Score me a tune

Updated: Aug 02, 2020, 07:44 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Raat Akeli Hai and Shakuntala Devi's background score composer, Karan Kulkarni says to do what he does, you need to love movies as much as music

Karan Kulkarni has given the background score for Breathe, Shakuntala Devi and Raat Akeli Hai
Karan Kulkarni has given the background score for Breathe, Shakuntala Devi and Raat Akeli Hai

MAKING background scores… it all happened by accident," says Karan Kulkarni. A fortunate accident it would seem, because Kulkarni is the man behind the scores for Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Breathe, and now, Amazon Prime's upcoming film Shakuntala Devi and Netflix's Raat Akeli Hai. Both released this Friday. The Punekar, who moved to Mumbai to make it as a musician, tells us why he shifted tracks.

"I would have liked to do songs, and I have done many, but things are so controlled in the Bollywood music industry, that only a few directors manage to get their songs into movies. So here, I am, doing background music," he laughs, adding, "I guess, it's best to adapt."

Since Kulkarni moved to Mumbai nine years ago, he has given music for a short film directed by Vasan Bala. This was after he returned from Australia where he signed up for a music production course. He then started assisting music director Amit Trivedi, but it was with Bala's Peddlers in 2012 that his career truly kicked off. "That movie never released, but it gave me the chance to do something. Then I did Aligarh and Shahid, and it all took off from there."

A still from Shakuntala Devi, for which Kulkarni created a lively, upbeat score
A still from Shakuntala Devi, for which Kulkarni created a lively, upbeat score

He also may have been well accustomed to the wily ways of the music industry, and thus, started composing jingles for brands like Amazon and Flipkart. "I did Tumhari Sulu and Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, but as I said, it's all very controlled here—how much work a person actually gets [depends on other forces]. Web series have opened up the floor, and the bar is raised high, since you are competing with the best in the world. For example, Stranger Things, which has a great background score, is available to watch on the same platform as my work," says the 34-year-old. Ask him what makes a music composer different from one who makes background scores, and his answer is deceptively simple. "You need to love movies! Otherwise, how will you know what fits with what? You also need to be able to tell a story through music—and be aware that change is constant, as emotions keep changing. So your music has to based on what's happening on the screen."

Keeping this in mind, Kulkarni's score for Breathe is more "psychological", with character themes for everyone. For Raat Akeli Hai, which is a murder mystery starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, the music had to be darker. "For Shakuntala Devi, everything was more upbeat and positive. There is a certain brightness to it."

For Raat Akeli Hai, Kulkarni kept the theme darker
For Raat Akeli Hai, Kulkarni kept the theme darker

Personally, Kulkarni is inspired by music that is technology-driven, so composers like Trent Reznor are high on his listen list. After all, who can forget the brilliant score Reznor gave for Social Network, where the piano melody harbours the power to give rise to an emotion. And Kulkarni has made good use of technology this lockdown. He and his team completed the full score for Shakuntala Devi in four months of lockdown, sometimes going to a studio, but mostly working out of their bedrooms. "It was quite tricky, but we managed. We exchanged samples, and put it all together. It has been a lesson." Here on, Kulkarni has decided to take on less work. "There are a few projects that have come up, but I am going to take it slow. I am utilising this time to study.

I am practising guitar, and also working on the tabla, which is a brand new instrument for me. After a very long time, I am a student again, and I am completely enjoying it."

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