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“I am hated by the singers’ community”

Guest Editor Pritam Chakraborty in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Last year, four of Deepika Padukone’s movies earned Rs 600 crore plus. And during the last two years, 15 of your movies earned Rs 1,100 crore plus.

Pritam Chakraborty: (Cuts in) She is too good looking, na? I can’t compete with her! (Laughs)

BOI: How does it feel with the business your movies are doing?

Pritam: I did Love Aaj Kal and Desi Boyz with her but after I watched her in Cocktail, I got her number and called her. Deepika was something else in that film. She is a lovely person and a sweet person to work with. Good things should happen to good people.

Coming back to your question… How does it feel?

Well, there is no real answer. I guess I could say that I feel great.

BOI: OK, are you aware of how much your films earn at the box office?

Pritam: I wasn’t until someone told me my films had earned over Rs 1,000 crore. So I was, like, OK, but what does that mean? A musician doesn’t usually pay attention to a film’s business. I am often told in a yearly music countdown of 20 songs, I have been occupying 25 to 40 per cent of the songs. I still don’t know what that means.

But I feel a sense of responsibility when given a film, in that I have to support a film, and that’s not even about its business. It’s got more to do with the fact that I want people to like it. Everyone has to like the music I make. I don’t calculate ‘success’. Like my song should clock certain numbers in terms of digital downloads. It is not possible to calculate success and work.

BOI: Apart from the story, script and actor, music plays a very important role in Indian cinema.

Pritam: A film is shot over two years and in parts. Songs are also shot after large intervals. I get a feel of the entire album when I am mixing it, and I can tell whether it will work or not. That’s when the producer may ask me to add a song or change a song, change the hook or re-shoot a song. Sometimes they listen to me but usually they don’t. But I do that because I know music is very important.

First, music represents your film. It’s not only the songs but the overall packaging, how you present the film, and the order in which you promote the songs is equally important. Sometimes, good songs are wasted due to bad packaging. So if your film is good, it will run. Or even if the trailer is looking good and the feel and vibe of the song is good, it will run. But music definitely makes a difference of Rs 10-30 crore. OK, let’s not put a number to it. Let’s say it makes a difference of 15-20 per cent.

BOI: Do filmmakers acknowledge your contribution to the success of a film?

Pritam: (Laughs)

BOI: Also, do you get upset about filmmakers not taking your inputs while promoting their films?

Pritam: Promotions is producers’ job. I don’t get into that space. Yes I do get upset when my inputs are not taken while finalising the album. I make a lot of changes during finalisation of the albums. Filmmakers generally don’t accept changes at this stage. They think I get hyper as the release approaches. They believe I have separation anxiety. Yes, I admit I have a problem parting with things. What happens with filmmakers is they hear a song many times… while shooting, while approving a song or while editing. I may have recorded the shoot mix and given it to them but I have heard it way fewer times than they do. I don’t listen to the music once I have completed the shoot mix as I turn my attention to other work or another song.

So I come back as a fresh listener and I look at it as one consolidated album as the film release approaches. But directors have heard it so many times and they have got used to it so it’s difficult for them to accept any changes. This happens with mostly everyone. So I come back as a fresh listener. But they have heard it so many times and they have got used to it. This happens with everyone. For instance, I have just done a song for Kabir’s (Khan) film and the next one will be done perhaps after two months or so. The songs were spaced out releases in Dhoom 3 and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani too. So you do a song and after three months you do another song. And I look at it as one consolidated album as the film release approaches.

BOI: You return and look at it from the audience’s perspective.

Pritam: Yes, I listen to it as the audience would but filmmakers put it down to commitment phobia. I get very jittery around the release ki arrey kya hone wala hai. Of course, I am not always right although I usually am.

BOI: Name a couple of directors who are open to your suggestions.

Pritam: Many of them are. Like Anurag (Basu) and Ayan (Mukerji). Anurag’s films are made on the editing table. He shoots and then cuts out portions; then he changes sequences by adding a different narration. So he is extremely flexible. Ayan is also extremely flexible.

BOI: How important is the director’s involvement while making music?

