my limits. He has taken four sessions for this particular song. He is the one who is a perfectionist. He is the one who can be objective with me. Other composers might say, ‘Haan theek hai. Ho gaya. Very good’. But if I am going wrong, he can say to me that it is really bad (Laughs). He is that kind of a person because we are childhood friends. I love this collaboration with him and this is our fourth collaboration together.
RK: I think we should make something on homecoming now (Laughs).
TC: When you work together, is it easy or do you become excessively critical of each other?
RK: We have never felt like we were ‘working’. It is easy because music comes naturally to us. In school, we were a part of the same musicals. We did assembly functions together. We had four sessions of dub for this song. We did it very smoothly. We were not in a hurry. Whenever he has some free time, he rings me up and says, ‘I have two minutes. Let us do something’. There is no stress. Music is something that should be done without any stress. Otherwise, you start thinking too much about whether a song is going to be a hit or not. We never make music with the intention of making it a hit. We never start a song with a preconceived notion. This is what is different when I compose music with Ayushmann.
AK: We are purists at heart. We just do it for the sake of the craft or the art. There is no other agenda that we have such as we want a certain number of views or we want a commercial tonality. We do music because we love doing it. My father said that Chan kitthan is my best effort as a singer. He lately discovered that I sound better at night. Our last dub was at 3 o’clock at night. And I sounded the best in the last dub. Now, I think I should only dub at night (Laughs).
TC: Ayushmann, you have never done an out and out commercial single. Punjabi music is famous for its party numbers. Do you want to venture into that zone?
AK: I would love to. You have to come to my concert for that. I am known for love ballads. But I sing and perform to every kind of song. I am in love with this new genre of 90s Bollywood rock music. I make rock versions of Govinda’s songs. It is completely off my zone. I have never ventured into that zone as far as my music is concerned. But I would love to.
TC: Is it easier to sing for singles when you are singing for films?
AK: Singles get your personality to the forefront. This is my personality. I love love ballads. With films I can experiment because I have to do something with that character. For Bareilly Ki Barfi, I sang Nazm nazm. It is a love ballad, but it is not Punjabi. Kanha from Shubh Mangal Savdhan is not Punjabi. With a film, I can venture into different spaces. When it comes to singles, you basically express your personality through yourself.
RK: They are two different ball games. In films, you have to compose in line with the brief that is given.
TC: The video of Chan kitthan says a very different and beautiful story. Whose idea was it?
AK: It was Suresh Triveni’s idea. He is the director. He had the concept in mind. He thought of shooting in north-east, which is explored as far as singles or Bollywood music is concerned. It was his baby. But Pranitha Subhash was Bhushan sir’s choice. We wanted a fresh face in the video with no baggage of any previous chemistry or any other film. The texture and palette of the video is pretty good. It goes with the feel of the song.
TC: As far as the reach of a single video is concerned, how important do you think is the picturization of the video, especially when it releases on a digital platform?
AK: It is a little unfortunate that people consume music visually in our country. When they watch a film, that is when they connect to a song. Sometimes they listen to the album, they like the song and when they watch the film, they love the song because it goes with the narrative. Visuals are important. But at the same time, if a standalone song is strong enough, it can do better without the video. However, yes, the video ushers the song to the next level.
RK: May be, we need ten more years when the music audio alone will become popular. That is happening gradually. There are platforms like iTunes. It is happening in our generation itself.
TC: Now that the trend of singles is back, how does it feel to be at the forefront of it?
RK: We started the trend again with Mitti di khushboo. That was our first single which T-Series released. We have been seeing the trend and people love it. One thing I have realized is that a single should not sound like a film song. There should be that novelty factor about singles that can drive a youngster to listen to them. We have grown up listening to the songs of Euphoria, Strings, Shaan, Sonu Nigam, Adnan (Sami) saab and Lucky Ali. Those are there in our hearts somewhere. Even when I or someone else composes tunes for films, we have that baggage of recreating that kind of 90s music. That was pure music.
AK: In the 90s, music videos were cooler than the films. As far as the styling was concerned, 90s was fabulous. Music singles and independent music were doing pretty well. They were more progressive in terms of sound.
RK: The scene today is better. Back then, there was no internet in India. Today, a person in a small town also can become a YouTube star. We have seen examples. That has really helped. The market has opened up for everybody which has given everyone an equal opportunity.
AK: The schism between film music and independent music was way more back in the day. Now they are almost the same.
TC: These days, a lot of songs are being recreated. As a singer and a composer, what are the do-s and don’t-s that one should follow while recreating an old song?
RK: I think we are also exploring. Recreating old songs is good thing. But overdoing it is not a good thing. It is a good thing because our next generation is getting exposed to old songs which even we may not have heard. We cannot take recreation lightly. You cannot just program it differently in the name of recreation. A lot of time has to be invested in it. Recreation is very difficult because it gets compared to the original song. There are set parameters too. We still get to listen to old film songs through our parents and television. But no one plays folk songs. It is a genre that is completely dead. It has to be recreated very beautifully and carefully. For instance, in Chan kitthan, we have used sitar and some arrangements that we do not get to hear in today’s songs. Recreation is fun if you do it with a lot of honesty.
AK: The first reason why songs are recreated is because of the recall value. The film becomes more accessible. It is clearly a promotional angle. They want to buy a song which is an existing chartbuster. It helps propel the trailer of a film more or help get a better opening. Recreations work commercially. But at the same time, the mindset of a purist will be to create something new. As he said, I think that folk songs should be recreated for sure for the new generation. In fact, Chan kitthan has become the most popular in four days out of all its versions because T-Series is there. Hence, the reach is more. Now, there is a Sikkimese girl singing that song. I think that is amazing.