mid-day lunchbox: Two Mumbai musicians talk about their craft while enjoying Asian feast

Updated: Sep 28, 2017, 12:22 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Two Mumbai musicians discuss the changes in their industry while tucking into an Asian feast

Arijit Datta hobbles into The Fatty Bao with a twisted ankle. Sidd Coutto bustles in 10 minutes later. The former's a music composer who's moved away from bands like Agni and Airport towards film and advertising, while the latter is probably the busiest musician in the city's indie circles. They first dive into starters — Crystal Dumpling, Spicy Mushroom Sushi Roll, Dancing Prawns and California Rolls — and then into conversation about their craft.

Sen: How do you switch seamlessly from making indie music to more commercial projects?
Datta: It's not a switch really. I think that for me and for Sidd also, wherever there is a mode of expression, we just go there and do our thing.
Coutto: Yeah, true. For commercial concerts, you just go up there and rock 'n' roll, dude. It's just a two-hour gig, where you're hanging with your buddies on stage and partying away.
Datta: It would be different when it comes to writing songs, which we both do, because if you have to mould yourself according to the audience, that's what you might call a switch.

Sidd Coutto (left) and Arijit Datta share a laugh at The Fatty Bao in Bandra. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Sidd Coutto (left) and Arijit Datta share a laugh at The Fatty Bao in Bandra. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Sen (to Datta): So when you were composing for the movie Filmistaan, did you have to keep the audience in mind?
Coutto (answering for both): See, performing is one thing and composing is another. When you're writing for films, you have to be clear that it's the director's baby. You are facilitating his vision. Yes, it's your baby at one level, but you're not both the mummy and the daddy.
Datta: The good part about Filmistaan was that the director let me interpret the film my own way. So I never had to break away from my own self, because the music came naturally to me. Plus, the movie had no market pressure as such, so I didn't really have a brief.
Coutto: ...Which by the way isn't the norm, so [singing to the tune of a Daft Punk Song] you got lucky.
Datta: Yeah, and for me, I think very cinematically. Even with my band's songs, if I just change the arrangements a bit, they can be in a film.
Coutto: Also, when most people come to you for work now, they come for what you make. It's not like the old days when it was like, 'Aisa banaa aur waisa banaa.' So you don't have to switch so much, since they want you for you.
Datta: I think there are newer minds. There are newer storytellers with a different language altogether, who go in search of newer sounds, voices and composers.

Sen: So it's not the era of Jatin-Lalit and Anand-Milind anymore?
Datta: No. But they also had their own sound. At that time, Jatin-Lalit were the kings, ya. Of course, they didn't move with the times.
Coutto: Or, the times moved away from them. But they did try. Infact, [Anand-Milind's] Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak is my favourite Hindi film album of all time.

Datta: Yeah, it's my favourite too. It was a complete album. Even the least-remembered song [sings a bar from Kaahe Sataye], even that I remember! So yeah, they did their time; they brought in their sound and gave us memorable tunes. But then our tastes started changing. MTV, Channel V and VH1 came in, and the world suddenly became bigger.

The mains, Asparagus Bacon Fried Rice and Exotic Mushroom Ramen, arrive. This is followed by moments of silence interspersed with appreciative sounds such as 'mmmm'.
Sen: What are some of your favourite places to eat at in Mumbai?
Coutto: Over the past couple of years, I've discovered that Social actually has awesome food. They have a vast variety of things, with small dishes included. Did you know that they have something on the menu called Staff Khaana? It's exactly what their staff eats and it's great, dude. But I don't end up ordering it as much because there are so many more things I like. But they have removed bheja from the menu, and I love bheja.
Datta: I can never have bheja, man.
Sen: So if you go to Bangkok you're never going to try cockroaches and locusts?
Datta: Never. I can't go in that direction. I know that people are adventurous with their food and everything. But I can't do that.
Coutto: For me, when it comes to food, I let my nose guide the way. Otherwise, I have no restrictions.
Datta: I love going to this place called National. It's a dhaba that a Sardar owns and it's been running since 1952, near Bandra Talao. It serves pure food, you know, the sort with less oil — makki roti with butter on top, rajma, bhindi — and you can even have their water and nothing will happen to you.
Coutto [Putting his fork down and rubbing his tummy]: Yeah, I'll go there with you sometime. But right now, I think I'll go home and play some slow blues songs.

Quick takes

If Mumbai were a genre of music, what would it be?
Coutto: Ganpati music. Is that a genre? Back when I was growing up in the '80s, you couldn't escape it. It was loud and it used to play on the streets on all nine days of Ganpati. And if you think about the Mumbai lifestyle, it has that kind of pace.
Datta: I would add a big-band jazz sound on top of that, because the city's also got class. It's got all the slow cats chilling. It's like imagining Frank Sinatra smoking a bidi.
Musicians you'd like to collaborate with...
Coutto: Everybody. If I think somebody's awesome, I'll just go up to them.
Datta: Randolf [Correa]. He has a very exciting mind, and he kind of breaks things up. So I want to see if I can write in his world.

Favourite concerts...
Datta: Metallica in Bangalore. The best part is I went alone.
Coutto: The Rolling Stones in Mumbai, for the way Jagger pranced about even when he was more than 60 years old.

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