Pritam: Extremely! I think directors are the biggest collaborators. I have worked on 100-odd films and I work best with musical directors because they see the music with the visuals. I may argue with them but, at the end of the day, it’s their vision that is important. Lyrics are a weak point for me because I am not well versed with the language. I depend a lot on the directors to accept the lyrics in a film. I react to the phonetics only. Ultimately, the meaning, the content, what the lyrics should be is the director’s call. Sometimes along with the directors the creative producers are extremely important. For example Adi (Aditya Chorpa) decides the entire music of a film. Though in Dhoom 3, it was Victor and Adi who both showed equal interest. Mukeshji (Bhatt) and Bhatt saab (Mahesh Bhatt) are the deciding factors of music of Vishesh Films, Dinu (Dinesh Vijan) is a huge participant in the music of Illumianti, Jayu (Jay Shevakaramani) decides music of Tips off late and of course Bhushan Kumar takes a call on all T-Series productions and sometimes when he acquires music.

BOI: You had once said that you are not very lucky with sequels. Has that changed with Dhoom: 3?

Pritam: When people talk about Dhoom: 3, they are usually referring to the box-office figures. But I feel that in a sequel, there is pressure to deliver even better music. Either the pressure creates a problem or you feel the prequel was so big that the sequel will definitely live up to its name. So you land up taking it for granted which is not good.

BOI: It’s almost a decade from Dhoom to Dhoom: 3.

Pritam: Yes, I will complete a decade in August. The journey has been extremely good. Good and bad, actually it’s been bitter-sweet, but more sweet than bitter.

BOI: There have been times when you have worked on more than 10 films in the same year...

Pritam: (Cuts in) Yes, my highest number is 14 or 15 films in a year! I think that was in 2010.

BOI: Isn’t that creatively exhausting?

Pritam: Yes, it does take a toll. And you can’t spend time on a project for as long as you want to and then you don’t have time for your personal life. Working on more projects has it’s pros and cons.

Music is a very spontaneous art, so even if I am doing 14 projects on the go, I would rely on my spontaneity only then it works. If I spend too much time thinking about the music, it might affect the music.

Time is a very stretchable thing. You tend to add and change things when you have time thus spoiling the spontaneity of the song. It’s all about trying to create a balance. The type of films you do is also all about creating a balance.

I do films like Barfi! and R… Rajkumar. A Barfi! would give me crticial acclaim and a R… Rajkumar would be cut across the acceptance of a range of people. When I perform for a show, I need songs where the crowd would want to get up and dance too.

So I have to create a balance between the kind of films I choose to do.

I need to get films like Barfi! also because that gives me creative a high and R…Rajkumar to produce massy hits. A hit song also gives you a high. Actually there’s no bigger high than a hit song. When I did Dhoom, after its release, I was travelling a lot and heard the songs in every corner. The Dhoom tune was playing in trucks, caller tunes, everywhere. That high was something else. It is a bigger high than getting four and a half stars. (Laughs)

BOI: Do you follow the music reviews of your films?

Pritam: Of course!

BOI: How much does it bother you?

Pritam: A lot of reviewers write nonsense but I try and look for feedback. If you don’t accept feedback, hide away in your cocoon and think you’re the best, that does not help you at all. If a reviewer genuinely has something important to say, I keep that in mind the next time I compose. But I must add that I always try and be true to the film. Whenever I have not been true to a film, I have gone wrong.

Like there was this song in R…Rajkumar called Dhokadhadi. I was convinced the song was the best fit for the film. But Prabhu Dheva did not want the song. Gandi baat was approved in one go. I felt that since Prabhu Dheva likes a certain groove, he would like such songs so I played Sari ke fall sa, which was again approved in one go.

When that happened, I panicked as the album was going into fultoo massy mood and I wanted to balance it. I tried to tell him that this song is very nice. He kept saying, ‘No, this is a pure romantic song, it doesn’t go well with my film.’ And I kept arguing. I finally took the producer’s help. I told Viki Rajani. It is a nice song. If you look at it separately, it is a very good song.’ But in a R… Rajkumar space, it was not true to the film. It just did not work because he, as the director did not feel the energy to shoot that song with the energy he shot Sari ke fall sa or Gandi baat.

BOI: Has your opinion ever clashed with the wavelength of the director, resulting in you walking out of a film?

Pritam: I have often kept quiet and lost interest in a project. I don’t do that anymore. I fight. Earlier, I used to complete the project, regardless of what happened. Now I don’t feel I need to do it so I walk out.

