Interview Hindi

20 years of Dil To Pagal Hai: Uttam Singh reveals link between Uday and 'Are Re Are' song

On the film's 20th anniversary today (30 October), music director Uttam Singh recalls the journey of scoring music for the Yash Chopra musical.

Mayur Lookhar

Exactly two decades ago, the late Yash Chopra produced and directed a simple romantic triangle with three artistes, Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), Nisha (Karisma Kapoor) and Pooja (Madhuri Dixit). The story was written by Chopra's son Aditya. The film swept all the major Filmfare awards that year. While it wouldn’t rank amongst the finest films to come out of the Yash Chopra stable, Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) is cherished more for its magical music.

Seasoned music director Uttam Singh enjoyed a maiden collaboration with Yash Chopra churning out nearly a dozen melodies.

Uttam Singh

On the 20th anniversary of the film's release (30 October), music director Singh recalled the journey of scoring the music. He revealed how Chopra used four tunes originally composed for a telefilm, how lyricist Anand Bakshi felt the film could not afford a weak album, why Uday Chopra is credited for the 'Are Re Are' track, and more. Excerpts:

Twenty years on, when we tune into the music of Dil To Pagal Hai, we are still left saying ati uttam [excellent]. To say that you are proud of this film would be an understatement, right?

After 20 years, if you still find the music good, lovable, hummable (just like our golden music), you are singing it, enjoying it, that can only happen if the music is genuine, original. The music is genuine and not from any source. It came from the wind, the tapasya [penance], the knowledge, and above all, it came from the almighty. That is why the music remains young even today, and it will be so after 40 years.

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The 1980s and 1990s were a time when the success of romantic stories hinged on their music. Two decades later, one struggles to remember the storyline accurately, but the songs of Dil To Pagal Hai come to mind instantly. If you remove the music, then such films would not have been so successful, don't you agree?

Back then, the media said your music made the film a hit. While music is a very important part of that film, music alone cannot make it a hit. The picturization, the romance, the dancing, acting, directing, writing, basically everything needs to be good.

I agree the music was very good, but presentation of the music was fantastic. I wouldn’t like to take all the credit. Any musical is remembered by its music. For example, the moment we say 'Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya', it’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960), 'Main Nikla Gaddi Leke', it’s Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), 'Mehbooba' is Sholay (1975). One song can make you remember a film for years. You can make any story, but if the music is weak then the film wouldn’t be remembered for ages.

It was your first and only film with Yash Raj Films. Can you tell us your experience of working with Yash Chopra and the production house in general?

Yashji used to feel the tune according to his desired picturization. If he wasn’t satisfied, he wouldn't take any tune. Earlier, we used to compose the tune first and then came the lyrics. For six months, I played the tune of the ‘Are Re Are’ track. After every session, I played this tune. Though he liked it, he wasn’t convinced. He asked me one day why at the end of every session I played this tune.

One day, his younger son Uday Chopra turned up at the studio. I told Uday that I am playing this tune for the last six months, but Yashji is not convinced. I requested him to listen the tune and he said it’s fantastic. Soon, everyone started humming that tune, and it didn’t take long to start writing the lyrics, which included Yashji, Aditya Chopra, and me.

But we couldn’t think of any appropriate lyrics, and so the tune collapsed. I thought I had gone wrong with the tune. Yashji said we will see this later.

We proceeded with other recordings. Then one day [lyricist] Anand Bakshi turned up. Yashji told him the situation. I played the tune. He listened to it and went to the restroom. I feared that the tune would be rejected.

He came out and said, 'Yashji, your situation and Uttam’s tune says, ‘Are re are yeh kya hua, koi na yeh jaana’. We all jumped with joy. We used different instruments — solo violin, flute, string, whistle [Shah Rukh Khan's character whistles the tune in the film]. The tune became a major part of the film.

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I worked for about a year and half for this film and thoroughly enjoyed working with Yash Chopra. The way he picturized the song with Aditya Chopra and choreographer Shiamak Davar, I say the teamwork was brilliant. Uday didn’t hesitate to say that this is the best music from the Yash Raj Films stable.

What was the first meeting with Yash Chopra like, when he offered the film to you?

Actually, he didn’t offer me the film. Music composer Sanjeev Kohli, son of music director Madan Mohan, who was a good friend of Yash Chopra, he asked me if I would compose for a telefilm that Yash Chopra was producing. I didn’t hear the story but composed four tunes for it. Yashji liked the tunes and eight months later, he said ‘Uttamji, we are not doing the telefilm, but a feature film called Dil To Pagal Hai.' It came as a pleasant shock.

