Interview

Keegan Pinto: Hindi music is a lot about likeability, not about how difficult you make it


The adman turned music composer on Running Shaadi speaks to Cinestaan.com about his journey into filmdom and why film music should be easy on the listener.

Sonal Pandya

The upcoming romantic comedy Running Shaadi, produced by Shoojit Sircar and Crouching Tiger Motion Pictures, features the debut of composer-lyricist Keegan Pinto, who came into film music by way of advertising. Pinto is not the first one; Prasoon Joshi writes lyrics and screenplays, all while heading McCann World Group India. But Pinto is part of the growing trend of new talent entering the film music scene once dominated by a handful of composers and singers.

Keegan Pinto, creative head at FCB Ulka, a pan-India advertising agency, has been musically inclined since he was a child. He even joined a rock band, a must for any musician. But it wasn’t until a work meeting three years ago on an ad film set at St Xavier's College led to a possibility of writing music for films.

"I was on an ad film set," Pinto recalled. "It was a film for a hand sanitizer and my director was this guy called Amit Roy. It was my first time making a film with [him] and [we had] a bit of a moment between the two of us. He said, ‘The truth is, I’m a Bollywood guy and I’m making my first film and I’m going to start shooting it in a month. It’s called Running Shaadi.’ Thankfully, the movie was going to get shot very fast.”

Roy was a cinematographer who worked on Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar (2005), Nishabd (2007) and Sarkar Raj (2008) and was about to embark on his first film. Once he discovered Roy’s background, Pinto told him about his aspiration to write and compose for film. He asked Roy to give him a situation, which led to the creation of his first song, ‘Bhaag Milkhy Bhaag’.

Pinto explained, “The first situation was there is this girl called Milky in the film. [Running Shaadi] is about these two guys who help with elopements. Their first case is Milky, [a Sikhni who is very fair], that’s why her parents call her Milky and she is running away. When we spoke about Milky bhaag jaati hai [Milkhy running away], so we thought of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), and we just joked about it. That’s how we wrote ‘Bhaag Milky Bhaag’.”

Later, Pinto composed the tune for ‘Bhaag Milkhy Bhaag’ and sent it over to Roy who loved the sound. He got singers Sonu Kakkar and Sanam Puri to sing the vocals for the track and finally the song was complete. The second song, ‘Faraar’, was thought of by Pinto himself, who made and presented it to Roy.

“[Roy] said this has to be in my movie because this love song called ‘Faraar’ defines the film. We changed the rhythm and I got Jubin (Nautiyal) to sing it. Interestingly, Jubin had sung the jingle for Imagica and I heard his voice on the radio. I thought, what a beautiful, unique timbre the guy has in his voice! So I got in touch with him somehow through advertising and said, ‘Bro, I love your voice, can I give you a movie song?’ He hadn’t done any movie song till that time,” he said.

It has been a long wait for Pinto to finally hear and see his songs released to the public. Running Shaadi, starring Amit Sadh and Taapsee Pannu, is due to be released on 17 February. Besides Pinto, Akshay-Abhishek and Anupam Roy have also contributed tunes to the soundtrack.

Pinto, who has lined up another love song in an unreleased film with Jimmy Sheirgill, hopes to work in both fields, music and advertising. “The more you send out and the more you create, the sharper internally you end up becoming," he said. "On a very physical note, my advertising fuels my music monetarily even so when I want to record with the best guitar players, or present a scratch with the best Indian strings players.”

Pinto may have a slight edge in that he can both write and compose a song. He believes very strongly that “lyrics are not poetry and it’s certainly not prose. Lyrics need to be written for music and meter.” But poetry can be turned into music and for that he gives the example of Shiv Kumar Batalvi whose poems have been adapted as songs in Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Udta Punjab (2016). He insists that lyrics cannot be written in isolation, it has to be a collaborative project.

Further, Pinto believes this new step is an extension of what he was doing before in advertising. “In the world of ad films, I get a brief for a big film, for Asian Paints for example, and we deliver jingles, right? It’s part of our everyday life. We deliver a story, an idea, a script and a jingle upon that. I just think maybe it’s a matter of maturity, so it’s a combination of you being able to crack briefs and, of course, you have to have the skill of a composer and make likeable tunes.

"I think there are lots of composers who don’t make likeable tunes. [Hindi film music] is a lot about likeability, it’s not about how difficult you make your music. It’s about simple music jo dil ko chhoo jata hai [that touches your heart]. This country has so much shastriya sangeet [classical music], it could have become very complicated, but it maintains the simplicity and humanness of music,” he explained.