BOI: What did it feel like after you delivered super hit tunes to Imtiaz Ali and then he moved to AR Rahman?

Pritam: (Laughs) Since it’s AR Rahman, I don’t feel bad. Imtiaz is still a friend. Things were different for Rockstar. He had already committed to Rahman way before he had committed the film to anyone. Rahman was doing Rockstar before Jab We Met, when it was with UTV and John (Abraham) was the hero. Rahman had done a few songs then. So I knew Rahman was the obvious choice for Rockstar.

As for Jab We Met, I got on board completely by chance. Sandesh was supposed to do the film, then Shahid (Kapoor) and Imtiaz decided that everybody would do two songs each. I was supposed to do Mauja hi mauja and Yeh ishq haye because I am very fond of Kareena (Kapoor Khan). But somehow my destiny changed when Nagada happened. I don’t remember who was supposed to do the song in that situation. When that song was happening I was getting married and Imtiaz called me and said, ‘Listen, you have to do this song. Where are you?’

I said I was getting married and he was, like, ‘Acha, kab khatam hoga?’ I replied, ‘Kal reception hai aur kal raat tak aa jaunga.’ Since he was shooting in Lonavala, he asked me to come there. After the reception, Irshad (Kamil) was literally waiting in the car for me and around 12-1 o’clock, I left with him for Khandala. By the time we reached there, Shahid and Imtiaz had just packed up. This is such a funny incident because in the car, Irshad and I were thinking what to do and I said that sir nahi hoga ye parso shoot hai out of question hai ye.

Shahid was staying at Duke’s in Khandala. So we went there and I started playing my guitar. The tune for the song happened in 15 minutes. Imtiaz liked it and Shahid liked it and they looked at me and said, ‘It’s 4 am now, let’s go back.’ So we left as it was the last day of their shoot.

While driving back, I kept saying this is a very bad tune please don’t record it. The following day, it was orchestrated in half a day and while the song was being recorded, Irshad was writing the lyrics. Before the word ‘Nagada’ came up, so many words came up. He even came up with the word ‘Patakha’.

Imtiaz was saying, ‘Nahi, theek nahi hai’, and we were recording at Meet Brothers studio and singer Javed Ali was on the microphone waiting for the lyrics ke garma garam lyrics aye toh main dub karoon. Irshad used to write two lines and Imtiaz used to okay it and at the same time two-two line karke gana record kiya.

We finished the recording the song at night and I still felt it was a very bad song. I told Imtiaz not to do it. Then they went to Chandigarh to shoot the song. I kept sending them songs to replace it but they shot it anyway. And the song became such a big hit. So you never know what destiny has in store.

Sorry, I forgot the original question.

BOI: Imtiaz Ali… how does it feel… AR Rahman?

Pritam: How does it feel toh ho gaya...

BOI: That was the question.

Pritam: Jab We Met also came to me by chance and then Love Aaj Kal was a damn good film. Now I don’t remember how it felt. (Laughs)

BOI: Speaking of destiny… Tell us about your journey from Tere Liye to Dhoom?

Pritam: I used to do a lot of advertisments and television serials after I graduated from FTII. I used to do advertisements and jingles for Raju Hirani. I used to do all his work. Raju introduced me to Sanjay Gadhvi as he was editing for him. Sanjay heard the songs Jeet and I had made back then. He was, like, ‘Chalo chhota film banata hoon’, and he made Tere Liye. I think the music of Tere Liye was very good.

BOI: Yes Dil dhapak

Pritam: (Cuts in) Khali Dil dhapak nahi… the entire album was good. You guys remember sirf item song. No one remembers any of the good songs. (Laughs)

The film was very small. I think the music company Aditya Music promoted the film and they took the film too. They later sold the film to Zee but soon Zee Music packed up. So that entire music album went unnoticed. If that hadn’t happened, at least one song would have become popular in compilations of Zee Music.

After that, we got no films. I kept doing advertisements. Then Sanjay did Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai for YRF and in that album, Sharara sharara became a hit. Even Jaage jaage was noticed. But we still didn’t get any films. After that, the partnership broke. I did Dhoom with Sanjay and after Dhoom, and I started getting films. So till Dhoom, the journey was pretty bad.