Do you remember which was the first song you recorded for the film?

'Pyar Kar' was the first track to be recorded. Actually, we had recorded two versions of this track. The earlier track was lacking a bit in the lyrics. Bakshi came up with the words, 'Chand ne kuch kaha, raat ne kuch suna’.

Bakshi saheb used to come to the studio, listen to the tune, and return 10 days later with fantastic lyrics. You couldn’t say no to what he brought. He used to come up with 17 antaras for one song, and say, ‘choose what you want’.

If I am correct you had worked with Anand Bakshi before.

I had worked with him on a few projects, but they didn’t materialize. I had worked as a violinist, arranger for some of the tracks penned by him. This was the first film where I worked as music director.

We later worked together on films like Dushman (1998), Hum Tum Pe Marte Hain (1999) and Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), before he passed away in 2002.

I guess Anand Bakshi was one who perhaps had a great understanding of the situation.

Anand Bakshi

You would be surprised with what he said when he heard the story of Dil To Pagal Hai. He spent about two hours listening to the story from Yashji. He told Aditya Chopra, 'your film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), its story was so great that even if it had weak music, it would have worked'.

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But if this story [of Dil To Pagal Hai] has weak music, then you will be watching this film alone in the theatre. Can you believe he said this in front of the director? I kept quiet. Yashji assured him saying they are bringing something different. The story didn’t change, but once the film was out, Bakshi liked it.

What was your observation of Bakshi as he went about writing the lyrics for the film?

The 'Dholna' song had an antara, ‘Do chaar kadam pe tum the, do chaar kadam pe hum the, do char kadam yeh lekin sau milon se kya kam the’. These words summarize the entire three-hour film... what a thought!

Since you have brought up this song, I would like to say this is my personal favourite. It’s hard to put in words how good this song is.

It had a huge orchestra, we used more than 100 musicians for this song, 50-60 chorus. Mixing for each track took a couple of days. When it comes to doing good work, you don’t look at money, and you don’t look at time.

I had used a few farzi [rough] words, (hums the tune), Aditya and Yash Chopra loved the tune. There was no one better than Bakshi to write Hindi-Punjabi lyrics. This was a dream song, a trademark Yash Chopra track, picturized beautifully.

Personally, which composition did you like the most?

That’s always difficult, for you can’t distinguish between your children. The song that till date appeals to the young, old, and the children is 'Koi Ladki Hai'. That composition was totally new. Actually, all of them were new. The music of Dil To Pagal Hai cannot be aped. The style got copied, by Karan Johar in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), which was distributed by Yash Chopra.

The 'Le Gayi' track is said to be partly inspired by Egyptian composer Farid al-Atrash's 'Ya Habaybi Ya Ghaybin'. Had you listened to this Arabic tune before?

No, never. I never listen to Arabic music. ‘Dari dari dari da.da da,  Mumbai Mumbai’, (hums the rough tune), this is how I initially composed the tune. I think Bombay became Mumbai then. We had 'Mumbai Mumbai' in the rough lyrics which later gave way to 'Le gayi, le gayi'.

If there is some similarity, it’s purely coincidental. Lifting and discovering are different things. If you have lifted, but say it's coincidental, that is wrong. You will find a lot of music directors say that they were inspired by XYZ. You can call it a copy if I used the same phrase. Listening from a layman’s point of view differs from listening through knowledge. Le gayi mera dil is a common word. I’m sure it must have been used before.

Aditya Chopra made me listen to many tunes, but I told him, why should I copy. We will make our own, banega toh banega [if it works out, fine]. This song must have taken six months to come about.

Finally, you told me earlier that the music, songs cannot be aped, but today, we have the culture of remakes. Would you be comfortable if tomorrow the music label that holds the rights gives the nod to remake tracks of Dil To Pagal Hai?

As I have no rights, I won’t be able to do anything. Recently, I tuned into a local radio channel. I heard one radio jockey, by the name of Rani, say that in the 1990s we were listening to the remix of Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, etc. Today, we get remakes of Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik tracks. She added that she will make a list of all Kishore Kumar-Lataji / Ashaji classic songs and send it to producers, composers.

After all, today’s musicians and lyricists can seldom create original tunes/lyrics. So, at least remake the classic songs. It's a matter of shame for the world of music and filmmaking. You have nothing new to make? You remake a Don (1978) and you copy the original tracks. Arey bhai, kahan gaye writers [Where are the writers]?