Ghibran on composing songs for Saaho: Actors cue us with their acts
Score composer of Saaho, Ghibran on how the performances in films alter his method of working
If the teaser of Saaho is anything to go by, Ghibran's background score is reeking of quirk. It's not quite the quality you'd associate with a thriller. But he says the Prabhas starrer is a "complete package" filled with humour, and hence demanded the element of fun. Evidently then, Gibhran has been winning praise for his composition. He discusses mixing EDM and orchestral sounds for Sujeeth's thriller.
What did your early discussions with director Sujeeth about the score's identity touch on?
The film, its demography and characters, are all presented in a manner that's larger than life. As far as scoring is concerned, several factors determine the instrumentation. This film demanded a symphonic sound because there are emotions at play, and the characters have different shades.
Prabhas in Saaho
Can you chronicle at what point in the film-making process is a background score composer roped in?
Usually, after the dubbing. As soon as I get the rushes, I watch the rough cut with my director. I see myself as the voice of the director. Emotions are conveyed through the actor's performance and dialogues. But, a director may want to say something more; something that's non-verbal. That depends on the score, and that's where I come in. We discuss what the director wants the audience to feel when watching a particular scene. Often, I even have to connect a seemingly irrelevant scene at one point in the film to a point where it finds its value. All that comes with the score. Once we have decided on these elements, I begin the process. Then, I disconnect from everything.
When creating music for a three-hour film, what is the kind of investment of time that you put in?
I will first watch the film and understand the characters' motives and the scenes' motives. I will pen the score through musical notations. Sometimes, if you see my first draft, you may find it funny. There may be a big [scene unfolding], and I will back it with only a piano and one tune. But the process of programming [is time-consuming]. I watch each scene a minimum of 100 times before adding any instrument. When you score for symphony orchestra, you have 80 people working on it. So you have to write notes for each one of them. On average, it takes 20 minutes to create two-minutes' worth of music. Saaho has a raw [undertone]. After recording the score, we transformed it to achieve an EDM [Electronic Dance Music] kind of tune. That's the process that's currently underway. Saaho has a 50-50 ratio of orchestral and electronic arrangement. The characters are human, not mechanical. However, the landscape is action- oriented. To get the right texture of the locality, [we employed] the electronic tunes. To depict the human complexities, I took the orchestral approach.
What role does an actor's performance play in determining the score?
Actors give us cues with their acting. An extraordinary actor [communicates with] his eyes, body and [dialogue] delivery. That determines how much we need to enhance [the scene]. If an actor is very good, there may be no need for music. But, if the performance is bad, the music must [make up for] the emotions he has left out. If a scene is intensely emotional, and the actor has the inability to convey them, the music has to make up for what's missing. We refer to a few actors as legends because they don't depend on [anything]. Even if the [camera] angle is not good, the lighting is bad, the editing is poor or there's no music, they can still [hold the scene] with their [act].
Was there an instance where you had an opinion on how a scene's score would be but changed it owing to the way it was enacted?
There was one in the Kamal Haasan film Uttama Villian. His character meets the step-father of his [estranged] daughter, who he [Haasan] doesn't know he had. It was a complicated and lengthy scene. It featured Haasan and Jayaram, another multiple award-winning actor. I [created] the entire three-minute score, but needed to include only 20 seconds.
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