BOI: Did you approach producers?

Pritam: No, yaar, that is my problem. I don’t approach producers. I still don’t approach anybody.

BOI: Now you don’t take their calls.

Pritam: No, it’s not like that. (Laughs) Once I tried also. One day, I was very frustrated and was looking at a film directory. I messaged all the directors and producers whose numbers were there in the directory. No one answered except Ramesh Taurani. Rameshji till now answers every message he receives and his reply was, ‘Okay I will meet you.’

BOI: Although Raju Hirani recommended you, strangely he has never asked you to score music for his films.

Pritam: Yeah, it’s strange destiny not getting a chance to work with him as he is the one who got me in to films. He was very keen I work on Munna Bhai but it did not work out so Anu Malik took over the film. Whenever I meet him, I remind him that I still haven’t worked with him.

BOI: You said it was a bitter-sweet journey. You have told us about the sweet moments. Which were the bitter ones?

Pritam: The unpleasant memories are of the films you thought would do well but didn’t. There are so many films like that. I thought the songs of Tum Mile were good but it did not do well. There are so many albums that you think are good or a song is good and it doesn’t work. Then there’s this constant pressure of delivery.

Once a song goes out of your hand it belongs to the public. I believe that applies to any kind of art. Once it gets into the market, the song becomes theirs, the consumers’.

There was this couple in Delhi who I bumped into after Jab We Met. They told me Tumse hi is their song not mine. The boy said he had gifted the girl this song and that they got married through this song. Similar to him I too have so many memories attached to certain RD Burman songs, so much so that I actually feel they are ‘my’ songs.

There was a friend who sang Khul jayega kismat ka tala main bhi actor banunga naam wala from the movie Giraftaar, at a talent contest. I guess Bappi Lahiri himself doesn’t remember this song. Bappi da ke top 100 mein bhi yeh gana nahi hoga. But my friend sang it so well and he became a hero in school after that. So this song belongs more to him than anyone who was a part of it.

Again, I don’t remember the question. I just realised how much I love to talk (Laughs).

BOI: You were sharing bitter moments in your life.

Pritam: Oh! leave the bitter I like staying with the sweet. There are these small, sweet moments which help you survive. In 2010–2011, I had lost interest in music. I don’t know why but I felt I had no purpose and I used to wonder why I was working at all. Then, on the Internet, post Agent Vinod and Jannat 2, I found this fan club which was dedicated to me. Somebody had made a fan club for me and they kept on tweeting and I was reading their comments. Someone had given my music a negative review aur ye log uske pichche hi padh gaye thhe that you don’t know anything.

I felt I needed to keep working for these people and I didn’t need to care about anything else. I think every artist derives his spark from somewhere and I felt that spark through them. I think they are also responsible for 2012 being a good year for me as they gave me a lot of energy.

BOI: Earlier, we had these distinctive voices but now we have a new wave of singers. Is that a good thing for the industry?

Pritam: Yes, it is. I have worked with a lot of new singers. I have faced comments like. ‘Your songs will not have longevity’ or ‘You are not using established singers well’. I am hated by the singers’ community because I keep on dubbing and redubbing singers. I am aware that they openly bitch about me. But I keep on trying new voices for my songs because if I don’t do that then how will these new singers come in. Now you don’t know which singer will become a good singer.

Like Mohit Chauhan might have had Silk Route and a song like Khoon chala from Rang De Basanti. But I had heard him sing Guncha and was on his back after that. I asked him to dub Labon ko labon from Bhool Bhulaiyaa but it did not work. But I persisted with him as I felt this guy had something.

So when Tum se hi happened for Jab We Met, he was accepted and he became huge. You have to back new talent to get new singers. Directors are backing new music directors and it is a good thing as new talent should be promoted. Everybody needs a break and everybody needs people backing them.

I use new voices to give freshness to a situation. That was the primary thing with me and Anurag in Barfi! because the songs of Barfi! are very retro. If Kishore Kumar were to have sing that song, it would have sounded like a Kishore Kumar song. There would have been nothing new in that. Nikhil Paul George gave a freshness to the retro song. Yes, old singers were excellent like Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi and we have new voices. When Sunidhi Chauhan was launched, she was launched as a one-off song from Mast but has proved her worth, hasn’t she?

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