Alokananda Dasgupta can romance characters in ways that perhaps even those who create them cannot. The daughter of the late Buddhadeb Dasgupta refers to herself as a morbid person, yet, she infuses life into every conversation when discussing her work on score composition. Her latest endeavour brought her back under the familiar wings of Vikramaditya Motewane after the duo's celebrated association for Sacred Games. In this interview, she discusses what drew her to Jubilee.
Edited excerpts from the conversation.
You've probably developed a comfortable equation with Vikramaditya, considering your past projects. Does he discuss the brief with you or does he leave you to it?
For this project, he said that while he was creating a period project, I needn't worry about that. He wanted that to be reflected via the songs. For the background score, he said that while I should avoid using instruments that didn't belong to the era, I did not need to think about the period that the series was set in while creating the music design and melody. He wanted me to only focus on the narrative and characters. He knows me well, and knows that vague things work for me. He used words like ambition and pride, and those words helped me build the characters.
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What was the initial idea that you had when this was offered to you?
In Sacred Games, there were elements that deal with death and life. I am a morbid person, so, dark things work for me. I didn't know how I could bring out my darkness in Jubilee until I came across these words. In [music] school, we'd speak about the life of tragic heroes. Think about the characters in this project; such characters have always existed, and are timeless. The [character] has everything he desires; he makes one mistake that's fuelled by pride, and that leads to his downfall. This is [seen in] Macbeth, it's [seen in] my friends, and also in characters in my family.
I chased these two words, drew a draft of each character, and thought of how their [trajectories] are different, even though they are both [consumed] by pride and ambition. I realised that this is equally morbid. Morbidity need not only be death. There is a scene when one character leaves his house and everyone stares at him because he is a [star]. I've used an element which is like bipolar music. It's a grand celebration, and an ode to joy. But then, I used certain melodies, and changed keys and motifs to make it darker. That paradox is what I tried to create with instrumentation.
As a composer who studies the characters you are set to work on, how did these characters influence you?
Initially, the team shot a small chunk. I was shown some rushes, and then they went on their major shoot. When I had initially read the script, it was all in theory. I am someone who is inspired by moving images. Reading and discussion don't provoke within me what visuals can. I knew it was a period drama, and shed light on the politics between characters. But, when I saw the first clipping of Binod [character] in the dressing room where Jamshed was applying make-up before his act, I was moved. This was the first time when Binod [was shown in poor light]. The image of him sitting, the colour palette used, it was all inspiring. Music composition is not all romantic, and not every frame will inspire you. But this one was inspirational. It was ominous, it had elements of [Satyajit] Ray, and was like a horror still without it being a regular horror. That made me understand the multiple layers in this story. I knew I had found something dark to sink my teeth into. I connected it to [Roman] Polanski's Macbeth, when he sees Banquo's ghost. When I was composing it, my father was on his death-bed. Everything was so dark. All of these things combined with that one image.
Given how deeply invested you are in your projects, do you believe this job takes a mental toll?
I know I am a film composer, and not an independent one. It drains me, and is exhausting. But, I have understood that I need to [accept my work], because I will never stop being self-critical. I am not trying to wallow in self-pity, but the work I do is not glamorous enough to bring me to the forefront. People still think music means songs alone. My popularity count is marginal. I'm not seeking that, but I've made peace with the fact that this will be a solitary process. But, this is how I know to express myself. If you take this away from me, I will have repressed feelings.
Is there anything about your work that you believe needs to come to the forefront?
I have my complaints. I understand that everything in the industry is about survival. But, there are so many people who stay up at night and look up the background score of a Nordic series. I would love to talk about the process for people to know that not all of it is only about the songs. I don't do 10 shows, or own a studio with 15 programmers, but [there are people who are still interested in my work]. People want to know how a score is composed. There is so much focus on the glamour, and so much silence when it comes to the work of a score composer.