I would love to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, says Talvin Singh
Talvin Singh, composer of the Netflix film Once Again, speaks about how their understanding of Indian dance could make the auteur and him ideal collaborators
Talvin Singh's collaborations with makers of commercial films have been far and few. This fact, however, is in stark contrast to the precision with which he seems to understand their method. "I want to work with [Sanjay Leela] Bhansali," he says over a call from London, asserting that his prowess as a tabla player can blend well with the filmmaker's understanding of dance. "Bhansali understands Indian dance. Since I know the tabla, [I] naturally understand it too. Like it has over the years, Indian dance should be ever-evolving. If Bhansali can [showcase that evolution] in a film, then I'm probably the right person to do its music," he says.
So certain is the composer that he can do justice to Bhansali's ventures that, despite awaiting an interaction with the man, he already has a dedicated folder by his name on his computer. "Sometimes, when I hear one of my compositions, I tell myself, 'This is naturally his song'. Maybe, one day, we meet, and I'll tell him of these songs."
Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Even though the Suffolk-based musician is a frequent visitor to India, it is over WhatsApp that he keeps in touch with his Indian contemporaries from across the globe. It was one such association that had him lend his skills to the recently released Netflix outing, Once Again. Even as the Shefali Shah and Neeraj Kabi-starrer romance is winning acclaim from cinephiles, it is Singh's work as song and score composer that is being particularly lauded. Having travelled to India regularly over his 26-year-long career, Singh found in the initial rushes of Once Again, a "Bombay" he rarely knew. "The rushes I saw gave me the idea that the music should be modern, because the film looks [contemporary]. It doesn't look like the Bombay you've seen; the kind [in an] Amol Palekar film. You see [the protagonist] driving a luxury car on the Worli bridge, and it feels like you're in San Francisco. So, I thought, classic melodies won't work. But, the director [Kanwal Sethi] would not give in. He wanted heart-melting classic melodies. When he asked me to revisit it, I thought I could juxtapose classic melodies with contemporary production. It would involve the sonic culture seen in London, but with inferences of Indian music."
A fusion of this kind is hardly an uphill task for Singh, given that the musician was among the forerunners of the creation of an electronica subgenre called Asian Underground. Refusing to let the purists deter his music sensibilities when he came to India from London as a young teenager eager to learn music, Singh created a genre that blended both worlds. Yet, he laments that, for Indians, progression implies looking towards the West for inspiration. "We see our own history as something only of the past; that is saddening. I don't believe that's the way forward." On his own part, Singh goes to great lengths to do justice to his project. He believes he has the ability to find an apt voice for all his compositions. "But, sometimes, you have to work hard to find the right singer. Like, for instance, if I wanted [the late] Nushrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice, I will try to find a singer who can project that kind of energy. In Punjab, I got in touch with this amazing singer, who became a [crucial] part of the background score and also sang a song. Similarly, another song was sung by Hamsika Iyer, a beautiful singer, who, I think, the Indian industry has failed to recognise. I sent the melody to her, she sung it and sent it back on the phone, writing, 'This is my song.' It's special when a singer takes ownership of a song even before it's recorded. That is the most valuable thing; even more than the economics of how much would one be paid for it."
Kabi and Shah in Once Again pic/Facebook
The music industry in India, he opines, is going through an exciting phase. Yet, there is scope for improvement when its lyrics are scrutinised. The smaller industries, however, he says, are thriving. A Rekha Bhardwaj rendition he heard last week had him applaud the scale of production. "I have a few projects that deal with important issues in India. It's exciting."
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