Scam 2003 composer Ishaan Chhabra spoke about making a quirky score for the show based on one of India’s biggest counterfeiting scandals
With the title track of Scam 1992 becoming a fan-favourite rather instantly, the musical motif became the ideal piece to serve as the connecting link between the two editions of Hansal Mehta’s Scam franchise. “The makers knew that that would remind people of this [franchise], and that’s why the decision to retain it was taken. However, all the additional music created for this edition was completely fresh because the premise and the era were different. It takes place primarily in the late ’90s, so the sonic palette had to be different, even if it didn’t have to reflect the music of the ’90s, in the actual sense,” says Ishaan Chhabra of the new edition, Scam 2003.
The story of one of India’s biggest counterfeiting scandals is, by no means, a comical one. But, it was the demeanour of the protagonist, Abdul Karim Telgi, that defined Chhabra’s approach to the project. “Telgi [had] an element of mischief in the way he operated. So, the music had to align with that brief. It couldn’t be a downer. It had to be dark, but it also needed to propel the narrative forward. I had to think of how Telgi would be, as a person, and bring those elements into my music. At the onset, I sent Hansal four thematic ideas, which he liked, and those formed the crux of the score.”
Gagan Dev Riar as Telgi in Scam 2003
The “naughtiness” in the score, he says, was represented via a few “lopsided themes”. “Unlike the regular four and four [beats], we broke the rhythm into segments. Such irregular signatures were experimented upon with different textures. I use guitar textures, and made my own samples.”
While he used electronic music for a fair chunk of the show, he enhanced Talat Aziz’s screen presence with instruments like the sarangi. “It’s a classic, rag-like theme. It’s based on a darbari motif. Telgi is a hustler, so his thematic ideas were all over the place as far as the sonic ballad was concerned. The song, Raja neene [you’re the king], is in Telgi’s native language of Kannada. It is a quirky track that highlights this hustling attitude.”
The toughest aspect of creating the score, he says, was actively designing music for the show when he usually only creates it “if absolutely necessary”. “When I saw the visuals of this show, I knew that it needed to be enhanced with music. Normally, I try not to score [for sections]. I only add music in sections that absolutely need it. But, in this show, I was pretty certain that it needed heavy scoring because the music had to propel the story forward.”