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25 years of Vishwatma: Decoding the anatomy of 'Saat Samundar Paar'

Director Rajiv Rai, music composer Viju Shah and DJ Suketu spoke to Cinestaan.com about the song which completes 25 years in 2017.

Sonal Pandya

Movie: Vishwatma
Location: Bubbles Discothèque, Nairobi, Kenya
Scene: Birthday celebration of villain Tapaswi Gunjal’s (Gulshan Grover's) sister Sonia (debutante Jyotsna Singh).

Like in so many Hindi films, a song featuring another newcomer, Divya Bharti, follows this joyous scene. The only difference: in the 25 years that have passed since ‘Saat Samundar Paar’ first came out, the song sung by Sadhana Sargam remains popular today.

From weddings and clubs to festivals, ‘Saat Samundar Paar’ can be heard even in 2017 blasted across the airwaves. The song was penned by veteran lyricist Anand Bakshi and the music was composed by Viju Shah, son of legendary composer Kalyanji. Cinestaan.com spoke to Shah and filmmaker Rajiv Rai on how an ordinary song became extraordinary.

Shah explained the process of putting together this particular song. “Normally what happens with Rajiv, we go with the tune," he said. "Once he was okay with the tune, then we would go to Bakshi saheb. That’s how he has worked with me. Each and every director has his own perspective. In the olden days, we had the words coming in first and then the sittings happened and the tunes were composed. But of late, the directors, the younger directors, want the tune composed first and then we go to the lyricist.”

For this song, Bakshi was excited and wanted Shah and Rai to visit him to listen to it as soon as possible. “He had his own style of rendering the song," Shah said. "Bakshi saheb sang it in a typical ghazal-numaz [format] style. He read out all three-four antaras that he had written.”

Shah remembers Bakshi telling him about a previous song with similar lyrics written 25 years earlier. “The mukhada [of ‘Saat Samundar Paar’] was very good because he also gave an example of a song he had written for Taqdeer (1967) where the words ‘saat samundar paar [across seven seas]’ were used,” Shah recalled. That song was a lullaby, but this new one was far from it.

When Shah and Rajiv Rai left Bakshi’s place, they were slightly concerned how the song would shape up. Rai thought Bakshi may have looked at the situation differently. Rai said, “Then he realised it was in a nightclub or disco, you can’t have a ghazal-like number because you are abroad and the story situation is such.” The director recalled that the lyricist never rejected any tune and wrote the songs in a day or two.

Shah remembers telling Rai that “[Bakshi saheb] has given his view of it, [but] we will sit on it. I sat on the song myself and then when I was ready, I called up Rajiv the next day. The words were the same, the way [Bakshi saheb] had given them. And then Rajiv says, ‘Now I’m getting what I wanted’. Again on the next sitting, we worked on the antaras and all. That’s how this song was done.”

Divya Bharati in a still from the song

By the time Vishwatma was premiered on 24 January 1992, director Rai and music composer Shah had known each other for seven years and established a comfortable working relationship. Rai had worked with Kalyanji-Anandji for his first film Yudh (1985). “Kalyanjibhai and Anandjibhai were very close to my dad [producer Gulshan Rai]," Rajiv Rai said. "When I had to make a choice for my first film, I was dependent on my father and what he would suggest, so out of all the music directors at that time, he wanted to use Kalyanjibhai and I was very agreeable.”

Shah was working with and for his father and when Rai began coordinating with him more frequently, he realised what an easy working relationship they shared. For Vishwatma, Rai said, “I always insisted on Viju to make it modern. He is more of a classical guy. But I was always more on the modern style of how RD Burman did his music. For me, films were more about the youth and the youth always wants something that’s trendy and trendy is modern.”

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Rai insists his habit of listening to current music throughout his life helped shape the musical style of his films. “That is why music has its own phenomenon where you, at a certain time and age, you can keep the fashion of music and everything in mind and pen a song or tune it in a way that is going to work,” he explained.

"Even now I listen to music that a 20-year-old guy listens to. I haven’t grown up as far as music is concerned, I stayed 20. When I [worked] with Viju, I was very insistent on that, he always was trying to get the melody in for [everyone] to enjoy the song. So that was a good combination. He was very good with the modern instrumentation, but his training with his father when he was very young was classical. His main instrumentation was, obviously, an electronic kind of synthesizer. So when you are playing a synthesizer, you are actually playing modern music of the time, because that was an electronic sound. It plays on electricity, it was not playing an instrument, like a sitar or tabla.”

The song, if listened to carefully, has elements of the 1988 song ‘Heart’ by the group Pet Shop Boys. Shah recalls that Rai gave him the Pet Shop Boys track and said, ‘Viju, is there any possibility, we could?’ He replied, ‘First let us complete the song.’ For Shah, the song had to be in place first.

Rai does not deny the similarities. "I used to listen to a lot of English music then, more than anybody, so my entire tracks had an influence. I don’t think anybody is happy copying anything, but then for me, I’m still very influenced by Western music. That’s the way I am, so when you keep listening to something time and again, you kind of reflect it in the music you are creating.”

Rai was firm that he “was making a film for the masses”. He felt his first responsibility was to the paying public.

Shah is happy that the melody he created is still remembered. But for him, the best part of the song was when Anand Bakshi pulled him aside at the cassette release of Vishwatma and told him, ‘Viju, that song, that was something different we had decided. I mean, this is also nice.’

But Rai also modestly suggests that the duo (of Shah and Rai) had done so many collaborations over the years that something they made together was going to last long. “The thing is, you don’t know which song is going to stick. But I’ve always noticed that songs that are going to live 30-40 years, they have to be a little futuristic, but at the same time, the lyrical value has to be a little romantic. Romance stays forever. So if there’s a romantic theme or a film or a story, you can make it after 50 years, because the romance is never going to die out of the world. And then if you have a song that was electronic those days, futuristic, other directors were not doing what I was doing so the chances of it hanging on today when you are listening [are higher], and I think a lot more people listen to our music.”

Shah added, “The best part of this song... it was, of course, a hit then also, but it has gained more popularity in the years afterwards. Even the Cadbury people did it. They have been using it in their ads.” Singer Sadhana Sargam told him that even today she gets requests to sing the song. Shah himself is not a fan of remixes. “They are trying to do something different because they have to do something different. But in the process, something is being lost," he said. But he does admit, “Even if I have to do the song again, I will definitely give it a different colour than what it was.”

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Popular deejay Suketu regrets that he never got a chance to remix the song as it had already been remixed by the time he came along. He said ‘Saat Samundar Paar’ is still popular and he played the song just a night ago at a wedding in Udaipur, “Wherever I play a club gig or a private gig, when I go through playing the hits of the 1990s, [it’s] always the first track,” he said.

Suketu calls himself a big fan of Shah and said, “I used to follow his music in my younger years very intently and I loved the way he used certain sounds and the way he created his melodies. I really loved the song and when I heard it the first time, I just thought it was very well done. Though the hook of the song was taken from Pet Shop Boys, I just felt he had used the hook but the melody and everything he created around it was so very different so I really liked the way he fused two things together.”

Asked about the demand for the song even now, DJ Suketu feels that “right now what users are looking for is a full package deal, it should not be just a good melody, the whole production should be good. So I feel sometimes the melody is just good without the technology or anything, it can make a lasting impact on one’s mind. So that’s why I think maybe the older songs still have that impact which probably [explains why] sometimes the mortality rate of the songs in the 2010s is very high compared to the older songs.”